Your personal statement is a very important part of your university application, just like your transcripts and IELTS or TOEFL score. It’s an opportunity to convince university admissions officers that you are exactly the student that they want and need on their campus. But writing about yourself and your achievements can be a daunting task. SchoolApply knows how to overcome the challenge of writing personal statements and offers students complete guidance when it comes to crafting their unique personal statement for the universities of their choice.

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American colleges and universities tend to require a personal statement as part of the application, as does the centralized British UCAS university application program. Canadian schools don’t usually demand a personal statement, but students are often encouraged to include one anyway. A personal statement is considered a replacement for an in-person interview, so its importance cannot be overestimated. 

Personal statement vs. Statement of purpose

A personal statement, also known as a ‘personal essay’, is a chance for you to introduce yourself to the admissions officers at your chosen university. Make sure to double-check the exact name of the statement you are asked to submit before you get to work – and read the instructions. The main thing to know is that a statement of purpose is a typical requirement when applying to graduate programs. It is heavily focused on your academic goals, your training and your research interests within a particular field. In your statement of purpose, you need to show your personality through written language to explain how you have become the person you are today, why you plan on choosing a specific career path, what you intend to achieve after you finish building your foundation, and of course why you chose this university above all others. A personal statement, on the other hand, can be less about your goals as a student and a scholar, and more about what makes you a unique human being. However, it’s still necessary for the personal statement to keep some type of an academic focus. Your personal statement helps admissions officers put a face to the name on the application they’re reviewing and it gives you a chance to impress the admissions team and make your application stand out. If you’re still confused about what you need to submit, get in touch with SchoolApply and an expert education advisor will point you in the right direction. 

Personal statement requirements

Personal essay requirements can vary. Sometimes, students are allowed to pick their own topic. Other times, students are given a choice of topics to use as a prompt for their essay. Oftentimes, topics are focused on students’ background and experience, personal challenges faced by students and how they overcame them, or recalling an accomplishment or failure and how that affected them. If you were applying to American College Dublin’s event management program, for example, the focus of your essay might be on your experience arranging a fundraiser for your sports team or participating in the organizing committee for a school dance.

Keep in mind, these essays are not only a chance to describe your experience, they also allow you to show off your writing skills and prove that you can think critically and process information, both of which are important to demonstrate to admissions officers. Many personal essays have a word limit of 600-800 words and it can be difficult to get complex thoughts across with such a limited word count.

How to write a personal statement

To keep it simple, we’ve broken up the personal statement into five paragraphs, each of which gives you the chance to address important questions. Make sure to keep your answers clear and concise; after all, you usually only have around 600 to 800 words to play with. Also, try to be as specific as you can when it comes to dates and facts, as you want to make sure that your story sounds authentic and realistic.

Paragraph 1: The hook

Grab the reader’s attention right away by starting off your statement with a catchy sentence or introduction. This is a great opportunity to highlight your unique personality with something that is both memorable and intriguing. Then cut to the chase by explaining which program you are applying to and why. Explain why you chose this field and this particular degree or program.

Paragraph 2: Academic pursuits

This paragraph is all about your previous studies. Go into detail about what you have studied in the past, and when. Remember to outline the skills that you’ve gained along the way, focusing on how these will help you complete the next phase of your studies or the program you are applying to. You want to make an argument for how your past studies will have a positive impact on your future studies, something which becomes even more important if you’re planning on shifting majors or going in a new direction academically.

Paragraph 3: Work, work, work

In this section, make sure you outline the work experience you’ve gained so far. This could be anything from an internship or a weekend job, to starting your own business. Again, it’s important to focus on the skills that you’ve gained through these experiences, always linking them to how they will be beneficial to you in taking on the degree or program you’re applying to. Also, take the opportunity to explain how your work experience has helped shape your interest in your chosen program or sparked a desire to further your education.

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Paragraph 4: Beyond the basics

Now for the fun part! Use this section to express who you are outside of your work and academic achievements. Talk about your hobbies, interests, volunteer activities or any additional courses you may have completed along the way. Whether you’re a part-time yoga instructor, a high school tutor, a passionate violinist, or a volunteer at the local soup kitchen, this is your chance to bring your personality to life on paper. It’s your chance to show that you have more to bring to the table than the average applicant – but make sure that you emphasise how these interests and skills will complement your studies.

Paragraph 5: Toward the future

Your final paragraph should focus on the future. Write about how studying this new degree will prepare you for your future career or set you up to achieve your long-term goals. While working on this paragraph, make sure you touch on why you want to study at that university in particular. A bit of research will go a long way here! For students who are studying abroad, it’s also important to explain why you have chosen to study in that country as opposed to staying in your home country. Are there opportunities there that you simply don’t have in your home country? Are they the leaders in your field? Do you feel that immersing yourself in a new culture will enhance your university experience? Whatever your reasoning, this is your chance to argue your case, so make sure you do it well!

Perfecting your personal statement

Writing a personal statement can be an intimidating task but try not to stress out too much – that never helps. Instead, stay relaxed and keep in mind that writing a personal essay can be easy and even fun if you have the right attitude. Start writing the essay several weeks before it’s due so that you can avoid last-minute panic. Don’t worry about perfection. If your other application materials are solid, even an average essay will do. Don’t think that you need to pretend to be someone you are not or try to make yourself seem more interesting by inventing stories. No one is better than you at being you! Think of this essay as an opportunity to introduce yourself to the faculty at your future university. After that, the ball is in their court and they can determine if you and your dream school are as good of a match as you think you are.

Writing a statement of purpose

The biggest difference between a personal statement and a statement of purpose is that the latter has a sharper focus on the reason why you are applying to that particular program and/or school, while the personal statement is more about your character and how you have gotten to where you are now. If a university asks you to write both, then you could use the statement of purpose to focus on internships, skills, and experience that would benefit you in the program and the personal statement could highlight experiences that are not directly related to the program or subject but still make you an ideal candidate. Generally, statements of purpose are required for applications to graduate programs. Below are some tips that will help guide you when you write your statement of purpose. 

  • Start early: Give yourself enough time to write your statement of purpose so that you have a chance to get feedback and make changes. If you tend to procrastinate, give yourself a deadline of three weeks before the application deadline. 
  • Understand the essay question: Most prompts are posed as a question. It could be as simple as “Tell us why you want to study [subject/program],” or “What would you gain from your experience at our university?” Either way, make sure you really understand the question. Hidden in all prompts are two additional questions: Why do you want to come to this university and why you instead of someone else? Be sure to address these in your essay as well. 
  • Self reflection: Before you start writing your statement purpose, jot down notes on your personality and what makes you unique. What would you bring to the classroom, lab or community at your chosen university? What interests, talents and skills do you have? What makes you stand out from the other applicants? Talk to a family member or good friend to get their perspective. 
  • Get to know the university: Find out what your chosen school is known for and proud of. Identify why this school would be a good fit for you. Use this knowledge to show the admissions officers that you understand the school and share its values. 
  • Show rather than tell: Use examples of actions that prove your talents and strengths rather than just describing your commitment to those things. Include examples that demonstrate who you are as a person and not just as a student, however, you should focus on professional experiences to underscore the fact that you are a well-rounded applicant.
  • Edit, reevaluate and improve
  • Have someone else read it: Make sure to pick people who have either undertaken the same exercise or are experienced in reviewing statements of purpose. If it’s someone who knows you well, they will be able to tell you if you’ve highlighted all of your best strengths and personality traits (this is a good confidence boost, too!). 

Final tips

  • A common mistake students make while writing their personal statement is sounding too academic. A thesaurus can be useful in many cases, but be sure to not overdo it. Trying to use vocabulary that you wouldn’t normally use might ruin the flow of your essay. Focus on sounding authentic! 
  • The structure of the essay is always very important, but what may be slightly more important is the content. A lot of students stress about the layout of the pages and focus too much on what could go wrong from a technical standpoint. This can distract them from the true meaning of the admissions essay. While grammar, punctuation and spelling are obviously important, your message is everything. 
  • Give yourself enough time to brainstorm. Whether you are a student who knows exactly what career you want to pursue or if you are still exploring your options, the point of this essay is to express your personality, your goals and your strengths.
  • Research the school you are interested in. It is always important to know the background of the colleges that interest you. In your essay, you should mention the reasons why you are applying to this particular school and how this relates to your personal story.

If you’re experiencing a case of writer’s block or if you’re stuck on any other stage of your study abroad application, SchoolApply would be happy to lend a hand and simplify the process for you.