Career and Personal Development

Writing an Impressive Personal Statement


What is a Personal Statement?

A personal statement, or statement of purpose, is a brief and focused essay about your career or research goals that is part of the application package for a graduate or professional school. A personal statement is your opportunity to distinguish yourself from all the other candidates by demonstrating your unique qualifications to an admissions committee. It illustrates your writing ability, creativity, and career goals.


Types of Personal Statements


The general, comprehensive personal statement allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms. Example: Tell us why you want to be a lawyer.


Often, business and graduate school applications ask specificquestions, and your statement should respond specifically to the question being asked. Some business school applications favor multiple essays, typically asking for responses to three or more questions. Example: In a maximum of 600 words, write a personal statement discussing your interests, life experiences, goals and social commitment.


What Admissions Committees Want to See


Interesting, insightful, and non-generic personal statements


HOW the essay provides evidence of your achievements that is not reflected in other parts of your application


HOW and WHY the events that you describe have shaped your attitude, focus, and, most of all, your intellectual vitality



Before You Write


1. Reflect on and make notes about your:


Personal History


Prior life experiences, events, and achievements relevant to your career choice or application to graduate school


People who have influenced your decision to pursue this field or who have had a significant impact on your values as they relate to this choice


Academic Life


Academic accomplishments and recognitions


Research interests and prior experience


Professors who have influenced you the most academically


Work Experience


Previous jobs, volunteer experience, and extracurricular activities that have influenced your career choice or career goals


2. Ask Yourself These Questions:


What’s special, unique, distinctive, or impressive about me or my life story?


How did I learn about the field? What stimulated my interest in this field?


What characteristics and skills do I possess that enhance my prospects for success?


Have I overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships?


Are there any gaps or discrepancies in my academic record that I want to explain?


What are the most compelling reasons for the committee to be interested in me?


What are my short and long-term goals?


What is the most important thing for an admissions committee to know about me?





Have a clear idea of what you want to convey. Give your statement a theme, a thesis.


Tailor your personal statement to each individual program to which you are applying.


Answer the question or topic(s) posed in the application. 


Tell who you are. This is your personal statement; open up, get personal.


Concentrate on capturing the reader’s interest in the opening paragraph.


Find an angle, tell a story, set yourself apart from others.




Focus on depth of answers, as opposed to breadth.


Be evaluative in your writing rather than merely descriptive.


Write about aspects of yourself that readers cannot get from other parts of your application.


Offer specific, meaningful stories and experiences.


Express yourself clearly and concisely; use direct, straightforward language.


Focus on your strengths and not your weaknesses.


Be positive, upbeat, and confident.


Create a conclusion that refers back to your introduction and ties your points together. 




Preach to the reader.


Exaggerate your qualifications or experience.


Use gimmicks.


Discuss potentially controversial topics (e.g., politics or religion).


Exceed word or page limits.


Include extraneous material.


Use cliché language, especially in the introduction and conclusion of your statement.


Write what you think the committee wants to hear.


Relate personal details that are not relevant to your ability to be a successful graduate student.


After You Write


Revise. Revise. Revise.


Proofread. Proofread. Proofread.


Have others critique your statement.



Make Your Personal Statement Work for You in Another Way


You can give your personal statement to your recommenders. Sharing your statement with your recommenders shows them how you plan to position yourself in the application process. If they are aware of what personal characteristics you want to emphasize, they can address those traits in their recommendation letters, thus sending an even more focused and powerful message about you to the admissions committee.



Resources at Neumann University


Career counselors at the Career and Personal Development Office


Staff members at the Writing Center





Resources on the Internet


Purdue OWL: Writing the Personal Statement


The Statement of Purpose


Samples of Awesome Personal Statements