How To
16 min read

The Ultimate Guide to Writing The Perfect Personal Statement

Reem Abouemera

July 18, 2022

If you're doing some final tweaks to your college applications, you may be wondering if there's anything you can do to make your application stand out. 

One of the best, often-overlooked methods is writing a strong personal statement.

If you've been asked to write a personal statement, it's important to understand what admissions committees are looking for. They want to see evidence of your:

  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Ability to think critically
  • Writing ability

While there's no magic formula for the perfect personal statement, there are some things you can do to increase your chances of being accepted. In this guide, we'll go over how to craft a personal statement to impress admissions committees.

What is a personal statement?

A personal statement is a short essay (usually around 500 words) that gives admissions committees a glimpse into who you are as a person and student.

Unlike your transcripts and test scores, which are all about what you've done in the past, your personal statement is all about who you are now and what you hope to achieve in the future.

This is your chance to show colleges who you are outside of your grades and test scores. It's an opportunity to share your: 

  • Passions
  • Interests
  • Personality 

You can also highlight your achievements and goals.

Why is a personal statement important?

A personal statement is important because admissions committees use it to get to know you better. They want to see if you're the type of student who will thrive in their college environment and contribute to the campus community.

Your personal statement can also be used to explain any red flags in your application, such as a low GPA or standardized test score.

For example, if you took a few gap years after high school or your grades dropped sophomore year, you can explain what happened and why you're still a strong applicant in your personal statement.

Why do colleges ask for a personal statement?

Your personal statement should be exactly that: personal. Admissions committees want to see evidence of your:

  • Unique perspective
  • Life experiences
  • Values 

In other words, they want to get to know you as a person, not just as a student.

Colleges want to see that you're more than just a collection of grades and test scores. They need to understand what motivates and drives you.

Accordingly, your personal statement should be about you and your experiences, not what you think admissions committees want to hear. So, resist the urge to write what you think they want to read and instead focus on sharing your own story.

With that said, don't feel like you need to include everything about yourself in your personal statement. Only share the most relevant and important things to you. 

A strong personal statement will give admissions committees a window into your life without overwhelming them with irrelevant details.

What should your personal statement include?

Okay, so you get what a personal statement is and why it's important. But what should you actually include in your essay?

A strong personal statement will generally include the following:

An attention-grabbing opening 

You want to start your essay with something that'll grab admissions committees' attention from the get-go. 

A strong opening will make them want to keep reading and learn more about you.

A clear focus 

Your essay should have a clear purpose or theme running through it. 

Admissions committees want to see that you can follow directions and write an essay with a specific purpose in mind.

Why you're a good fit for the college 

Don't forget to mention why you're applying to the college and why you think it's a good fit. 

This shows admissions committees that you're not just randomly applying to schools. Instead, you demonstrate that you've actually done your research and are interested in attending their specific school.

Evidence of your qualities and achievements 

Remember, the point of a personal statement is to show colleges who you are as a person. 

So, you'll want to include evidence of your:

  • Qualities
  • Accomplishments
  • Goals

Your unique voice and perspective 

As we mentioned before, your personal statement should be about you and your experiences.

Make sure your voice comes through loud and clear in your essay.

What you'll bring to the campus community 

In addition to highlighting your achievements, you should also mention what you can contribute to the campus community. 

What is something unique that you can add to the student body and the college as a whole?

A strong conclusion 

Just like your opening, your conclusion should be attention-grabbing and memorable. 

You want to leave a lasting impression on admissions committees, so make sure your conclusion is just as strong as the rest of your essay.

What should your personal statement avoid?

It's equally important to know what not to include in your personal statement. 

Here are a few things you should avoid:

Your entire life story 

Remember, admissions committees don't want to read your entire life story. They just want to get to know you as a person. 

So, resist the urge to include every single detail about yourself in your essay.

What you think admissions committees want to hear 

As we mentioned before, you should write your personal statement for yourself, not for admissions committees. 

Don't try to guess what you think they want to hear. Instead, focus on sharing your own story.

Rehashing your resume 

Your personal statement is not the place to list all of your accomplishments, experiences, and awards. 

Admissions committees already have access to your resume, so there's no need to reiterate everything already on there.

Generic and clichéd phrases 

Avoid using generic or clichéd phrases in your personal statement. Phrases like "I want to help people" or "I want to make a difference" are overused and not particularly unique or insightful.

Instead, focus on sharing your specific story and experiences.

Too much humor 

It's okay to inject a bit of humor into your personal statement, but you don't want to go overboard. 

Admissions committees want to see that you're serious about attending their school, so don't make jokes about why you're not interested in attending or why you're applying to multiple schools.

Ranting or complaining 

Your personal statement is not the place to vent about your frustrations with the college application process or complain about your grades or test scores. 

Admissions committees are looking for positive, motivated, and enthusiastic applicants, so focus on sharing your best qualities.

Who will read your personal statement?

If you're wondering who will read your personal statement, the answer is pretty simple: everyone considering you for admission to their school. 

That means your personal statement will be read by admissions committees from all the schools you're applying to. These committees are made up of faculty members and administrators.

Who should not read your personal statement?

There are  a few people who shouldn't read your personal statement. 

First and foremost, don't show your personal statement to anyone you think might be biased, including your:

  • Parents
  • Teachers
  • Friends 

While they might have good intentions, they're not the best people to give you feedback since they might not be completely objective.

Additionally, don't show your personal statement to anyone who's not willing to give you constructive feedback. If someone's not willing to point out the flaws in your essay, they're not doing you any favors.

Finally, don't show your personal statement to anyone who doesn't have the time to read it. Admissions committees spend a lot of time reading personal statements, so you should only show your essay to people who are willing to give it the attention it deserves. 

How to write a personal statement?

Now that you know the basics of personal statements, you’re ready to start writing!

Use the following tips to write a personal statement that will impress college admissions committees.

1. Be specific

First and foremost, you need to be specific. Admissions committees are looking for applicants who can express themselves clearly and concisely, so don't try to cram too much into your essay.

Instead, focus on sharing one or two specific stories or experiences that illustrate who you are and what you care about. These stories will give admissions committees a better sense of who you are as a person and what you're capable of.

In addition to being specific, you also need to be concise. Admissions committees have to read hundreds or even thousands of personal statements, so they don't have time to read essays that are too long.

Aim for an essay that's between 500 and 700 words. This length will give you enough space to share your story without overwhelming the reader.

A specific statement should also leave no doubt in the reader’s mind about what you mean or what you’re trying to say.

How to be more specific

Some ways to be more specific in your writing include:

  • Using concrete and specific examples
  • Avoiding generalizations
  • Using active rather than passive voice
  • Making sure your tenses are consistent
  • Avoiding fluff or filler words

When you're specific in your writing, it allows the reader to understand exactly what you mean, eliminating any ambiguity or confusion that could arise from your essay. It  also makes your writing more compelling to read.

2. Don’t use cliches

While you want your personal statement to be unique to you, certain phrases and expressions are best avoided. One of the biggest culprits is the use of cliches.

A cliche is a tired phrase that's been used so much it's lost its original meaning. Some examples of common cliches include:

  •  "Time heals all wounds" 
  • "You can't judge a book by its cover" 
  • "Actions speak louder than words"
  • "Easy come, easy go."

Using cliches in your personal statement will make your writing sound trite and unoriginal. Admissions committees are looking for fresh, creative, and original essays, so using a cliche will work against you.

How to avoid cliches

There are plenty of other ways to express yourself without resorting to cliches, such as:

  • Using specific and concrete examples instead of generalizations
  • Using strong verbs to convey your message more effectively
  • Being creative in your word choices
  • Telling a story or sharing an experience

3. Show who you are

We can't stress enough how important it is for your personal statement to be about you. Your essay should focus on your:

  • Experiences
  • Accomplishments
  • Goals
  • Aspirations

It's not enough to simply list these things. Instead, you need to provide details and stories that illustrate them. Share what you're passionate about and what drives you to be the best you can be.

Use your personal statement to paint a picture of yourself as a person and as a student. Admissions committees want to know what kind of person you are and what kind of student you'll be, so make sure your essay shows them both.

How to show who you are

Be yourself, use your own voice, and be honest about your experiences and accomplishments. Don't try to sound like someone else or impress the admissions committee with big words and fancy language.

Remember, they're looking for applicants who are:

  • Genuine
  • Down-to-earth
  • Authentic 

Also, one of the biggest mistakes students make in their personal statements is trying to present themselves as perfect. They want to impress the admissions committee so much that they try to hide their flaws and shortcomings.

However, the truth is everyone has flaws. It’s okay to talk about them in your essay. In fact, it can actually work in your favor.

Admissions committees are looking for students who are honest and self-aware. So, if you're able to share your flaws and shortcomings in a way that shows you've learned from them and grew as a person, it’ll only make you look more appealing!

4. Focus on your strengths

It's very important to focus on your strengths in your personal statement. After all, you want to present yourself in the best possible light.

Think about what makes you unique and special. Ask yourself:

  • What are your best qualities and attributes? 
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of? 
  • Why do you think you would be a great fit for the school or program you're applying to?

Answering these questions will help you zero in on your strengths and give you something to focus on in your essay. Once you've identified them, be sure to highlight them in your writing.

Be confident in yourself. This doesn't mean you should boast or brag about your accomplishments. It simply means you should confidently write about them.

However, don't be afraid to toot your own horn a bit! The personal statement is your chance to show off all your best qualities, so make sure you take advantage of it.

5. Turn your weaknesses into positives

While it's important to be honest about your weaknesses, you don't want to focus on them too much. Instead, try turning them into positives.

For example, let's say you're not the best at taking tests. You could write about how you've learned to study effectively and manage your time so you can do well on exams.

Or, maybe you're not the most outgoing person. You could discuss how you've worked on building your confidence and developing your communication skills.

The key is to focus on how you've grown and changed as a result of your experiences rather than on the experiences themselves. 

By doing this, you'll show that you're a resilient and adaptable person who is always learning and growing. This is exactly the type of student admissions committees are looking for!

6. Understand your audience

It's important to understand who will be reading your personal statement. Admissions committees are made up of real people, including: 

  • Professors
  • Admissions counselors
  • Other experts

They're looking for students who are a good fit for their school or program, so it's important to write an essay that appeals to them and shows why you would be a great addition to their community.

To do this, you need to understand what they're looking for in an applicant. Ask yourself:

  • What qualities and attributes are they looking for? 
  • What kind of student would be a good fit for their school or program?

Do your research and find out as much as you can about the admissions committee and what they're looking for. Then, tailor your essay to them and their specific needs.

Just remember to be genuine in your personal statement. Admissions committees can spot a phony a mile away, so don't try to fake it.

7. Start with a strong thesis and outline your goals

Your personal statement is only as good as its main point. If you don't have a strong thesis or umbrella statement outlining your goals, the rest of your essay will be weak and directionless.

Think about what you want to accomplish with your personal statement. Ask yourself:

  • What do you want the admissions committee to know about you? 
  • What do you want them to remember?

Once you have a clear understanding of your goals, you can craft a strong thesis statement to guide the rest of your essay.

For example, let's say you're applying to a business school. You could start your essay with a strong thesis statement like:

"I aspire to become a successful businesswoman because I want to help females achieve equality in the workplace. I believe studying at XYZ Business School will give me the knowledge and skills I need to reach my goals."

This thesis statement tells the admissions committee what you want to do with your degree, and it shows that you have clear goals and ambitions. It also sets the tone for the rest of your essay, which should be focused on supporting your thesis.

Your thesis statement should wrap up your introduction and preview your main points. It should be clear, concise, and strong.

Example of a bad introduction

Here is an example of how not to write your personal statement introduction:

I want to go to college because I want to get a degree. I think it will be fun and I'll learn a lot of new things. It's always been my dream to go to college, and now that I'm older, I'm finally ready to make it happen.

I don't really know what I want to study yet, but I'm sure that whatever it is, it will be interesting. I'm just excited to start my journey and see where it takes me.

Example of a good introduction

Here is a better example of a personal statement introduction:

During my first year of high school, I made the decision to pursue a career in counseling. It was a difficult choice, but I knew that it was the right path for me.

Ever since I was young, I've been drawn to helping others. I've always been good at listening and offering support, and I knew that I could use my skills to make a difference in the lives of others.

However, I also knew that becoming a counselor would require more than just passion and good intentions. I needed the education to learn the necessary skills and knowledge to be successful.

That's why I'm applying to XYZ University's School of Education. I believe that this program will give me the tools I need to reach my goals and make a difference in the lives of others.

Example of a great introduction

Finally, here is an example of a great personal statement introduction. 

Note how it tells a story, sets the tone, and defines the purpose for the rest of the statement:

When I was younger, I was always told that I was special. My parents and teachers would tell me that I had a gift and that if I worked hard enough, I could achieve anything. I didn't really understand what they meant at the time, but as I got older, I began to see the truth in their words.

I realized that I had the ability to connect with people and help them see the best in themselves. I developed a passion for counseling and encouraging others, and I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in this field.

However, I also knew that I couldn't do it alone. I needed to learn the necessary skills and knowledge to be successful.

That's why I'm applying to XYZ University's School of Education. I believe that this program will give me the tools I need to reach my goals and make a difference in the lives of others.

8. Brainstorm your main points

Now, before you actually write the body of your essay, it's important to brainstorm the main points you will be making. 

What do you want to include in your essay?

To help you brainstorm, make a list of the most important qualities or experiences you have that'll help you achieve your goals. Once you have your list, choose 3 to 5 of the most important points to discuss in your essay.

For example, if you're writing an essay for a business school application, you might include qualities or experiences such as:

  • Leadership experience
  • Working in a team
  • Problem-solving
  • Analytical skills
  • Communication skills
  • Drive and motivation

Once you have your list of main points, you can start to flesh out each one with more specific details. These details will be the building blocks of your essay, and they will help you get into more specific and personal anecdotes.

After you've decided how many points you want to make and what those points will be, re-read your main categories to make sure they still make sense. This is your last chance to make any changes before you start writing the body of your essay!

9. Write a short story

For each of the main points, you generated in the previous step, write a short story that illustrates that quality or experience. These stories should be personal and specific to you, and they should show how you have used that quality or experience to achieve your goals.

For example, if one of your main points is leadership experience, you might tell a story about a time when you led a team to success. Or, if you're discussing motivation, you might tell a story about a time when you had to overcome a challenge.

These stories will help the reader see who you are as a person, and they'll give your essay substance and depth. Stories can show your passion, personality, experience, goals, and interests, so choose them wisely!

10. Answer questions with specific answers

When you're finished writing your stories, it's important to go back and make sure that each one answers the prompt. In other words, you want to make sure that your stories are relevant to the main theme of your essay.

For example, suppose you're writing an essay for a business school application. In that case, you'll want to make sure that your stories focus on qualities or experiences such as:

  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Problem-solving

It depends on the prompt, but sometimes it can be helpful to end each story with a brief explanation of how that experience helped you achieve your goals. This will drive home the point you're trying to make and leave the reader with a strong impression of who you are and what you're capable of.

Common personal statement prompts

Most prompts ask you questions such as:

  • What qualities or experiences do you have that will help you succeed in your field?
  • Write about a time when you had to overcome a challenge.
  • Describe an engaging and meaningful experience you had in your field.
  • What sets you apart from other applicants?

Keep these prompts in mind as you write your stories, and make sure that each story helps answer them in some way.

11. Use facts to back up your opinion

As you write your body paragraphs, it's important to back up your opinions with facts. This will help the reader see that you're not just making claims, but that you actually have evidence to support your statements.

For instance, if you're referring to a book or article in your essay, you should cite the author's name and the title of the work. If you're discussing a theory or an idea, you should cite the source of that information.

Citing your sources isn't only important for showing that you have done your research, but it also shows that you're credible and that your opinions are backed up by experts.

At the end of your essay, you should include a bibliography that lists all of the sources you used in your research. This will show the reader that you did your homework, and it will also give them a list of resources to learn more about the topics you discussed in your essay.

The basic format for a bibliography is as follows:

Author's Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. City of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication.

If you're citing an article, use this format:

Author's Last Name, First Name. "Title of Article." Title of Journal, Volume Number, Issue Number, Date of Publication, Page Numbers. 

12. Be authentic and show your passion for the subject matter

One of the most important things to do in your essay is to be authentic. This means writing genuinely and honestly about:

  • Who you are
  • What you're passionate about
  • What you want to achieve

Admissions committees can spot a fake a mile away, so don't try to impress them with stories that aren't true or with a passion that you don't actually feel. Be real and be genuine!

The best way to do this is to write about something you're truly passionate about. If you're not excited about the topic of your essay, it will be very difficult to write an engaging and compelling essay.

So, take some time to think about what you're passionate about, and then choose a topic that'll allow you to showcase that passion. Use personal examples, humor, and an active voice to bring your essay to life and make it memorable.

13. Let your personality shine

What exactly do we mean by letting your personality shine through in your writing?

Well, for one thing, it means using your own voice and not imitating someone else's. This is your essay, so it should sound like you.

Use the active voice and first-person point of view when possible, and don't be afraid to show some personality in your writing. Be creative, be original, and let your own voice come through in your essay.

Don't be afraid to be a little bit quirky or different. Admissions committees are looking for unique candidates who stand out from the rest of the crowd.

If you have a weird hobby or an interesting story to tell, don't be afraid to share it in your essay. These are the things that will make you memorable and separate you from the rest of the applicants.

14. End with a strong conclusion that recaps each main point

Finally, you'll want to end your essay with a strong conclusion that summarizes all of the main points you've made.

Don't introduce any new information in your conclusion, and don't try to make any last-minute appeals to the admissions committee. Simply recap what you've already said and leave it at that.

End on a positive note, and make sure your conclusion is as strong as your introduction. If your essay starts off well but then fizzles out at the end, it will leave a bad impression on the admissions committee.

Take some time to write a strong, positive conclusion that will leave a lasting impression on the reader. That way, they'll remember you when it comes time to make their final decisions.

Ready to write your personal statement?

Now that you know how to write a personal statement, it's time to get started. 

Set aside some time to sit down and start writing, and don't stop until you're happy with what you've written. If you take your time and do it right, your personal statement could be one of the best things you've ever written.

It might just be the thing that gets you into the school of your dreams. So, what are you waiting for? Get writing!

Worried you don’t have the writing chops to craft a perfect personal statement? Then let AI-powered writing help you out.

Copy.ai has tools that can help you express yourself and impress admissions committees.



This article is part of an ongoing series on how to write. For other related content designed and produced to make you a better writer, check the links below.

How to write a tagline

How to create a blog outline

How To Write a Comparison Blog Post

How to write a listicle

How to Write a Blog Post About an Event

Ready to level-up?

Write 10x faster, engage your audience, & never struggle with the blank page again.

Get Started for Free
No credit card required
7-day trial of Pro
90+ content types to explore