What This Resource is About:

This resource explains what a personal statement is, how to get started writing one, how to apply advice from admissions officers, and what to keep in mind before you submit.

What is a Personal Statement?

Writers applying to graduate or professional schools are often asked to provide a personal statement. This is a core piece of the application that allows you to show off your best qualities and explain why you are applying. Sometimes the expectations can seem vague even when there is a prompt. Knowing what a personal statement is will help you get started on the right foot!

A Personal Statement Should:

  • Focus more on who you are rather than what your accomplishments are.
    • The personal statement is your opportunity to share what is important to you, how your goals and passions will allow you to succeed, and how you will add value to the program you are pursuing.

  • Give readers an idea of why you are applying to this school, why you want to go down this life path, and why you would be a good fit.

Difference Between a Personal Statement and a Statement of Purpose?

Some schools may want a personal statement while others may want a statement of purpose. In some cases, a school may want both! It is important to know the difference between the two when starting the writing process.

Personal Statement 

Statement of Purpose 

  • Focuses on your life experience. 
  • Shows your growth as a person, a scholar, and a professional. 
  • Touches on your goals and academic pursuits but always comes back to who you are. 
  • Discusses past credentials, academic progress, future goals, and often research goals. 
  • Focuses on both academic and career prospects.

Works Cited 

Strickland, Erin. Personal Statements. Spring 2021. PowerPoint Presentation. 

Van Sambeck, Becca. “How to Write a Stand-out Personal Statement for Your Graduate School Application.” USC Online, 26 Nov. 2021, online.usc.edu/news/how-to-write-personal-statement-graduate-school-tips/.

Works Consulted  

Bernard, Abby. Interview. By Natasha Gesker. 2 Jan 2022.  

Ellis, Matt. “How to Write a Powerful Personal Statement.” Grammarly Blog. 16 July 2021. https://www.grammarly.com/blog/personal-statement/

Tolar, Mary Hale. “Definition of a Personal Statement.” Loyola University Maryland. https://www.loyola.edu/department/national-fellowships/resources/personal-statement  



Getting started on a personal statement

Think about your audience...

  • What do you know about who will be making the decisions about admissions?
  • What is unique about the programs/institutions/opportunities you're applying for?
  • Does the recipient of your personal statement want a general description of your experiences or something deeper or more targeted?

Think about yourself...

  • What has driven you to where you are now?
  • What has encouraged you to continue your education?
  • What are your goals—personal, academic, professional?
  • What are some meaningful experiences that have shaped you and your goals?
  • What central themes connect who you are, who you were, and who you want to be?
  • What are some of your successes (academic and professional)? What about your experiences got you there?

Think about the personal statement itself...

  • Have they given you a prompt or question to answer?
  • Is there a word or page limit? What story or stories can you tell effectively in the length allotted?
  • What style or tone are you aiming for?
  • How will your personal statement complement other parts of your application? What will the admissions committee not know about you from other parts of your application that they need to know?
  • Which story/stories demonstrate something meaningful about you? Are they relevant and connected to the goals of the place you're applying to?

Advice From Admissions Officers and How to Apply It

Tip #1

"We look for some originality because nine of ten essays leave you with a big yawn. 'I like science, I like to help people and that's why I want to be a doctor.' The common, uninteresting, and unoriginal statement is one that recounts the applicant's academic pursuits and basically repeats what is elsewhere in the application."

-Dr. Daniel R. Alonso, Associate Dean for Admissions, Cornell University Medical College

Tip #2

“You look for something different, something that will pique your interest and provide some very unique insight that will make you pay some notice to this person who is among so many other qualified applicants… And more important than anything: be yourself. Really show your personality….”  

-Dr. Daniel R. Alonso, Associate Dean for Admissions, Cornell University Medical College


Tip #3

“We are looking for a clear statement . . . to tell us something about themselves that they think is worthy of sharing with us, something that makes them unique, different, and the type of medical student and future physician we’re all looking for. What they have done in working with individuals . . . that shows us they can relate to people and have done so in an effective fashion.”   

-John Herweg, Committee on Admissions, Washington University School of Medicine


You can apply all of this advice—be clear, be original, be yourself—by offering specific details and stories. Admissions officers will get an overview of your experiences and accomplishments from the rest of your application. Use the personal statement to share particular experiences and insights. 

Here’s what that might look like:  

Example 1:

Instead of saying you want to help people, you might say, "I want to become a doctor because the doctor-patient relationship was one of the most impactful interactions I had when my mom was going through cancer." This statement is specific to you, invites the reader to read on, and allows the writer to focus on a specific aspect of medicine: the doctor-patient relationship.

Example 2:

Instead of generally describing a volunteer trip you took to Guatemala, which the admissions officers will know from your resume, choose one particular day, moment, interaction, or event that illustrates how the trip impacted you or changed your perspective. For example, “One particular afternoon in x town, I met a pregnant woman who helped me understand the role geography plays in pre-natal healthcare.” Often the experience itself (the trip) doesn’t tell the reader as much as the interpretation or impact (the changed perspective).

Example 3

Instead of “I am a perfect match for your medical program,” offer evidence to support that claim. For example, “My experience studying post-influenza fungal infections under Professor X at Montana State University has shown me the importance of integrating scientific study with patient care...”

Example 4

Instead of listing your experiences and describing them one by one i.e. “I worked as a CNA for x number of years in a local hospital, and then as an EMT during college,” explain the impact those specific experiences had on you. “When working as a CNA, I had one long-term patient that I cared for, and on my breaks, I would play board games with her to help her pass the time. I learned how impactful I could really be in someone's life and will strive to add that personal touch to patient interactions when I become a physician.”

Looking for advice about how to make your writing clear and concrete? Check out our clear and concrete writing resource here.

Personal Statement Checklist: Before You Submit

Check that you ...

Focus on Growth

  • Do you explain how you have changed, either in your life or because of certain lessons?

  • Do you focus on what you learned rather than what happened?

  • Do you talk about experiences you have had that will make you successful?

  • Do you demonstrate how you will continue to grow and learn?

  • Are you presenting yourself as positive and confident, even when discussing difficult topics?

Include Detail and a Unique Perspective

  • Do you avoid using overly generalized statements?

  • Do you explain in detail how different events, facts, and experiences have shaped who you are/who you aim to be? 

  • Does your statement offer a new insight into who you are that is not already reflected in your application?

Remain True to Yourself

  • Is it about you (not a friend, coach, or mentor)?
  • If your friend read this out of context, would they know it was you?

Remain on Topic

  • Does your statement relate to your overall goals?
  • Is your statement relevant to what this school can help you achieve?
  • Have you kept to a single central theme instead of including ideas that might not fit?

Have Edited Carefully

  • Have you checked all your spelling?
  • Have you corrected your grammar?
  • Have you read your statement aloud to yourself, listened to someone else read your statement, or discussed your paper with someone else?
  • Have you asked for honest feedback from multiple people?

Works Cited  

Strickland, Erin. Personal Statements. Spring 2021. PowerPoint Presentation.