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Updated October 7th, 2022

Personal Statements

A personal statement is an account of our lives, the events of which contributed significantly to who and what we are, and which are still shaping our future. These experiences build our aspirations and expectations. They influence our career (or our careers influence them).

I remember the stories our babysitter read to us before we slept, we were three of us in the same bed. I cant even imagine how boring those stories must have been, every evening, by the time she turned to page 4 or 5, we were all deeply asleep...

In writing a personal statement, you get a chance to blend personal experiences that are quite social in nature, together with professional experiences to package/brand yourself accurately suitable for the career you are pursuing. Therefore you must come out as unique a package as possible, not only unique but superior relative to other brands (applicants). You have an opportunity to be creative and capture the reader's attention in a way that will get you noticed.

The opening paragraph

It was one of the hottest days and I was walking in the deep sand of the east Sahara desert, painfully feeling the blisters on my heals and the dry salty taste on my tongue... The opening paragraph is the most important part of the essay. It is aimed at grabbing the reader's attention, and not only grabbing it, but also holding it. It MUST create enough pleasure to arouse a strong interest in the reader. The opening statement must avoid cliches at all costs, but rather it should emphasize on a unique event.

Identifying a unique experience in your life.

You need to creatively identify an experience that uniquely brands you more fit to take the position than any other applicant. What happened on that day when you were volunteering to deliver presents on Christmas eve, or the day you got your offer for your first job, or the day you day had just turned 13 and your granddad took you for a drive in the backroads in his truck.

I had just turned forty eight, I left my two adult children, my husband, and the dishes in the sink, and moved into a college dorm to become a freshman. And because I was a first-generation college student, I had no one to tell me that a college dorm is not the serene, academic refuge I had always imagined... From: Graduate admissions essays by Donald Asher 3rd edition, Ten speed press, 2008

Realise that sometimes identifying a unique experience in our lives is not as easy as making coffee, but just as coffee is to most people, it usually is worth the effort.

The body of the essay

This section of the essay requires you to detail the experiences or influences that have built the professional/intellectual focus that you now have. Recall what particular articles in your field of study that have had a strong influence in your career. Recall your most favorite subject in college and how it became your favorite, recall the attitude you had about various exams. How did particular teachers and professors influence your career path professionally or socially. What educational milestones have you achieved.

Our biology teacher in high school was so much like my mother. They both wanted me to be a doctor. They thought I would make a good surgeon. I was especially good in biology and chemistry but I wasn't sure if these alone would make me a good surgeon. The rest of my siblings were all working in big banks, making good money without much of a graduate education on their happy minds. But as for me, I knew I needed...

It was one of those boring afternoons in college, I bumped into Prof. Stuart and, without any prior plan, I took a quick opportunity to ask him for a brief advice on career opportunities and to get his opinion concerning my suitability to pursue graduate school. ........ It is then that I got convinced that I...

Recall the encouraging statements made by others about your abilities, especially those that carry relevance to your career.

At the end of my presentaiton, my colleague, very confidently, told me that my communication skills were very good, this statement was the light bulb moment that I had needed all my life. I knew at that time that a career in ......

By now, in your essay, you have begun introducing the circumstances that led to you fitting in the career that you are presently in, or pursuing. The diction you use in this section is important. Most importantly, you want to retain a smooth flow from one concept to another. You want to make the essay become a story. Allow every paragraph to introduce the next. You can also describe the activities you have participated in as a deliberate effort to achieve this career goal. This may be structured in the order they appear in a resume. In this case you will indicate the most relevant educational experiences. Here, you give a very brief description of your past experience and reflect this to your future aspirations and how this academic background has built in you the ability to get into graduate school or the career you are writing the essay for. Then you include relevant work experience. Such as laboratory experience, field experience, data analysis and computer skills that you will most probably need in graduate school, or the skills that will be relevant in your new career. You can also mention any physical abilities that may make you favorably more successful in this career.

Closing Paragraph

An important way to end your essay is to back up your statements using other people's opinions. This has to be totally true and sincere, because lies here are so easy to smell. Donald asher provides a more general example in his book:

In my frequent correspondence with Drs. Wilson, Lee and Wu, I have come to discover that your program and my academic interests perfectly align.

There are several other ways to close a personal essay. Approaches that require creativity usually result in huge returns. One example is to connect your closing statement to your opening statement.

For example, you can start the personal statement with a line such as...

My dad nicknamed me Donald duck, he thought I would make a good fun to children, a great actor and inspiration...

Then end your personal statement with...

...And so I will grow up to be Donald duck, with a strong desire to create a smile on children's faces, a perfect pediatrician.

Another way to end a personal statement is to use a quote from someone's writing.

Then Mark said, "only they that deserve shall find the doors into his Glory", (Matthew X:XX) (this is not a real quote.)

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