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How to Write an Amazing Personal Statement (Includes Examples!)

how to write personal statements for university

Lisa Freedland is a Scholarships360 writer with personal experience in psychological research and content writing. She has written content for an online fact-checking organization and has conducted research at the University of Southern California as well as the University of California, Irvine. Lisa graduated from the University of Southern California in Fall 2021 with a degree in Psychology.

Learn about our editorial policies

Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

how to write personal statements for university

Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

how to write personal statements for university

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

How to Write an Amazing Personal Statement (Includes Examples!)

The personal statement. It’s one of the most important parts of the entire college application process. This essay is the perfect opportunity to show admissions officers who you are and what makes you stand out from the crowd. But writing a good personal statement isn’t exactly easy. That’s why we’ve put together the ultimate guide on how to nail your personal statement, complete with example essays . Each essay was reviewed and commented upon by admissions expert Bill Jack. Let’s dive in!

Related: How to write an essay about yourself  

What is a personal statement? 

A personal statement is a special type of essay that’s required when you’re applying to colleges and scholarship programs. In this essay, you’re expected to share something about who you are and what you bring to the table. Think of it as a chance to reveal a side of yourself not found in the rest of your application. Personal statements are typically around 400 – 600 words in length. 

What can I write about? 

Pretty much anything, as long as it’s about you . While this is liberating in the sense that your writing options are nearly unlimited, it’s also overwhelming for the same reason. The good news is that you’ll probably be responding to a specific prompt. Chances are you’re applying to a school that uses the Common App , which means you’ll have seven prompts to choose from . Reviewing these prompts can help generate some ideas, but so can asking yourself meaningful questions. 

Below you’ll find a list of questions to ask yourself during the brainstorming process. For each of the following questions, spend a few minutes jotting down whatever comes to mind. 

  • What experiences have shaped who you are? 
  • What’s special or unique about you or your life story? 
  • Who or what has inspired you the most? 
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of? 
  • What are your goals for the future? How have you arrived at those goals? 
  • If your life was a movie, what would be the most interesting scene? 
  • What have been some of the biggest challenges in your life? How did you respond and what did you learn? 

The purpose of these questions is to prompt you to think about your life at a deeper level. Hopefully by reflecting on them, you’ll find an essay topic that is impactful and meaningful. In the next section, we’ll offer some advice on actually writing your essay. 

Also see:  How to write a 500 word essay

How do I write my personal statement? 

Once you’ve found a topic, it’s time to start writing! Every personal statement is different, so there’s not really one formula that works for every student. That being said, the following tips should get you started in the right direction:  

1. Freewrite, then rewrite 

The blank page tends to get more intimidating the longer you stare at it, so it’s best to go ahead and jump right in! Don’t worry about making the first draft absolutely perfect. Instead, just get your ideas on the page and don’t spend too much time thinking about the finer details. Think of this initial writing session as a “brain dump”. Take 15-30 minutes to quickly empty all your thoughts onto the page without worrying about things like grammar, spelling, or sentence structure. You can even use bullet points if that helps. Once you have your ideas on the page, then you can go back and shape them exactly how you want. 

2. Establish your theme 

Now that you’ve got some basic ideas down on the page, it’s time to lock in on a theme. Your theme is a specific angle that reflects the central message of your essay. It can be summarized in a sentence or even a word. For example, let’s say you’re writing about how you had to establish a whole new group of friends when you moved to a new city. The theme for this type of essay would probably be something like “adaptation”. Having a theme will help you stay focused throughout your essay. Since you only have a limited number of words, you can’t afford to go off on tangents that don’t relate to your theme. 

3. Tell a story

A lot of great essays rely on a specific scene or story. Find the personal anecdote relevant to your theme and transfer it to the page. The best way to do this is by using descriptive language. Consult the five senses as you’re setting the scene. What did you see, hear, taste, touch, or smell? How were you feeling emotionally? Using descriptive language can really help your essay come to life. According to UPchieve , a nonprofit that supports low income students, focusing on a particular moment as a “ revised version of a memoir ” is one way to keep readers engaged. 

Related: College essay primer: show, don’t tell  

4. Focus on your opening paragraph

Your opening paragraph should grab your reader’s attention and set the tone for the rest of your essay. In most cases, this is the best place to include your anecdote (if you have one). By leading with your personal story, you can hook your audience from the get-go. After telling your story, you can explain why it’s important to who you are. 

Related:  How to start a scholarship essay (with examples)

5. Use an authentic voice 

Your personal statement reflects who you are, so you should use a tone that represents you. That means you shouldn’t try to sound like someone else, and you shouldn’t use fancy words just to show off. This isn’t an academic paper, so you don’t have to adopt a super formal tone. Instead, write in a way that allows room for your personality to breathe. 

6. Edit, edit, edit…

Once you’re done writing, give yourself some time away from the essay. Try to allow a few days to pass before looking at the essay again with fresh eyes. This way, you’re more likely to pick up on spelling and grammatical errors. You may even get some new ideas and rethink the way you wrote some things. Once you’re satisfied, let someone else edit your essay. We recommend asking a teacher, parent, or sibling for their thoughts before submitting. 

Examples of personal statements 

Sometimes viewing someone else’s work is the best way to generate inspiration and get the creative juices flowing. The following essays are written in response to four different Common App prompts: 

Prompt 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.”

When I was eight years old, I wanted a GameCube very badly. For weeks I hounded my dad to buy me one and finally he agreed. But there was a catch. He’d only get me a GameCube if I promised to start reading. Every day I played video games, I would have to pick up a book and read for at least one hour. At that point in my life, reading was just something I had to suffer through for school assignments. To read for pleasure seemed ludicrous. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about this proposed agreement. But I figured anything was worth it to get my hands on that shiny new video game console, so I bit the bullet and shook my dad’s hand. Little did I know that I had just made a life-changing deal. 

At first, the required hour of reading was a chore — something I had to do so I could play Mario Kart. But it quickly turned into something more than that. To my complete and utter surprise, I discovered that I actually enjoyed reading. One hour turned into two, two turned into three, and after a while I was spending more time reading than I was playing video games. I found myself captivated by the written word, and I read everything I could get my hands on. Lord of the Rings , Percy Jackson , Goosebumps — you name it. I was falling in love with literature, while my GameCube was accumulating dust in the TV stand. 

Soon enough, reading led to writing. I was beginning to come up with my own stories, so I put pen to paper and let my imagination run wild. It started out small. My first effort was a rudimentary picture book about a friendly raccoon who went to the moon. But things progressed. My stories became more intricate, my characters more complex. I wrote a series of science fiction novellas. I tried my hand at poetry. I was amazed at the worlds I could create with the tip of my pen. I had dreams of becoming an author. 

Then somewhere along the way my family got a subscription to Netflix, and that completely changed the way I thought about storytelling. My nose had been buried in books up until then, so I hadn’t really seen a lot of movies. That quickly changed. It seemed like every other day a pair of new DVDs would arrive in the mail (this was the early days of Netflix). Dark Knight, The Truman Show, Inception, Memento — all these great films were coming in and out of the house. And I couldn’t get enough of them. Movies brought stories to life in a way that books could not. I was head over heels for visual storytelling. 

Suddenly I wasn’t writing novels and short stories anymore. I was writing scripts for movies. Now I wanted to transfer my ideas to the big screen, rather than the pages of a book. But I was still doing the same thing I had always done. I was writing, just in a different format. To help with this process, I read the screenplays of my favorite films and paid attention to the way they were crafted. I kept watching more and more movies. And I hadn’t forgotten about my first love, either. I still cherished books and looked to them for inspiration. By the end of my junior year of high school, I had completed two scripts for short films. 

So why am I telling you all this? Because I want to turn my love of storytelling into a career. I’m not totally sure how to do that yet, but I know I have options. Whether it’s film production, creative writing, or even journalism, I want to find a major that suits my ambitions. Writing has taken me a long way, and I know it can take me even further. As I step into this next chapter of my life, I couldn’t be more excited to see how my craft develops. In the meantime, I should probably get rid of that dusty old GameCube. 

Feedback from admissions professional Bill Jack

Essays don’t always have to reveal details about the student’s intended career path, but one thing I like about this essay is that it gives the reader a sense of the why. Why do they want to pursue storytelling. It also shows the reader that they are open to how they pursue their interest. Being open to exploration is such a vital part of college, so it’s also showing the reader that they likely will be open to new things in college. And, it’s always fun to learn a little bit more about the student’s family, especially if the reader can learn about how the students interacts with their family. 

Prompt 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?”

I remember my first impression of Irvine: weird. It was foggy, stock-full of greenery and eucalyptus trees, and reminded me of my 5th grade trip to a “science camp” which was located in the San Bernardino mountains. Besides Irvine, that was one of the few places in Southern California where you’d find so many non-palm trees. 

Of course, perhaps my initial impression of Irvine was biased, motivated by a desire to stay in my hometown and a fear of the unknown. While that was true to an extent, Irvine was certainly still a little peculiar. The city itself was based on a “master plan” of sorts, with the location of each of its schools, parks, shops, and arguably its trees having been logically “picked” before the foundation was poured. Even the homes all looked roughly the same, with their beige, stucco walls almost serving as a hallmark of the city itself.

Thus, this perfectly structured, perfectly safe city seemed like a paradise of sorts to many outsiders, my parents included. I was a little more hesitant to welcome this. As I saw it, this was a phony city – believing that its uniformity stood for a lack of personality. My hometown, although not as flawlessly safe nor clean as Irvine, was where most of my dearest memories had occurred. From the many sleepovers at Cindie’s house, to trying to avoid my school’s own version of the “infamous” cheese touch, to the many laughs shared with friends and family, I shed a tear at the prospect of leaving my home.

Moving into the foreign city, remnants of the hostility I held towards Irvine remained. Still dwelling in my memories of the past, I was initially unable to see Irvine as a “home.” So, as I walked into my first-ever Irvine class, being greeted by many kind, yet unfamiliar faces around me, I was unable to recognize that some of those new faces would later become some of my dearest friends. Such negative feelings about the city were further reinforced by newer, harder classes, and more complicated homework. Sitting in the discomfort of this unfamiliar environment, it started to seem that “change” was something not only inevitable, but insurmountable.

As the years went on, however, this idea seemed to fade. I got used to my classes and bike racing through Irvine neighborhoods with my friends, watching the trees that once seemed just a “weird” green blob soon transform into one of my favorite parts of the city. While I kept my old, beloved memories stored, I made space for new ones. From carefully making our way over the narrow creek path next to our school, to the laughs we shared during chemistry class, my new memories made with friends seemed to transform a city I once disliked into one I would miss. 

Through this transformation, I have come to recognize that change, although sometimes intimidating at first, can open the door to great times and meaningful connections. Although Irvine may have once seemed like a strange, “phony” place that I couldn’t wait to be rid of, the memories and laughs I had grown to share there were very real. As I move onto this next part of my life, I hope I can use this knowledge that I have gained from my time in Irvine to make the most of what’s to come. Even if the change may be frightening at first, I have learned to embrace what’s on the other side, whether green or not.

One huge plus to writing an essay that focuses on a place is that you might have it read by someone who has been there. Yet, what’s really helpful about this essay is that even if someone hasn’t been there, a picture is painted about what the place is like.  Admission officers have the hard task of really understanding what the student sees, so the use of adjectives and imagery can really help.  It’s also really clever to see that the green that’s mentioned at the beginning is mentioned at the end.  It’s a nice way to bookend the essay and tie it all together.

Prompt 6: “Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?”

I like getting lost. Not literally, of course, but figuratively. Whether it be in the story of a love song by Taylor Swift, or in the memories brought back by listening to my favorite childhood video game’s background music, I’ve always appreciated music’s ability to transport me to another place, another time, another feeling. 

Alas, I cannot sing, nor have I practiced an instrument since my middle school piano class days. So, perhaps Kurt Vonnegut was right. As he puts it, “Virtually every writer I know would rather be a musician.” While I cannot speak for others, I have certainly not debunked his theory. Writing allows many, including myself, to attempt to mimic the transformative power of music – even if our singing voices aren’t exactly “pleasant.” Just as you can get lost in music, you can do so in a story. Whether it is in George Orwell’s totalitarian Oceania, or Little Women’s Orchard House, the stories outlined in novels can provide an amazing look into the lives and worlds of others, and an escape from the worries and problems of those in your own.

While I am certainly not claiming to have the storytelling abilities of the Orwells or Alcotts before me, I’ve had fun trying to recreate such transformative feelings for others. When I was nine, I attempted to write a story about a little girl who had gotten lost in the woods, only managing to get a couple pages through. As I got older, whenever I was assigned a creative writing assignment in school, I wrote about the same pig, Phil. He was always angry: in my 8th grade science class, Phil was mad at some humans who had harbored his friend captive, and in my 9th grade English class, at a couple who robbed him. 

Thus, when I heard about a writing club being opened at my school in 11th grade, I knew I had to join. I wanted to discern whether writing was just a hobby I picked up now and then, or a true passion. If it was a passion, I wanted to learn as much as possible about how I could improve. Although my high school’s writing club certainly wasn’t going to transform me into Shakespeare, I knew I could learn a lot from it – and I did. The club challenged me to do many things, from writing on the spot, to writing poetry, to even writing about myself, something that’s hopefully coming in handy right now. 

From then on, I started to expand into different types of writing, storing short ideas, skits, and more in appropriately-labeled Google Drive folders. At around the same time, I became interested in classic literature, which largely stemmed from a project in English class. We had been required to choose and read a classic on our own, then present it to the class in an interesting way. While my book was certainly interesting and unique in its own right, nearly everyone else’s novels seemed more captivating to me. So, I took it upon myself to read as many classics as I could the following summer.

One of the books I read during the summer, funnily enough, was Animal Farm, which starred angry pigs, reminiscent of Phil. I had also started going over different ideas in my head, thinking about how I could translate them into words using the new skills I learned. While the writing club helped reaffirm my interest in writing and allowed me to develop new skills, my newfound affinity for classics gave me inspiration to write. Now, I am actually considering writing as part of my future. In this endeavor, I hope that Phil, and the music I inevitably listen to as I write, will accompany me every step of the way.

Admission officers might read 70 (or more!) essays in one day. It’s not uncommon for them to start to blend together and sound similar. This essay might not make you laugh out loud. But, it might make the reader chuckle while reading it thanks to the subtle humor and levity. Being able to incorporate a little humor into your essay (if it is natural for you to do… do not force it), can really be a great way to shed additional light into who you are. Remember, the essay isn’t merely about proving that you can write, but it should also reveal a little bit about your personality.

Prompt 5: “Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.”

I learned a lot of things during the summer I worked at Tropical Smoothie. I discovered the value of hard work. I figured out how to save money. I even mastered the art of the Mango Magic smoothie (the secret is lots of sugar). But most importantly, I learned the power of perspective. And I have Deja to thank for that. 

Deja was my shift supervisor, and one of Tropical Smoothie’s best employees. She was punctual, friendly, and always willing to lend a helping hand. She knew the store from top to bottom, and could handle pretty much any situation thrown her way. She made everyone around her better. On top of all that, she was four months pregnant! I was always impressed by Deja’s work ethic, but I gained an entirely new level of respect for her one day.

It was a Friday night, and Deja and I were working the closing shift together. It was very busy, and Deja and I were the only ones on shift. We managed to get by, but we were exhausted by the end of the evening. After wiping down the counters and mopping the floors, we closed up shop and went our separate ways. I was eager to get home. 

I walked a couple blocks to where I had parked my car. Well, it wasn’t my car actually. It was my dad’s ‘98 Chevy pickup truck, and it was in rough shape. It had no heat or A/C, the leather seats were cracked beyond repair, and the driver’s side door was jammed shut. I sighed as I got in through the passenger side and scooted over to the driver’s seat. The whole reason I was working at Tropical Smoothie was to save up enough money to buy my own car. I was hoping to have something more respectable to drive during my senior year of high school. 

I cranked the old thing up and started on my way home. But soon enough, I spotted Deja walking on the side of the road. There was no sidewalk here, the light was low, and she was dangerously close to the passing cars. I pulled over and offered her a ride. She got in and explained that she was on her way home. Apparently she didn’t have a car and had been walking to work every day. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was complaining about my set of wheels, while Deja didn’t have any to begin with.

We got to talking, and she confessed that she had been having a tough time. You would never know from the way she was so cheerful at work, but Deja had a lot on her plate. She was taking care of her mother, her boyfriend had just lost his job, and she was worried about making ends meet. And of course, she was expecting a baby in five months. On top of all that, she had been walking nearly a mile to and from work every day. The whole thing was a real eye opener, and made me reconsider some things in my own life. 

For one, I didn’t mind driving my dad’s truck anymore. It was banged up, sure, but it was a lot better than nothing. My mindset had changed. I appreciated the truck now. I began to think about other things differently, too. I started making mental notes of all the things in my life I was thankful for — my family, my friends, my health. I became grateful for what I had, instead of obsessing over the things I didn’t. 

I also gained more awareness of the world outside my own little bubble. My encounter with Deja had shown me first-hand that everyone is dealing with their own problems, some worse than others. So I started paying more attention to my friends, family members, and coworkers. I started listening more and asking how I could help. I also gave Deja a ride home for the rest of the summer. 

These are all small things, of course, but I think they make a difference. I realized I’m at my best when I’m not fixated on my own life, but when I’m considerate of the lives around me. I want to keep this in mind as I continue to grow and develop as a person. I want to continue to search for ways to support the people around me. And most importantly, I want to keep things in perspective.

Too often we can be focused on our own problems that we fail to realize that everyone has their own things going on in their lives, too.  This essay showcases how it’s important to put things in perspective, a skill that certainly will prove invaluable in college… and not just in the classroom.  Another reason I like this essay is because it provides deeper insight into the student’s life.  Sure, you might have mentioned in your activities list that you have a job.  But as this essay does, you can show why you have the job in the first place, what your responsibilities are, and more.

A few last tips

We hope these essay examples gave you a bit of inspiration of what to include in your own. However, before you go, we’d like to send you off with a few (personal statement) writing tips to help you make your essays as lovely as the memories and anecdotes they’re based off of. Without further ado, here are some of our best tips for writing your personal statements:

1. Open strong

College admissions officers read many, many essays (think 50+) a day, which can sometimes cause them to start blending together and sounding alike. One way to avoid your essay from simply fading into the background is to start strong. This means opening your essay with something memorable, whether an interesting personal anecdote, a descriptive setting, or anything else that you think would catch a reader’s attention (so long as it’s not inappropriate). Not only might this help college admissions officers better remember your essay, but it will also make them curious about what the rest of your essay will entail.

2. Be authentic

Perhaps most important when it comes to writing personal statement essays is to maintain your authenticity. Ultimately, your essays should reflect your unique stories and quirks that make you who you are, and should help college admissions officers determine whether you’d truly be a good fit for their school or not. So, don’t stress trying to figure out what colleges are looking for. Be yourself, and let the colleges come to you!

3. Strong writing

This one may seem a little obvious, but strong writing will certainly appeal to colleges. Not only will it make your essay more compelling, but it may show colleges that you’re ready for college-level essay writing (that you’ll likely have to do a lot of). Just remember that good writing is not limited to grammar. Using captivating detail and descriptions are a huge part of making your essay seem more like a story than a lecture.

4. Proofread

Last but not least, remember to proofread! Make sure your essay contains no errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. When you’re done proofreading your essay yourself, we would also recommend that you ask a teacher, parent, or other grammatically savvy person to proofread your essay as well.

Final thoughts 

With those in hand, we hope you now have a better sense of how to write your personal statement. While your grades and test scores are important when it comes to college admissions, it’s really your essays that can “make” or “break” your application. 

Although this may make it seem like a daunting task, writing an amazing personal statement essay is all about effort. Thus, so long as you start early, follow the advice listed above, and dedicate your time and effort to it, it’s entirely possible to write an essay that perfectly encapsulates you. Good luck, and happy writing!

Also see:  Scholarships360’s free scholarships search tool

Key Takeaways

  • It may take some people longer than others to know what they want to write about, but remember that everyone, including you, has something unique to write about!
  • Personal statements should be personal, which means you should avoid being too general and really strive to show off what makes you “you”
  • Time and effort are two of the most important things you can put into your personal statement to ensure that it is the best representation of yourself
  • Don’t forget to ask people who know you to read your work before you submit; they should be able to tell you better than anyone if you are truly shining through!

Frequently asked questions about writing personal statements 

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Home › University › How To Write A Personal Statement? 10 Tips + Student Questions Answered › How To Start A Personal Statement: Tips & Examples

How To Start A Personal Statement: Tips & Examples

  • Published January 20, 2023

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Table of Contents

We’re regularly asked the question “ how to start a personal statement ”? It’s a challenging task for anybody but worry not as we’re here to help guide you through the process. 

The introduction is the first thing the admissions committee will read. That’s why the first sentence of a personal statement should be a catchy, attention-grabbing hook or story that grabs the reader’s attention and sets up the main point of your essay.

A lacklustre introduction may lose your readers’ interest, preventing them from reading the rest of your personal statement!

But don’t worry, this article will guide you on writing a personal statement introduction, a few examples of opening sentences and how to captivate the admissions tutors. Without further ado, let’s get started.

Top Tip: Leave Your Introduction For Last

You know what they say, the hardest thing to do is  start . So skip the introduction for now and focus on the main body of your personal statement. If you’re not sure what your main content should be, read out how to write a personal statement guide.

After nailing down the main points, you’ll have a concrete idea of how your introduction can captivate the reader and stay relevant to the bulk of the writing. Go ahead and work on the rest of your personal statement.

Come back when you’re finished! And if you’re worried about your conclusion then check out our advice on  personal statement conclusions .

2. Cut To The Chase

You only have  4,000 characters  to sell yourself as an ideal student candidate. Make each character and paragraph count! That means forget about flowery words and directionless statements. When you start your personal statement, explain your motivations for choosing your course in one or two sentences.

Although you will discuss this in-depth in the main body of content, capturing your reader’s attention with a quick overview of why you’re enthusiastic about your chosen course is crucial. That’s why capturing the reader’s attention by jumping straight to the point is key to starting a personal statement.

how to write a personal statement introductions

3. Be Specific

Never give vague details when expressing why you want to pursue your course. “I always wanted to be an engineer since I was a kid,” or “I want to become a doctor because I enjoy science” isn’t advised. 

On that note, if you’re applying to medicine refer to our guide on  how to write a medical personal statement . We suggest being more specific than that, and you can include your academic achievements too. Here are a few suggestions that may help you:

  • You witnessed an inspirational figure in your life solve a massive problem with a specific skill set (doctor, engineer, etc.)
  • While you were at a charity event, you encountered a problem that kept people in deprivation. By pursuing this course, you’re a part of the solution.
  • You’re good at, and you enjoy a specific skill set. The course you’re eyeing puts great emphasis on this particular skill.
  • There was a moment in your life when you succeeded in solving a problem. You felt significant by doing so, and you want to keep doing that for the rest of your life (teaching poor children how to read)
  • You watched a movie or read a book that ignited your passion for the course. After doing volunteer work or part-time employment related to your course, you’re determined to pursue it.

Craft a sentence or two that encapsulates the core of your “why.” Do this, and your reader will want to read more!

4. Demonstrate Knowledge In Your Chosen Course

An essential element of starting a personal statement is to express why you’re enthusiastic about taking your chosen course. You need to demonstrate that you’re aware of what you’re getting yourself into in the process. Answer any of these prompt questions for inspiration:

  • What do you find interesting about the course?
  • How do you believe the course will help you achieve your goals?
  • How will you use your chosen course to contribute to society?
  • What hurdles do you expect to encounter, and how will you handle them?

Decide which of these questions fits best into the main content of your  personal statement . Write your answer in a sentence or two, weave them into your application essay and think about the help you received from your tutors in the past.

5. Ditch The “Since I Was A Child” Line

We’re often asked  what not to put in a personal statement  and “Since I was a child” is a cliche statement that gets thrown around haphazardly. How many students have said this at least once in their personal statements?

Recalling your childhood passions is a weak “why” for pursuing your course. Why? Because the admissions committee is looking for a relevant and up-to-date reason.

When you were little, you had zero knowledge and little enthusiasm to become successful in your field. You had no idea what skillsets you needed or what other options were available to you.

But if you were to cite a recent event in your life that supports your determination to pursue your course, that screams “educated choice” right there. And  that  is what the admission committee is looking for after reading hundreds, if not thousands of introductions.

6. Brainstorm Several Versions Of Your Opening Lines

The desire to get it right the first time paralyses you from starting. So permit yourself to write freely. Write as many versions of your opening lines as possible.

Don’t worry about the grammar, spelling, or character count just yet. Type everything that goes off the top of your head. When you’re done, take a look at your list.

Cross out the ones you dislike, and encircle the ones you think have potential. Then start piecing the puzzle pieces together to check out if the intro lines fit with the rest of your personal statement. 

If you’ve found three potential opening statements, try reading them aloud together with the rest of your personal statement. Do they flow seamlessly into one another? Make the necessary adjustments. Play around with it until you feel you’ve hit the spot.

7. Make Your Opening Statement Error Free

Your opening statement is your hook line. Spelling or grammatical errors at the start discourage your reader from reading further. If you have errors at the beginning, you’ll most likely have them in your main content!

So make sure your English is simple, flawless, and straightforward. Run your personal statement through a tool like Grammarly to weed out most of the errors.

The Hemingway app is also a helpful tool for checking for passive voice and other writing problems. Take advantage of writing assistant tools, especially if you’re a non-native English writer.

8. Read Examples Of Personal Statements

Read as many personal statement examples as you can. Any that captivated you, keep them in your notes. Figure out  why  these statements stood out to you compared to the others. What elements can you place in  your  personal statement?

When reading personal statements that put you off, find out why. What characteristics do they have that elicit a negative reaction from you? List them down, and make sure you avoid them.

After this exercise, you should have a few more ideas about your personal statement introduction.

9. Ask For Feedback

Never underestimate what feedback can give you. Ask your family, friends, and acquaintances about your opening statement. Does your personality shine through? Is it straight to the point? Does it flow smoothly with the main content of your personal statement?

Listen to what they have to say. Jot down important points. You’ll need their feedback to get a second opinion on whether it works for you or not.

10. Give Yourself Time

Your chosen career depends on your college education. And a first crucial step is to convince the admission committee you’re worth accepting into your university. You have to give your personal statement your best shot. Give yourself enough time to brainstorm and think everything over.

You can’t finish a complete,  well-written personal statement  in a week. Much less overnight!

So make sure you set aside enough time to put your best foot forward. After finishing a complete draft of your personal statement, put it down. Forget about it for a few days. Then come back and reread it.

With a fresh set of eyes, you’ll notice details you may not have seen before! Revise as much as you need.

Do I Need To Write An Introduction For A Personal Statement?

Yes, we recommend writing an introduction for your personal statement as it provides context to the rest of your writing. The introduction is an opportunity to make a good first impression and capture the university admissions officer’s attention.

What is a good opening sentence for a personal statement?

Here are some examples of a good opening sentence for a captivating introduction. Note how it ties into the university degree almost straight away with first-hand experience:

  • “Growing up in a small town with limited resources sparked my curiosity and drive to pursue higher education and make a positive impact in my community.”
  • “From a young age, I have been fascinated by the intricacies of the human mind and the power of psychology to improve people’s lives.”
  • “As a first-generation college student, I am determined to break barriers and pave the way for future generations through a career in law.”
  • “My passion for sustainable design was ignited by a volunteer trip to a developing country, where I witnessed the devastating effects of environmental degradation firsthand.”
  • “A chance encounter with a blind person and their guide dog inspired me to pursue a career in veterinary medicine, with the goal of improving the lives of animals and their human companions.”

Please do NOT use these in your personal statements, use these to guide you on how you want to start your personal statement.

Can You Open Your Personal Statement With A Quote?

It is a risky move to open your personal statement with a quote and can come across as clichéd or insincere to the university admission officers. However, there are rare occasions when it can work, just make sure the quote relates to your degree and experience you’re writing about.

Get Ready To Write Your Personal Statement

How does one start a captivating personal statement? Take the time to think about what makes an effective introduction.

Read examples of personal statements from other students to glean ideas for how yours might stand out. Once you have read through some good ones, they should be more than just two or three!–look closely at what elements made them so successful. 

Then try applying those same principles on how to start a personal statement! Don’t forget to bookmark this post for future reference.

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How to write an outstanding personal statement for university

One of the first stops on the undergrad application process is drafting your personal statement. This is your chance to share your experience, skills and personality with prospective universities.

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What is a personal statement?

When applying to university in the UK, for undergraduate and postgraduate study, you must write a personal statement. This is then shared with universities. Alongside predicted grades, it's a chance to showcase your academic achievements, your motivations for applying to a course and your suitability for the uni and course. There's a lot you may feel you want to include in the 4,000-character limit, or you're struggling to know what to include. This guide should help learn how to write your personal statement for university.

Planning your personal statement

Preparation is key to ensure you're using the 4,000 character count effectively. When considering what to include in your personal statement , think about why you're interested in the course, your experience of the topics and what excites you about it. Jot down any key achievements, both academic and personal, as well as life experiences that have shaped who you are.

You now have all the ingredients to write your undergraduate personal statement. If you're in need of some inspiration, our personal statement examples from former successful students will give you a better idea.

UCAS how to write a personal statement

How to start your own personal statement

There are hundreds of thousands of students submitting their personal statements each year. Admissions offices will have seen every kind of statement you can imagine! With your introduction, it's important to grab the attention of the admissions tutor reading your application but try not to overthink this and do anything too out of the ordinary.

Your opening should showcase your enthusiasm for applying and that you understand the subject you're applying to. It can be tempting to open with a quote from your favourite author or singer, but avoid clichés - the admissions tutors want to hear from you!

UCAS how to write a personal statement

Your motivations for applying

You'll have touched on this in the intro. Build on your point by telling the admissions tutor why you're interested in this course and how your current studies relate to this. Draw on some of the specific areas you currently enjoy studying and how you'll build on this knowledge at university. This could also be how your hobbies relate to your course. Your aim is to share how passionate you are about the subject and why you'll be a successful student.

Personal skills and achievements

Universities are looking for students who have the skills needed for success in the course and beyond, as well as achievements that reflect your suitability. Here, you should talk about these and remember to include evidence to support why they matter. Relate your skills back to the course and how you'll apply them to your studies. This is also a good place to add any positions you may hold in and out of school, for example, captain of the football team or head girl.

Work experience and future plans

Universities also want to understand your plans after university. They're looking for students who show ambition and drive to use the learnings of their course beyond their studies. If you already have a clear idea of what you'd like to do after graduation, explain how you plan to use the knowledge and experience gained in your studies to launch your career.

If you have a part-time job, have undertaken any work experience or voluntary work, this is an opportunity to share this with admissions tutors, especially if it's relevant to the course you're applying to.

How to end your personal statement with an impact

Your conclusion should reinforce the points you've already made in your personal statement and leave a lasting impression. Link your ending back to your opening statement to creative a cohesive narrative and summarise the main reasons that make you a strong candidate.

Don't forget to proofread!

Once you've written the first draft of your personal statement, go through it again and ensure that you've hit the main points. And, of course, make sure you haven't exceeded the character limit! If you have, check your points are concise and cut out any waffle. Remember that every sentence should offer something unique - if you think you're repeating an earlier point, don't be afraid to remove it.

Don't forget, your personal statement is your chance to shine and demonstrate why you're the perfect fit for your chosen course. Be authentic, showcase your unique qualities, and let your passion shine through. Good luck!

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Tips for writing your personal statement

How to write a personal statement it's difficult to know where to begin. get hints and tips on structure, content and what not to write from a university expert..

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Structuring and preparing your personal statement

What to write in a personal statement, examples to avoid, an insider’s view .

Personal statements may seem formulaic, but they can be critical to the decision-making process, and admissions tutors do read them.

If you’re applying for a high-demand course, your personal statement could be the deciding factor on whether or not you get an interview.

The Director of Marketing and Student Recruitment at the University of Gloucestershire , James Seymour, shares some top tips on how to write a personal statement.

What makes a good personal statement?

This is your chance to demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment and show us what value you can add to a university. In the vast majority of cases, universities are finding ways to make you an offer, not reject you – the personal statement is your chance to make this decision easier for them!

First, you need to explain why you want a place on a course. Take a look at James’ tips on what you should include:

  • Explain the reason for your choice and how it fits in with your aspirations for the future
  • Give examples of any related academic or work experience
  • Show you know what the course will involve and mention any special subjects you’re interested in
  • Demonstrate who you are by listing any positions you’ve held, memberships of teams or societies, and interests and hobbies
  • Show consistency in your five UCAS choices. It may be difficult for an admissions tutor to take you seriously if your other choices, and references to them, are totally different. If your choices are different, you should explain this in your statement. The UCAS form is blind. Admissions tutors don’t know the other universities you’ve applied to, or your priorities, but you should still be consistent
  • Keep it clear and concise – UCAS admissions are increasingly paperless – so most admissions tutors/officers will read your statement onscreen
Explain what you can bring to a course and try not to just list experiences, but describe how they have given you skills that will help you at university.

Don’t just say: I am a member of the college chess club. I also play the clarinet in the orchestra.

When you could say: I have developed my problem-solving skills through playing chess for the college; this requires concentration and analytical thought. I am used to working as part of a team as I play clarinet in the college orchestra and cooperate with others to achieve a finished production.

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What will admissions tutors look for in your personal statement?

To decide if you’re the right fit, universities and colleges are interested in how you express your academic record and potential. This should be backed up by your reference.

Those working in admissions look for evidence of:

  • Motivation and commitment
  • Leadership, teamwork and communication
  • Research into your chosen subject
  • Any relevant key skills

Admissions tutors aren't seeking Nobel laureates. They’re looking for enthusiasm for the course being applied for, and self-reflection into why you’d be suitable to study it. What value could you add to the course? Where would you like to go once you graduate?

Ben, the Admissions Manager for Law at the University of Birmingham , shared with us what he expects applicants to tell him in their personal statement:

The personal statement is not only an excellent opportunity to showcase applicants individual skills, knowledge, and achievements, but it also provides us with an insight into the type of student they aspire to be and how they could fit into the academic community. Ben Atkins, Law Admissions Manager at University of Birmingham

Real-life example: the good

Good personal statement

Real-life example: the not-so-good

Not so good personal statement

  • How to make your personal statement stand out

You could have excellent experiences, but if they’re arranged in a poorly-written statement then the impact will be reduced. So, it’s important to plan your statement well.

A well-written personal statement with a clearly planned and refined structure will not only make the information stand out, but it’ll demonstrate you have an aptitude for structuring written pieces of work – a crucial skill needed for many university courses.

You can use it for other things too, such as gap year applications, jobs, internships, apprenticeships and keep it on file for future applications.

There's no one ‘correct’ way to structure your personal statement. But it’s a good idea to include the following:

  • A clear introduction, explaining why you want to study the course
  • Around 75% can focus on your academic achievements, to prove how you’re qualified to study it
  • Around 25% can be about any extracurricular activity, to show what else makes you suitable
  • A clear conclusion
  • How to start a personal statement

Your personal statement is your chance to really show why you deserve a place on your chosen course. 

Remember to keep these in mind:

  • Be clear and concise – the more concentrated the points and facts, the more powerful
  • Use positive words such as achieved, developed, learned, discovered, enthusiasm, commitment, energy, fascination…
  • Avoid contrived or grandiose language. Instead use short, simple sentences in plain English
  • Insert a personal touch if possible, but be careful with humour and chatty approaches
  • Use evidence of your learning and growth (wherever possible) to support claims and statements
  • Plan the statement as you would an essay or letter of application for a job/scholarship
  • Consider dividing the statement into five or six paragraphs, with headings if appropriate
  • Spelling and grammar DO matter – draft and redraft as many times as you must and ask others to proofread and provide feedback
  • For 2022 – 23 applications, refer to the challenges you've faced during the pandemic in a positive way

Don’t 

  • Over-exaggerate
  • Come across as pretentious
  • Try to include your life history
  • Start with: "I’ve always wanted to be a..."
  • Use gimmicks or quotations, unless they're very relevant and you deal with them in a way that shows your qualities
  • Be tempted to buy or copy a personal statement – plagiarism software is now very sophisticated and if you're caught out you won’t get a place
  • Make excuses about not being able to undertake activities/gain experience – focus on what you were able to do positively, e.g. as a result of coronavirus

For further details, read our detailed guide on  what to include in a personal statement  and the best things to avoid.

Note that if you decide to reapply for university the following year, it's a good idea to consider making some changes to your personal statement. Mention why you took a year off and talk about what skills you've learnt. If you're applying for a completely different subject, you'll need to make more changes.

James gives us real-life examples of things to avoid:

I enjoy the theatre and used to go a couple of times a year. (Drama)
I am a keen reader and am committed to the study of human behaviour through TV soaps!
I have led a full life over the last 18 years and it is a tradition I intend to continue.
I describe myself in the following two words: 'TO ODIN!' the ancient Viking war cry. (Law)
My favourite hobby is bee-keeping and I want to be an engineer.
My interest in Medicine stems from my enjoyment of Casualty and other related TV series.
I have always had a passion to study Medicine, failing that, Pharmacy. (A student putting Pharmacy as her fifth choice after four medical school choices – Pharmacy can be just as popular and high status as Medicine.)

Some final advice

Above all, remember that a personal statement is your opportunity to convince a university why it should offer you a place. So, make it compelling and there’s a much higher chance they will.

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Writing Center

Personal statements.

how to write personal statements for university

How to Write a Personal Statement

how to write personal statements for university

We offer these examples for you to adapt to your needs and the requirements of your application(s). Don’t feel pressured to copy them exactly! Each of these examples are written by UConn students, but for different types of programs:

Undergraduate Programs

NEAG School of Education Personal Statement  (pdf)

School of Pharmacy Personal Statement  (pdf)

Graduate Programs

English Ph.D. Statement of Purpose  (pdf)

Medical School Personal Statement  (pdf)

Social Psychology Ph.D. Personal Statement  (pdf)

These various sites from other university writing centers offer additional advice on personal statements.

Indiana University

UMass Amherst Writing Center

Purdue Online Writing Lab Graduate School Application Guide

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How to write a personal statement

How to approach writing your personal statement for graduate applications.

If you’re applying for a grad course that requires a personal statement (sometimes also called a ‘statement of purpose’), it can be difficult to know where to start and what to include. Read on for tips from some of our masters’ students about their process and what they found helpful.

1. Before you start

The academic work is the most important reason why we’re here, but that also translates into work experiences, internships, volunteering. I think a big part of the personal statement is crafting that narrative of academic self that fits alongside your professional experiences, to give that greater picture of who you are as an academic. Lauren (MSc Modern Middle Eastern Studies)

Start by thinking about the skills, knowledge and interests you’ve acquired over time and how the course at Oxford will take them forward.

Your statement is the story you want to tell about yourself and your academic work to the department you are applying to.

Most of your application and its supporting documents communicate plain facts about your academic career so far. Your personal statement is your best opportunity to put these facts into context and show assessors how you’ve progressed and excelled.

Make sure you highlight evidence of your achievements (a high grade in a relevant area, an award or scholarship, a research internship).

Presenting yourself

When I was writing my personal statement, I went onto my course website. I looked at what they emphasised and what kind of students they were looking for, and I wrote about my experiences based on that. Kayla (MSc in Clinical Embryology)

Make it easy for an assessor to see how you meet the entry requirements for the course (you can find these on each course page ).

Don’t make any assumptions about what Oxford is looking for!

Get to know your department

You want to study this particular subject and you want to study at Oxford (you’re applying here, so we know that!) but why is Oxford the right place for you to study this subject? What interests or qualities of the academic department and its staff make it attractive to you?

Use your academic department’s website for an overview of their research, academic staff and course information (you'll find a link to the department's own website on each course page ).

I said, ‘why do I actually want to be here? What is it about being at Oxford that’s going to get me to what I want to do? Sarah (Bachelor of Civil Law)

Talk it out

Talking to others about your statement can be a great way to gather your ideas and decide how you’d like to approach it. Sarah even managed to get benefit out of this approach by herself:

“I spent a lot of time talking out loud. My written process was actually very vocal, so I did a lot of talking about myself in my room.”

2. The writing process

Know your format.

Make sure you’ve read all the guidance on the How to Apply section of your course page , so you know what’s needed in terms of the word count of the final statement, what it should cover and what it will be assessed for. This should help you to visualise roughly what you want to end up with at the end of the process.

Make a start

When it comes to writing your personal statement, just getting started can be the hardest part.

One good way to get around writer’s block is to just put it all down on the page, like Mayur.

First - write down anything and everything. In the first round, I was just dumping everything - whatever I’ve done, anything close to computer science, that was on my personal statement. Mayur (MSc Computer Science)

You’ll be editing later anyway so don’t let the blank page intimidate you - try writing a little under each of the following headings to get started:

  • areas of the course at Oxford that are the most interesting to you
  • which areas you’ve already studied or had some experience in
  • what you hope to use your Oxford course experience for afterwards.

3. Finishing up

Get some feedback.

Once you’ve got a draft of about the right length, ask for feedback on what you’ve written. It might take several drafts to get it right.

This could involve getting in touch with some of your undergraduate professors to ask them to read your draft and find any areas which needed strengthening.

You could also show it to people who know you well, like family or friends.

Because they’re the first people to say, ‘Who is that person?’ You want the people around you to recognise that it really sounds like you. It can be scary telling family and friends you’re applying for Oxford, because it makes it real, but be brave enough to share it and get feedback on it. Sarah (Bachelor of Law)

Be yourself

Finally - be genuine and be yourself. Make sure your personal statement represents you, not your idea about what Oxford might be looking for.

We have thousands of students arriving every year from a huge range of subjects, backgrounds, institutions and countries (you can hear from a few more of them in our My Oxford interviews).

Get moving on your application today

To find out more about supporting documents and everything else you need to apply, read your course page and visit our Application Guide .

Applicant advice hub

This content was previously available through our  Applicant advice hub . The hub contained links to articles hosted on our  Graduate Study at Oxford Medium channel . We've moved the articles that support the application process into this new section of our website.

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Writing Your Personal Statements

Your personal statement must demonstrate to the admissions committee that you have considered graduate school and their specific program seriously. It’s your opportunity to summarize your academic and research experiences. You must also communicate how your experiences are relevant to preparing you for the graduate degree that you will be pursuing and explain why a given program is the right one for you.

The personal statement is where you highlight your strengths. Make your strengths absolutely clear to the reviewers, because they will often be reading many other statements. Your self-assessments and honest conversations with peers and advisors should have also revealed your strengths. But you must also address (not blame others for) weaknesses or unusual aspects of your application or academic background.

Your personal statement should focus on two main aspects: your competence and commitment.

1. Identify your strengths in terms of competence that indicate that you will succeed in the grad program and provide examples to support your claims. Start your statement by describing your strengths immediately. Because faculty will be reading many statements, it’s important to start off with your strengths and not “bury your lede.” Consider traits of successful graduate students from your informational interviews, and identify which of these traits you have. These traits could involve research skills and experiences, expertise in working with techniques or instruments, familiarity with professional networks and resources in your field, etc.

  • Check your responses from the exercises in the self-assessment section. You may wish to consult notes from your informational interviews and your Seven Stories . Write concise summaries and stories that demonstrate your strengths, e.g. how your strengths helped you to achieve certain goals or overcome obstacles.
  • Summarize your research experience(s). What were the main project goals and the “big picture” questions? What was your role in this project? What did you accomplish? What did you learn, and how did you grow as a result of the experience(s)?

Vannessa Velez's portrait

My research examines the interplay between U.S. domestic politics and foreign policy during the Cold War. As a native New Yorker, I saw firsthand how dramatically my city changed after 9/11, which prompted my early interest in U.S. policy at home and abroad. As an undergraduate at the City College of New York, I planned to study international relations with a focus on U.S. foreign affairs. I also quickly became involved in student activist groups that focused on raising awareness about a wide range of human rights issues, from the Syrian refugee crisis to asylum seekers from Central America.

The more I learned about the crises in the present, the more I realized that I needed a deeper understanding of the past to fully grasp them. I decided to pursue a PhD in history in order to gain a clearer understanding of human rights issues in the present and to empower young student-activists like myself.

— Vannessa Velez, PhD candidate in History

Addressing weaknesses or unusual aspects

  • Identify weaknesses or unusual aspects in your application—e.g., a significant drop in your GPA during a term; weak GRE scores; changes in your academic trajectory, etc. Don’t ignore them, because ignoring them might be interpreted as blind spots for you. If you’re unsure if a particular issue is significant enough to address, seek advice from faculty mentors.
  • Explain how you’ll improve and strengthen those areas or work around your weakness. Determine how you will address them in a positive light, e.g., by discussing how you overcame obstacles through persistence, what you learned from challenges, and how you grew from failures. Focusing on a growth mindset  or grit  and this blog on weaknesses might also help.
  • Deal with any significant unusual aspects later in the statement to allow a positive impression to develop first.
  • Explain, rather than provide excuses—i.e., address the issue directly and don’t blame others (even if you believe someone else is responsible). Draft it and get feedback from others to see if the explanation is working as you want it to.
  • Provide supporting empirical evidence if possible. For example, “Adjusting to college was a major step for me, coming from a small high school and as a first-generation college student. My freshman GPA was not up to par with my typical achievements, as demonstrated by my improved  GPA of 3.8 during my second and third years in college."
  • Be concise (don’t dwell on the issues), but also be complete (don’t lead to other potentially unanswered questions). For example, if a drop in grades during a term was due to a health issue, explain whether the health issue is recurring, managed now with medication, resolved, etc.

2. Explain your commitment to research and their graduate program, including your motivation for why you are applying to this graduate program at this university. Be as specific as possible. Identify several faculty members with whom you are interested in working, and explain why their research interests you.

  • Descriptions of your commitment should explain why you’re passionate about this particular academic field and provide demonstrations of your commitment with stories (e.g., working long hours to solve a problem, overcoming challenges in research, resilience in pursuing problems). Don’t merely assert your commitment.
  • Explain why you are applying to graduate school, as opposed to seeking a professional degree or a job. Discuss your interest and motivation for grad school, along with your future career aspirations.

Jaime Fine's portrait

I am definitely not your traditional graduate student. As a biracial (Native American and white), first-generation PhD student from a military family, I had very limited guidance on how best to pursue my education, especially when I decided that graduate school was a good idea. I ended up coming to this PhD in a very circuitous manner, stopping first to get a JD and, later, an MFA in Young Adult Literature. With each degree, I took time to work and apply what I’d learned, as a lawyer and as an educator. Each time, I realized that I was circling around questions that I couldn’t let go of—not just because I found them to be fascinating, but because I did (and still do!) feel that my research could help to bridge a gap that desperately needs bridging. Because my work is quite interdisciplinary, I strongly feel that I wouldn’t have been able to pursue this line of research without the degrees and life experience I gained before coming to this program.

— Jamie Fine, PhD candidate in Modern Thought and Literature

Statement of Purpose: subtle aspects

  • Think in terms of engaging faculty in a conversation rather than pleading with them that you should be admitted. Ask reviewers to read drafts with this concern in mind.
  • With later drafts, try developing an overall narrative theme. See if one emerges as you work.
  • Write at least 10 drafts and expect your thinking and the essay to change quite a bit over time.
  • Read drafts out loud to help you catch errors.
  • Expect the "you' that emerges in your essay to be incomplete. . . that’s OK.
  • You’re sharing a professional/scholarly slice of "you."
  • Avoid humor (do you really know what senior academics find funny?) and flashy openings and closings. Think of pitching the essay to an educated person in the field, but not necessarily in your specialty. Avoid emotionally laden words (such as "love" or "passion"). Remember, your audience is a group of professors! Overly emotional appeals might make them uncomfortable. They are looking for scholarly colleagues.

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how to write personal statements for university

How to Write a Stand-Out Personal Statement for Your Graduate School Application

How to write a personal statement for grad school

While deciding to embark on the path to graduate school is an exciting first step toward advancing your career, the application process can sometimes feel daunting and confusing.

One major part of the application that most schools require is a personal statement. Writing a personal statement can be an arduous task: After all, most people don’t necessarily enjoy writing about themselves, let alone at length.

A compelling personal statement, however, can help bring your application to the top of the admissions pile. Below, we’ve outlined what you need to know about crafting a personal statement to make your application shine.

What Is a Personal Statement?

The point of a personal statement is for the admissions board to gain a deeper understanding of who you are apart from your education and work experience. It explains why you’re the right fit for the program and a worthwhile applicant. It’s also an opportunity to highlight important factors that may not be readily available in the rest of your application.

A personal statement is different from a statement of purpose (if you’re asked for that as well). A statement of purpose will touch on your academic and career goals, as well as your past credentials. While those should also be discussed in your personal statement, it’s more about your life experiences and how they’ve shaped you and your journey to graduate school.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing a Personal Statement

Before you start crafting your essay, there are a few prompts you can ask yourself to help clarify what you want to accomplish.

  • What are the key points you want to communicate about yourself?
  • What personal characteristics or skills do you have that make you a strong candidate for this field?
  • What exactly are your career goals, and how does graduate school play into them?
  • What have you learned about this field already? When did you first choose to follow this path, and what do you enjoy about it?
  • What do you think is important for the admissions board to know specifically about you?
  • Are there any discrepancies or causes for concern in your application you need to address? For example, is there a career and schooling gap, or a low GPA at one point? This is the time to discuss whether a personal hardship may have affected your academics or career.
  • Have you dealt with any unusual obstacles or difficulties in your life? How have they affected and shaped you?
  • What sets you apart and makes you unique from other graduate school applicants?
  • What factors in your life have brought you to where you are today?

Top Tips for Writing a Graduate School Personal Statement

Pick a few points to emphasize about yourself . Introduce yourself to the admissions board. Select key factors about your background that you want the university to know — elements that reveal what kind of person you are and demonstrate why you’re a strong candidate for the school and field of study.

Be very specific . Again, a personal statement is all about communicating what distinguishes you from other applicants. To accomplish that, you need to share specific anecdotes that underscore your statements. If you say you’re a strong leader, present an example of a time you’ve proven that skill through work, school or your personal life. These specific, personal stories provide a deeper understanding of who you are and prove your intentions.

Do your research . Demonstrate what attracted you to the program. If there is a specific faculty member or class that caught your attention, or another aspect of the program that greatly interests you, convey it. This shows you’ve truly researched the school and have a passion for the program.

“Whatever the topic may be, I would recommend writing in a manner that reflects or parallels the institution’s and/or department’s missions, goals and values,” said Moises Cortés, a graduate/international credentials analyst for the Office of Graduate Admission at USC .

Address any gaps or discrepancies . Explain any factors that may have impacted your academic career. If you had an illness or any other personal hardships that affected your grades or work, discuss them. If there is a discrepancy between your grades and your test scores, you can also take the time to go over any extenuating circumstances.

Strike the right tone . While it’s important to give readers a glimpse of your personality, avoid oversharing or revealing intimate details of your life experiences. You should also avoid making jokes or using humorous cliches. Maintain a professional tone throughout your writing.

Start strong and finish strong . As with any piece of writing, you want to draw in your readers immediately. Make sure to start off with an interesting and captivating introduction. Similarly, your conclusion should be a well-written, engaging finish to the essay that highlights any important points.

“ For a personal statement, I think the first and last paragraphs are most important and should always relate the program they are applying to their own experiences and ideas,” Hoon H. Kang, a graduate/international credential analyst with the Office of Graduate Admission, told USC Online.

Proofread, proofread and proofread again . We can’t emphasize enough the importance of rereading your work. Your personal statement is also an analysis of your writing skills, so ensure you have proper grammar and spelling throughout. In addition, we recommend having multiple people look over your statement before submission. They can help with the proofreading (a second person always catches a mistake the writer may miss), give advice about the statement’s structure and content, and confirm it’s the proper recommended length.

Once you’ve considered all of the above and reviewed and edited your personal statement to perfection, it’s time to submit and check off any remaining application requirements, including your resume and letters of recommendation .

Personal statements are arguably one of the most challenging aspects of applying to graduate school, so make sure to revel in this accomplishment and acknowledge your successes.

For more information, visit the  Office of Graduate Admission at USC  and explore  USC Online ’s master’s degrees, doctoral programs and graduate certificates.

Academic Personal Statement Guide + Examples for 2024

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You have a bright future ahead of you in academia and you’ve already found the program of your dreams.

The only problem? 

You have to write an impressive academic personal statement that sets you apart from a sea of applicants.

We know that writing about yourself might not come naturally. And when the academic program you have your sights set on is on the line, it doesn’t make it any easier.

But there’s no need to worry!

We’ve prepared this guide to help you write your academic personal statement and secure your spot in your program of choice.

In this article, we’re going to cover:

  • What Is An Academic Personal Statement?
  • 7 Steps to Writing the Best Academic Personal Statement
  • An Example of a Stellar Academic Personal Statement

Let’s dive in.

academic cv

You’ll need an academic CV alongside your personal statement. Create one with ease with Novorésumé !

What Is an Academic Personal Statement?

A personal statement is an essential part of the academic application process.

Much like a motivation letter , your academic personal statement serves to demonstrate why you’re the right candidate for the course and sell yourself as a capable student.

Your goal is to show the admissions committee that they’ll benefit from having you in their university as much as you’ll benefit from joining the program.

Academic Vs CV Personal Statement

The term ‘personal statement’ can mean different things depending on your field.

In the world of job hunting, a personal statement usually refers to a few sentences that go at the top of your CV . This paragraph is meant to convey your top skills, relevant experiences, and professional goals to a hiring manager from the get-go and increase your chances of getting an interview.

However, in the world of academia, a personal statement refers to a more in-depth description of you as a candidate. 

In a nutshell, an academic personal statement shows the admissions committee your academic achievements so far, as well as what motivated you to apply and pursue this position.

Personal statements are also often required when applying for certain jobs, much like writing a cover letter . If you’re looking at a position as a faculty member in a university or other academic institution, for example, you might be asked to provide an academic personal statement.

7 Steps to Write an Academic Personal Statement

Preparation is the key to success and this is exactly where our guide comes in handy.

So just follow these steps and you’re sure to secure your spot:

#1. Read the Brief (Carefully!)

Academic personal statements aren’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all piece of writing. 

Typically, every institution has its specific requirements on what candidates should include in their academic personal statement.

To make sure you’re on the right track with your academic personal statement, read the brief carefully. Consider taking notes and highlighting important points from your program’s brief as you go through it.

Pay attention to any specific question the university wants you to answer. If you don’t address everything the admissions board expects, your personal statement will look sloppy and you’ll be considered an inattentive candidate.

Be sure to re-read the brief after you’ve finished writing your academic personal statement, too. This way you can make sure you’ve answered everything adequately and you’ll have the opportunity to correct any slips.

#2. Research the Program

Make sure you do your homework on the academic program you’re applying to.

You can’t write a good academic personal statement without research, let alone a great one. Much like researching your employer , taking the time to learn more about your desired school and personalizing your application can make a huge difference.

For example, you can dive into how your values align with that of the school you’re applying to, and how your experience and interests relate to specific things about the program. The more you focus on how you’re the right fit for this specific position, in this specific program – the better.

Carefully read through the school and program’s official pages since everything you would need to know is probably on the school’s official website. You can also ask current and former students for help but remember that whatever they say should never replace official information when crafting your academic personal statement.

#3. Plan Your Statement

An academic personal statement is meant to explain your academic interests and shouldn’t contain irrelevant details about your personal life.

Focus on why you want to study the course you’ve chosen and provide any information about your achievements so far.

Ask yourself the following questions to get the ball rolling on what to write:

  • Why do you want to study (or work) in this program? How will it benefit you?
  • How do your skills match the position?
  • What makes you stand out from other applicants?
  • What are your exact career aspirations?
  • How can you and your work benefit the institution you’re applying to?
  • If you changed fields, how did you decide to apply in this direction?
  • What insight can you bring thanks to your different experiences?
  • How will this change of field help your future career?

Write down your answer to these questions in the first draft of your academic personal statement.

#4. Look at Example Statements

Don’t hesitate to read other people’s academic personal statements online. They’re a great source of inspiration and can help get rid of any remaining writer’s block.

If you’re struggling to understand how to meet the language and formatting requirements for your academic personal statement, seeing actual examples is the best way to learn.

But be careful – don’t copy any lines you read, no matter how impressive you think they are. 

Most universities run every academic personal statement through intensive plagiarism checking, and even a paraphrased sentence could lead to your application being rejected for plagiarism.

So pay more attention to the overall structure of the academic personal statements you read, rather than copying the exact wording.

#5. Structure the Contents

There should be a cohesive argument that your entire essay follows. Each sentence and paragraph should complement and build on the one that comes before it.

The structure of your personal statement should include:

An intriguing introduction to you as a candidate

The introductory paragraph should grab the admission committee’s attention and keep them engaged.

Here you should be sure to avoid cliches like saying how you’ve “always dreamt” of graduating from this university or of studying this exact program. Instead, give an example of what really influenced you to pursue this dream.

Here’s an example:

  • I’ve always loved reading and since I was a child, it’s been my dream to graduate from Oxford University and contribute to the world of literary analysis. That’s why I spent the past year volunteering at my local writers’ society and giving constructive feedback during workshops and book discussions.
  • It wasn’t until I failed my first essay assignment in secondary school that I realized the depth that lies beneath each sentence in a given text. I began to delve into the rich layers of literary texts and the intricacies of literary analysis became my passion. Although initially challenging, the depth of understanding that this field offers about human emotions, cultural contexts, and narrative structures enthralled me. I found myself questioning the narrative structures and character motivations that I had previously taken for granted, and I was eager to understand how the subtle and often overlooked elements within a text could have a profound impact on its overall interpretation. This need to fundamentally understand a given author’s work has stayed with me since and led me to pursue literary analysis as a postgraduate student.

An engaging body

The main part of your academic personal statement should detail your interests, experience, and knowledge, and how they make you suitable for the position.

This is where you should expand on your motivation and use the following tips:

  • Why this university? Provide strong reasons for your choice, related to your future career or the institution’s reputation.
  • Mention your relevant studies and experience. This includes projects, dissertations, essays, or work experience.
  • Give evidence of key skills you have, such as research, critical thinking, communication, and time management, and explain how you can contribute to the department with them.
  • Say what makes you unique as a candidate and provide an example.
  • Explain who have been the main influences who put you on this path and why they’ve influenced you.
  • Mention other relevant experiences, such as memberships in clubs related to the subject, awards you might have won, or impressive papers you’ve written.
  • Talk about your career aspirations and how the program ties into your goal of achieving them.

Depending on the guidelines of the specific university, you could also divide your academic personal statement’s body with subheadings, such as:

  • Academic background
  • Research interests
  • Methodological approaches
  • Research experience
  • Personal experience
  • Extracurricular activities 
  • Relevant skills
  • Career aspirations

A logical conclusion

Your academic personal statement needs a conclusion that ends on an enthusiastic note.

Make sure the conclusion reiterates the main points from the body of your text.

Your relevant accomplishments and desire to attend this specific program should be clear to any reader.

#6. Pay Attention to the Language

When writing the first draft of your academic personal statement, pay attention to the language and tone you’re using.

An academic personal statement is also a formal text, so your writing should reflect that. Colloquialisms aren’t appropriate, as they would take away from the well-mannered impression you want to give the admissions committee.

However, you also want your personal statement to be straightforward and avoid any complex jargon from your field of study.

For example, your opening sentence shouldn’t be overly complicated. You should communicate everything as clearly as possible, and be inclusive to those outside of your field of study since they might be on the admissions board that’s reading your academic personal statement.

Make sure that the tone throughout your text is positive and conveys your enthusiasm for the program. Your academic personal statement should show the admissions committee that you really want to be there, and why that’s beneficial to everyone involved.

#7. Proofread Your Statement

This step probably isn’t surprising to you but it’s worth paying attention to.

Your academic personal statement is a very formal document and it should be spotless. 

So, make sure it adheres to academic writing conventions . For example, contractions like “I’m” instead of “I am” are informal, and should be avoided.

Mistakes like these are very common when writing about yourself, particularly when you’re used to describing yourself in informal environments.

Carefully proofread your academic personal statement, then run it through a grammar checker like Grammarly or Quillbot, then proofread it again.

The tiniest grammar mistake or typo could make the admissions board reject your application.

Academic Personal Statement Example

Ever since my first encounter with the enchanting worlds spun by Flaubert, Balzac, and Proust, my intellectual pursuits have gravitated toward French literature. With an undergraduate degree focused on French Language and Literature, I have been fortunate to explore my passions both theoretically and empirically, embedding them within broader themes of cultural theory and comparative literature. It is with great excitement that I apply for the postgraduate research position in the French Literature program at Kent University, with the aim of contributing novel scholarly perspectives to this captivating field.

Academic Background and Research Interests

During my undergraduate studies, I delved deeply into the realms of 19th-century Realism and Naturalism. My senior thesis, which examined the dialectics of morality and social structures in Balzac's "La Comédie Humaine," was not merely an academic exercise; it served as a crucible where my theoretical understandings were rigorously tested. This research experience intensified my interest in the complex interplay between literature and societal norms, a theme I am eager to further explore in my postgraduate work.

Methodological Approaches

My academic approach is fundamentally interdisciplinary. I strongly believe that literature should not be studied in a vacuum; rather, it should be contextualized within historical, sociological, and psychological paradigms. During a semester abroad in Paris, I took courses in cultural anthropology and French history, an enriching experience that complemented my literature-focused studies. This holistic approach will enable me to contribute a multifaceted perspective to the research endeavors at Kent University.

Previous Research and Scholarly Engagements

My scholarly activities have also extended beyond the classroom. Last summer, I participated in an international conference on French Literature and Post-Colonial Theory, presenting a paper on the depictions of colonial landscapes in Dumas' adventure novels. The opportunity to engage with academics from various disciplines provided me with fresh insights and underscored the importance of collaborative research. Further, I've had the honor of having a review article published in the Sheffield Journal of Contemporary Literary Explorations, where I critiqued a groundbreaking new translation of Verne's works.

Extracurricular Contributions and Skills

In addition to my academic achievements, I have sought to enrich my department’s intellectual community. I served as the editor of our departmental journal and organized a series of seminars featuring guest speakers from the worlds of academia and publishing. My strong organizational skills, combined with proficiency in both written and spoken French and English, make me a versatile candidate capable of adding value to the French Literature program’s broader objectives.

To summarize, my deep-rooted passion for French literature, fortified by rigorous academic training and interdisciplinary methodologies, makes me an ideal candidate for the postgraduate research position in your esteemed program. The prospect of contributing to academic discourse at Kent University is an opportunity I find deeply compelling. I am especially excited about the potential for collaborative research and interdisciplinary inquiries, which aligns perfectly with my academic philosophy. I am fully committed to leveraging my skills, experiences, and enthusiasm to make a substantive scholarly contribution to the study of French Literature. Thank you for considering my application; I am keenly looking forward to the possibility of furthering my academic journey in this vibrant intellectual community.

FAQs on Academic Personal Statements

If you’re wondering anything else about academic personal statements, check out the answers to the most frequently asked questions related to them here:

#1. How do you start a personal statement for an academic job?

Applying for an academic job is different from applying for a position as a student. First, you need to establish your qualifications and enthusiasm for the role immediately.

Start by explaining your current status, for example, as a postdoctoral researcher or an experienced member of the faculty, and specify the position you are applying for. Then follow up with your research interests or personal philosophy towards teaching.

You can add a personal anecdote or compelling fact that summarizes your academic journey so far, or your passion for the field. After that, your academic personal statement can go deeper into the qualifications from your academic CV and how you’re a great fit for the position.

#2. How do I introduce myself in an academic personal statement?

The introduction of your academic personal statement is the key to grabbing the attention of the admissions committee.

Start by stating the field or subject that interests you, and why. You can share a specific personal anecdote or observation that led you to this academic pursuit and set the stage for the detailed explanation in your main body.

The goal of your introduction is to give the reader a sense of who you are, what drives you, and why you would be a valuable addition to their department.

#3. Is an academic personal statement like an essay?

Yes, an academic personal statement can be considered a type of essay.

Both essays and academic personal statements are structured forms of writing that are meant to deliver a coherent argument and are divided into an introduction, body, and conclusion. They provide supporting evidence to prove the point and maintain a logical flow to guide the reader to the final conclusion.

However, essays tend to be objective and explore a specific topic or question in depth. Academic personal statements use similar techniques but they present the candidate’s qualifications, experiences, and aspirations in a way that’s meant to persuade the admissions committee.

#4. How long is an academic personal statement?

Typically, an academic personal statement is between 500 and 1000 words long.

The exact length of the text varies depending on the university and program you’re applying to. You should always check the specific requirements for your desired program, and stick to the guidelines you find.

However, if the university you’re applying to doesn’t specify a word count, you should aim for one to two pages.

#5. What do I avoid in an academic personal statement?

Since your personal statement is a crucial part of your academic application, it’s important to avoid any common mistakes.

Make sure the content of your academic personal statement isn’t too generic. Its goal is to give insight into you as an individual, beyond what can be read in your CV . 

You should also avoid cramming too many points in your text. Your academic personal statement should follow a logical flow, and focus on the relevance of what you’re sharing about yourself and how it relates to the academic program you’re pursuing.

Key Takeaways

And that concludes our guide to writing an academic personal statement!

We hope you feel more confident when crafting your application for that academic program or faculty position you have your sights set on.

Now let’s recap what we talked about so far:

  • Academic personal statements are very different from CV personal statements. While CV personal statements are brief paragraphs at the top of the page, an academic personal statement is an in-depth text that details why you’re interested in a given position, and what makes you a good candidate.
  • The guidelines on academic personal statements vary according to the institution you’re applying to. Read the brief very carefully, and pay attention to what it says about word count and questions your personal statement should answer. Any mistakes here could result in rejection.
  • There are differences between applying for a postgraduate program and applying for a faculty position. But in both cases, you should research the exact place you want to apply to and adjust your application accordingly to match the institution’s values.
  • Always proofread your academic personal statement before sending it, even if you’re sure there are no errors.

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Writing Personal Statements for Graduate School

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Personal Statements

Preparing a well-written and effective personal statement (sometimes referred to as statements of purpose or personal essays) that clearly articulates your preparation, goals, and motivation for pursuing that specific graduate degree is critically important. You will need to spend a considerable amount of time and effort in crafting these statements. The focus, structure, and length of personal statements vary from program to program. Some will have prompts or questions you need to answer, while others will leave the topic open-ended. The length varies widely as well. Read instructions carefully and make sure to adhere to all parameters laid out in the application guidelines.

Clear writing is the result of clear thinking. The first and most important task is to decide on a message. Consider carefully which two or three points you wish to impress upon the reader, remembering that your audience is composed of academics who are experts in their fields. Your statement should show that you are able to think logically and express your thoughts in a clear and concise manner. Remember that the reader already has a record of your activities and your transcript; avoid simply restating your resume and transcript. Writing your statement will take time; start early and give yourself more than enough time for revisions. If no prompts are given, you can use the questions below to begin brainstorming content to include in your statement; for more information, see our Writing Personal Statement presentation Prezi  and our three-minute video on Writing Personal Statements .

  • What experiences and academic preparation do you have that are relevant to the degree you’re seeking?
  • Why are you choosing to pursue a graduate degree at this time?
  • Why do you want to pursue this particular degree and how will this degree and the specific program fit into your career plans and your long-term goals?
  • What specific topics are you aiming to explore and what does the current literature say about those topics?

After you’ve written a first draft, start the work of editing, refining, simplifying, and polishing. Provide specific examples that will help illustrate your points and convey your interests, intentions, and motivations. Is any section, sentence, or word superfluous, ambiguous, apologetic, or awkward? Are your verbs strong and active? Have you removed most of the qualifiers? Are you sure that each activity or interest you mention supports one of your main ideas? Spelling and grammatical errors are inexcusable. Don’t rely on spell-check to catch all errors; read your statement aloud and have it reviewed by multiple people whose opinion you trust. If possible, have your statement reviewed by a writing tutor. For individual assistance with writing your personal statement, consult with the writing tutor in your residential college  or the Writing Center within the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning .

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How to Write a UCAS Personal Statement [With Examples]

how to write personal statements for university

James is senior content marketing manager at BridgeU. He writes and directs content for BridgeU's university partners and our community of international schools

What are the big challenges students should be aware of before writing their UCAS Personal Statement?

  • The essential ingredients for writing a great Personal Statement
  • How to write the UCAS Personal Statement [with examples]

Final hints & tips to help your students

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The UCAS Personal Statement can sometimes be a student’s only chance to impress a UK university. Read our in-depth guide to helping your students plan & write a winning application.

There are hundreds of articles out there on how to write a UCAS Personal Statement that will grab the attention of a UK university admissions officer.  

But if you’re working with students to help them perfect their Personal Statement in time for the  relevant UCAS deadlines , we can sum up the secret to success in three words.

Planning, structure and story. 

The UCAS Personal Statement is a student’s chance to talk about why they want to study for a particular degree, course or subject discipline at a UK university. 

As they set about writing a personal statement, students need to demonstrate the drive, ambition, relevant skills and notable achievements that make them a  suitable candidate for the universities they have chosen to apply to . 

But the UCAS Personal Statement requires students to write a lot about themselves in a relatively short space of time. That’s why lots of planning, a tight structure and a compelling story are essential if a student’s Personal Statement is to truly excel. 

As important deadlines for UK university applications grow closer, we at BridgeU have put together a guide, outlining some of the strategies and techniques to help your students to write a personal statement which is both engaging and truly individual.

Handpicked Related Content

Discover the simple steps that will boost the confidence of your native English speaking & ESL students alike in  University Application Essays: The 5 Secrets of Successful Writing .

As they begin to plan their Personal Statement, students may feel intimidated. It’s not easy to summarise your academic interests and personal ambitions, especially when you’re competing for a place on a course which is popular or has demanding entry requirements. In particular, students will likely come up against the following challenges.

Time pressure

Unfortunately, the Personal Statement (and other aspects of university preparation) comes during the busiest year of the student’s academic life so far.

Students, and indeed teachers and counsellors, must undertake the planning and writing of the personal statement whilst juggling other commitments, classes and deadlines, not to mention revision and open day visits!

Because there is already a lot of academic pressure on students in their final year of secondary school, finding the time and headspace for the personal statement can be hard, and can mean it gets pushed to the last minute. The risks of leaving it to the last minute are fairly obvious – the application will seem rushed and the necessary thought and planning won’t go into  making the personal statement the best it can be . 

Sticking closely to the Personal Statement format

The character limit which UCAS sets for the personal statement is very strict – up to 4,000 characters of text. This means that students have to express themselves in a clear and concise way; it’s also important that they don’t feel the need to fill the available space needlessly.  Planning and redrafting of a personal statement is essential .

Making it stand out

This is arguably the greatest challenge facing students – making sure that their statement sets them apart from everyone else who is competing for a place on any given course; in 2022 alone, UCAS received applications from 683,650 applicants (+1.6k on 2021) students. In addition, UCAS uses its own dedicated team and purpose built software to check every application for plagiarism, so it’s crucial that students craft a truly  original personal statement which is entirely their own work .

The essential ingredients for writing a great UCAS Personal Statement 

We’ve already mentioned our three watch words for writing a high quality Personal Statement.

Planning. Structure. Story. 

Let’s dig deeper into these three essential components in more detail.

Watch: How to Write a UCAS Personal Statement with University of Essex

Planning a ucas personal statement.

It might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s vital that students plan their Personal Statement before they start writing it. Specifically, the planning phase could include: 

  • Students thoroughly researching the UK university courses they plan on applying to. 
  • Deciding on what relevant material to include in their Personal Statement (we’ll cover this in more detail later on). 
  • Writing an unedited first draft where they just get their thoughts and ideas down on paper. 

Structuring a UCAS Personal Statement

As we’ve discussed, the UCAS Personal Statement requires students to be extremely disciplined – they will be required to condense a lot of information into a relatively short written statement. This means that, after they’ve written a rough first draft, they need to think carefully about how they structure the final statement. 

A stand out Personal Statement will need a tight structure, with an introduction and a conclusion that make an impact and really help to tell a story about who your student is, and why they are drawn to studying this particular degree. 

This brings us nicely to our third and final ingredient…

Telling a story with a Personal Statement

The UCAS Personal Statement is a student’s opportunity to show a university who they are and how their life experiences have shaped their academic interests and goals. 

So a good Personal Statement needs to offer a compelling narrative, and that means making sure that a student’s writing is well-structured, and that every sentence and paragraph is serving the statement’s ultimate purpose –  to convince a university that your student deserves a place on their subject of choice. 

How to help your students start their UCAS Personal Statement

In order to ensure that a personal statement is delivered on time and to an appropriate standard, it’s essential to plan thoroughly before writing it. Here are some questions you can ask your students before they start writing:

How can you demonstrate a formative interest in your subject?

It may sound obvious but, in order for any UCAS personal statement to have the necessary structure and clarity, students need to think hard about why they want to study their chosen subject. Ask them to think about their responses to the following questions:

What inspired you to study your chosen subject?

Example answer:  My desire to understand the nature of reality has inspired me to apply for Physics and Philosophy

Was there a formative moment when your perspective on this subject changed, or when you decided you wanted to study this subject in more detail?

Example answer:  My interest in philosophy was awakened when I questioned my childhood religious beliefs; reading Blackburn’s “Think”, convinced me to scrutinise my assumptions about the world, and to ensure I could justify my beliefs.

Can you point to any role models, leading thinkers, or notable literature which has in turn affected your thinking and/or inspired you?

Example answer :  The search for a theory of everything currently being conducted by physicists is of particular interest to me and in “The Grand Design” Hawking proposes a collection of string theories, dubbed M-theory, as the explanation of why the universe is the way it is.

Asking your students to think about the “why” behind their chosen subject discipline is a useful first step in helping them to organise their overall statement. Next, they need to be able to demonstrate evidence of their suitability for a course or degree. 

How have you demonstrated the skills and aptitudes necessary for your chosen course?

Encourage students to think about times where they have demonstrated the necessary skills to really stand out. It’s helpful to think about times when they have utilised these skills both inside and outside the classroom. Ask students to consider their responses to the following questions. 

Can you demonstrate critical and independent thinking around your chosen subject discipline?

Example answer :  Currently I am studying Maths and Economics in addition to Geography. Economics has been a valuable tool, providing the nuts and bolts to economic processes, and my geography has provided a spatial and temporal element.

Are you able to demonstrate skills and competencies which will be necessary for university study?

These include qualities such as teamwork, time management and the ability to organise workload responsibly.

Example answer:  This year I was selected to be captain of the 1st XV rugby team and Captain of Swimming which will allow me to further develop my leadership, teamwork and organisational skills.

How have your extracurricular activities helped prepare you for university?

Students may believe that their interests outside the classroom aren’t relevant to their university application. So encourage them to think about how their other interests can demonstrate the subject-related skills that universities are looking for in an application. Ask students to think about any of the following activities, and how they might be related back to the subject they are applying for.

  • Clubs/societies, or volunteering work which they can use to illustrate attributes such as teamwork, an interest in community service and the ability to manage their time proactively.
  • Have they been elected/nominated as a team captain, or the head of a particular club or society, which highlights leadership skills and an ability to project manage?
  • Can they point to any awards or prizes they may have won, whether it’s taking up a musical instrument, playing a sport, or participating in theatre/performing arts?
  • Have they achieved grades or qualifications as part of their extracurricular activities? These can only help to demonstrate aptitude and hard work. 

How to write the UCAS Personal Statement [with examples] 

If sufficient planning has gone into the personal statement, then your students should be ready to go!

In this next section, we’ll break down the individual components of the UCAS Personal Statement and share some useful examples.

These examples come from a Personal Statement in support of an application to study Environmental Science at a UK university. 

Watch: King’s College London explain what they’re looking for in a UCAS Personal Statement

Introduction.

This is the chance for an applying student to really grab an admission tutor’s attention. Students need to demonstrate both a personal passion for their subject, and explain why they have an aptitude for it .  This section is where students should begin to discuss any major influences or inspirations that have led them to this subject choice. 

Example :  My passion for the environment has perhaps come from the fact that I have lived in five different countries: France, England, Spain, Sweden and Costa Rica. Moving at the age of 15 from Sweden, a calm and organized country, to Costa Rica, a more diverse and slightly chaotic country, was a shock for me at first and took me out of my comfort zone […] Also, living in Costa Rica, one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, definitely helped me realize how vulnerable the world is and how we need to take care of it in a sustainable manner. 

This opening paragraph immediately grabs the reader’s attention by giving the reader an insight into this student’s background and links their academic interests with something specific from the student’s personal backstory. 

Discussing Academic Achievements 

The next paragraph in this Personal Statement discusses the student’s academic achievements. Because this student has had an international education, they frame their academic achievements in the context of their personal background. They also cite useful examples of other curricula they have studied and the grades they have achieved. 

Example : 

Throughout my academic life I have shown myself to be a responsible student as well as a hard working one, despite the fact that I have had to move around a lot. I have achieved several other accomplishments such as a high A (286/300) in AS Spanish at age 15, and also completed a Spanish course of secondary studies for ‘MEP’(Ministerio de Educacion Publica), which is a system from Costa Rica.   

You’ll notice that this student doesn’t just list their achievements – their strong academic performance is always linked back to a wider discussion of their personal experiences. 

Showcasing Extracurricular Activities

As well as discussing academic achievements, a good Personal Statement should also discuss the student’s extracurricular activities, and how they relate back to the student’s overall university aspirations. 

By the third/fourth paragraph of the Personal Statement, students should think about incorporating their extracurricular experiences, 

Another valuable experience was when my class spent a week at a beach called ‘Pacuare’ in order to help prevent the eggs of the endangered leatherback turtle from being stolen by poachers who go on to sell them like chicken eggs. We all gained teamwork experience, which was needed in order to hide the eggs silently without scaring the mother turtles, as well as making it more difficult for the poachers to find them. 

When the poachers set fire to one of the sustainable huts where we were staying, not only did I gain self-awareness about the critical situation of the world and its ecosystems, I also matured and became even more motivated to study environmental sciences at university.

This is a particularly striking example of using extracurricular activities to showcase a student’s wider passion for the degree subject they want to study. 

Not only does this Personal Statement have a story about volunteering to save an endangered species, it also illustrates this applicants’ wider worldview, and helps to explain their motivation for wanting to study Environmental Science. 

Concluding the UCAS Personal Statement

The conclusion to a UCAS Personal Statement will have to be concise, and will need to tie all of a student’s academic and extracurricular achievements. After all, a compelling story will need a great ending. 

Remember that students need to be mindful of the character limit of a Personal Statement, so a conclusion need only be the length of a small paragraph, or even a couple of sentences. 

“ After having many varied experiences, I truly think I can contribute to university in a positive way, and would love to study in England where I believe I would gain more skills and education doing a first degree than in any other country.  “

A good Personal Statement conclusion will end with an affirmation of how the student thinks they can contribute to university life, and why they believe the institution in question should accept them. Because the student in this example has a such a rich and varied international background, they also discuss the appeal of studying at university in England. 

It’s worth taking a quick look at a few other examples of how other students have chosen to conclude their Personal Statement. 

Medicine (Imperial College, London) 

Interest in Medicine aside, other enthusiasms of mine include languages, philosophy, and mythology. It is curiously fitting that in ancient Greek lore, healing was but one of the many arts Apollo presided over, alongside archery and music.   I firmly believe that a doctor should explore the world outside the field of  Medicine, and it is with such experiences that I hope to better empathise and connect with the patients I will care for in my medical career. 

You’ll notice that this example very specifically ties the students’ academic and extracurricular activities together, and ties the Personal Statement back to their values and beliefs. 

Economic History with Economics (London School of Economics)

The highlight of my extra-curricular activities has been my visit to Shanghai with the Lord Mayor’s trade delegation in September 2012. I was selected to give a speech at this world trade conference due to my interest in economic and social history. […] I particularly enjoyed the seminar format, and look forward to experiencing more of this at university. My keen interest and desire to further my knowledge of history and economics, I believe, would make the course ideal for me.

By contrast, this conclusion ties a memorable experience back to the specifics of how the student will be taught at the London School of Economics – specifically, the appeal of learning in seminar format! 

There’s no magic formula for concluding a Personal Statement. But you’ll see that what all of these examples have in common is that they tie a student’s personal and academic experiences together – and tell a university something about their aspirations for the future.

Watch: Bournemouth University explain how to structure a UCAS Personal Statement

how to write personal statements for university

Know the audience

It can be easy for students to forget that the person reading a personal statement is invariably an expert in their field. This is why an ability to convey passion and think critically about their chosen subject is essential for a personal statement to stand out. Admissions tutors will also look for students who can structure their writing (more on this below). 

Students should be themselves

Remember that many students are competing for places on a university degree against fierce competition. And don’t forget that UCAS has the means to spot plagiarism. So students need to create a truly honest and individual account of who they are, what they have achieved and, perhaps most importantly, why they are driven to study this particular subject.

Proof-read (then proof-read again!)

Time pressures mean that students can easily make mistakes with their Personal Statements. As the deadline grows closer, it’s vital that they are constantly checking and rechecking their writing and to ensure that shows them in the best possible light. 

Meanwhile, when it comes to giving feedback to students writing their Personal Statements, make sure you’re as honest and positive as possible in the days and weeks leading up to submission day. 

And make sure they remember the three key ingredients of writing a successful Personal Statement. 

Planning, structure and story! 

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how to write personal statements for university

Mastering the Personal Statement Format: A Guide

Craft a standout personal statement with essential elements. Impress admissions committees with your compelling narrative.

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When it comes to college and university admissions, the personal statement assumes a paramount role in setting applicants apart from their peers. A meticulously constructed personal statement becomes an instrument of utmost significance, empowering individuals to exhibit their distinctive qualities, experiences, and aspirations to discerning admissions committees. 

Recognizing the significant influence of a well-crafted personal statement on an individual’s academic journey, this article aims to provide aspiring students with a comprehensive guide to excel in the art of creating impactful personal statements.

By exploring the definition and purpose of personal statements and offering invaluable writing tips and strategies, this guide assists users in mastering the format of a compelling personal statement.

Definition Of Personal Statement

A personal statement is a written document typically required as part of the application process for educational institutions, scholarships, job opportunities, or other significant life events. It serves as a unique and personalized representation of an individual’s background, experiences, achievements, and aspirations. 

The personal statement offers applicants a chance to showcase their personality, passions, and motivations, allowing them to stand out and make a compelling case for their suitability for the position or opportunity they are seeking.

Purpose Of A Personal Statement

The primary purpose of a personal statement is to provide the admissions committee, employer, or selection panel with deeper insights into the applicant’s character, values, and potential. Beyond the information provided in other application materials, such as grades or resumes, a personal statement delves into the applicant’s story, offering a glimpse into their life journey and how it has shaped their ambitions and goals.

By presenting a well-crafted personal statement, applicants aim to:

  • Demonstrate their suitability: Applicants can use the personal statement to highlight how their skills, experiences, and passions align with the requirements of the institution or position they are applying for.
  • Convey their uniqueness: A personal statement enables applicants to showcase what sets them apart from other candidates and demonstrate their individuality, perspectives, and strengths.
  • Exhibit strong communication skills: Crafting an engaging and articulate personal statement reflects an applicant’s ability to express ideas clearly and persuasively, a crucial skill in many fields.
  • Show commitment and motivation: By explaining their motivations and aspirations, applicants can convey their dedication and determination to succeed in the chosen field of study or profession.

Admissions Process Overview

The admissions process varies depending on the institution or opportunity being pursued. However, the general steps involved in the admissions process include:

  • Research and exploration: Prospective applicants research various educational institutions, job opportunities, or scholarships to identify the ones that align with their interests and goals.
  • Application submission: Applicants complete the required application forms and submit supporting documents, which may include academic transcripts, letters of recommendation, resumes, and the personal statement.
  • Review by admissions committee or employer: The admissions committee or employer evaluates all received applications, assessing candidates based on their academic achievements, experiences, qualifications, and the content of their personal statements.
  • Selection and decision-making: After careful evaluation, the institution or employer makes decisions regarding acceptance, job offers, or scholarship awards.

Components Of A Successful Personal Statement

A successful personal statement should incorporate the following components:

  • Introduction: A compelling opening that grabs the reader’s attention and provides a glimpse of the applicant’s personality and background.
  • Personal narrative: A well-structured and engaging account of the applicant’s life experiences, including challenges faced, significant achievements, and pivotal moments.
  • Clear goals and aspirations: A demonstration of the applicant’s future plans, showing how the opportunity they seek aligns with their long-term objectives.
  • Relevance to the opportunity: A clear connection between the applicant’s experiences, skills, and motivations with the specific program, job, or scholarship they are applying for.
  • Demonstration of qualities and strengths: Showcase of key attributes, such as leadership, adaptability, problem-solving abilities, and teamwork skills, supported by relevant examples.
  • Reflection and growth: Demonstrating how past experiences have shaped the applicant’s personal and professional development and how they have learned from challenges.
  • Conciseness and clarity: Effective communication with a focus on coherence, relevance, and avoiding unnecessary details or jargon.
  • Positive tone: A positive and optimistic outlook that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.
  • Proofreading and editing: Thoroughly reviewed and edited to ensure impeccable grammar, spelling, and overall presentation.

Personal Statement Format: The Basics

The personal statement is a critical component of various applications, providing applicants with a platform to present their unique qualities, experiences, and aspirations. 

In this section, let’s explore the fundamental format of a personal statement, comprising the introduction paragraph, body paragraphs, and conclusion paragraph . Understanding these elements will empower applicants to effectively communicate their story and convince the reader of their suitability for the desired opportunity.

Introduction Paragraph

The introduction paragraph marks the beginning of the personal statement and serves as a gateway to the applicant’s narrative. Here, applicants aim to capture the reader’s attention, provide essential background information about themselves, and present the overarching theme or purpose of their personal statement. The introduction sets the tone for the entire document and offers the opportunity to make a memorable first impression.

Body Paragraphs

The body paragraphs constitute the heart of the personal statement, where applicants delve into their experiences, accomplishments, and motivations in greater detail. Each body paragraph should revolve around a distinct topic or aspect of the applicant’s life that aligns with the central theme established in the introduction. Here, applicants can showcase their personal growth, relevant skills, and how specific experiences have shaped their aspirations. By providing compelling evidence and anecdotes, the body paragraphs reinforce the applicant’s suitability for the opportunity they are pursuing.

Conclusion Paragraph

In the conclusion paragraph, applicants bring their personal statement to a thoughtful close. This section restates the main points highlighted in the body paragraphs, emphasizing the alignment between the applicant’s journey and the sought-after opportunity. The conclusion may also include reflective insights, demonstrating self-awareness and an understanding of the potential impact they could make in the future. A well-crafted conclusion leaves a lasting impression, leaving the reader with a sense of the applicant’s character and potential.

Formatting The Personal Statement Essay

When crafting a well-structured personal statement, the writer must not overlook the importance of proper formatting. The arrangement of text, choice of font, and adherence to specific guidelines can significantly influence the essay’s overall impact and readability. Here are the key components of formatting that contribute to the transformation of essays into polished and impactful pieces of writing.

Font And Size

The recommended font for academic essays is typically Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri. The standard font size is 12 points. This size ensures that the text is clear and readable without being too large or too small. Avoid using fancy or decorative fonts as they can distract from the content and may not be as legible.

Margins And Spacing

The standard margins for an essay are usually set at 1 inch on all sides (top, bottom, left, and right). This margin size provides a neat and balanced appearance to the document. Some institutions or formatting guidelines may require specific margin sizes, so it’s essential to check the requirements provided by the institution or instructor.

For spacing, the most common format is double-spacing throughout the entire essay. Double-spacing makes the text easier to read and allows space for comments or corrections if the essay needs to be reviewed or graded. However, some guidelines may require single-spacing for specific elements like block quotes or reference lists. Always follow the specific instructions, if available. 

Essays often have a specific page limit or word count that students must adhere to. The page limit indicates the maximum number of pages that the essay can occupy. If there is no specified page limit, the general guideline is to aim for around 1.5 to 2 pages for a standard personal statement essay.

If a page limit is provided, it’s essential to stay within that limit. Going significantly over the page limit may result in a bad impression, in some cases, the essay being rejected outright. On the other hand, if the essay is shorter than the specified page limit, students should use the extra space to expand on their ideas or provide more supporting evidence.

Writing Tips And Strategies for Personal Statement Format

Crafting a compelling personal statement is a crucial step in various application processes, whether it’s for college admissions, scholarships, or job opportunities. This document offers applicants a chance to stand out from the crowd and present their unique qualities, experiences, and aspirations. To create an impactful personal statement, consider the following writing tips and strategies:

Show Don’t Tell Strategy

One of the most effective ways to engage the reader and make your personal statement memorable is by employing the “Show Don’t Tell” strategy. Rather than simply stating facts or qualities about yourself, use vivid and specific examples to illustrate your strengths, experiences, and character traits. Instead of saying, “I am a determined and resilient individual,” provide a story that demonstrates your determination and resilience in overcoming a challenging situation. By showing your qualities through compelling narratives, you allow the reader to connect with your experiences on a deeper level.

Start With An Outline Or Brainstorming Session

Before diving into writing, take the time to create an outline or engage in a brainstorming session. Jot down key points, experiences, and ideas that you want to include in your personal statement. Organize them logically to form a coherent structure. Having a clear outline or list of ideas will help you maintain focus and prevent your personal statement from becoming disjointed. It will also ensure that you cover all essential aspects of your life and aspirations, creating a comprehensive and well-rounded essay.

Reflect On Your Experiences

Take time to reflect on your life experiences, both personal and academic. Identify significant events, challenges, achievements, and moments that have shaped your character and influenced your goals.

Showcase Your Authenticity

Be genuine and authentic in your writing. Avoid using clichés or trying to present yourself as someone you’re not. Admissions committees and employers appreciate honesty and real-life experiences.

Structure Your Statement

Organize your personal statement with a clear introduction, body paragraphs, and a strong conclusion. The introduction should engage the reader, while the body paragraphs should provide evidence and examples to support your central theme. The conclusion should leave a lasting impression and reiterate your main points.

Provide Concrete Examples

Support your claims and assertions with specific examples, anecdotes, or achievements. Concrete evidence strengthens your statement and helps the reader connect with your experiences.

Address Weaknesses, But Stay Positive

If you have any weaknesses in your application, such as low grades or employment gaps, you can address them in your personal statement. However, always maintain a positive tone and focus on how you have learned from those experiences and improved.

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Revealing the Treasures of McGill’s Writing Centre: A Discussion with Dr. Yvonne Hung

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Embark on a journey to uncover the lesser-known treasures of the McGill Writing Centre and Graphos as Dr. Yvonne Hung, the director and coordinator of Graphos, sheds light on the enriching experiences awaiting students. Most students, unbeknownst to them, are yet to explore the multifaceted nature of this academic tool.

Unlocking the Writing Centre's Secrets

Q:  What is some general information about the writing centre and graphos that most students who have not accessed the service before may not know? What are some of the main features of the services? How can students best access the services?

YH: Most people don’t know that the McGill Writing Centre is an academic department that also has a strong service mandate! We offer a nice set of undergraduate classes that are on academic writing, creative writing, digital communication, and science communication, as well as a slate of graduate courses on academic writing and communication. On the service side, we have a robust tutorial service whereby students can access up to 7 hours of individualized consults on their writing, and a comprehensive set of graduate writing workshops , writing sessions, and specialized support for thesis and fellowship writing through Graphos. To access our courses, students would register in Minerva. For our non-credit offerings, e.g., writing tutorials, workshops, and other support, students can register by following the links on our website .

Mastering the Art of Writing Applications

Q:  What are some common Do's or Don'ts for students either writing an essay or writing personal statements/research proposals for grad school applications? Are there any general tips you have for students writing applications for grad school?

YH: One common pitfall I’ve noticed is that students take the “personal” part of the “personal statement” too literally. Writing a personal statement can be tricky because you have share specific aspects about your background and experience but in service of telling a story about how going to that specific graduate program is a key part of continuing your academic trajectory and advancing your research and professional goals. One tip I would offer is to build in time to write, time to receive feedback (from trusted advisors or others in your network), and time to polish so that there are no little slipups. You don’t want to accidentally list another university’s name or the wrong professor! Ideally, you will also work backwards from the deadline to ensure you have given adequate time for referees to write good letters and for you to assemble supporting documents in line with the application requirements.

Q: Are there services that at the centre they can best utilize for this?

YH: The Tutorial Service would be an excellent way to get another set of eyes on your application. Other people can spot missteps in logic or structure or grammar far more easily than we can (especially if we’re tired or in a rush). Don’t forget, 7 hours per term! In addition, I urge all students to consider taking a writing or oral communication course during their studies so that they can benefit from structured teaching, regular feedback, and a supportive environment to continue honing their skills and craft.

Overcoming Writer's Block and Finding Your Muse

​​​​​​​Q:  Is there any general advice you would give to students who are experiencing writers block or just don't know where to start with an assignment?

YH: Set a timer for 20 minutes and start writing. You’ll be astonished at how giving yourself a fixed start and finish time can help to jolt oneself to get ideas onto the page. If you feel unsure of where to start, you can book an appointment with a writing tutor who can help you at any stage of the project. And if you’re a graduate student, you can sign up for one of our regular writing retreats, which are led by an experienced facilitator who will guide you to set reasonable writing goals, offer nature or stretch breaks, and be a source of good cheer as you lean into the difficult and rewarding work of communicating ideas in a clear and precise manner.

If you are interested in utilizing this service, there are multiple upcoming resources including:

- presentation tutoring pilot for May-June: https://www.mcgill.ca/mwc/tutorial-service/presentation-tutoring-person-s24

- Their work with First Peoples’ House whereby our dedicated writing tutor has been working with the first ever indigenous valedictorian.

- Their writing support for applicants to the prestigious Vanier and Banting awards in the summer. https://www.mcgill.ca/graphos/groups/fwg More details to come!

Department and University Information

  • How to Apply

Every year the Sociology Department enrolls between six and ten new doctoral students on the basis of the following:

  • Application form
  • Personal statement (no more than 3 single-spaced pages )
  • At least three letters of recommendation
  • A writing sample (in English, preferably 25-30 double-spaced pages )
  • Transcripts of all previous academic study (where you earned more than 9 credits)
  • TOEFL scores for international students

The Graduate Records Examination (GRE) is not required for admission, but applicants are welcome to submit scores with their application.

We accept students with a bachelor's or master’s degree in a field other than Sociology, as long as they indicate how their current interests led them to apply. However, we do expect candidates to have some coursework in Sociology or evidence of familiarity with sociological theories and methods.

Please note: Though our students may earn a master’s degree on the way to the PhD, we do not accept applications from those only interested in pursuing a master’s degree in Sociology. (The department does have a Master’s Program in Labor Studies , with a separate application process.) Those entering the doctoral program with a master's degree may be required to take additional courses if their training and course work do not correspond to the requirements for the master's degree in this department.

Also note: It is not necessary to establish a relationship with a potential mentor before applying to our program. Mentors are selected in the course of graduate studies.

Application Forms

Application forms are available online . The application deadline is December 31. We do not accept applications that come in after that date.

It takes our Admissions Committee five to six weeks to process applications, so the earliest you should expect to hear from us is the end of February.

Personal Statement

Your statement should be no more than three single-spaced pages. In your statement, discuss why you want to earn a doctorate in Sociology, your research interests and experiences, and why this department would be a good fit for you. You may also spend a paragraph discussing any special skills or background (e.g., graduate-level methods course, first generation status, etc.) that may relate to your teaching and research interests. You may describe a research project you would like to undertake, or simply discuss what motivates you to pursue a Ph.D. in Sociology. If you feel there are aspects of your record that do not reflect your potential, such as your GRE scores or GPA, please explain.

Letters of Recommendation

We require at least three letters of recommendation, though you are welcome to submit more. These letters should be from people who can evaluate your potential as a scholar; they should include faculty who have taught you in college or graduate courses.

Writing Sample

Please submit an example of your written work, such as a research paper, undergraduate honors thesis, or master’s thesis. This need not be a sociological analysis, but should represent your scholarly interests and writing ability. All writing samples must be in English. Please do not send more than one writing sample. One 25-30 page paper is sufficient.

TOEFL Scores

Applicants from countries whose native language is not English must submit scores of the Test of English as a Foreign Language. See the FAQs on the UMass Amherst Graduate School’s Admissions website for details of this requirement and whether it is applicable to you.

Please see the UMass Amherst Graduate School’s Admissions website and the current UMass Amherst Graduate School Bulletin for additional requirements. Applications for admission are not reviewed until all credentials have been received and the fee is paid. According to UMass Amherst Graduate School policy, the application fee is waived only for U.S. applicants who qualify to receive a GRE fee waiver or are McNair Scholars and submit appropriate documentation. The fee or waiver documentation must accompany the application; otherwise the application will not be processed or considered.

We receive hundreds of inquiries each year. For this reason, we may not always be able to respond to individual emails, though we try our best and appreciate your patience. Please read through the following information carefully and visit the  UMass Graduate School admissions  page and  Department of Sociology admissions page  for further information.

If you have specific questions about the program that are not answered here, please email Graduate Program Manager (GPM).

Are you admitting applicants this year? 

We are currently accepting applications for fall 2024. All applicants must submit materials through the Graduate School  application portal  by December 31, 2023. There is no early decision/priority decision deadline. All applications are reviewed after December 31st. 

What standardized tests are required?

Due to the pandemic’s impact on accessing testing, submission of GRE scores is optional. Scores will not be considered by the admissions committee. Please see the Graduate School's guidelines for  English Language Proficiency Testing  including waiver conditions. In general, proficiency tests are required by the Graduate School if English is not your first language and you are not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

Do you waive application fees?

The Department of Sociology offers a limited number of application fee waivers for students applying from the Global South. Please contact the GPM for more details. 

What kind of funding can I expect?

All admitted doctoral students are guaranteed ten semesters (five years) of funding in the form of teaching and research assistantships, upon maintaining good standing. Currently, the assistantships carry a tuition waiver and 95% health fee reduction. The annual salary for our graduate students is $23,000. Upon exhausting the ten semesters of funding, students may seek opportunities in other departments, apply for fellowships, and/or seek teaching opportunities off-campus.

Do you accept transfer credits?

The Department of Sociology accepts transfer credits for non-required courses under limited circumstances. Admitted students may submit the syllabus for a course from an external institution for review by the GPD. For credits that would be counted toward department-required courses, please visit the  Graduate School website  for more information. 

What is the admissions committee looking for?

The makeup of the admissions committee differs every year. In general, the committee considers applications holistically with attention to unique components such as personal statement, writing sample, transcripts, and letters of recommendation. Applicants should prioritize writing a clear statement of purpose and objectives as part of their personal statement to highlight their clear interest in sociological research. We encourage applicants to gather information about department faculty as well as various institutional entities associated with the department (e.g., ISSR, CRF, CEE, RSI). Among the many factors we look at, aside from prior academic record, are: a passion and commitment to the discipline; skills and preparation that an applicant might bring; an idea of the work that the applicant is hoping to accomplish (knowing that this may change with time and experience); and fit with the department, such that research interests connect with different faculty who can in turn support students in their intellectual work. We also aim for a balanced cohort, with different theoretical, methodological, and substantive interests.

What kind of mentorship can I expect early on?

Admitted students are assigned two faculty advisors in their areas of interest in their first year. It is the responsibility of each student to build working relationships with faculty as they progress through the program in order to form comprehensive exam and dissertation committees. While we endeavor to place first year students with their preferred faculty mentors, however, it is dependent on faculty schedules. 

Should I contact faculty advisors before applying?

You are welcome to contact faculty prior to applying if you are wishing to ask specific questions about their research agenda. With some exceptions, it is not generally recommended that you ask faculty to review application materials. 

Do you offer MA degrees?

The department does not have a terminal master's program to which you can apply, just a PhD. In the natural course of their studies, students have the option of obtaining a master's degree along the way. The application requirements can be found here.

  • Current Graduate Courses
  • Comprehensive Exams ("Comps")
  • Prospectus and Dissertation
  • Master's Degree Information
  • Earning the MA — Comps Option
  • Earning the MA — Thesis Option
  • Funding Opportunities
  • Mentoring & Professional Development
  • Grad Student News
  • Graduate Alumni Placements

University of Massachusetts Amherst Thompson Hall, 200 Hicks Way Amherst, MA 01003-9277 tel: (413) 545 0577 | fax: (413) 545 3204 Contact Sociology

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  1. 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.

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    Insert a quote from a well-known person. Challenge the reader with a common misconception. Use an anecdote, which is a short story that can be true or imaginary. Credibility is crucial when writing a personal statement as part of your college application process. If you choose a statistic, quote, or misconception for your hook, make sure it ...

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    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:

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    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.

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    5. Use an authentic voice. Your personal statement reflects who you are, so you should use a tone that represents you. That means you shouldn't try to sound like someone else, and you shouldn't use fancy words just to show off. This isn't an academic paper, so you don't have to adopt a super formal tone.

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    Type everything that goes off the top of your head. When you're done, take a look at your list. Cross out the ones you dislike, and encircle the ones you think have potential. Then start piecing the puzzle pieces together to check out if the intro lines fit with the rest of your personal statement.

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    A-Z of Personal Statements. Learn from previous student personal statements here. We have collated over 700 personal statement examples to help you on your university journey and to help you with how to write a personal statement.

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    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.

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    Once you've written the first draft of your personal statement, go through it again and ensure that you've hit the main points. And, of course, make sure you haven't exceeded the character limit! If you have, check your points are concise and cut out any waffle. Remember that every sentence should offer something unique - if you think you're ...

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    Avoid contrived or grandiose language. Instead use short, simple sentences in plain English. Insert a personal touch if possible, but be careful with humour and chatty approaches. Use evidence of your learning and growth (wherever possible) to support claims and statements. Plan the statement as you would an essay or letter of application for a ...

  11. Personal Statements

    Don't feel pressured to copy them exactly! Each of these examples are written by UConn students, but for different types of programs: Undergraduate Programs. NEAG School of Education Personal Statement .pdf (pdf) School of Pharmacy Personal Statement .pdf (pdf) Graduate Programs. English Ph.D. Statement of Purpose .pdf (pdf)

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  13. Writing Your Personal Statements

    Your personal statement should focus on two main aspects: your competence and commitment. 1. Identify your strengths in terms of competence that indicate that you will succeed in the grad program and provide examples to support your claims. Start your statement by describing your strengths immediately. Because faculty will be reading many ...

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    The Free Guide to Writing the Personal Statement. Kick things off with the two greatest brainstorming exercises ever, learn about options for structuring a personal statement + example outlines, check out some amazing example personal statements, and get on your way to writing your own killer personal statement for university applications.

  15. How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School: Tips & Samples

    Top Tips for Writing a Graduate School Personal Statement. Pick a few points to emphasize about yourself. Introduce yourself to the admissions board. Select key factors about your background that you want the university to know — elements that reveal what kind of person you are and demonstrate why you're a strong candidate for the school ...

  16. How to write a personal statement for university

    Credit: Mallmo - Shutterstock. To write the best possible personal statement for university, avoid these mistakes: Bunched up paragraphs - You should aim to add a line space between each paragraph so that it's easier to read and looks neater. Each line space will use up a character, but it'll be worth it.

  17. How To Write a University Personal Statement in 4 Steps

    A standard university personal statement has 250 to 500 words, with short sentences of up to 25 to 30 words. Write in an active voice that communicates effectively and directly engages with readers. Write in an upbeat tone that shows your eagerness and excitement at the prospect of joining the university.

  18. Academic Personal Statement Guide + Examples for 2024

    Personal statements are also often required when applying for certain jobs, much like writing a cover letter. If you're looking at a position as a faculty member in a university or other academic institution, for example, you might be asked to provide an academic personal statement. 7 Steps to Write an Academic Personal Statement

  19. How to Write Personal Essays for U.S. Universities

    Begin thinking about how you might weave these together into one compelling narrative. For example, pay attention to how one experience may have led to a realization, inspired a behavior, or triggered a memory. Even the smallest personal details can be a gateway or framework to the rest of your essay.

  20. Writing Personal Statements for Graduate School

    Personal Statements. Preparing a well-written and effective personal statement (sometimes referred to as statements of purpose or personal essays) that clearly articulates your preparation, goals, and motivation for pursuing that specific graduate degree is critically important. You will need to spend a considerable amount of time and effort in ...

  21. How to Write a UCAS Personal Statement [With Examples]

    The character limit which UCAS sets for the personal statement is very strict - up to 4,000 characters of text. This means that students have to express themselves in a clear and concise way; it's also important that they don't feel the need to fill the available space needlessly. Planning and redrafting of a personal statement is essential.

  22. Mastering the Personal Statement Format: A Guide

    Organize your personal statement with a clear introduction, body paragraphs, and a strong conclusion. The introduction should engage the reader, while the body paragraphs should provide evidence and examples to support your central theme. The conclusion should leave a lasting impression and reiterate your main points.

  23. 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.

  24. The art of how to write a personal statement fabulously

    For example, when writing a personal statement, you must deal with personal statements for different levels, including writing for a job and adjusting things for a company or working for an undergraduate school. The major difference between a personal statement for a job is that you must talk about your professional qualities and showcase how ...

  25. Revealing the Treasures of McGill's Writing ...

    Writing a personal statement can be tricky because you have share specific aspects about your background and experience but in service of telling a story about how going to that specific graduate program is a key part of continuing your academic trajectory and advancing your research and professional goals.

  26. How to Apply : Sociology : UMass Amherst

    Every year the Sociology Department enrolls between six and ten new doctoral students on the basis of the following: Application form; Personal statement (no more than 3 single-spaced pages); At least three letters of recommendation; A writing sample (in English, preferably 25-30 double-spaced pages); Transcripts of all previous academic study (where you earned more than 9 credits)

  27. Harrison Butker speech: The biggest mistake he made in his

    The backlash has been building since Butker made the comments Saturday in an address to graduates at Benedictine College, a small Catholic school in Atchison, Kansas. The NFL issued a statement ...