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Personal Statement Example

by Annie Rose Stathes
Published June 10, 2013

A personal statement is one of the common requirements of a graduate school application. While the task of creating your statement may seem daunting, try to view the challenge as a way to make your application more human. You are more than your GPA and GRE/GMAT scores; this is when you get to demonstrate this to the admissions committee. You must work to ensure your statement has a clear message and engages the reader. This article highlights some of the common mistakes that affect the overall quality of the composition.

Before we critique a  personal statement example it is a good idea to review some general rules for composing your personal statement essay:

1. Begin by writing an introduction creating context for your reader. Because the essay is a personal essay, help your reader better know and understand you. To do so, create a story introducing you and your essay painting a picture of your personality, history, or goals and preparing your reader for the rest of your essay.  End your introduction by making a central claim about you and your educational goals.

2. Continue by segueing into a body section about how you connect to the program to which you’re applying. In other words, explain why the program is right for you given the story you shared. In this section, mention specific details that make the program interesting to you and explain why the program is a good fit.

3. Continue developing your body section by explaining what you would specifically like to study, and how you will use your education outside of the classroom.

4. Conclude your essay by constructing a conclusion restating your central claim, reminding  your reader of the important points made in the body of the essay, and explaining why the information in your essay is important and relevant.      

With these rules in mind, let us examine an example  of a personal statement. This is a student’s rough draft, after each paragraph we provide recommendations for revising the essay to make it clear, concise, and purposeful.

PERSONAL STATEMENT EXAMPLE

Paragraph 1 - Introduction
 

I first became interested in a career in social work when I was employed as an elementary teaching assistant at ABC School. ABC School specializes in the education of children with learning disabilities. The responsibilities of this position provided me with one of the first work experiences that offered a greater sense of pride and meaning from the contributions I made to the organization and the students. Through this experience, I formed strong relationships with a number of students and learned many lessons from the school’s faculty and staff. While ABC School was the catalyst of my desire to study and develop skills in social work it was not the only experience that lead me to decide that my future endeavors rested in a career where I was helping others, over the course of one summer, I had the opportunity to serve as an intern for Congressman J. Doe. Even from a young age, I had great interest in politics, and I viewed this internship as a great opportunity to learn some of the deeper intricacies of holding public office. I believed that through my work at the Congressman’s office I could make a difference, especially on the local level, supporting candidates on the issues I felt were important. My responsibilities as an intern were varied, they included distribution of informational literature supporting the candidate, campaigning to garner support for my local school districts referendum, summarizing case files for war veterans, and managing media relations on behalf of the congressman. I have always considered it a paramount personal responsibility to be an advocate for the betterment of my community.

 

Recommendations:

Here’s what's good about this introduction:

1. It’s very personal. The author shares their feelings about their work, life, and purpose. The stories helps the readers understand the applicant’s character, commitments, and interests.

2. The introduction ends with a thesis statement of sorts. Sentence number 5 claims: “I have always considered it a paramount personal responsibility to be an advocate for the betterment of my community.” This summarizes who the author is as a person and sets up the rest of the essay. The rest of the essay should be tied to this claim.

Here’s what needs a little work:

1. Many of the sentences in this introduction are a little bit clunky. They’re not bad sentences—they’re just not great sentences. Each could be revised a bit for clarity and conciseness. When you’re writing your personal statement essay, write sentences that easily roll off the tongue.

2. Sentence 4 (Through this experience, I formed strong relationships with a number of students and learned many lessons from the school’s faculty and staff.) seems out of place. The information serves a purpose for a resume, but not necessarily for a personal statement essay. Only include relevant information; remember, your goal is to introduce yourself and connect yourself to the university.

3. The concluding sentence in a paragraph should serve as a summary of everything that came before.  The student could strengthen their essay by tying their thesis to their desire to earn a degree in social work.

4. There are many misused and missing commas. This is incredibly common. When editing your personal statement, use a grammar reference book to guide your comma and other punctuation usage.

Paragraph 2 - Body
 

There are many goals I hope to accomplish by attaining knowledge of social work. While some of my goals are tactical others are more grandiose, but I believe that setting the bar high encourages one to strive for greatness. My first goal was to complete the Introduction to Social Work class and use this class as a benchmark to determine if the field of social work would be a good fit for me. After successfully completing both the course work and field research requirements of the class I determined that social work was the course of study I should pursue in my future. The introductory class also aided in the formation of my long term goals. I hope to complete my bachelor’s degree at Imaginary University with exceptional grades resulting from an exceptional learning experience. Upon completion of a Bachelor’s degree I also plan to apply for acceptance into the Imaginary University School of Social Work program.

 

Recommendations:

1. This paragraph is a little bit confusing. What is the student applying for? Have they already completed the introductory course, or do they plan to do so? Do they already have a bachelor’s degree or not? What are their tactical goals? What are their grandiose goals? The student can improve this essay by making clear statements, using one tense, and ultimately painting a clearer picture of the actions they took, how they connect to their desire to enter the program, and why entrance into the program is important for their present and future.

2. Sentence 6 (I hope to complete my bachelor’s degree at Imaginary University with exceptional grades resulting from an exceptional learning experience.) seems irrelevant. Most students hope to earn good grades and enjoy a good learning experience (or they at least claim to in a personal statement essay). This student could improve this paragraph by sharing a goal that is unique and/or more personal.

3. This paragraph also has missing and misused commas and needs editing. When you write your final draft, give it to another person to edit so that they can catch any mistakes that you might have overlooked.  

Paragraph 3 - Body

 

The areas of Social Work I am interested in are varied at this moment, but I expect to develop a more focused concentration through the course of my continued education. I believe there are many current social problems facing modern society, one of my long-term goals is to gain the knowledge and influence to have the ability to make changes to sectors of society that have pressing issues.. I would like to become an advocate for social and economic justice and s where I can channel my strengths in a direction that will allow me to have an impact on many people’s lives. I believe my strengths are a combination of drive and strong work ethic are essential attributes to have in order to obtain your goals and I believe I possess both of these qualities and these strengths will enable me to work on behalf of those who need health care, the interests of the elderly, children’s protection, education, and counseling; as well as social advocacy in the form of administration, research, community planning, fund raising, and public policy.

 

Recommendations:

1. This paragraph is a bit disorganized and scattered. Remember the first sentence of a paragraph should serve as a topic sentence. The middle sentences should serve as explanatory and supportive sentences. The final sentence or sentences should tie the sentences in the paragraph together and ultimately explain why the paragraph is meaningful. Following this structure helps make the paragraph clear, concise, and powerful.

2. Sentence 1 (The areas of Social Work I am interested in are varied at this moment, but I expect to develop a more focused concentration through the course of my continued education.) is unnecessary. The student could strengthen their paragraph and essay by sharing their interests and possible concentrations, rather than explaining they are not sure what they are.

3. Sentences 2 and 3 (I believe there are many current social problems facing modern society, one of my long-term goals is to gain the knowledge and influence to have the ability to make changes to sectors of society that have pressing issues.. I would like to become an advocate for social and economic justice and s where I can channel my strengths in a direction that will allow me to have an impact on many people’s lives.) are clunky. They contain good information that gets lost in complicated and sometimes incorrect sentence structure. Always write clearly and concisely.

Paragraph 4 and 5 - Body

 

The elderly and children, represent the social groups I believe need the most representation. I am passionate about the treatment of our elders, and I realize that as demographics trend toward aging population current problems in the mistreatment of the elderly will only be exacerbated in the future. .. The protection of children is another social problem I hope to contribute to solving.   Children are the future and it is our job to make sure that they have the tools to reach their fullest potential.

I believe that my personal strengths are varied. Sometimes it is hard to identify one’s own personal strengths, for this reason I surveyed friends, family, and colleagues to get their opinions. The responses I received highlighted such qualities as perseverance, drive, dedication, commitment, patience, communicative skills, and endurance. I discovered some personal strengths and weaknesses during my volunteer experience for my Introduction to Social Work class. My volunteer time was spent at an area middle school in an effort to determine if working with children would be a good fit for me. DEF School provided a good platform to evaluate the dynamics of working with children in an academic environment. Working with children was very rewarding, and I felt as though I made a difference in the student’s lives. The two greatest strengths I discovered were my abilities to adapt and relate. I was already aware that I bore the ability to motivate and accomplish time sensitive tasks, but my ability to adapt and relate were new revelations. My performance at the school demonstrated I had an aptitude for working with children.

 

 

Recommendations:

1. These paragraphs seem to be connected to paragraph number three. However, because paragraph number three was confusing, they are not well set-up.

The author could have used paragraph number three to introduce each topic and follow each with one or two sentences. Then use paragraphs four and five to go into greater detail and to make each point clear. The student gives lots of great information in each of these paragraphs, but a lot of their punch is lost because they are disorganized and not clearly connected to paragraph three.

2. These paragraphs also contain confusing sentences and grammatical errors. We cannot express enough the importance of writing clear, concise, and grammatically correct sentences. Be sure to thoroughly revise and edit your final draft.

3. The first paragraph includes a cliche, (children are our future). Be careful not to use clichÉs in personal statement essays. Instead, explain what you mean using thoughtful and descriptive words and phrases.

Paragraph 6 - Conclusion

 

I would appreciate the opportunity to develop my inherent strengths and interests into a successful and fulfilling career and transform my personal goals into a reality. It would be an honor to have the privilege to continue my personal development at the School of Social Work at Rutgers-Camden. If nothing else, I can guarantee that I will put my best foot forward if given the opportunity. I know that I have found a perfect personal and academic fit in Social Work. I can only hope that you can find a place in your program for a student such as me. Thank you for your time and consideration. 

 

 

Recommendations

1. Paragraph number six serves as the author’s conclusion. When writing a conclusion, begin by reminding readers of your thesis statement, or the central claim you made about yourself and your education goals. Continue by readdressing the main points you made in the essay, and end by making a clear and inspiring claim about why it’s all important and relevant.

2. Sentence 1 (I would appreciate the opportunity to develop my inherent strengths and interests into a successful and fulfilling career and transform my personal goals into a reality.) demonstrates a slight lack of confidence. The author should be certain they will contribute and make a difference. Yes, reasonably the student can expect to fail at times, but a personal statement is not the place to mention possible failure. This sentence isn’t necessarily bad and doesn’t need to be replaced with a sentence claiming confidence; it can simply be deleted.


10 RULES FOR WRITING YOUR PERSONAL STATEMENT 

1. Write using a bold, active, and present-tense voice

2. Write using correct grammar and spelling

3. Write clear and concise sentences

4. Write without the use of clichÉs, contractions, slang, and other casual or non-academic styles of writing

5. Write using a tone appropriate for the given audience and writing prompt

6. Write using the same tense throughout the paper or make clear tense changes

7. Write a clear introduction, body, and conclusion

8. Include paragraphs that have a topic sentence, explanatory or supportive sentences, and analysis sentences

9. Share yourself with confidence and clarity

10. Imagine that someone who has no idea who you are or what you want to do is reading your paper. Would it be clear to them? If not, revise until it would be


Be sure you are deliberate in the construction of your personal statement. Start working on it early so you have time to complete many drafts. Watch out for common errors and keep your audience in mind. Most of all have fun, this is an opportunity to articulate your long term goals and celebrate your past accomplishments.

 

Feeling Uninspired? Find out the Cure for Writers Block

 

About the Author: Annie Rose Stathes holds a B.A. in International Affairs and an M.A. in Political Science, from the University of Colorado, Denver. She is currently an instructor of writing at Fort Lewis College in Durango Colorado