Personal Essays and Statements of Purpose

General Advice

Answer the questions that are asked

If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar, but don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. Answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, write separate statements.

Tell a story

Demonstrate through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack and making yourself memorable. 

Be specific

Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to became a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experiences that are described in your statement.

Find an angle

If you're like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding a unique angle or “hook” is vital.

Concentrate on your opening paragraph

The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader's attention or lose it. It becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.

Tell what you know

Too many people graduate with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they hope to enter. Be specific and relate what you know about the field in the language professionals use. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it. When you are selecting experiences, be sure to consider the appropriateness of this content. 

Consider the appropriateness of the content

There are certain things best left out of personal statements. For example, references to experiences or accomplishments in high school or earlier are generally not a good idea. Don't mention potentially controversial subjects (for example, controversial religious or political views). If a school wants to know why you're applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. Consider factors such as the school's research focus, reputation, how the program matches with your career goals, etc. 

Write well and correctly

Be meticulous. Type your essay and proofread it multiple times. Many admission officers say that good writing skills and correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.

Avoid clichés

A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated statements.

Rules to Consider When Writing a Personal Statement

  • Strive for depth rather than breadth. Keep a narrow focus to one or two key themes, ideas, or experiences.
  • Try to tell the reader something that no other applicant will be able to say.
  • Provide the reader with insight into what drives you.
  • Be yourself, not the 'ideal' applicant.
  • Do not use boring clichéd intros or conclusions "Allow me to introduce myself, " "My name is...," "This question asks me to discuss...," etc.
  • Get creative and imaginative in the opening remarks, but make sure it's something that no one else could write.
  • Address the school's unique features that interest you, including professors.
  • Do not get the name of the school wrong.
  • Focus on the affirmative in the personal statement , do not complain or whine about the "system" or circumstances in your life.
  • Evaluate experiences, rather than describe them.
  • Do not restate your résumé.
  • Proofread carefully for grammar, syntax, punctuation, word usage, and style.
  • Do not talk about money as a motivator.
  • Do not discuss your minority status or disadvantaged background unless you have a compelling and unique story that relates to it.
  • Do not use unconventional formats or submit your materials in fancy packaging.
  • Do not showcase your vocabulary for the sake of appearing intelligent; only incorporate technical language when it is necessary and relevant.