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  • How to Write Your Personal Statement | Strategies & Examples

How to Write Your Personal Statement | Strategies & Examples

Published on February 12, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on July 3, 2023.

A personal statement is a short essay of around 500–1,000 words, in which you tell a compelling story about who you are, what drives you, and why you’re applying.

To write a successful personal statement for a graduate school application , don’t just summarize your experience; instead, craft a focused narrative in your own voice. Aim to demonstrate three things:

  • Your personality: what are your interests, values, and motivations?
  • Your talents: what can you bring to the program?
  • Your goals: what do you hope the program will do for you?

This article guides you through some winning strategies to build a strong, well-structured personal statement for a master’s or PhD application. You can download the full examples below.

Urban Planning Psychology History

Table of contents

Getting started with your personal statement, the introduction: start with an attention-grabbing opening, the main body: craft your narrative, the conclusion: look ahead, revising, editing, and proofreading your personal statement, frequently asked questions, other interesting articles.

Before you start writing, the first step is to understand exactly what’s expected of you. If the application gives you a question or prompt for your personal statement, the most important thing is to respond to it directly.

For example, you might be asked to focus on the development of your personal identity; challenges you have faced in your life; or your career motivations. This will shape your focus and emphasis—but you still need to find your own unique approach to answering it.

There’s no universal template for a personal statement; it’s your chance to be creative and let your own voice shine through. But there are strategies you can use to build a compelling, well-structured story.

The first paragraph of your personal statement should set the tone and lead smoothly into the story you want to tell.

Strategy 1: Open with a concrete scene

An effective way to catch the reader’s attention is to set up a scene that illustrates something about your character and interests. If you’re stuck, try thinking about:

  • A personal experience that changed your perspective
  • A story from your family’s history
  • A memorable teacher or learning experience
  • An unusual or unexpected encounter

To write an effective scene, try to go beyond straightforward description; start with an intriguing sentence that pulls the reader in, and give concrete details to create a convincing atmosphere.

Strategy 2: Open with your motivations

To emphasize your enthusiasm and commitment, you can start by explaining your interest in the subject you want to study or the career path you want to follow.

Just stating that it interests you isn’t enough: first, you need to figure out why you’re interested in this field:

  • Is it a longstanding passion or a recent discovery?
  • Does it come naturally or have you had to work hard at it?
  • How does it fit into the rest of your life?
  • What do you think it contributes to society?

Tips for the introduction

  • Don’t start on a cliche: avoid phrases like “Ever since I was a child…” or “For as long as I can remember…”
  • Do save the introduction for last. If you’re struggling to come up with a strong opening, leave it aside, and note down any interesting ideas that occur to you as you write the rest of the personal statement.

Once you’ve set up the main themes of your personal statement, you’ll delve into more detail about your experiences and motivations.

To structure the body of your personal statement, there are various strategies you can use.

Strategy 1: Describe your development over time

One of the simplest strategies is to give a chronological overview of key experiences that have led you to apply for graduate school.

  • What first sparked your interest in the field?
  • Which classes, assignments, classmates, internships, or other activities helped you develop your knowledge and skills?
  • Where do you want to go next? How does this program fit into your future plans?

Don’t try to include absolutely everything you’ve done—pick out highlights that are relevant to your application. Aim to craft a compelling narrative that shows how you’ve changed and actively developed yourself.

My interest in psychology was first sparked early in my high school career. Though somewhat scientifically inclined, I found that what interested me most was not the equations we learned about in physics and chemistry, but the motivations and perceptions of my fellow students, and the subtle social dynamics that I observed inside and outside the classroom. I wanted to learn how our identities, beliefs, and behaviours are shaped through our interactions with others, so I decided to major in Social Psychology. My undergraduate studies deepened my understanding of, and fascination with, the interplay between an individual mind and its social context.During my studies, I acquired a solid foundation of knowledge about concepts like social influence and group dynamics, but I also took classes on various topics not strictly related to my major. I was particularly interested in how other fields intersect with psychology—the classes I took on media studies, biology, and literature all enhanced my understanding of psychological concepts by providing different lenses through which to look at the issues involved.

Strategy 2: Own your challenges and obstacles

If your path to graduate school hasn’t been easy or straightforward, you can turn this into a strength, and structure your personal statement as a story of overcoming obstacles.

  • Is your social, cultural or economic background underrepresented in the field? Show how your experiences will contribute a unique perspective.
  • Do you have gaps in your resume or lower-than-ideal grades? Explain the challenges you faced and how you dealt with them.

Don’t focus too heavily on negatives, but use them to highlight your positive qualities. Resilience, resourcefulness and perseverance make you a promising graduate school candidate.

Growing up working class, urban decay becomes depressingly familiar. The sight of a row of abandoned houses does not surprise me, but it continues to bother me. Since high school, I have been determined to pursue a career in urban planning. While people of my background experience the consequences of urban planning decisions first-hand, we are underrepresented in the field itself. Ironically, given my motivation, my economic background has made my studies challenging. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship for my undergraduate studies, but after graduation I took jobs in unrelated fields to help support my parents. In the three years since, I have not lost my ambition. Now I am keen to resume my studies, and I believe I can bring an invaluable perspective to the table: that of the people most impacted by the decisions of urban planners.

Strategy 3: Demonstrate your knowledge of the field

Especially if you’re applying for a PhD or another research-focused program, it’s a good idea to show your familiarity with the subject and the department. Your personal statement can focus on the area you want to specialize in and reflect on why it matters to you.

  • Reflect on the topics or themes that you’ve focused on in your studies. What draws you to them?
  • Discuss any academic achievements, influential teachers, or other highlights of your education.
  • Talk about the questions you’d like to explore in your research and why you think they’re important.

The personal statement isn’t a research proposal , so don’t go overboard on detail—but it’s a great opportunity to show your enthusiasm for the field and your capacity for original thinking.

In applying for this research program, my intention is to build on the multidisciplinary approach I have taken in my studies so far, combining knowledge from disparate fields of study to better understand psychological concepts and issues. The Media Psychology program stands out to me as the perfect environment for this kind of research, given its researchers’ openness to collaboration across diverse fields. I am impressed by the department’s innovative interdisciplinary projects that focus on the shifting landscape of media and technology, and I hope that my own work can follow a similarly trailblazing approach. More specifically, I want to develop my understanding of the intersection of psychology and media studies, and explore how media psychology theories and methods might be applied to neurodivergent minds. I am interested not only in media psychology but also in psychological disorders, and how the two interact. This is something I touched on during my undergraduate studies and that I’m excited to delve into further.

Strategy 4: Discuss your professional ambitions

Especially if you’re applying for a more professionally-oriented program (such as an MBA), it’s a good idea to focus on concrete goals and how the program will help you achieve them.

  • If your career is just getting started, show how your character is suited to the field, and explain how graduate school will help you develop your talents.
  • If you have already worked in the profession, show what you’ve achieved so far, and explain how the program will allow you to take the next step.
  • If you are planning a career change, explain what has driven this decision and how your existing experience will help you succeed.

Don’t just state the position you want to achieve. You should demonstrate that you’ve put plenty of thought into your career plans and show why you’re well-suited to this profession.

One thing that fascinated me about the field during my undergraduate studies was the sheer number of different elements whose interactions constitute a person’s experience of an urban environment. Any number of factors could transform the scene I described at the beginning: What if there were no bus route? Better community outreach in the neighborhood? Worse law enforcement? More or fewer jobs available in the area? Some of these factors are out of the hands of an urban planner, but without taking them all into consideration, the planner has an incomplete picture of their task. Through further study I hope to develop my understanding of how these disparate elements combine and interact to create the urban environment. I am interested in the social, psychological and political effects our surroundings have on our lives. My studies will allow me to work on projects directly affecting the kinds of working-class urban communities I know well. I believe I can bring my own experiences, as well as my education, to bear upon the problem of improving infrastructure and quality of life in these communities.

Tips for the main body

  • Don’t rehash your resume by trying to summarize everything you’ve done so far; the personal statement isn’t about listing your academic or professional experience, but about reflecting, evaluating, and relating it to broader themes.
  • Do make your statements into stories: Instead of saying you’re hard-working and self-motivated, write about your internship where you took the initiative to start a new project. Instead of saying you’ve always loved reading, reflect on a novel or poem that changed your perspective.

Your conclusion should bring the focus back to the program and what you hope to get out of it, whether that’s developing practical skills, exploring intellectual questions, or both.

Emphasize the fit with your specific interests, showing why this program would be the best way to achieve your aims.

Strategy 1: What do you want to know?

If you’re applying for a more academic or research-focused program, end on a note of curiosity: what do you hope to learn, and why do you think this is the best place to learn it?

If there are specific classes or faculty members that you’re excited to learn from, this is the place to express your enthusiasm.

Strategy 2: What do you want to do?

If you’re applying for a program that focuses more on professional training, your conclusion can look to your career aspirations: what role do you want to play in society, and why is this program the best choice to help you get there?

Tips for the conclusion

  • Don’t summarize what you’ve already said. You have limited space in a personal statement, so use it wisely!
  • Do think bigger than yourself: try to express how your individual aspirations relate to your local community, your academic field, or society more broadly. It’s not just about what you’ll get out of graduate school, but about what you’ll be able to give back.

You’ll be expected to do a lot of writing in graduate school, so make a good first impression: leave yourself plenty of time to revise and polish the text.

Your style doesn’t have to be as formal as other kinds of academic writing, but it should be clear, direct and coherent. Make sure that each paragraph flows smoothly from the last, using topic sentences and transitions to create clear connections between each part.

Don’t be afraid to rewrite and restructure as much as necessary. Since you have a lot of freedom in the structure of a personal statement, you can experiment and move information around to see what works best.

Finally, it’s essential to carefully proofread your personal statement and fix any language errors. Before you submit your application, consider investing in professional personal statement editing . For $150, you have the peace of mind that your personal statement is grammatically correct, strong in term of your arguments, and free of awkward mistakes.

A statement of purpose is usually more formal, focusing on your academic or professional goals. It shouldn’t include anything that isn’t directly relevant to the application.

A personal statement can often be more creative. It might tell a story that isn’t directly related to the application, but that shows something about your personality, values, and motivations.

However, both types of document have the same overall goal: to demonstrate your potential as a graduate student and s how why you’re a great match for the program.

The typical length of a personal statement for graduate school applications is between 500 and 1,000 words.

Different programs have different requirements, so always check if there’s a minimum or maximum length and stick to the guidelines. If there is no recommended word count, aim for no more than 1-2 pages.

If you’re applying to multiple graduate school programs, you should tailor your personal statement to each application.

Some applications provide a prompt or question. In this case, you might have to write a new personal statement from scratch: the most important task is to respond to what you have been asked.

If there’s no prompt or guidelines, you can re-use the same idea for your personal statement – but change the details wherever relevant, making sure to emphasize why you’re applying to this specific program.

If the application also includes other essays, such as a statement of purpose , you might have to revise your personal statement to avoid repeating the same information.

If you want to know more about college essays , academic writing , and AI tools , make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations, examples, and quizzes.

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How to Write a Personal Statement (with Tips and Examples)

Hannah Yang headshot

Hannah Yang

How to write a personal statement

Table of Contents

What is a personal statement, 6 tips on how to write a personal statement, personal statement examples (for college and university), faqs about writing personal statements, conclusion on how to write a personal statement.

How do you tell someone who you are in just a few hundred words?

It’s certainly no easy task, but it’s one almost every college applicant must do. The personal statement is a crucial part of any college or university application.

So, how do you write a compelling personal statement?

In this article, we’ll give you all the tools, tips, and examples you need to write an effective personal statement.

A personal statement is a short essay that reveals something important about who you are. It can talk about your background, your interests, your values, your goals in life, or all of the above.

Personal statements are required by many college admission offices and scholarship selection committees. They’re a key part of your application, alongside your academic transcript, standardized test scores, and extracurricular activities.

The reason application committees ask you to write a personal statement is so they can get to know who you are. 

Some personal statements have specific prompts, such as “Discuss a period of personal growth in your life” or “Tell us about a challenge or failure you’ve faced.” Others are more open-ended with prompts that essentially boil down to “Tell us about yourself.”

No matter what the prompt is, your goal is the same: to make yourself stand out to the selection committee as a strong candidate for their program.

Here are some things a personal statement can be:

It can be funny. If you have a great sense of humor, your personal statement is a great place to let that shine.  

It can be vulnerable. Don’t be afraid to open up about hardships in your life or failures you’ve experienced. Showing vulnerability can make you sound more like a real person rather than just a collection of application materials.  

It can be creative. Candidates have got into top schools with personal statements that take the form of “a day in the life” descriptions, third-person short stories, and even cooking recipes.

Now we’ve talked about what a personal statement is, let’s quickly look at what a personal statement isn’t:

It isn’t a formal academic paper. You should write the personal statement in your natural voice, using first-person pronouns like “I” and “me,” not in the formal, objective language you would use to write an academic paper.

It isn’t a five-paragraph essay. You should use as many paragraphs as you need to tell your story instead of sticking to the essay structure you learned in school.

It isn’t a resumé. You should try to describe yourself by telling a clear and cohesive story rather than providing a jumbled list of all of your accomplishments and ambitions.

personal statement definition

Here are our top six tips for writing a strong personal statement.

Tip 1: Do Some Serious Self-Reflection

The hardest part of writing a personal statement isn’t the actual process of writing it.

Before you start typing, you have to figure out what to write about. And that means taking some time to reflect on who you are and what’s important in your life.

Here are some useful questions you can use to start your self-reflection. You can either answer these on your own by writing down your answers, or you can ask a trusted friend to listen as you talk about them together.

What were the key moments that shaped your life? (e.g. an important friendship, a travel experience, an illness or injury)

What are you proud of? (e.g. you’re a good listener, you always keep your promises, you’re a talented musician)

How do you choose to spend your time? (e.g. reading, practicing soccer, spending time with your friends)

What inspires you? (e.g. your grandmother, a celebrity, your favorite song)

Doing this self-reflection is crucial for figuring out the perfect topics and anecdotes you can use to describe who you are.

Tip 2: Try to Avoid Cliché Topics

College application committees read thousands of personal statements a year. That means there are some personal statement topics they see over and over again.

Here are a few examples of common personal statement topics that have become cliché:

Winning a tournament or sports game

Volunteering in a foreign country

Moving to a new home

Becoming an older sibling

Being an immigrant or having immigrant parents

If you want to make a strong impression in the application process, you need to make your personal statement stand out from the crowd.

But if your chosen personal statement topic falls into one of these categories, that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t use it. Just make sure to put a unique spin on it so it still delivers something the committee hasn’t seen before.

how long should it take to write a personal statement

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Tip 3: Show, Don’t Tell

One common mistake you might make in your personal statement is to simply tell the reader what you want them to know about you, such as by stating “I have a fear of public speaking” or “I love to cook.”

Instead of simply stating these facts, you should show the committee what you’re talking about through a story or scene, which will make your essay much more immersive and memorable.

For example, let’s say you want the committee to know you overcame your fear of public speaking. Instead of writing “I overcame my fear of public speaking,” show them what it was like to be onstage in front of a microphone. Did your palms get clammy? Did you feel light-headed? Did you forget your words?

Or let’s say you want the committee to know you love to cook. Instead of writing “I love to cook,” show them why you love to cook. What’s your favorite dish to cook? What does the air smell like when you’re cooking it? What kitchen appliances do you use to make it?

Tip 4: Connect the Story to Why You’re Applying

Don’t forget that the purpose of your personal statement isn’t simply to tell the admissions committee who you are. That’s an important part of it, of course, but your ultimate goal is to convince them to choose you as a candidate.

That means it’s important to tie your personal story to your reasons for applying to this specific school or scholarship. Finish your essay with a strong thesis.

For example, if your story is about overcoming your fear of public speaking, you might connect that story to your ambition of becoming a politician. You can then tie that to your application by saying, “I want to apply to this school because of its fantastic politics program, which will give me a perfect opportunity to use my voice.”

Tip 5: Write in Your Own Voice

The personal statement isn’t supposed to be written in a formal tone. That’s why they’re called “personal” statements because you have to shape it to fit your own voice and style.

Don’t use complicated or overwrought language. You don’t need to fill your essay with semicolons and big words, unless that’s how you sound in real life.

One way to write in your own voice is by speaking your personal statement out loud. If it doesn’t feel natural, it may need changing. 

Tip 6: Edit, Edit, Edit!

It’s important to revise your personal statement multiple times in order to make sure it’s as close to perfect as possible.

A single typo won’t kill your application, but if your personal statement contains multiple spelling errors or egregious grammar mistakes, you won’t be putting your best foot forward.

ProWritingAid can help you make sure your personal statement is as clean as possible. In addition to catching your grammar errors, typos, and punctuation mistakes, it will also help you improve weaknesses in your writing, such as passive voice, unnecessary repetition, and more.

Let’s look at some of the best personal statements that have worked for successful candidates in the real world. 

Harvard Personal Statement Example

Love. For a word describing such a powerful emotion, it is always in the air. The word “love” has become so pervasive in everyday conversation that it hardly retains its roots in blazing passion and deep adoration. In fact, the word is thrown about so much that it becomes difficult to believe society isn’t just one huge, smitten party, with everyone holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.” In films, it’s the teenage boy’s grudging response to a doting mother. At school, it’s a habitual farewell between friends. But in my Chinese home, it’s never uttered. Watching my grandmother lie unconscious on the hospital bed, waiting for her body to shut down, was excruciatingly painful. Her final quavering breaths formed a discordant rhythm with the steady beep of hospital equipment and the unsympathetic tapping hands of the clock. That evening, I whispered—into unhearing ears—the first, and only, “I love you” I ever said to her, my rankling guilt haunting me relentlessly for weeks after her passing. My warm confession seemed anticlimactic, met with only the coldness of my surroundings—the blank room, impassive doctors, and empty silence. I struggled to understand why the “love” that so easily rolled off my tongue when bantering with friends dissipated from my vocabulary when I spoke to my family. Do Chinese people simply love less than Americans do?

This is an excerpt from a personal statement that got the applicant admitted to Harvard University. The applicant discusses her background as a Chinese-American by musing on the word “love” and what that means within her family.

The writer uses vulnerable details about her relationship with her grandmother to give the reader an understanding of where she comes from and how her family has shaped her.  

You can read the full personal statement on the Harvard Crimson website.

Tufts Personal Statement Example

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver. I saw it in my favorite book, Richard Scarry’s “Cars and Trucks and Things That Go,” and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of driving a giant pickle. Much to the discontent of my younger sister, I insisted that my parents read us that book as many nights as possible so we could find goldbug, a small little golden bug, on every page. I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon. Then I discovered a real goldbug: gold nanoparticles that can reprogram macrophages to assist in killing tumors, produce clear images of them without sacrificing the subject, and heat them to obliteration. Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear. I quickly became enveloped by the world of nanomedicine; I scoured articles about liposomes, polymeric micelles, dendrimers, targeting ligands, and self-assembling nanoparticles, all conquering cancer in some exotic way. Completely absorbed, I set out to find a mentor to dive even deeper into these topics. After several rejections, I was immensely grateful to receive an invitation to work alongside Dr. Sangeeta Ray at Johns Hopkins.

This is the beginning of a personal statement by Renner Kwittken, who was admitted into Tufts University as a pre-medical student.

Renner uses a humorous anecdote about being a pickle truck driver to describe his love for nanomedicine and how he got involved in his field. You can feel his passion for medicine throughout his personal statement.

You can find Renner’s full essay on the Tufts Admissions page.

Law School Personal Statement Essay Example

For most people, the slap on the face that turns their life around is figurative. Mine was literal. Actually, it was a punch delivered by a drill sergeant at Fort Dix, New Jersey, while I was in basic training. That day’s activity, just a few weeks into the program, included instruction in “low-crawling,” a sensible method of moving from one place to another on a battlefield. I felt rather clever for having discovered that, by looking right rather than down, I eliminated my helmet’s unfortunate tendency to dig into the ground and slow my progress. I could thus advance more easily, but I also exposed my unprotected face to hostile fire. Drill sergeants are typically very good at detecting this type of laziness, and mine was an excellent drill sergeant. So, after his repeated suggestions that I correct my performance went unheeded, he drove home his point with a fist to my face. We were both stunned. This was, after all, the New Army, and striking a trainee was a career-ending move for a drill sergeant, as we were both aware. I could have reported him; arguably, I should have. I didn’t. It didn’t seem right for this good sergeant, who had not slept for almost four days, to lose his career for losing his temper with my laziness. Choosing not to report him was the first decision I remember making that made me proud.

These are the first three paragraphs of an anonymous personal statement by a Wheaton College graduate, who used this personal statement to get into a top-25 law school.

This statement describes a time the applicant faced a challenging decision while in the army. He ended up making a decision he was proud of, and as a result, the personal statement gives us a sense of his character.

You can find the full essay on the Wheaton Academics website.

Here are some common questions about how to write a personal statement.

How Long Should a Personal Statement Be?

The length of your personal statement depends on the specific program you’re applying to. The application guidelines usually specify a maximum word count or an ideal word count.  

Most personal statements are between 500–800 words. That’s a good general range to aim for if you don’t have more specific guidelines.  

Should Personal Statements Be Different for Scholarships?

Many scholarship applications will ask for personal statements with similar prompts to those of college applications.

However, the purpose of a personal statement you’d write for a scholarship application is different from the purpose of one you’d write for a college application.

For a scholarship application, your goal is to showcase why you deserve the scholarship. To do that, you need to understand the mission of the organization offering that scholarship.

For example, some scholarships are meant to help first-generation college students get their degree, while others are meant to help women break into STEM.

Consider the following questions:

Why is this organization offering scholarships?

What would their ideal scholarship candidate look like?

How do your experiences and goals overlap with those of their ideal scholarship candidate?

You can use the same personal anecdotes you’d use for any other personal statement, but you’ll have a better chance of winning the scholarship if you tailor your essay to match their specific mission.

How to Start a Personal Statement

You should start your personal statement with a “hook” that pulls the reader in. The sooner you catch the reader’s attention, the more likely they’ll want to read the entire essay.

Here are some examples of hooks you can use:

A story (e.g. When the spotlight hit my face, I tried to remind myself to breathe. )

A setting description (e.g. My bedroom floor is covered with dirty laundry, candy wrappers, and crumpled sheet music. )

A funny anecdote (e.g. When I was a little kid, my friends nicknamed me Mowgli because of my haircut. )

A surprising fact (e.g. I've lived in 37 countries .)

There you have it—our complete guide to writing a personal statement that will make you stand out to the application committee.

Here’s a quick recap: 

A personal statement is a short essay that shows an application committee who you are

Start with a strong hook that pulls the reader in

Tell a story to engage the reader 

Write in your own voice, not in a formal tone

Good luck, and happy writing!

Hannah is a speculative fiction writer who loves all things strange and surreal. She holds a BA from Yale University and lives in Colorado. When she’s not busy writing, you can find her painting watercolors, playing her ukulele, or hiking in the Rockies. Follow her work on hannahyang.com or on Twitter at @hannahxyang.

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How Long Should a Personal Statement Be: Writing a Strong Personal Statement

As part of your applications to graduate schools, you will need to write a personal statement. But what is a personal statement? What should you write about? And more importantly, how long should a personal statement be?

A personal statement is important because it allows you to make sure your application stands out from others. It will allow you to show off your biggest achievements in life and what you consider to be your best attributes.

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Explore the below tips to learn how to write a strong personal statement and what length you should keep your personal statement at.

What Is a Personal Statement?

Woman biting a pencil and looking at personal statement examples on a laptop screen.

A personal statement is an essay explaining your reasons for wanting to enter the coding bootcamp , four-year program, or graduate program you are applying for. It is your chance to tell the school who you are and how you became interested in your field. 

In your personal statement, you should show your passion for the subject and motivation behind applying for the program. There should also be an emphasis on storytelling. Schools typically require applicants to write about challenges in their lives and how they have overcome them.

Maybe you are choosing a program that does not align with your previous education, or maybe you do not have specific work experience related to the field. In this case, a personal statement will help you emphasize your strengths and show why you belong in the program.

How Long Should a Personal Statement Be?

It is best to focus on the message you are delivering in the essay rather than the length. Requirements for the length of a personal essay may vary depending on the school to which you are applying. Typically, colleges and coding bootcamps ask for a word count of about 200 to 500.

How Long Should a Personal Statement Be for College?

While you won’t run into this often, you may find the occasional college application to a four-year school that requires a personal statement. If your ideal college requires a personal statement as part of the college application, you should plan on writing around 500 words. 

During the application process, you will likely find out the personal statement word limit set by your school. It is important to double-check the requirements set forth by your ideal college because 500 words is simply a ballpark number. Some schools may require shorter or longer essays.

How Long Should a Personal Statement Be for Grad School?

If you are working on a statement for graduate school applications, you can expect to write a bit more than you would for a four-year college. Typically, a grad school application requires a personal statement that is around two to three pages in length.

A personal statement for graduate school is also a bit more serious than one for a four-year college. You’ll notice the entire grad school application requires more application materials in general, like a cover letter . That means you will need to work extra hard to avoid awkward sentences, punctuation errors, and exceeding or not meeting the required length for your personal statement letter.

What Are Schools Looking for in a Personal Statement?

Through a personal statement, schools are trying to get to know you on a deeper level. It is important to include a story about yourself in your statement. It should be related to your personal failures and triumphs. 

All the experiences you write about should also be related to your field of study. It’s a good idea to avoid opening your essay with a quote and try not to use cliches or get too creative. You still want to come across as a professional, serious applicant.

The admissions committee will also be looking for your inspiration behind entering your chosen field. They will want to know what made you interested in the specialization. While explaining your interests, do not make the mistake of going back to the beginning of your life, or even to high school. Avoid starting your statements with “I fell in love with …. When I was 8.”

The school will want to find out what personally motivated you to apply. Be honest in your statement and explain why it is an appropriate step on your educational path, and how it will help you achieve your future career goals.

Of course, strong writing skills are crucial to a strong essay. A successful personal statement will show that you can write coherently. Make sure you use correct grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. Ask a couple of family members, friends, or former professors to proofread your essay when you feel you are finished.

There are five universal traits that most schools will be looking for you to demonstrate in your essay:

  • Punctuality
  • Ability to work independently
  • Good communication skills
  • Time management abilities
  • Determination and perseverance

How to Start Off a Personal Statement

Woman looking at a laptop screen, taking notes, and learning how to start off a personal statement.

If you want to submit a stand-out personal statement letter with your college application, you’ll want to know exactly how to start off a personal statement. The opening sentence is incredibly important to your personal statement essay, as it needs to be clean, clear, and eye-catching.

Throughout each application cycle, the college admissions team will see hundreds of personal statements. Many applicants open their letters with a quote, and while this is not a bad idea, it has become generic. Try starting your personal statement off with a quick and interesting anecdote about a valuable experience that has impacted your desire to enroll in the program.

Any sort of life experience or challenging experience you can think of related to your field of study should go into the essay as early as possible. That being said, don’t cram in all of the relevant experiences you can think of in the first paragraph. If you find yourself doing this, try adding an extra paragraph to your opener.

A killer personal statement should also allude to a few personal characteristics that fit with the field of study. For example, in the law, medical, and philanthropic fields, you may want to start off your personal statement with a quick anecdote about a life experience that displays your ability to logically help others.

How to Start Off a Personal Statement: A Sample

The following sample is tailored to a student applying for medical school:

In 2016, I spent one month in rural Haiti volunteering at a hospital. This was an extremely challenging experience for me, as I saw many people in need of critical healthcare that simply was not available to them. However, it was this experience that helped me decide I wanted to attend medical school and study to become a doctor. 

I quickly learned to separate my logical self from my emotional self so that I could help people receive treatment as quickly and efficiently as possible, while also providing reassurance and bedside company to those who needed it.

Writing a Personal Statement Step-by-Step

Writing a personal statement can be challenging. On top of having to explain all of your strengths in one short essay, you will also need to follow the rules and have no grammatical errors. Here are eight steps to take when writing a personal statement:

1. Start Early

Start the process a couple of months before your application is due. Personal statements take a lot of work, especially if you are also balancing other commitments in your life. Setting aside extra time means you will not have to squeeze in hours of work at the last minute. Starting early also allows for careful planning to ensure everything down to the sentence structure is perfect in your finished application essay.

2. Read the Requirements Thoroughly

It is very important to make sure that you understand the instructions fully. Your program will give the information as to what content your statement should focus on, how long it should be, and even how to save your essay.

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Some colleges are very specific and will give you a character limit for your piece of writing, while others will be much more relaxed. If you have trouble finding the personal statement instructions, try reaching out to your school’s admissions staff.

3. Brainstorm Ideas

Brainstorm topics you would like to discuss. Common topics for this essay include extracurricular activities , a compelling story, and concrete examples of why you are one of the most qualified students for the program. 

This can give you a better shot at admissions by separating you from the other numerous candidates. Figure out how you will present your goals, what the program means to you, and why you are interested in it.

4. Make an Outline

Create a chart or a list of the things you plan to mention in your essay and the order you would like to discuss them. This is the time to develop your personal statement structure. You can find inspiration for your own essay by looking at personal statement examples online.

5. Draft Your Essay

Now, begin writing your admission essay. When you enter this stage, it is entirely okay to write down anything that seems relevant. While you continue to draft, you can take out parts that seem unnecessary. An admission tutor would be very helpful during the actual writing process and can help you become the perfect candidate.

6. Get Feedback

Allow people you trust to read your essay and provide feedback. They will see your writing with fresh eyes and tell you what needs to be fixed. Discussing your essay with people who have read it will help you improve your writing.

7. Edit Your Essay

Now that you have feedback, you will be able to revise and edit your statement based on the responses of people you trust. Look out for sentences with unnecessary information. Personal statements are intended to be short, so if one sentence is not essential, take it out. You can even send your essay to a personal statement editing service.

8. Proofread 

The last step is to proofread, a lot. Make use of your computer’s spellchecker, Grammarly, and any other resources available to you. Proofread one sentence at a time. Then, allow others to proofread your final draft. If they see a problem, go back one step, then proofread again.

How Long Should a Personal Statement Be FAQ

Typically, personal statements are double-spaced. You may find a college requiring single-spaced personal statements, but unless it is clearly stated, double-spaced is a safe option. If you are really unsure, reach out to your admissions office for guidance.

If your personal statement is too long, review it and remove any information that is not 100 percent necessary. Unless a sentence is providing clear, important information about you as a candidate for the program, it should be removed. You can look up personal statement examples to get a better idea of how yours should be.

Avoid saying anything in your personal statement that is negative or braggy, or that takes the focus away from you. Many students complain about past educational experiences, but if you do this, you will likely have a harder time being accepted into the program. You want to describe positive personal experiences you have had but aim to do so without bragging about yourself.

It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to write a personal statement. It primarily depends on how far in advance you plan your essay, your writing style, and how much time you put into editing and reviewing. Taking some extra time to write this statement is never a bad idea.

About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication .

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How to Write a Strong Personal Statement

  • Ruth Gotian
  • Ushma S. Neill

how long should it take to write a personal statement

A few adjustments can get your application noticed.

Whether applying for a summer internship, a professional development opportunity, such as a Fulbright, an executive MBA program, or a senior leadership development course, a personal statement threads the ideas of your CV, and is longer and has a different tone and purpose than a traditional cover letter. A few adjustments to your personal statement can get your application noticed by the reviewer.

  • Make sure you’re writing what they want to hear. Most organizations that offer a fellowship or internship are using the experience as a pipeline: It’s smart to spend 10 weeks and $15,000 on someone before committing five years and $300,000. Rarely are the organizations being charitable or altruistic, so align your stated goals with theirs
  • Know when to bury the lead, and when to get to the point. It’s hard to paint a picture and explain your motivations in 200 words, but if you have two pages, give the reader a story arc or ease into your point by setting the scene.
  • Recognize that the reviewer will be reading your statement subjectively, meaning you’re being assessed on unknowable criteria. Most people on evaluation committees are reading for whether or not you’re interesting. Stated differently, do they want to go out to dinner with you to hear more? Write it so that the person reading it wants to hear more.
  • Address the elephant in the room (if there is one). Maybe your grades weren’t great in core courses, or perhaps you’ve never worked in the field you’re applying to. Make sure to address the deficiency rather than hoping the reader ignores it because they won’t. A few sentences suffice. Deficiencies do not need to be the cornerstone of the application.

At multiple points in your life, you will need to take action to transition from where you are to where you want to be. This process is layered and time-consuming, and getting yourself to stand out among the masses is an arduous but not impossible task. Having a polished resume that explains what you’ve done is the common first step. But, when an application asks for it, a personal statement can add color and depth to your list of accomplishments. It moves you from a one-dimensional indistinguishable candidate to someone with drive, interest, and nuance.

how long should it take to write a personal statement

  • Ruth Gotian is the chief learning officer and associate professor of education in anesthesiology at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, and the author of The Success Factor and Financial Times Guide to Mentoring . She was named the #1 emerging management thinker by Thinkers50. You can access her free list of conversation starters and test your mentoring impact . RuthGotian
  • Ushma S. Neill is the Vice President, Scientific Education & Training at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. She runs several summer internships and is involved with the NYC Marshall Scholar Selection Committee. ushmaneill

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How To Write a Personal Statement That Stands Out

How To Write a Personal Statement That Stands Out

Table of contents

how long should it take to write a personal statement

Laura Jane Bradbury

A personal statement is a chance to highlight your unique qualities, skills, and experiences, all while showcasing your personality.

But whether you're applying for university, a job, or funding, it can be daunting to write about yourself. To increase your chances of getting accepted, it's important to know how to create an effective personal statement.

In my six years as a copywriter, I’ve written many personal statements that get results. In this article, I’ll guide you through what to include, what to avoid, and how to tailor a personal statement based on your application type.

Key Takeaways

  • A personal statement is an opportunity to share your unique qualities, experiences, and skills.
  • It should always relate to the course, job, or funding you are applying for.
  • Include accomplishments and experiences that demonstrate how suited you are to the position or course you are applying for.
  • Use clear and simple language to ensure your points are understood.

Your personal statement should be concise and demonstrate how you fit the position or opportunity you’re applying for. It’s important to keep information relevant, rather than listing all of your skills and accomplishments.

Follow these steps to accurately write and tailor your statement.

Understand your prompt

Before you start, make sure you understand what's expected of you. Are there specific instructions, keywords, or phrases that stand out in your prompt? Read through it thoroughly and note the requirements. You can then brainstorm ideas for each point.

Let's say I'm applying for a university journalism course. I've been asked to write a statement that shares why I'm interested and why I would be a good fit. I can use columns to plan my content:

how long should it take to write a personal statement

Putting your ideas together first makes it easier to stay on track. Otherwise, you might lose focus and include irrelevant information. 

Show, don't just tell

Once you’ve listed your experiences, skills, and accomplishments, consider how you can demonstrate them with examples. Take a look at the list you created during the previous exercise and organize your points so you have clear examples and proof.

how long should it take to write a personal statement

This technique helps you demonstrate your experiences and how they tie in with your application.

When telling anecdotes, use engaging stories that demonstrate your skills. For instance, a story about how I handled a fast-paced news internship proves I work well under pressure. 

Start strong

Recruiters, application tutors, and funders read lots of personal statements. You can make yours stand out with an engaging introduction.

Examples of a strong opening include:

A meaningful statistic

This draws readers in and increases credibility: 

"Communication is the key to marketing success, according to Business Marketing News. With five years of experience communicating and delivering campaigns to global clients, I have the skills and passion to add value to your team."

A personal story

Anecdotes connect the reader with the author’s real-life experience: 

"My first exposure to microbiology was during my time as a research assistant for a microbiologist. I was fascinated by the complex and intricate processes within cells."

An alarming statement

This piques the reader’s interest by making an issue seem urgent:  

“ The fashion industry churns out clothes at an alarming rate, causing mass production of synthetic fibers and harsh chemicals which have a detrimental impact on the planet. Funding my sustainability initiative is vital to mitigating this environmental impact." 

Avoid cliches such as "From a young age, I have always loved...." and "For as long as I can remember, I have had a passion for..."

Pro tip: Use Wordtune Editor 's Shorten feature to cut unnecessary fluff and make your intro sharper. Simply type in your sentence and click Shorten to receive suggestions.

how long should it take to write a personal statement

Get Wordtune for free > Get Wordtune for free >

Admission committees and employers appreciate sincerity and authenticity. While it may be tempting, avoid exaggeration. You can better emphasize your skills and personality by being honest. For instance, rather than claiming I read every type of newspaper in my journalism application, I can focus on my dedication to reading The New York Times.

Your writing style should also feel genuine. Instead of trying to impress with complex language and fancy words, keep sentences simple and direct . This makes them more effective because they’re easier to read. 

Address weaknesses

Addressing weaknesses can show your willingness to confront challenges. It also gives you a chance to share efforts you have made for improvement. When explaining a weakness, exclude excuses.

Instead of saying "I didn't achieve my expected grades due to work commitments impacting my studies," try “While I didn't achieve my expected grades, I am now working with a tutor to help me understand my weak areas so I can succeed in your program.”

Wordtune’s Spices feature can help you develop counterarguments to weaknesses. In the Editor, highlight your text, click on Spices, and then Counterargument . Here’s an example:

Wordtune Editor’s Spices feature can provide a counterargument to help you address weaknesses in a personal statement.

Using Wordtune’s suggestion, I can highlight my eagerness to learn and provide examples to support my argument.

Highlight achievements

This is your chance to shine! A personal statement should highlight your best qualities — provided they relate to your prompt.

Ask yourself:

  • What are your skills and strengths? Identify both academic and non-academic abilities such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork.
  • What challenges have you faced? Reflect on how you have overcome significant challenges and how these experiences have helped you grow. For example, completing a course, learning a new language, or starting a business.
  • What are your unique selling points? Consider what sets you apart from other applicants. For example, you may have a unique set of technical skills or experience learning in a different country.
  • How have your achievements shaped your goals and aspirations? Sharing your goals shows that you think long-term and have taken the time to make sure you’re applying for the right opportunity.

Connect with the institution or company

Tailor your statement to the specific institution or company you're applying to — this shows you understand their values and have carefully considered where you want to seek opportunities.

To do this, head to the company or institution’s website and look for the About page. Many organizations include a mission statement on this page that conveys its purpose and values.

Princeton University’s “In service of humanity” page highlights that they value supporting society and giving back.

For example, universities often include their values under “Community” or “Student Life” sections. Here, Princeton University’s “In Service of Humanity” section highlights how they value using education to benefit society. Applicants can engage with this by explaining how they interact with their communities and seek to use their education to help others.

You can also research a company or institution’s social media. Look for similarities — maybe you both prioritize collaboration or think outside the box. Draw upon this in your personal statement. 

End with a strong conclusion

A strong conclusion is clear, concise, and leaves a lasting impression. Use these three steps:

  • Summarize the main points of your statement. For example, “My experience volunteering for the school newspaper, along with my communication skills and enthusiasm for writing, make me an ideal student for your university."
  • Discuss your future . Share your future ambitions to remind the reader that you’ve carefully considered how the opportunity fits into your plans.
  • Include a closing statement. End on a positive note and offer the reader a final explanation for why you would be a great match. For instance, “Thank you for reviewing my statement. I am confident my skills and experience align with the role and your company culture.”

Tip: Learn more about writing an effective conclusion with our handy guide . 

Different types of personal statements

Now you know how to write a personal statement, let’s look at what to focus on depending on your application type.

how long should it take to write a personal statement

The length of your personal statement will vary depending on the type. Generally, it should be around 500 words to 650 words . However, a university application is often longer than a statement for a job, so it’s vital to determine what is expected of you from the beginning.

Whatever the length, it’s important to remove and edit content fluff , including any repetition or copy that does not relate to your prompt.

Personal statement checklist

Use this checklist to ensure that your statement includes: 

  • An engaging introduction.
  • Clear examples of your experiences, skills, and expertise. 
  • A commitment to improvement, if required.
  • Any applicable achievements. 
  • A direct connection to the company or institution’s values.
  • A strong conclusion that summarizes information without adding new content.
  • Authentic, simple language.

Personal statements are an opportunity to delve deeper and share who you are beyond your grades or resume experience. Demonstrate your ability with anecdotes and examples, address any weaknesses, and remember to use genuine and simple language. This is your place to shine, so follow our tips while displaying your unique personality, and you’ll be sure to stand out from the crowd.

Want to get started and create a powerful introduction? Read our step-by-step guide .

What is the difference between a cover letter and a personal statement?

A cover letter expresses your interest in a position and introduces you to an employer. It’s typically shorter and focuses on your qualifications, skills, and experience for a particular role. A personal statement, however, is common for a job, internship, funding, or university application. It explores your background, goals, and aspirations, as well as your skills and experience.

What is the purpose of a personal statement?

A personal statement is an opportunity to stand out by detailing your background, experiences, and aspirations. It should explain why you are interested in and a good match for the company or institution you are applying to.

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By Nik Taylor (Editor, The Uni Guide) | 18 August 2023 | 22 min read

How to write an excellent personal statement in 10 steps

Stand out from the crowd: here's how to write a good personal statement that will get you noticed

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how long should it take to write a personal statement

Your personal statement forms a core part of your university application, and the sooner you get going, the better you can make it. You may think that your personal statement won’t matter as much to unis as your grades and experience but a great personal statement could make all the difference between you and a candidate with the same grades. Sure, your application might not reach that deal breaker stage. But is it something you want to leave to chance?  Here we’ll take you through the process of planning, writing and checking a good personal statement, so you end up with something you can submit with confidence. And to make sure the advice we're giving you is sound, we’ve spoken to admissions staff at loads of UK universities to get their view. Look out for video interviews and advice on applying for specific subjects throughout this piece or watch our personal statement playlist on YouTube .

  • Are you looking for personal statement examples? Check our library of hundreds of real personal statements, on The Student Room

Personal statement deadlines

You'll need to make sure you've got your personal statement written well in advance of your application deadline. Below are the main university application deadline dates for 2024 entry.

2024 entry deadlines

16 October 2023: Deadline for applications to Oxford and Cambridge universities, along with most medicine, dentistry, and veterinary courses.   31 January 2024: Deadline for applications to the majority of undergraduate courses. After this date, universities will start allocating places on these courses –   but you can still apply after the 31 January deadline , as this article explains . 30 June 2024:  Students who apply after this date will be entered into Clearing .

  • Read more: Ucas deadlines and key application dates

What is a personal statement?

A personal statement is a central part of your Ucas application, where you explain why you’ve chosen a particular course and why you’ll be good at it. It's your chance to stand out against other candidates and hopefully get that all-important offer. You only write one personal statement which is then read by each university you apply to, so if you are applying for more than one subject (or it's a combined course) it's crucial that you include common themes or reference the overall skills needed for all subjects. Personal statements are especially important if you’re trying to get on a very competitive course, where you need to do anything you can to stand out to admissions tutors. Courteney Sheppard, senior customer experience manager at Ucas, advises that your personal statement is "the only part of the application that you have direct control over. Do lots of research to demonstrate your passion, curiosity and drive to pursue your chosen subject." There’s a limit on how much you can write: your personal statement can be up to 4,000 characters (including spaces) or 47 lines of 95 characters (including spaces); whichever is shorter. This may appear generous (read: long) but once you've got going you may find yourself having to edit heavily.

  • Read more: teacher secrets for writing a great personal statement

1. Plan what you want to cover

The first thing you need to do is make a plan. Writing a personal statement off the top of your head is difficult. Start by making some notes, answering the following questions:

  • What do you want to study?
  • Why do you want to study it?
  • What is there about you that shows you’re suited to studying this subject at university? Think about your personality, as well as your experiences.
  • What are your other interests and skills?

These few points are going to form the spine of your personal statement, so write them in a way that makes sense to you. You might want to make a simple bulleted list or you might want to get all arty and use a mindmap. Whatever you choose, your aim is the same. You want to get it clear in your own head why a university should offer you a place on its course. Getting those details down isn't always easy, and some people find it helpful to make notes over time. You might try carrying a notebook with you or set up a memo on your phone. Whenever you think of something useful for your personal statement, jot it down. Inspiration sometimes comes more easily when you’re thinking about something else entirely. It might help to take a look at The Student Room for some sample personal statements by university and sample personal statements by subjects , to give you an idea of the kind of thing you want to include. 

  • Read more: personal statement FAQs

2. Show off your experience

Some things are worth adding to your personal statement, some things are not. Firmly in the second camp are your qualifications. You don’t need to mention these as there’s a whole other section of your personal statement where you get to detail them very precisely. Don’t waste a single character going on about how great your GCSE grades are – it’s not what the admissions tutor wants to read. What they do want to see is: what have you done? OK, so you’ve got some good grades, but so do a lot of other applicants. What have you done that’s different, that shows you off as someone who really loves the subject you’re applying for? Spend some time thinking about all the experience you have in that subject. If you’re lucky, this might be direct work experience. That’s going to be particularly appropriate if you’re applying for one of the more vocational subjects such as medicine or journalism . But uni staff realise getting plum work experience placements is easier for some people than others, so cast your net wider when you’re thinking about what you’ve done. How about after-school clubs? Debating societies? Are you running a blog or vlog? What key skills and experience have you picked up elsewhere (eg from hobbies) that could be tied in with your course choice? Remember, you’re looking for experience that shows why you want to study your chosen subject. You’re not just writing an essay about what you're doing in your A-level syllabus. Use this checklist as a guide for what to include:

  • Your interest in the course. Why do you want to spend three years studying this subject at university?
  • What have you done outside school or college that demonstrates this interest? Think about things like fairs/exhibitions, public lectures or voluntary work that is relevant to your subject.
  • Relevant work experience (essential for the likes of medicine, not required for non-vocational courses such as English )
  • Skills and qualities required for that career if appropriate (medicine, nursing and law as obvious examples)
  • Interest in your current studies – what particular topics have made an impression on you?
  • Any other interests/hobbies/experiences you wish to mention that are relevant either to the subject or 'going to uni'. Don't just list your hobbies, you need to be very selective and state clearly what difference doing these things has made to you.
  • Plans for a gap year if you’re deferring entry.

Read more: 6 steps you need to take to apply to university

3. Be bold about your achievements

Don't be bashful about your achievements; that’s not going to help you get into uni. It's time to unleash your inner Muhammed Ali and get all “I am the greatest” with your writing. Do keep it focused and accurate. Do keep your language professional. But don’t hide your qualities beneath a layer of false modesty. Your personal statement is a sell – you are selling yourself as a brilliant student and you need to show the reader why that is true. This doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and if you’re finding it difficult to write about how great you are it’s time to enlist some help. Round up a friend or two, a family member, a teacher, whoever and get them to write down your qualities. Getting someone else’s view here can help you get some perspective. Don’t be shy. You are selling your skills, your experience and your enthusiasm – make sure they all leap off the screen with the way you have described them.

  • Read more: the ten biggest mistakes when writing your personal statement  

4. How to start your personal statement

Type your personal statement in a cloud-based word processing program, such as Google Docs or Microsoft Word and don’t copy and paste it into Ucas Hub until it’s finished.  One of the benefits of doing it this way is that you can run spell check easily. (Please note, though, that Word adds "curly" quotation marks and other characters (like é or ü) that won't show up on your Ucas form, so do proofread it on Ucas Hub before submitting it to ensure it is how you typed it.)  Another big benefit is that you'll always have a backup of what you've written. If you're being super careful, you could always save your statement in another place as well. Bear in mind that extra spaces (eg adding spaces to the beginnings of paragraphs as indentation) are removed on Ucas. In your first sentence, cut to the chase. Why do you want to do the course? Don’t waste any time rambling on about the daydreams you had when you were five. Just be clear and concise – describe in one line why this course is so important to you. Then, in the rest of your intro, go into more detail in demonstrating your enthusiasm for the course and explaining how you decided this is what you want to do for the next three or more years. However you choose to start your statement, just avoid the following hoary old chestnuts. These have been some of the most used lines in personal statements over the years – they are beyond cliche, so don’t even think about it.

  • From a young age I have (always) been [interested in/fascinated by]…
  • For as long as I can remember, I have…
  • I am applying for this course because… 
  • I have always been interested in… 
  • Throughout my life I have always enjoyed… 
  • Reflecting on my educational experiences… 
  • [Subject] is a very challenging and demanding [career/profession/course]… 
  • Academically, I have always been… 
  • I have always wanted to pursue a career in… 
  • I have always been passionate about…   

5. Focus your writing on why you've chosen that subject

So you’ve got your intro done – time to nail the rest of it. Bear in mind that you’ve got to be a little bit careful when following a personal statement template. It’s easy to fall into the trap of copying someone else’s style, and in the process lose all of your own voice and personality from your writing. But there is a rough order that you can follow, which should help keep you in your flow. After your opening paragraph or two, get into any work experience (if you’ve got it). Talk about extracurriculars: anything you've done which is relevant to the subject can go here – hobbies, interests, volunteering. Touch on your career aspirations – where do you want this course to take you? Next, show your enthusiasm for your current studies. Cite some specific examples of current work that you enjoyed. Show off your relevant skills and qualities by explaining how you’ve used these in the past. Make sure you’re giving real-world examples here, not just vague assertions like “I’m really organised and motivated”. Try to use examples that are relevant.   Follow this up with something about you as a person. Talk about non-academic stuff that you like to do, but link it in some way with the course, or with how it shows your maturity for dealing with uni life. Round it all off by bringing your main points together, including a final emphasis of your commitment to studying this particular course.

  • Read more: how to write your personal statement in an evening  

6. How long should a personal statement be?

You've got to work to a very specific limit when writing your personal statement. In theory you could use up to 4,000 characters – but you’re probably more likely to be limited by the line count. That's because it's a good idea to put line breaks in between your paragraphs (to make it more readable) and you only get a maximum of 47 lines. With this in mind, 3,500 characters is a more realistic limit. But when you’re getting started you should ignore these limits completely. At first, you just want to get down everything that you feel is important. You'll probably end up with something that is far too long, but that's fine. This is where you get to do some polishing and pruning. Keep the focus of your piece on the course you’re applying for, why you want to do it and why you’re perfectly suited to it. Look through what you’ve written so far – have you got the balance right? Chop out anything that goes on a bit, as you want each point to be snappy and succinct.

  • Read more: universities reveal all about personal statements  

7. Keep it simple

8. Smart ways to end your personal statement

Writing a closing line that you’re happy with can feel as tricky as coming up with your opener. What you’re looking for here is a sign-off that is bold and memorable. The final couple of sentences in your statement give you the opportunity to emphasise all the good stuff you’ve already covered. Use this space to leave the reader in no doubt as to what an excellent addition you would be to their university. Pull together all your key points and – most importantly – address the central question that your personal statement should answer: why should you get a place on the course?

  • Read more: universities explain how to end your personal statement with a bang  

9. Make sure your personal statement has no mistakes

Now you’ve got a personal statement you’re happy with, you need to make sure there are no mistakes. Check it, check it a second time, then check it again. Once you’ve done that, get someone else to check it, too. You will be doing yourself a massive disservice if you send through a personal statement with spelling and/or grammatical errors. You’ve got months to put this together so there really is no excuse for sending through something that looks like a rush job. Ask your teachers to look at it, and be prepared to accept their feedback without getting defensive. They will have seen many personal statements before; use what they tell you to make yours even better. You’ve also got another chance here to look through the content of your personal statement, so you can make sure the balance is right. Make sure your focus is very clearly on the subject you are applying for and why you want to study it. Don’t post your personal statement on the internet or social media where anyone can see it. You will get picked up by the Ucas plagiarism checker. Similarly, don't copy any that you find online. Instead, now is a good time to make your parents feel useful. Read your personal statement out to them and get them to give you feedback. Or try printing it out and mixing it up with a few others (you can find sample personal statements on The Student Room). Get them to read them all and then try to pick yours out. If they can't, perhaps there's not enough of your personality in there.  

10. Don't think about your personal statement for a whole week

If you followed the advice at the very start of this guide, you’ve started your personal statement early. Good job! There are months before you need to submit it. Use one of these weeks to forget about your personal statement completely. Get on with other things – anything you like. Just don’t go near your statement. Give it a whole week and then open up the document again and read through it with fresh eyes. You’ll gain a whole new perspective on what you’ve written and will be well placed to make more changes, if needed.

  • Read more: how to write your personal statement when you have nothing interesting to say  

10 steps to your ideal personal statement

In summary, here are the ten steps you should follow to create the perfect personal statement.  

Personal statement dos and don'ts

  • Remember that your personal statement is your personal statement, not an article written about your intended field of study. It should tell the reader about you, not about the subject.
  • Only put in things that you’re prepared to talk about at the interviews.
  • Give convincing reasons for why you want to study the course – more than just "enjoying the subject" (this should be a given).
  • For very competitive courses, find out as much as you can about the nature of the course and try to make your personal statement relevant to this.
  • Be reflective. If you make a point like 'I like reading', 'I travelled abroad', say what you got from it.
  • Go through the whole thing checking your grammar and your spelling. Do this at least twice. It doesn’t matter if you’re not applying to an essay-based course – a personal statement riddled with spelling mistakes is just going to irritate the reader, which is the last thing you want to do. If this is something you find difficult then have someone look over it for you.
  • Leave blank lines between your paragraphs. It’s easier for the reader to get through your personal statement when it’s broken into easily digestible chunks. Remember that they’re going to be reading a lot of these! Make yours easy to get through.
  • Get someone else's opinion on your statement. Read it out to family or friends. Share it with your teacher. Look for feedback wherever you can find it, then act upon it.
  • Don’t write it like a letter. Kicking off with a greeting such as "Dear Sir/Madam" not only looks weird, it also wastes precious space.
  • Don’t make jokes. This is simply not the time – save them for your first night in the union.
  • Don’t criticise your current school or college or try to blame teachers for any disappointing grades you might have got.
  • Be afraid of details – if you want your PS to be personal to you that means explaining exactly which bits of work or topics or activities you've taken part in/enjoyed. It's much more compelling to read about one or two detailed examples than a paragraph that brushes over five or six.
  • Just list what you're doing now. You should pull out the experiences that are relevant to the courses which you're applying to.
  • Mention skills and activities without giving examples of when they have been demonstrated by you or what you learnt from them. Anyone can write "I have great leadership skills" in a PS, actually using a sentence to explain when you demonstrated good leadership skills is much rarer and more valuable.
  • Refer to experiences that took place before your GCSEs (or equivalent).
  • Give explanations about medical or mental health problems. These should be explained in your reference, not your PS.
  • Apply for too many different courses, making it difficult to write a convincing personal statement which supports the application.
  • Write a statement specific to just one institution, unless you're only applying to that one choice.
  • Copy and paste the statement from somewhere else! This means do not plagiarise. All statements are automatically checked for plagiarism by Ucas. Those that are highlighted by the computer system are checked manually by Ucas staff. If you’re found to have plagiarised parts of your statement, the universities you apply to will be informed and it could jeopardise your applications.
  • Use ChatGPT or another AI program to write your personal statement for you. Or, if you do, make sure you thoroughly edit and personalise the text so it's truly yours. Otherwise you're very much at risk of the plagiarism point above.

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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, what is a personal statement everything you need to know about the college essay.

College Admissions , College Essays

feature_writing-5

In addition to standardized test scores and transcripts, a personal statement or essay is a required part of many college applications. The personal statement can be one of the most stressful parts of the application process because it's the most open ended.

In this guide, I'll answer the question, "What is a personal statement?" I'll talk through common college essay topics and what makes for an effective personal statement.

College Essay Glossary

Even the terminology can be confusing if you aren't familiar with it, so let's start by defining some terms:

Personal statement —an essay you write to show a college admissions committee who you are and why you deserve to be admitted to their school. It's worth noting that, unlike "college essay," this term is used for application essays for graduate school as well.

College essay —basically the same as a personal statement (I'll be using the terms interchangeably).

Essay prompt —a question or statement that your college essay is meant to respond to.

Supplemental essay —an extra school or program-specific essay beyond the basic personal statement.

Many colleges ask for only one essay. However, some schools do ask you to respond to multiple prompts or to provide supplemental essays in addition to a primary personal statement.

Either way, don't let it stress you out! This guide will cover everything you need to know about the different types of college essays and get you started thinking about how to write a great one:

  • Why colleges ask for an essay
  • What kinds of essay questions you'll see
  • What sets great essays apart
  • Tips for writing your own essay

Why Do Colleges Ask For an Essay?

There are a couple of reasons that colleges ask applicants to submit an essay, but the basic idea is that it gives them more information about you, especially who you are beyond grades and test scores.

#1: Insight Into Your Personality

The most important role of the essay is to give admissions committees a sense of your personality and what kind of addition you'd be to their school's community . Are you inquisitive? Ambitious? Caring? These kinds of qualities will have a profound impact on your college experience, but they're hard to determine based on a high school transcript.

Basically, the essay contextualizes your application and shows what kind of person you are outside of your grades and test scores . Imagine two students, Jane and Tim: they both have 3.5 GPAs and 1200s on the SAT. Jane lives in Colorado and is the captain of her track team; Tim lives in Vermont and regularly contributes to the school paper. They both want to be doctors, and they both volunteer at the local hospital.

As similar as Jane and Tim seem on paper, in reality, they're actually quite different, and their unique perspectives come through in their essays. Jane writes about how looking into her family history for a school project made her realize how the discovery of modern medical treatments like antibiotics and vaccines had changed the world and drove her to pursue a career as a medical researcher. Tim, meanwhile, recounts a story about how a kind doctor helped him overcome his fear of needles, an interaction that reminded him of the value of empathy and inspired him to become a family practitioner. These two students may seem outwardly similar but their motivations and personalities are very different.

Without an essay, your application is essentially a series of numbers: a GPA, SAT scores, the number of hours spent preparing for quiz bowl competitions. The personal statement is your chance to stand out as an individual.

#2: Evidence of Writing Skills

A secondary purpose of the essay is to serve as a writing sample and help colleges see that you have the skills needed to succeed in college classes. The personal statement is your best chance to show off your writing , so take the time to craft a piece you're really proud of.

That said, don't panic if you aren't a strong writer. Admissions officers aren't expecting you to write like Joan Didion; they just want to see that you can express your ideas clearly.

No matter what, your essay should absolutely not include any errors or typos .

#3: Explanation of Extenuating Circumstances

For some students, the essay is also a chance to explain factors affecting their high school record. Did your grades drop sophomore year because you were dealing with a family emergency? Did you miss out on extracurriculars junior year because of an extended medical absence? Colleges want to know if you struggled with a serious issue that affected your high school record , so make sure to indicate any relevant circumstances on your application.

Keep in mind that in some cases there will be a separate section for you to address these types of issues, as well as any black marks on your record like expulsions or criminal charges.

#4: Your Reasons for Applying to the School

Many colleges ask you to write an essay or paragraph about why you're applying to their school specifically . In asking these questions, admissions officers are trying to determine if you're genuinely excited about the school and whether you're likely to attend if accepted .

I'll talk more about this type of essay below.

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What Kind of Questions Do Colleges Ask?

Thankfully, applications don't simply say, "Please include an essay about yourself"; they include a question or prompt that you're asked to respond to . These prompts are generally pretty open-ended and can be approached in a lot of different ways .

Nonetheless, most questions fall into a few main categories. Let's go through each common type of prompt, with examples from the Common Application, the University of California application, and a few individual schools.

Prompt Type 1: Your Personal History

This sort of question asks you to write about a formative experience, important event, or key relationship from your life . Admissions officers want to understand what is important to you and how your background has shaped you as a person.

These questions are both common and tricky. The most common pit students fall into is trying to tell their entire life stories. It's better to focus in on a very specific point in time and explain why it was meaningful to you.

Common App 1

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Common App 5

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

University of California 2

Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

University of California 6

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

Prompt Type 2: Facing a Problem

A lot of prompts deal with how you solve problems, how you cope with failure, and how you respond to conflict. College can be difficult, both personally and academically, and admissions committees want to see that you're equipped to face those challenges .

The key to these types of questions is to identify a real problem, failure, or conflict ( not a success in disguise) and show how you adapted and grew from addressing the issue.

Common App 2

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Harvard University 7

The Harvard College Honor Code declares that we “hold honesty as the foundation of our community.” As you consider entering this community that is committed to honesty, please reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty.

Prompt Type 3: Diversity

Most colleges are pretty diverse, with students from a wide range of backgrounds. Essay questions about diversity are designed to help admissions committees understand how you interact with people who are different from you .

In addressing these prompts, you want to show that you're capable of engaging with new ideas and relating to people who may have different beliefs than you.

Common App 3

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Johns Hopkins University

Tell us about an aspect of your identity (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, religion, community) or a life experience that has shaped you as an individual and how that influenced what you’d like to pursue in college at Hopkins.  This can be a future goal or experience that is either [sic] academic, extracurricular, or social.

Duke University Optional 1

We believe a wide range of personal perspectives, beliefs, and lived experiences are essential to making Duke a vibrant and meaningful living and learning community. Feel free to share with us anything in this context that might help us better understand you and what you might bring to our community. 

body_oddpencilout

Prompt Type 4: Your Future Goals

This type of prompt asks about what you want to do in the future: sometimes simply what you'd like to study, sometimes longer-term career goals. Colleges want to understand what you're interested in and how you plan to work towards your goals.

You'll mostly see these prompts if you're applying for a specialized program (like pre-med or engineering) or applying as a transfer student. Some schools also ask for supplementary essays along these lines. 

University of Southern California (Architecture)

Princeton Supplement 1

Prompt Type 5: Why This School

The most common style of supplemental essay is the "why us?" essay, although a few schools with their own application use this type of question as their main prompt. In these essays, you're meant to address the specific reasons you want to go to the school you're applying to .

Whatever you do, don't ever recycle these essays for more than one school.

Chapman University

There are thousands of universities and colleges. Why are you interested in attending Chapman?

Columbia University

Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia.

Rice University

Based upon your exploration of Rice University, what elements of the Rice experience appeal to you?

Princeton University

Princeton has a longstanding commitment to understanding our responsibility to society through service and civic engagement. How does your own story intersect with these ideals?

Prompt Type 6: Creative Prompts

More selective schools often have supplemental essays with stranger or more unique questions. University of Chicago is notorious for its weird prompts, but it's not the only school that will ask you to think outside the box in addressing its questions.

University of Chicago

“Vlog,” “Labradoodle,” and “Fauxmage.” Language is filled with portmanteaus. Create a new portmanteau and explain why those two things are a “patch” (perfect match).

University of Vermont

Established in Burlington, VT, Ben & Jerry’s is synonymous with both ice cream and social change. The “Save Our Swirled” flavor raises awareness of climate change, and “I Dough, I Dough” celebrates marriage equality. If you worked alongside Ben & Jerry, what charitable flavor would you develop and why?

body_uchicago

What Makes a Strong Personal Statement?

OK , so you're clear on what a college essay is, but you're still not sure how to write a good one . To help you get started, I'm going to explain the main things admissions officers look for in students' essays: an engaging perspective, genuine moments, and lively writing .

I've touched on these ideas already, but here, I'll go into more depth about how the best essays stand out from the pack.

Showing Who You Are

A lot of students panic about finding a unique topic, and certainly writing about something unusual like a successful dating app you developed with your friends or your time working as a mall Santa can't hurt you. But what's really important isn't so much what you write about as how you write about it . You need to use your subject to show something deeper about yourself.

Look at the prompts above: you'll notice that they almost all ask you what you learned or how the experience affected you. Whatever topic you pick, you must be able to specifically address how or why it matters to you .

Say a student, Will, was writing about the mall Santa in response to Common App prompt number 2 (the one about failure): Will was a terrible mall Santa. He was way too skinny to be convincing and the kids would always step on his feet. He could easily write 600 very entertaining words describing this experience, but they wouldn't necessarily add up to an effective college essay.

To do that, he'll need to talk about his motivations and his feelings: why he took such a job in the first place and what he did (and didn't) get out of it. Maybe Will took the job because he needed to make some money to go on a school trip and it was the only one he could find. Despite his lack of enthusiasm for screaming children, he kept doing it because he knew if he persevered through the whole holiday season he would have enough money for his trip. Would you rather read "I failed at being a mall Santa" or "Failing as a mall Santa taught me how to persevere no matter what"? Admissions officers definitely prefer the latter.

Ultimately, the best topics are ones that allow you to explain something surprising about yourself .

Since the main point of the essay is to give schools a sense of who you are, you have to open up enough to let them see your personality . Writing a good college essay means being honest about your feelings and experiences even when they aren't entirely positive.

In this context, honesty doesn't mean going on at length about the time you broke into the local pool at night and nearly got arrested, but it does mean acknowledging when something was difficult or upsetting for you. Think about the mall Santa example above. The essay won't work unless the writer genuinely acknowledges that he was a bad Santa and explains why.

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Eloquent Writing

As I mentioned above, colleges want to know that you are a strong enough writer to survive in college classes . Can you express your ideas clearly and concisely? Can you employ specific details appropriately and avoid clichés and generalizations? These kinds of skills will serve you well in college (and in life!).

Nonetheless, admissions officers recognize that different students have different strengths. They aren't looking for a poetic magnum opus from someone who wants to be a math major. (Honestly, they aren't expecting a masterwork from anyone , but the basic point stands.) Focus on making sure that your thoughts and personality come through, and don't worry about using fancy vocabulary or complex rhetorical devices.

Above all, make sure that you have zero grammar or spelling errors . Typos indicate carelessness, which will hurt your cause with admissions officers.

Top Five Essay-Writing Tips

Now that you have a sense of what colleges are looking for, let's talk about how you can put this new knowledge into practice as you approach your own essay. Below, I've collected my five best tips from years as a college essay counselor.

#1: Start Early!

No matter how much you want to avoid writing your essay, don't leave it until the last minute . One of the most important parts of the essay writing process is editing, and editing takes a lot of time. You want to be able to put your draft in a drawer for a week and come back to it with fresh eyes. You don't want to be stuck with an essay you don't really like because you have to submit your application tomorrow.

You need plenty of time to experiment and rewrite, so I would recommend starting your essays at least two months before the application deadline . For most students, that means starting around Halloween, but if you're applying early, you'll need to get going closer to Labor Day.

Of course, it's even better to get a head start and begin your planning earlier. Many students like to work on their essays over the summer, when they have more free time, but you should keep in mind that each year's application isn't usually released until August or September. Essay questions often stay the same from year to year, however. If you are looking to get a jump on writing, you can try to confirm with the school (or the Common App) whether the essay questions will be the same as the previous year's.

#2: Pick a Topic You're Genuinely Excited About

One of the biggest mistakes students make is trying to write what they think the committee wants to hear. The truth is that there's no "right answer" when it comes to college essays . T he best topics aren't limited to specific categories like volunteer experiences or winning a tournament. Instead, they're topics that actually matter to the writer .

"OK," you're thinking, "but what does she mean by 'a topic that matters to you'? Because to be perfectly honest, right now, what really matters to me is that fall TV starts up this week, and I have a feeling I shouldn't write about that."

You're not wrong (although some great essays have been written about television ). A great topic isn't just something that you're excited about or that you talk to your friends about; it's something that has had a real, describable effect on your perspective .

This doesn't mean that you should overemphasize how something absolutely changed your life , especially if it really didn't. Instead, try to be as specific and honest as you can about how the experience affected you, what it taught you, or what you got out of it.

Let's go back to the TV idea. Sure, writing an essay about how excited you are for the new season of Stranger Things  probably isn't the quickest way to get yourself into college, but you could write a solid essay (in response to the first type of prompt) about how SpongeBob SquarePants was an integral part of your childhood. However, it's not enough to just explain how much you loved SpongeBob—you must also explain why and how watching the show every day after school affected your life. For example, maybe it was a ritual you shared with your brother, which showed you how even seemingly silly pieces of pop culture can bring people together. Dig beneath the surface to show who you are and how you see the world.

When you write about something you don't really care about, your writing will come out clichéd and uninteresting, and you'll likely struggle to motivate yourself. When you instead write about something that is genuinely important to you, you can make even the most ordinary experiences—learning to swim, eating a meal, or watching TV—engaging .

body_spongebob

#3: Focus on Specifics

But how do you write an interesting essay? Focus.

Don't try to tell your entire life story or even the story of an entire weekend; 500–650 words may seem like a lot, but you'll reach that limit quickly if you try to pack every single thing that has happened to you into your essay. If, however, you just touch on a wide range of topics, you'll end up with an essay that reads more like a résumé.

Instead, narrow in on one specific event or idea, and talk about it in more depth . The narrower your topic, the better. For example, writing about your role as Mercutio in your school's production of Romeo and Juliet is too general, but writing about opening night, when everything went wrong, could be a great topic.

Whatever your topic, use details to help draw the reader in and express your unique perspective. But keep in mind that you don't have to include every detail of what you did or thought; stick to the important and illustrative ones.

#4: Use Your Own Voice

College essays aren't academic assignments; you don't need to be super formal. Instead, try to be yourself. The best writing sounds like a more eloquent version of the way you talk .

Focus on using clear, simple language that effectively explains a point or evokes a feeling. To do so, avoid the urge to use fancy-sounding synonyms when you don't really know what they mean. Contractions are fine; slang, generally, is not. Don't hesitate to write in the first person.

A final note: you don't need to be relentlessly positive. It's OK to acknowledge that sometimes things don't go how you want—just show how you grew from that.

#5: Be Ruthless

Many students want to call it a day after writing a first draft, but editing is a key part of writing a truly great essay. To be clear, editing doesn't mean just making a few minor wording tweaks and cleaning up typos; it means reading your essay carefully and objectively and thinking about how you could improve it .

Ask yourself questions as you read: is the progression of the essay clear? Do you make a lot of vague, sweeping statements that could be replaced with more interesting specifics? Do your sentences flow together nicely? Do you show something about yourself beyond the surface level?

You will have to delete and rewrite (potentially large) parts of your essay, and no matter how attached you feel to something you wrote, you might have to let it go . If you've ever heard the phrase "kill your darlings," know that it is 100% applicable to college essay writing.

At some point, you might even need to rewrite the whole essay. Even though it's annoying, starting over is sometimes the best way to get an essay that you're really proud of.

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What's Next?

Make sure to check out our other posts on college essays , including our step-by-step guide to how to write your college essay , our analysis of the Common App Prompts , and our collection of example essays .

If you're in need of guidance on other parts of the application process , take a look at our guides to choosing the right college for you , writing about extracurriculars , deciding to double major , and requesting teacher recommendations .

Last but not least, if you're planning on taking the SAT one last time , check out our ultimate guide to studying for the SAT and make sure you're as prepared as possible.

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

Alex is an experienced tutor and writer. Over the past five years, she has worked with almost a hundred students and written about pop culture for a wide range of publications. She graduated with honors from University of Chicago, receiving a BA in English and Anthropology, and then went on to earn an MA at NYU in Cultural Reporting and Criticism. In high school, she was a National Merit Scholar, took 12 AP tests and scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and ACT.

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  • How to start a personal statement: The attention grabber

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How to end your personal statement

  • Introducing the personal statement tool
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The best statements tend to be genuine and specific from the very start. You'll be on the right track if you show your enthusiasm for the subject or course, your understanding of it, and what you want to achieve.

Admissions tutors – the people who read and score your personal statement – say don’t get stressed about trying to think of a ‘killer opening’. Discover the advice below and take your time to think about how best to introduce yourself.

Liz Bryan: HE Coordinator and Careers Advisor, Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College

Preparing to write your personal statement.

Start by making some notes . The personal statement allows admissions tutors to form a picture of who you are. So, for the opener, think about writing down things, such as:

  • why you’re a good candidate
  • your motivations
  • what brings you to this course

If you’re applying for multiple courses , think about how your skills, academic interests, and the way you think are relevant to all the courses you've chosen.

how long should it take to write a personal statement

Top tips on how to write your statement opener

We spoke to admissions tutors at unis and colleges – read on for their tips.

1. Don't begin with the overkill opening

Try not to overthink the opening sentence. You need to engage the reader with your relevant thoughts and ideas, but not go overboard .

Tutors said: ‘The opening is your chance to introduce yourself, to explain your motivation for studying the course and to demonstrate your understanding of it. The best personal statements get to the point quickly. Go straight in. What excites you about the course and why do you want to learn about it more?’

Be succinct and draw the reader in, but not with a gimmick. This isn't the X Factor. Admissions tutor

2. Write about why you want to study that course

Think about why you want to study the course and how you can demonstrate this in your written statement :

’Your interest in the course is the biggest thing. Start with a short sentence that captures the reason why you’re interested in studying the area you’re applying for and that communicates your enthusiasm for it. Don't waffle or say you want to study something just because it's interesting. Explain what you find interesting about it.’

It's much better to engage us with something interesting, relevant, specific and current in your opening line… Start with what's inspiring you now, not what inspired you when you were six. Admissions tutor

3. Avoid cliches

Try to avoid cliches and the most obvious opening sentences so you stand out from the very first line . UCAS publishes a list of common opening lines each year. Here are just some overused phrases to avoid using in your personal statement:

  • From a young age…      
  • For as long as I can remember…
  • I am applying for this course because…
  • I have always been interested in…
  • Throughout my life I have always enjoyed…

And try not to use quotes . Quotations are top of the list of admissions tutors' pet hates.

4. Maybe don't begin at the start?

’Concentrate on the main content of your statement and write the introduction last. I think the opening line is the hardest one to write, so I often say leave it until the end and just try and get something down on paper.’

It may be easier to get on with writing the main content of your statement and coming back to the introduction afterwards –that way you will also know what you’re introducing.

I often advise applicants to start with paragraph two, where you get into why you want to study the course. That's what we're really interested in. Admissions tutor

how long should it take to write a personal statement

The personal statement tool image

Don’t be tempted to copy or share your statement.

UCAS scans all personal statements through a similarity detection system to compare them with previous statements.

Any similarity greater than 30% will be flagged and we'll inform the universities and colleges to which you have applied. 

Find out more

Joseph bolton: year 2 history& politics student, university of liverpool.

  • Do talk about you and your enthusiasm for the subject from the very start.
  • Do be specific. Explain what you want to study and why in the first two sentences.
  • Do come back to the opening sentences if you can’t think what to write straightaway.
  • Don’t waste time trying to think of a catchy opening.
  • Don't waffle – simply explain what you find interesting about the subject and show that you know what you are applying for.
  • Don't rely on someone else's words. It's your statement after all – they want to know what you think.

One final thought

Think about making a link between your opening sentence and closing paragraph – a technique sometimes called the 'necklace approach’.

You can reinforce what you said at the start or add an extra dimension. For example, if you started with an interesting line about what’s currently motivating you to study your chosen degree course, you could link back to it at the end, perhaps with something about why you’d love to study this further at uni.

Need more advice?

  • Struggling with the conclusion to your personal statement? Read our guide on how to finish your statement the right way .
  • Read more dos and don’ts when writing your personal statement . 
  • Discover what to include in your personal statement .
  • Start your opening sentences with our personal statement builder now.

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how long should it take to write a personal statement

Writing the Perfect Personal Statement for Your Master's or PhD Application

What is a personal statement letter.

Think of it as if you’re on trial, and the university admissions committee is the jury. Except, in this case, you’re not trying to prove your innocence of a crime. You’re simply trying to prove that you are the perfect candidate that should be admitted to a Master's or PhD programme at your preferred university.

To do this, you will have to write write a short essay with concrete examples and evidence about your experience and motivation, all pointing to what kind of student you are and why you're a good fit for the chosen degree.

Your personal statement is an invitation to the admission committee to get to know who you are. It should also be the result of self-reflection, the outcome of you taking time to figure out who you are and what your goals for the future should be – both in terms of what you want to study, but also what your career should lead to after graduation.

girl writing personal statement

Your personal statement should answer questions like these:

Why is the programme you are applying for the right one for you?

How are you going to contribute to society if you follow the programme?

Why is this programme the logical next step considering your personality and previous studies?

The people who'll read your personal statement will be as convinced by it as you are. That’s why it’s crucial to first answer these questions for yourself and make sure you are comfortable with the answers. 

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What a personal statement is not

Don’t confuse a personal statement for your Master’s or PhD application with a cover letter for a job application. The personal statement is more about you and how the university fits into your plans rather than why the university is great, and you can’t live without it.

Don't use your essay to try to impress the application committee. Don’t write things that you think they want to hear. Just tell them your story, be authentic and offer them the opportunity to get to know a person, not just a set of achievements.

Don’t start listing your application documents in your personal statement. Your letter shouldn’t be just a repetition of information, but rather a map that puts all that you’ve done together and gives it personal meaning.

Don't treat your personal statement as a scientific paper or your journal. Keep it professional, but be a person. Just present yourself the way you would to a total stranger, but be friendly. You can be open and frank, but leave some things out, because you don’t know that person well enough.

how to start a personal statement

How to start a personal statement letter?

The key is to grab your reader’s attention from the very beginning. How?

Think of your opening paragraph as your 'elevator pitch': you get into an elevator with one of the committee members. You have a chance to convince them why you are the right choice before they get off.

Here’s how your personal statement for grad schools should start. Lead with what is most interesting for the reader, or what you are interested in the most. Second, set the stage for why you want to study that Master’s or PhD programme. In two sentences, explain how you got here, how you pursued your passion and are willing to invest more time and effort. In the next two sentences, give an overview of your background in this field! Now conclude with what you intend to do with your graduate degree!

time

Give yourself plenty of time to write a personal statement

How long should your personal statement be? And how much time should you invest in writing it?

Personal statements required for graduate school admissions are short. Their length should be around 700 words, meaning 1-2 pages. However, you should be careful to write it well and edit it thoroughly for grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors. Carefully consider each sentence you write because every single word contributes to the impact of your statement of purpose.

Give yourself a few weeks to think about what you want to say (and how you want to say it). 

Reflect on what led you to apply for this programme. An encounter you had with a particular scholar, an inspiring course you took, a pivotal moment during your studies – there isn’t space for these kinds of things on your CV, but a personal statement allows you to share such personal experiences.

Expect to go through a few drafts before you get to the final version, and don’t expect miracles! You shouldn’t be able to do it over one weekend.  

You should also allow time to double and triple-check your statement for any glaring mistakes. Send your personal statement draft to a colleague, your thesis mentor, a teaching assistant, or your friendly neighbourhood copy -editor to have them look over it for clarity.

The level of your English can make a difference as well, so if you want to make sure you’re up to speed,  take an English proficiency test:

  • PTE Academic
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Research the programme you are applying to

Part of doing post-graduate research (especially in a PhD) is proving that you understand the field you are entering; In your personal statement, you can prove how familiar you are with the scholars who work in that area.

Demonstrate that you’ve given thought to the actual programme you’re applying to. Don't tell them that you applied to their school because it is the highest-ranking school or that it’s in a city you’d love to live in.

Almost every university department website has details about each faculty member - what they specialise in and what they’ve published. Use this information to your advantage. Show that your interests align with those who already work in that department and that your research will find a comfortable home there. If you already contacted one of the professors in the school, make sure to mention it in your personal statement.

Student writing her personal statement on a laptop

Avoid clichés, junk, and too many details

How do you keep the reader engaged while they go through your letter? Your personal statement is an opportunity to express yourself, but wasting the admission committee’s time is considered a capital sin.

Amateur writers fall into the trap of excessive, unnecessary preambles. It looks something like this: ‘Since the beginning of time, mankind has utilised principles of mathematics to measure objects in the world…’.

As a general rule for good writing, this kind of statement is, frankly, useless and annoying. Someone reading this sentence thinks you're either trying to fill space or just trying to show off. Committee members are just trying to find information about you that will let them decide your suitability for the programme. The last thing you want to do is bore them with unnecessary junk.

your story

Tell your life story only if it adds to the statement

Students writing personal statements always feel tempted to talk about their personal history. But you can leave this kind of information out if it doesn't support the purpose of your statement.

For example, if you’re applying to a Master’s programme in English Literature, you can leave out the ‘I’ve been a bookworm from the time that I learned how to read’ section. This kind of statement is most likely true for all other applicants to the programme and won’t set you apart.

Similarly, if you’re applying to a medical school, there’s no need to mention that you’ve ‘always wanted to help people or that you ‘had a calling to be a doctor since age 7’.

However, there are key aspects of your personal history that will be useful here:

Talk about that time you did an internship and what you got from that work experience.

Talk about your own major research project and what you discovered about yourself.

Talk about any publications, conference presentations, or assistantships you’ve done and what they've taught you.

These kinds of concrete details are more helpful, especially if there is a direct link between these experiences and what you will be doing in your graduate studies programme. These are the things that will set you apart from other applicants.

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Don't use the same personal statement for 10 different Master’s or PhD applications

A common mistake among applicants is applying to multiple study programmes using the same personal statement. I’ve personally heard advisors and tutors recommend ‘writing one personal statement’ and ‘changing the name of the university’ for each one.

This is a huge mistake!

For one thing, every programme has its own unique set of questions that they want you to answer in your personal statement.

Some want extra-curricular activities you’ve participated in

Some want a clear proposal for your project

Some want you to just explain why you are applying to their school

Some want to see what is unique about you and the research you’re doing

Admissions officers can tell when you’ve used the same worn-out personal statement and sent it to them without a second thought. Instead, you should have a good personal statement that is uniquely tailored to every programme. Some information will overlap, but much of it will not.

Another reason to avoid this technique is that it often ends in embarrassing mistakes and errors in the personal statement. Probably every admissions officer can recall a time in the last application cycle when a student applying to Northwestern University said, ‘it would be an honour to be admitted to UCLA this year.’ 

Errors like this come about when an applicant decides to use the same template for every school he or she is applying to. The easiest and most certain way to avoid such an egregious error would be to simply write a new strong statement for each school (hence our first piece of advice: allow yourself plenty of extra time).

A must-have list of what to include in your personal statement: 

An explanation of why you want to study the course – what is your motivation, and how the degree fits in your long-term plans. Don’t be vague or too specific.

Prove you are right for this course – do your research on what the programme offers and what is expected of you and show how you fit the requirements.

Talk about your extracurricular activities – show how you went the extra mile. Don’t just list them. Show how they all fit together – how they have defined the path that you want to take.

Mention what inspired you to apply – books, blogs or inspirational videos & speakers, science journals you’ve read, as well as relevant films or documentaries. Have any teachers or tutors really had an impact on your life?

Include relevant experiences - What sealed your interest in the subject? This may be a volunteering programme, summer school, summer job, internship, or visits to places that left an impression on you. How does the degree influence your future career and personal goals? – Let the committee see how your study programme fits into your overall story and your future.

What are you good at? - What skills have you developed up to the present, and what do you want to further develop? How will the programme help you develop those new skills?

 This shows that you are a committed learner and that you want to keep growing. Avoid generic skills and clichés. Focus on the most relevant ones for the programme and give specific examples.

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How long should your personal statement be?

Wondering about the university personal statement word count? We go through it all here!

James Mould

A well-written personal statement adds a lot of strength to an application and allows you to express your personality. It also gives you a chance to go into detail about your interest in studying your chosen course, rather than just demonstrating your eligibility to do so. 

However, it’s vitally important to remember that you have a limited amount of space for your personal statement. Let’s take a look at how long your personal statement should be... 

UCAS requirements state that your personal statement can be a maximum of 4,000 characters or up to 47 lines in length – whichever comes first. The character count includes spaces and the line count includes blank lines, so keep this in mind when it comes to how you format your paragraphs. 

This might sound like a lot, but bear in mind that there are approximately 30 lines on one side of A4 paper in a standard size font, so your final submission will be around a page and a half of text. You’ll need to think carefully about what you want to include, keep it concise, make sure it flows well and has clear meaning throughout. 

Having said this, don’t worry too much about the character count when you start writing. Be free to jot down anything and everything which comes to mind, and even list them in bullet-point form. You can then begin to adjust and re-order these points until a structure and narrative becomes clear. 

You’ll probably have to cut a lot of stuff to keep your personal statement under the character limit. If you’re having trouble choosing what to remove, it can be helpful to ask yourself this question: “Is this really relevant to my personal statement?” 

It’s better to have fewer, well-resolved points which flow together to paint a picture of who you are than lots of rushed points which sound like a jumbled list of achievements. 

You’ll only know exactly how many lines your personal statement is when you paste it into UCAS. The UCAS character count might be slightly different from the one on your word processor, so be careful when you submit it, because any submission which exceeds the character or line limit will be cut off. 

It’s a good idea to aim for 3,500 characters in your first draft, and then you can add or remove words accordingly. For the finished piece, try to get as near to the word count as possible – anything too short might not have enough detail, and anything too long will get cut off. 

Need more personal statement advice? Check out our personal statement guide!  

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Statement of Purpose 

The statement of purpose is very important to programs when deciding whether to admit a candidate. Your statement should be focused, informative, and convey your research interests and qualifications. You should describe your reasons and motivations for pursuing a graduate degree in your chosen degree program, noting the experiences that shaped your research ambitions, indicating briefly your career objectives, and concisely stating your past work in your intended field of study and in related fields. Your degree program of interest may have specific guidance or requirements for the statement of purpose, so be sure to review the degree program page for more information. Unless otherwise noted, your statement should not exceed 1,000 words. 

Personal Statement

Please describe the personal experiences that led you to pursue graduate education and how these experiences will contribute to the academic environment and/or community in your program or Harvard Griffin GSAS. These may include social and cultural experiences, leadership positions, community engagement, equity and inclusion efforts, other opportunities, or challenges. Your statement should be no longer than 500 words.

Please note that there is no expectation to share detailed sensitive information and you should refrain from including anything that you would not feel at ease sharing. Please also note that the Personal Statement should complement rather than duplicate the content provided in the Statement of Purpose. 

Visit Degree Programs and navigate to your degree program of interest to determine if a Personal Statement is required. The degree program pages will be updated by early September indicating if the Personal Statement is required for your program.

Writing Sample 

Please visit Degree Programs and navigate to your degree program of interest to determine if a writing sample is required. When preparing your writing sample, be sure to follow program requirements, which may include format, topic, or length. 

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Can the President Send SEAL Team Six to Assassinate His Rival? After Monday, Yes.

On Monday, the Supreme Court handed down a much-awaited and long-delayed decision in Trump v. United States , testing the former president’s claim to absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for the events surrounding the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The 6–3 decision, penned by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by all of the court’s conservatives, broadly expanded the zone of presidential immunity in ways that fundamentally reshape the balance of powers in American government, creating extraordinary new protections for a president who seeks to break the law. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor warned in her dissent, if the president “orders the Navy’s Seal Team 6 to assassinate a political rival,” he is now “insulated from criminal prosecution.” The “relationship between the president and the people he serves,” Sotomayor continued, “has shifted irrevocably in every use of official power. The president is now a king above the law.”

On a Slate Plus bonus episode of Amicus discussing the scope of the decision, Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern were joined by professor Corey Brettschneider, who teaches constitutional law and political theory at Brown University and is the author of the new book The Presidents and the People: Five Leaders Who Threatened Democracy and the Citizens Who Fought to Defend It . Their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Dahlia Lithwick: This opinion is a game changer, but the chief justice characteristically tried to make it sound modest. The majority opinion as penned by the chief justice differentiates between criminal acts that are official and unofficial acts. Help us understand if the court has a marker of the difference between the two, what that line is, and why it matters.

Mark Joseph Stern: I don’t see how the trial court can apply this decision with any modicum of certainty or consistency. Because what Roberts has delivered is a Ziploc bag full of muddy water. I think that’s the whole point. In practice, this is just going to mean that anytime the president says “I was doing that pursuant to my constitutional authority,” the courts are going to grant him immunity. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor argues persuasively in her dissent, this new rule is going to prevent prosecutors from charging a president with the crime of manipulating the tools of his office to engage in corruption. Because as long as the president defends himself in line with Roberts’ opinion, that’s not even a crime in the first place.

Lithwick: Corey, the court is drawing all these lines, like “core functions” vs. “outer perimeter,” that make it sound like they’re solving a math problem. Can you help us understand what a sea change this actually is? Because this is not just a Donald Trump story. This is a separation-of-powers story and fundamentally a structural change to democracy as we understand it.

Corey Brettschneider: You know, the court claims that it has this method of originalism that requires us to look at the text of the Constitution as it was originally understood. So you would expect, in a monumental decision like this—granting immunity to a former president’s “official acts”—that the Constitution would say something about presidential immunity. But it doesn’t. There was a disagreement at the founding about this: John Adams, for instance, defended the idea that presidents are immune from prosecution, which suits his disposition toward an aggrandized idea of presidential power. On the other side, though, there was James Wilson; at the Pennsylvania ratifying convention, he said the thing that we thought defined our Constitution until Monday—that no person, not even a president, is above the law, and the president can be prosecuted.

So it’s not like there was some universal understanding of presidential immunity at the founding. There’s no textual evidence in the Constitution. The Framers just disagreed when they talked about this issue. So the idea that this is based on originalism is false. And the main precedent they do rely on, Nixon v. Fitzgerald , gets extended way beyond what it actually said. I’d argue Roberts is saying something contrary to what that case actually said. And we have stronger cases on the other side, like U.S. v. Nixon , which held that a president facing a criminal subpoena is not above the law. They may claim to respect precedent, but they’re not doing it. They may claim to respect text, but they aren’t. And they may claim to respect history, as if the Framers sort of agreed about this, but that’s not true either.

Stern: I love Justice Sotomayor’s two citations to the Dobbs decision in her dissent. She makes the scathing point that “it seems history only matters to this court when it is convenient.” And that’s the whole ballgame. The court will cherry-pick whatever fits its narrative, then ignore everything else. In this instance, it’s especially egregious because the Framers knew how to put immunity in the Constitution—they gave it to members of Congress, after all, but not the president. And now, centuries later, six justices decide they know better than the Framers.

When it came to reproductive autonomy, the conservative justices said, We have to leave this to the people and their representatives—it’s just a matter of policy . But when it comes to making the president a king and undoing the compromises of the Constitutional Convention that established the executive as it existed until Monday morning? All that can be wiped away with a bit of gauzy rhetoric about how important it is to have an “energetic” executive.

Lithwick: Mark and I have spent the past couple months talking about a monarchic Supreme Court that is uncheckable on any front we can discern, and the sense that the uncheckable judiciary is not fully appreciated by the nation. But this move, from a monarchic judicial branch to a monarchic presidency, happens at the speed of light. I’m just thinking about what it means to have a two-headed monarchy in the place of checks and balances. And I’m wondering: After this decision, can the president actually call in SEAL Team Six in order to have a political opponent assassinated and avoid prosecution by saying he was exercising his constitutional authority? Can the president just invoke the Insurrection Act in order to break up a lawful protest? What’s going to constrain this theory of what feels, to me, like unlimited power and zero accountability as long as the president deems it an “official act”?

Brettschneider: Certainly not this court. And that’s what’s so important to get across—this is really about the fundamentals of democracy. We’re talking about the president committing crimes with impunity that threaten the stability of democracy itself. And the presidency has become so powerful that if Trump wins in November, he could use his office to literally destroy democracy.

How do you stop that? You would hope the courts would say that a president who committed a crime can be prosecuted after they leave office. But this Supreme Court has abdicated that responsibility. It has gotten rid of so many checks on the presidency that we took for granted. But we can’t let them have the last word on this. Citizens have got to take the Constitution back. We’ve got to demand legislation that limits the office, and the appointment of justices who see things with common sense. But where we’ve historically been able to push back is through elections. We’ve got to figure out how to make this election a referendum on democracy. Because Trump has now essentially been protected in all things, even as outrageous as a political assassination of his opponent. And no president should be able to do that.

Stern: Can I draw out a point that was implicit in what you just said, Corey? Through Roberts, the majority draws out this distinction between official and unofficial acts as though it’s the most natural thing in the world—like, Of course we wouldn’t want the president to be punished for committing crimes in the course of exercising the duties of his office .

But as Justice Sonia Sotomayor explained in her dissent, the lesson from Nixon is that when presidents use their power to commit official acts in pursuit of a criminal scheme, that is when we should be most concerned about their conduct and most eager for them to face accountability. Because that is when their criminal conduct poses the most heightened threat to democracy. If the president can take this immense power we entrust him with and manipulate it for corrupt ends—knowing he will never face accountability—then we have fundamentally changed the nature of what the presidency is. He is no longer a person who is elected by the people to represent them for four years. He is an emperor who walks into office, surveys his new powers, and gets to decide how to use them for his own corrupt advantage—to enrich himself, to entrench his authority, to prevent the peaceful transition to power, to even execute his rivals. I just think that is exactly the opposite of how the executive power had been understood until Monday morning. And I find myself baffled that six justices would say that presidential accountability is now constitutionally prohibited rather than constitutionally required.

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Supreme Court rules ex-presidents have broad immunity, dimming chance of a pre-election Trump trial

The Supreme Court has ruled for the first time that former presidents have broad immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts, extending the delay in the Washington criminal case against ex-President Donald Trump.

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The Supreme Court extended the delay in the criminal case against Donald Trump on charges he plotted to overturn the 2020 election, reducing the chance that Trump could be tried before the November election.

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The Supreme Court rules that former presidents have broad immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts. This delays further the Washington criminal case against ex-President Donald Trump that he plotted to overturn his 2020 election loss.

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Biden says Supreme Court decision on immunity means ‘there are virtually no limits’ on a president’s actions

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A U.S. Capitol Police officer and K-9 patrol pass protesters by the Supreme Court, Monday, July 1, 2024, after court decisions were announced in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

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Gary Roush, of College Park, Md., protests outside the Supreme Court Monday, July 1, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

President Joe Biden speaks in the Cross Hall of the White House Monday, July 1, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at Trump Tower, May 31, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson, File)

Celeste McCall, of Washington, reacts in confusion, Monday, July 1, 2024, outside the Supreme Court in Washington after decisions were announced. “I’m confused I was told [Trump] has no immunity for unofficial acts,” says McCall. “I don’t even know what that means. I’m beyond confused.” (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

People protest, Monday, July 1, 2024, outside the Supreme Court in Washington, as decisions are announced. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

FILE - Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor attends a panel discussion, Feb. 23, 2024 in Washington. The Supreme Court allowed a president to become a “king above the law,” in the use of official power, Sotomayor said in a biting dissent Monday, July 1, that called the majority opinion on immunity for former President Donald Trump “utterly indefensible.” Joined by the court’s two other liberals, Sotomayor said the opinion would have disastrous consequences for the presidency and the nation’s democracy by creating a “law-free zone around the president.” (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

The Supreme Court opinion in former President Donald Trump’s immunity case is photographed Monday, July 1, 2024. In a historic ruling the justices said for the first time former presidents can be shielded from prosecution for at least some of what they do in the Oval Office. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

Celeste McCall, center, of Washington, reacts in confusion, Monday, July 1, 2024, outside the Supreme Court in Washington. “I’m confused I was told [Trump] has no immunity for unofficial acts,” says McCall, “I don’t even know what that means I’m beyond confused.” (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

FILE - Members of the Supreme Court sit for a group portrait in Washington, Oct. 7, 2022. Bottom row, from left, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito and Justice Elena Kagan. Top row, from left, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Justice Neil Gorsuch, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. The Supreme Court justices will take the bench Monday, July 1, 2024, to release their last few opinions of the term, including their most closely watched case: whether former President Donald Trump has immunity from criminal prosecution. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

People protest outside the Supreme Court Monday, July 1, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Highlights: Replay AP’s coverage of the US Supreme Court .

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday ruled for the first time that former presidents have broad immunity from prosecution, extending the delay in the Washington criminal case against Donald Trump on charges he plotted to overturn his 2020 presidential election loss and all but ending prospects the former president could be tried before the November election.

In a historic 6-3 ruling , the court’s conservative majority, including the three justices appointed by Trump, narrowed the case against him and returned it to the trial court to determine what is left of special counsel Jack Smith’s indictment.

Trump celebrated a “BIG WIN” on X. President Joe Biden said the justices set “a dangerous precedent (that) undermines the rule of this nation.”

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The ruling reflected a muscular view of presidential power, and left dissenting judges to criticize it as undermining a core democratic principle that no person is above the law.

The court’s decision highlighted how the justices have been thrust into an impactful role in the November presidential election. Earlier, they had rejected efforts to bar him from the ballot because of his actions following the 2020 election. The court last week also limited an obstruction charge faced by Trump and used against hundreds of his supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The split among the justices also in many ways mirrored the political divide in the country.

“Under our constitutional structure of separated powers, the nature of presidential power entitles a former president to absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for actions within his conclusive and preclusive constitutional authority,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court. “And he is entitled to at least presumptive immunity from prosecution for all his official acts. There is no immunity for unofficial acts.”

The chief justice insisted that the president “is not above the law.” But in a fiery dissent for the court’s three liberals, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “In every use of official power, the President is now a king above the law.”

Reading from her opinion in the courtroom, Sotomayor said, “Because our Constitution does not shield a former president from answering for criminal and treasonous acts, I dissent.” Sotomayor said the decision “makes a mockery of the principle, foundational to our Constitution and system of government, that no man is above the law.”

The protection afforded presidents by the court, she said, “is just as bad as it sounds, and it is baseless.”

Trump posted in all capital letters on his social media network shortly after the decision was released: “BIG WIN FOR OUR CONSTITUTION AND DEMOCRACY. PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN!”

Biden, in evening remarks from the White House, cited accepted restraints on presidential power all the way back to George Washington and bemoaned that “for all practical purposes, today’s decision almost certainly means that there are virtually no limits on what a president can do.”

Smith’s office declined to comment on the ruling.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer denounced the ruling as “a disgraceful decision,” made with the help of the three justices that Trump appointed.

“It undermines SCOTUS’s credibility and suggests political influence trumps all in our courts today,” the New York Democrat said on X.

The justices knocked out one aspect of the indictment. The opinion found Trump is “absolutely immune” from prosecution for alleged conduct involving discussions with the Justice Department.

Trump is also “at least presumptively immune” from allegations that he tried to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to reject certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s electoral vote win on Jan. 6, 2021. Prosecutors can try to make the case that Trump’s pressure on Pence still can be part of the case against him, Roberts wrote.

The court directed a fact-finding analysis on one of the more striking allegations in the indictment -- that Trump participated in a scheme to enlist fake electors in battleground states won by Biden who would falsely assert that Trump had won. Both sides had dramatically different interpretations as to whether that effort could be construed as official, and the conservative justices said determining which side is correct would require additional analysis at the trial court level.

Roberts’ opinion further restricted prosecutors by prohibiting them from using any official acts as evidence in trying to prove a president’s unofficial actions violated the law. One example not relevant to this case but which came up in arguments was the hypothetical payment of a bribe in return for an ambassadorial appointment.

Under Monday’s decision, a former president could be prosecuted for accepting a bribe, but prosecutors could not mention the official act, the appointment, in their case.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who joined the rest of Roberts’ opinion, parted company on this point. “The Constitution does not require blinding juries to the circumstances surrounding conduct for which Presidents can be held liable,” Barrett wrote.

She also described as unnecessary the analysis of the fake electors claim. “I see no plausible argument for barring prosecution of that alleged conduct,” Barrett wrote.

The work of figuring out how to proceed will fall to U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan , who would preside over Trump’s trial.

Trump still could face a trial, said Notre Dame law professor Derek Muller. “But the fact remains that it is almost impossible to happen before the election.”

David Becker, an election law expert and the executive director of the nonprofit Center for Election Innovation and Research, called the breadth of immunity granted to Trump “incredibly broad” and “deeply disturbing.”

“Almost anything that a president does with the executive branch is characterized as an official act,” he said on a call with reporters following the ruling. He said that “for any unscrupulous individual holding the seat of the Oval Office who might lose an election, the way I read this opinion is it could be a roadmap for them seeking to stay in power.”

The ruling was the last of the term, and it came more than two months after the court heard arguments, far slower than in other epic high court cases involving the presidency, including the Watergate tapes case .

The Republican former president has denied doing anything wrong and has said this prosecution and three others are politically motivated to try to keep him from returning to the White House.

In May, Trump became the first former president to be convicted of a felony , in a New York court. He was found guilty of falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment made during the 2016 presidential election to a porn actor who says she had sex with him, which he denies. After Monday’s ruling, Trump’s lawyers asked the New York judge who presided over that trial to set aside his conviction and delay his sentencing. He still faces three other indictments .

Smith is leading the two federal inquiries of the former president, both of which have led to criminal charges. The Washington case focuses on Trump’s alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election after he lost to Biden. The case in Florida revolves around the mishandling of classified documents. A separate case, in Georgia, also turns on Trump’s actions after his defeat in 2020.

If Trump’s Washington trial does not take place before the 2024 election and he is not given another four years in the White House, he presumably would stand trial soon thereafter.

But if he wins, he could appoint an attorney general who would seek the dismissal of this case and the other federal prosecution he faces. He could also attempt to pardon himself if he reclaims the White House. He could not pardon himself for the conviction in state court in New York.

The Supreme Court that heard the case included three justices appointed by Trump — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Barrett — and two justices who opted not to step aside after questions were raised about their impartiality.

Thomas’ wife, Ginni , attended the rally near the White House where Trump spoke on Jan. 6, 2021, though she did not go the Capitol when a mob of Trump supporters attacked it soon after. Following the 2020 election, she called the outcome a “heist” and exchanged messages with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, urging him to stand firm with Trump as he falsely claimed that there was widespread election fraud.

Justice Samuel Alito said there was no reason for him to step aside from the cases following reports by The New York Times that said flags similar to those carried by the Jan. 6 rioters flew above his homes in Virginia and on the New Jersey shore. His wife, Martha-Ann Alito, was responsible for flying both the inverted American flag in January 2021 and the “Appeal to Heaven” banner in the summer of 2023, he said in letters to Democratic lawmakers responding to their recusal demands.

Before the Supreme Court got involved, a trial judge and a three-judge appellate panel had ruled unanimously that Trump could be prosecuted for actions undertaken while in the White House and in the run-up to Jan. 6.

Chutkan ruled against Trump’s immunity claim in December. In her ruling, Chutkan said the office of the president “does not confer a lifelong ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ pass.”

Associated Press writers Lindsay Whitehurst, Alanna Durkin Richer, Eric Tucker, Stephen Groves, Farnoush Amiri, Michelle Price and Ali Swenson contributed to this report.

how long should it take to write a personal statement

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  1. How To Write a Good Personal Statement (With Examples)

    Include information that describes more about you than the details in your transcript. 5. Identify your plans for the future. Part of your personal statement can include future goals and ambitions. Explain what can happen if you gain acceptance to the university of your choice or you receive the job you want.

  2. How to Write Your Personal Statement

    A personal statement is a short essay of around 500-1,000 words, in which you tell a compelling story about who you are, what drives you, and why you're applying. To write a successful personal statement for a graduate school application, don't just summarize your experience; instead, craft a focused narrative in your own voice. Aim to ...

  3. How to Write a Personal Statement (with Tips and Examples)

    Here are some common questions about how to write a personal statement. How Long Should a Personal Statement Be? The length of your personal statement depends on the specific program you're applying to. The application guidelines usually specify a maximum word count or an ideal word count. Most personal statements are between 500-800 words.

  4. How to Write a Personal Statement

    Watch out for cliches like "making a difference," "broadening my horizons," or "the best thing that ever happened to me." 3. Stay focused. Try to avoid getting off-track or including tangents in your personal statement. Stay focused by writing a first draft and then re-reading what you've written.

  5. How Long Should a Personal Statement Be?

    It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to write a personal statement. It primarily depends on how far in advance you plan your essay, your writing style, and how much time you put into editing and reviewing. Taking some extra time to write this statement is never a bad idea.

  6. How to Write a Strong Personal Statement

    Address the elephant in the room (if there is one). Maybe your grades weren't great in core courses, or perhaps you've never worked in the field you're applying to. Make sure to address the ...

  7. Personal Statement Format + Examples

    How Long Should a Personal Statement Be? Fortunately, colleges and application systems usually give you specific personal statement word counts. The Common Application and Coalition Application, which are the most prevalent applications, will give you a word count of 650 words for your main personal statement, but will usually give a smaller ...

  8. How To Write an Effective Personal Statement (With Examples)

    Now you know how to write a personal statement, let's look at what to focus on depending on your application type. The length of your personal statement will vary depending on the type. Generally, it should be around 500 words to 650 words .

  9. How to write an excellent personal statement in 10 steps

    Use your closing couple of lines to summarise the most important points in your statement. 9. Check your writing thoroughly and get someone else to check it, too. 10. Give your brain a rest by forgetting about your personal statement for a while before going back to review it one last time with fresh eyes.

  10. How to Write a Powerful Personal Statement

    For a university application, discuss what parts of the program or school align with your passions. Your university introduction should be a full paragraph. 2. Expand on relevant skills, interests and experiences. The body of your personal statement lets you share more about your relevant skills, interests and experiences.

  11. How Long Should Your Personal Statement Be?

    How Long Should a Personal Statement Be? The simple answer is, for the Common App main statement, 650 words max; for the Coalition App, 500-650; for the UC PIQ s, 350 max. The better answer is … a little more complex. Hence the quotes around "right" in the intro. For each of the above, you don't have to use every single available word.

  12. How to Write a Personal Statement (Tips + Essay Examples)

    In a great personal statement, we should be able to get a sense of what fulfills, motivates, or excites the author. These can be things like humor, beauty, community, and autonomy, just to name a few. So when you read back through your essay, you should be able to detect at least 4-5 different values throughout.

  13. How To Write an Attention-Grabbing Personal Statement

    Generally, a small paragraph is enough in the body of your personal statement for an employer or recruiter. Related: 10 best skills to include on a CV. 6. Conclude your statement. End with a strong conclusion that summarises what you have already discussed and will leave a lasting impression on your reader.

  14. 12 Winning Personal Statement Examples (With Tips)

    Here are 12 personal statement examples for school or career to help you create your own: 1. Personal statement example for graduate school. A personal statement for graduate school differs greatly from one to further your professional career. It's usually an essay, rather than a brief paragraph.

  15. What Is a Personal Statement? Everything You Need to Know About the

    Prompt Type 1: Your Personal History. This sort of question asks you to write about a formative experience, important event, or key relationship from your life. Admissions officers want to understand what is important to you and how your background has shaped you as a person. These questions are both common and tricky.

  16. How To Write Your Undergraduate Personal Statement

    Just start by showing your enthusiasm for the subject, showcasing your knowledge and understanding, and sharing your ambitions of what you want to achieve. Avoid cliches! Remember, this opening part is simply about introducing yourself, so let the admissions tutor reading your personal statement get to know you. Keep it relevant and simple.

  17. Personal statement dos and don'ts

    Don'ts. Don't be modest or shy. You want your passions to come across. Don't exaggerate - if you do, you may get caught out in an interview when asked to elaborate on an interesting achievement. Don't use quotes from someone else, or cliches. Don't leave it to the last minute - your statement will seem rushed and important ...

  18. How to start a personal statement: The attention grabber

    2. Write about why you want to study that course. Think about why you want to study the course and how you can demonstrate this in your written statement: 'Your interest in the course is the biggest thing. Start with a short sentence that captures the reason why you're interested in studying the area you're applying for and that ...

  19. Writing the Perfect Personal Statement for Your Master's or PhD

    Personal statements required for graduate school admissions are short. Their length should be around 700 words, meaning 1-2 pages. However, you should be careful to write it well and edit it thoroughly for grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors.

  20. How long should your personal statement be?

    UCAS requirements state that your personal statement can be a maximum of 4,000 characters or up to 47 lines in length - whichever comes first. The character count includes spaces and the line count includes blank lines, so keep this in mind when it comes to how you format your paragraphs. This might sound like a lot, but bear in mind that ...

  21. How to write a personal statement

    How long should I spend writing my personal statement? A personal statement isn't a one-size-fits all document. In other words, a new personal statement should be written for each application. Although it might take some time to alter it according to each job role, your effort will make all the difference when it comes to impressing an employer.

  22. How long did it take for you to write your personal statement?

    You can probably get it 90% done in a few hours of work. The last 10% will take you 90% of the time though if you want to perfect it. About 3 months of going thru multiple drafts before being happy with the final product. 3 months and 9 drafts with professors/advisors.

  23. Statement of Purpose, Personal Statement, and Writing Sample

    Your degree program of interest may have specific guidance or requirements for the statement of purpose, so be sure to review the degree program page for more information. Unless otherwise noted, your statement should not exceed 1,000 words. Personal Statement

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    It's true that the trajectory of aging varies from person to person. Biden is 81, and former President Donald Trump is 78. Both have already lived longer than the average American male lifespan ...