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ServiceScape Incorporated

7 Easy Rules for Writing an Amazing Personal Statement


For many people, the thought of writing a personal statement is so intimidating it fuels the kind of procrastination that inspires them to reorganize their cabinets or closets. Many people fret about personal statements because they are self-conscious about their writing skills or do not even know where to begin when asked to write a personal statement. The unfortunate paradox of the college admissions process is the expectation that applicants will write a powerful and compelling personal statement although most seventeen- or eighteen-year-olds have not yet had the life exposure or experience that would allow them to read other people's personal statements, so they haven't had the opportunity to create a personal understanding of what features set the good ones apart.

Thankfully for this generation of applicants, the Internet provides guidance and actual examples of stellar personal statements. I have edited and written many personal statements over the years, so I will combine my personal knowledge with trusted Internet resources to identify seven easy rules for writing an amazing personal statement.

Rule #1 - Start early

Even if you are a person who thrives under the pressure of the last minute of a deadline, do not wait until the last minute to start your personal statement. Your personal statement could make the difference between being accepted to the university of your dreams or getting waitlisted (or denied). Since this document has the potential to significantly affect your future, make sure you allow ample time to write, edit, re-write, re-edit, and re-write again. If you have trouble starting when a deadline seems far in advance, below are some tips to help you stay on track:

  • Create a false early deadline for yourself, or create a series of deadlines to force yourself to start the process.
  • If you need accountability, talk with a friend or group of friends about creating an accountability group where you ask each other for progress updates and inspire each other to start writing. This method has the double benefit of getting you started on the process and providing you with a valid accountability response if you are blessed with parents who repeatedly ask if you've finished your personal statement yet.
Create a false early deadline for yourself, or create a series of deadlines to force yourself to start the process
Create a false early deadline for yourself, or create a series of deadlines to force yourself to start the process.

Rule #2 - Read the instructions clearly and answer any questions posed in the prompt

This is critically important. If you do not follow the guidelines expressed in the instructions, you will have wasted all that time you spent worrying, procrastinating, and working on your personal statement.

  • The instructions are included because they expect you to follow them. If you do not follow them, you send the message that you are not the type of student or employee that will excel in their institution.
  • If the prompt includes questions, make sure that you answer those questions in your personal statement. Failure to do so is a great way to ensure a rejection letter.

Rule #3 - Avoid clichés

You have probably heard people refer to the fact that clichés weaken your writing, but you may not recognize that you are even using clichés.

  • A cliché is any kind of saying or phrase that you could search on the Internet in quotes and find pages of results with links to books, magazines, webpages, and interviews where people have used that phrase.
  • Clichés became overused because they are either true or valuable in some way, but that doesn't mean you need to use them in your writing. If you realize you've included clichés or overused phrases, simply spend some time figuring out a different and unique way to express the notion. It will strengthen your writing, which will strengthen your personal statement.
  • Online resources such as provide comprehensive lists if you want to review a list of most used clichés.

Rule # 4 - Create an intriguing and personal introduction that makes people want to keep reading

When most of us search the Internet for information, we click on a link and read the first few sentences to decide if the site contains what we're looking for and if it is written in a manner that resonates with us. We decide after only a sentence or two if we're going to hit the back button on our browser and find another site. Your personal statement is valuable and precious to you, so make sure to convey that to the person reading it as part of your application.

  • Write the introduction to your personal statement in an intriguing yet professional manner so no one would want to stop reading after a few sentences.
  • When you review and edit your personal statement, ask yourself, "If this was a website I'd just clicked on or a book I'd just started, would I keep reading?"
  • Remember that admissions counselors and hiring authorities have to sift through countless applications every day. If they are choosing from a large group of skilled applicants, they often make their decision to keep reading after just the first few sentences. Make sure that yours is well written and engaging so it is one of the ones they keep reading.

Rule #5 - Give readers a behind-the-scenes view of who you are

Personal statements are important in the admissions process—and sometimes the hiring process—because they provide a behind-the-scenes view of the applicant. It can be difficult for admissions counselors or hiring authorities to glean a clear picture of you as an individual from the dry facts on your resume and/or transcript. Remember this as you draft your personal statement.

  • It should not be a translation of your resume or transcript. This is your opportunity to show who you are, what motivates you, and how you view the world.
  • You may quickly reference certain items from your resume or transcript, but take full advantage of the opportunity to showcase things about you that are not evident from your resume or transcript.
  • If you have large gaps in employment or other items in your resume or transcript that might seem questionable, address those items in the personal statement in a professional and logical manner that is not dramatic. If you've experienced personal struggles that are not evident from your transcript or resume, you do not need to address it.

Rule #6 - Employ the valuable writing motto "Show, don't tell"

Your personal statement gives you the opportunity to shape the narrative of your life. "Show, don't tell" is one of the fundamental guidelines for storytelling or writing.

  • Consider the difference between these two statements: "I am a hard worker," and "During high school, I learned to use a detailed calendar to manage my time so I could work at the YMCA to gain experience working with youth while ensuring I had the necessary study time to maintain my 4.0 GPA." The first sentence simply tells the reader that the individual is a hard worker, but the second sentence provides enough detailed and rich information that it clearly shows the reader that the individual is indeed a hard worker who has also acquired the important skill of time management.
  • To apply this guideline in your personal statement, think of a few snapshots of your life that show the kind of person you are. Brainstorm stories that summarize you or aspects you want to highlight and make a list so you can choose one or two that best represent the values and attributes you want to include.
  • Perhaps you have a story that shows your persistence because you didn't make the basketball team the first three years of high school, so you practiced long hours and finally made it senior year.
  • Perhaps you have a story that provides insight about why you want to pursue a certain career based on a childhood experience that shaped your life.
  • Your personal stories should not be long or elaborate; choose experiences that you can express in a concise but powerful manner.
  • Do not choose stories involving altercations that would require you to put yourself or anyone else in a negative light.
Your personal statement could provide insight about why you want to pursue a certain career based on a childhood experience that shaped your life
Perhaps you have a story that provides insight about why you want to pursue a certain career based on a childhood experience that shaped your life.

Rule #7 - Ask family members and friends for feedback and input

Most high school seniors and college students have reached the age where they no longer want their parents' help on anything. You may be ready to embrace your independence and show the world that you're a competent adult who can accomplish things on your own, but your parents probably have experience that can benefit you.

  • Create the first draft of your personal statement on your own, but then you should ask your parents and other trusted adults (perhaps your English teacher, guidance counselor, or advisor) to review your personal statement for content, grammar, and punctuation.
  • If you do not want to ask family members, friends, or colleagues, submit your personal statement to an editor for review.
  • If you are embarrassed to show your personal statement to family members or friends, consider the reason. Is it because they will be able to tell you haven't put enough effort into it? If your family members and friends can recognize this, admissions counselors and hiring authorities certainly will.
  • Someone else can often catch mistakes that you have become immune to during the writing process.
  • Read your personal statement aloud to make sure it sounds as good as it did when you were writing. Reading aloud also gives you a different viewpoint that might allow you to catch mistakes you previously overlooked.

Hopefully those seven easy rules for writing an amazing personal statement make you feel prepared and ready to start the process. My last piece of advice is be confident! Confidence (not to be confused with arrogance) is evident in your writing, so give yourself a pep talk if you need one. With the proper mindset and enough time, you will write a personal statement that gets you through the doors to your chosen school or career.

I've included some links below for more resources and examples of personal statements from websites or institutions that I trust:

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