7 Tips on How to Write A Killer Personal Statement

For many of us, writing (or talking) about ourselves is challenging. Yet, one of the most common scholarship interview questions is “What are your strengths?” As I was thinking about how to answer that, the first thing that popped into my head was, “Umm, well, when I was younger, I used to pretend that swings were rocket ships that would take me to the moon if I swung high enough” — so I guess I’m imaginative? Probably not what I would want to say out loud in a real interview, right? How do you get into the mindset to write a personal statement that’s all about you?

Fortunately, you have more time to prepare and write a personal statement and your elevator pitch—you’re not put on the spot here. Having said that, the personal statement is one of the hardest parts of any kind of application. Sometimes, just figuring out where to start can seem to take forever. Here are some tips on how to write a personal statement for college applications or any other personal statement.

A student writes in a blank notebook while brainstorming their personal statement.

1. Stick to Any Personal Statement Requirements

Most of the time, a personal statement will come with a set of requirements. There’s a very good chance that the school, scholarship, or position you are applying for will request that you answer a question or discuss a specific topic in your personal statement or essay. Purdue Owl’s top advice for personal statement writing is: Answer The Question! It may seem like common sense, but stick to it as best you can if you get a topic.

Another requirement might include a page or word cap for the essay word counts (e.g., 1000 words max.). Depending on the limit, you might have to be quite concise. Having said that, keep your writing to the point even if there is no length requirement.

2. Talk to Others About Your Essay

Before you start writing, talk to your close friends and family. Find out what they see as unique about you. Sometimes it is difficult to come up with a list of your own strengths, so have others do it for you! It’s amazing what others see in you, that are hard to see in yourself. Ask them if they have any stories that would be helpful. Alternatively, ask them what they think sets you apart from others. What they have to say may surprise you. Plus, talk about a confidence boost!

3. Organize Your Thoughts BEFORE You Start Writing

Sit down and outline your personal statement to structure what you want to say before you start to write. Not only will this help keep your thoughts organized, but it will also ensure that your essay flows nicely, and stays on topic. Make sure your first paragraph includes a good hook, you want to make sure they keep reading.

Using an outline will also help keep you on track if there’s a page or word limit. You can gauge how much space you have left to express yourself. Or, if you find yourself rambling you will know where to shave words or sentences to fit the rest of your points. Remember, be specific and tell a story. Be memorable.

4. Be Positive and Prepared

Even if the topic you’re given, or question you’re asked, is adversarial (e.g. what is your greatest weakness? Or, describe an insurmountable challenge.), make sure you’re presenting yourself in a positive light. Let the reader(s) know why they should choose you.

If you need to do a bit of research – go for it. You want to know your stuff if you’re going to be writing about it. Don’t make things up–the reader(s) will know. For essays or scholarships that ask you questions like “why do you want to go to our college?” or “why do you deserve this scholarship?” stick to what you know and be yourself.

5. Address Inconsistencies in Your Record

When you write a personal statement for a scholarship or college admissions, explain things that may not match up or make sense when paired together. For example, if you struggled in freshman and sophomore years and failed a few classes, you probably don’t have a 4.0 GPA. But you might have a high ACT/SAT score. So, when someone looks through your materials (e.g., transcript, test scores, etc.), they might be confused by the discrepancies. Use your personal statement to explain what was going on in your life, your mistakes, what you’ve learned, or how your attitude towards school has evolved.

While there are some things that are good to explain in a personal statement, there are also topics you should avoid. Don’t include things that aren’t relevant to the question or prompt. It never hurts to ask if you aren’t sure whether something should be included. Now, when I say ask, I don’t mean turn to your locker partner and say, “Hey, should I write about that time that Susie dumped her strawberry milk on me in 10th grade and ruined my white jeans? That was embarrassing…” Talk to a parent, teacher, or your school counselor instead.

6. Have Someone Else Proofread Your Personal Statement

Poor grammar and spelling mistakes are a surefire way to have your application tossed away without a second glance. It doesn’t matter if you’re competing against 3 or 3,000 other students–incorrect grammar always looks bad.

If you don’t have anyone around to proofread for you, and the application is due in 15 minutes, try reading it out loud. Reading your writing aloud helps identify places where you might need commas or where you skipped or misused a word.

7. Seek Feedback

Before submitting your final draft, ask your school counselor, teacher(s), or someone else you trust to not only read over your work but also to provide feedback. They can find tidbits that you should exclude, places to be clearer, or where you need to further explain a few details. Feedback can help you communicate what you’re trying to say more clearly because it is from an outsider’s perspective, rather than your own.

Receiving and working with feedback is something you’ll be doing the rest of your life, so it is good practice now. Constructive critiquing will always benefit you. It isn’t an attack against you, and it isn’t saying that your writing is terrible, it is just helpful. Listen to what others have to say. But, it’s still your personal statement, so it’s up to you to decide which changes to make.

3 Personal Statement Examples

Here are a few samples of personal statements for your college applications and why they work.

1. What Can You Tell Us About Yourself?


I have always been passionate about computers. Since my early teens, my family and friends have been calling on me to solve software issues, hard drive problems, or even build their computers. However, I also enjoy doing these tasks in my free time! Additionally, I participate in my school’s swim team and enjoy attending our local tech club’s weekly meetings.

Why It Works: This response works as a personal statement because you’re stating you’ve been passionate about something for a long time. You’re even considered the expert among your peers. That shows dedication and know-how and is especially good if you’re majoring in that subject. You’re also talking about your other interests outside of your primary passion to show you’re a well-rounded person and part of a community.

2. Tell Us About Your Strengths and Weaknesses


One of my biggest strengths is my dedication to a project. Once I start working on an assignment or hobby, I make sure to finish it properly. However, this strength is also a weakness because I tend to focus too much on the details. While I want the project to be perfect, I sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture. I’m trying to overcome this tendency towards perfectionism by focusing more on the overall objective. This approach has resulted in an improvement in my work.

Why it Works: This response focuses on your dedication and confidence in a project, while also talking about how you are aware you have things to work on. You even can mention how you’re going to work to improve on your weak area. Talking about how you’re improving yourself shows the school that you’re aware of your weaknesses, but are actively taking steps to learn and grow.

3. Why Do You Want to Attend This School?


I have always dreamed of attending X University. I have visited the campus several times, and I am always impressed by its meticulous attention to detail and beauty. The kindness exhibited by the staff and students is also noteworthy. However, the most compelling reason for choosing this school is its exceptional biology program. I am confident that this program will provide me with the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue my career goal of becoming a top ecologist.

Why It Works: This example talks about how attending the university is not a passing interest by stating it has been on your mind for a while now, but also that you’ve visited the campus quite a few times. You compliment the campus, staff, and program while talking about how it can help with your future goals. You’re also displaying that you know exactly what you’d like to do upon graduation, so you show you have a plan.

My last tip for you is: do NOT wait until the last minute to start writing. The more editing you have time for, the better. Hopefully, this how to write a personal statement guide helped you get started!

If you need further assistance with your personal statement, Purdue OWL has great resources (including examples) available on their website!

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