Five Tips for Writing a Killer Personal Statement

Megen Boyett, Consultant

DSCN1655More than any other month, January seems to be the time to write personal statements. You’re thinking about summer internships, fall graduate programs, and real world jobs, and application deadlines are just around the corner. You don’t want to brag, but you do want to stand out from the crowd. You want to showcase how hard you work, but you aren’t quite sure what committees look for. You have so much to say, but only 1000 words to say it in!

Sound familiar? You’re in good company. Plenty of other students are expressing the same concerns every week in the writing center. Here are five tips for writing an interesting, clear personal statement in 1000 words or less!

1. Don’t take it personally; it’s just business.

“Personal” is really the wrong word for this kind of writing. Acceptance committees want to know about your interest in the program or position you’re applying for as well as any experience you already have. Thus, you want to leave out childhood anecdotes, high school jobs, or stories about overcoming fears. Those say a lot about your work ethic, passion and character, but they don’t necessarily explain why you’re a good fit for your chosen profession or program.  Instead, think about your experiences in or related to the field that you’re hoping to get a position in. What interesting experiences have you already had working or volunteering in this field? Focus on one or two significant experiences that have shaped your views of the field or helped develop a particular interest. Instances that exemplify your interests or strengths in the field help a committee see who you are as a potential employee or program member.

2. Talk about your plan.

Where do you see yourself in a year? Five years? Ten? How will this position or program help you reach those goals? You don’t have to have all the details figured out yet, and you can certainly change directions later, but being able to clearly articulate what you want from the program or position will help an acceptance committee know what you hope to get from the program as well as what interests and skills you’re bringing in with you. This kind of detailed, practical planning may also help you think about why you want to be part of the program or company you’re applying for.

3. Do your research.

What do you know about the program or position you’re applying for? What do they value or put emphasis on? How do your goals or values fit with that of the company or school? Again, this will help you narrow your focus and think critically about your plans for the future. Talking about your values or goals in a way that reflects those of the program also show that you care enough about the job to do your homework and that your interests are in line with what the program or company see as their own goals. You might also talk about specific professors or researchers you want to work with. A personal statement is a good time to mention how your interests intersect with theirs. If you’ve been able to work with them already, you might mention that work as particularly influential or shaping.

4. Don’t think of it as bragging.

Obviously you have a lot to learn still about the field you’re going into. Obviously you want to appear humble and eager to learn. Instead of thinking of a personal statement as bragging, think of it as telling a potential employer or program director what you have to offer the team you’d be joining. What needs might you fulfill within the program? What has your unique background and set of experiences prepared you for? What research are you interested in or already working on? When you couple this with discussion of your goals and what you hope to learn from the program, a committee can start to visualize your place within their program or team.

5. Put it away and come back later.

Once you’ve finished drafting and you think you’ve got a pretty solid personal statement, close the document. If you have time, take a day or two before you go back to it. Then, read it aloud, looking for typos. You might print it out and mark changes you want to make in pen if you’re having trouble focusing on a computer screen. Looking at your writing in a different environment can help you catch typos or think about your word choice in a new way.

Of course, we at the writing center will be happy to help at any stage of the process, from brainstorming to drafting to helping you revise before you send it off. Make an appointment to bring by your personal statement. Having someone to talk about your writing with not only relieves some stress, it’s also pretty fun.

Happy Writing! And if you need more tips before you come see us, check out our earlier post!

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