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Writing a Personal Statement (for an application to a graduate or professional program)

The personal statement is an important part of your application package, so write several drafts. It will be read very quickly, so make it interesting!

  Functions of the personal statement:

  • To round out your application package by providing the reviewers with information that is not available on the application form.
  • To lift a few items out of your application form so that reviewers can understand the experiences more fully.
  • To explain the process that led to your choice of career – what initially piqued your interest and what confirmed it.
  • To introduce yourself as a person with a unique background and voice.
  • To quickly explain aspects of your application that reviewers might have concerns about (why you didn’t attend college for a semester, why you are switching careers, etc.).

Your entire application package will be evaluated based on:

  • Your intellect (demonstrated through GPA and standardized exam scores).
  • Your character (demonstrated with examples of compassion and hard work).
  • Your knowledge of and deep interest in the field you wish to enter (demonstrated through work, volunteering, and research).
  • Where relevant, your experiences with leadership and/or diversity.

Honestly evaluate which of the above criteria you need to strengthen and then address those areas in your personal statement.

Recommended Writing Process:

  1. Analyze the essay question/prompt and research the school/program.
  2. Brainstorm: Ask friends and colleagues what’s interesting or impressive about you. Decide whether you need to strengthen your academic qualifications or other areas.
  3. Write a paragraph or two about various topics and then decide which ones are most impressive or interesting.
  4. Write an outline that will stitch together the various topics you want to include.
  5. Write a first draft and then revise the essay.
  6. Get feedback from two people who know how to evaluate personal statements.
  7. Revise again and then proofread. Ask a good writer to do a second proofreading.


Be honest and genuine.

Reviewers read hundreds of personal statements, and they can tell when a student is exaggerating or being manipulative. For example, don’t tell us that your mother’s death is what led to your goal of becoming a pharmacist if that’s not the case. That said, reviewers would want to know that your mother died when you were ten because it says a lot about what you had to overcome as a child. The solution? Slip in the information as you discuss another topic. Here’s an example: “After my mother died when I was ten, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. It was from her that I learned about the traditional herbal medicines of Mexico .”

Don’t offer excuses for the negatives in your application; instead, turn them into something positive or mention them briefly and then move on. For example, “Although my Chicago public high school did not provide me with strong academic skills, I managed to catch up with other students by my sophomore year. Along the way, I learned how to work hard and manage my time.” For example, “Although my transition from community college to UIC was challenging…”

DO the following in your essay:

  • Present a realistic rather than naive understanding of the profession. For example, a law school applicant learned during an internship that practicing law is less a matter of presentation skills and more about painstaking research.
  • Use the language of the field or profession.
  • Include examples and specifics that clarify and support any generalizations you make.
  • Discuss relevant volunteer and work experiences as well as informal activities. For example, you might mention assisting a disabled relative each week or organizing a weekly study group for your organic chemistry course.
  • Include research or special academic projects you worked on during college. Avoid including too much detail about the project; the focus should be on what you learned or accomplished through the project.
  • Tell us something unusual or surprising about yourself, such as a special talent or interest. This might be tied in with your career goal. For example, you might say that the many hours you spent practicing the trumpet helped you develop strong discipline.
  • Tell us if you paid for your own tuition, helped support your family while you were in college, cared for a family member, or had other significant obligations.
  • If you changed majors or careers and this was a big switch (say from art to pre-med), tell us why you changed. Also tell us what positive things you brought from your prior major or job. For example, a pre-med student who had been in the military might mention the number of soldiers she supervised and the size of her budget.
  • If you believe your standardized test score is not reflective of your ability, explain.


  • Include adjectives about yourself. Instead, let the details speak for themselves.
  • Discuss at length your experiences from childhood or high school.
  • Exceed designated limits for length.
  • Simply summarize your entire life. Instead, choose a few topics and then find a thread tol tie them together.
  • Repeat information that’s on the application form. Instead, mention activities or awards only when you have something to say about them.
  • Try to be funny or gimmicky or too personal (religious beliefs, etc).
  • Say you have always wanted to be a doctor (or include other empty generalizations).
  • Refer to the salary of the profession.
  • Try to sound like a novelist. Focus on content and write sincerely.
  • Sound like a braggart. Give examples that will impress us but don’t tell us that you’re smart and compassionate.
  • Try to flatter the school with empty compliments. Instead, mention particular strengths of the school or areas of research.
  • End by saying you are a good candidate for admission.

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