How to Write a Personal Statement
Many applications for jobs, college, school or university places, require candidates to submit a personal statement.
For some people, this may be the first time that they have ever had to write anything like this, and it can feel like a daunting prospect.
What should you include? What should you not include? And how do you promote yourself without seeming to boast about your achievements?
This page will help you to navigate these potential pitfalls, and create a personal statement to stand out for all the right reasons.
The Purpose of a Personal Statement
A personal statement has one simple purpose: to promote you.
In other words, it should be designed to make your application stand out for all the right reasons. When they read it, the recipient should be saying:
“Wow! We really want this one to come here!”
You do, however, need to be careful not to exaggerate, as this will quickly become clear at interview, and you will not get the job or place that you want.
Before You Start
Check the requirements carefully
There are likely to be some constraints set on your personal statement. For example, you may be asked to keep what you say within a certain number of words or characters, or cover certain issues. Check these requirements carefully both before you start, and when you think you have finished, and make sure that what you do is consistent with them.
Think about what you want to include
Make a list of the things that you really want the person receiving your personal statement to know about you.
You might, for example, want them to know why you want to attend this college, or study this course, or you might want them to know that you have recently been involved in an activity that has really helped you decide what you want to do with your life. List these things, and then check back when you have finished to make sure that you have included them.
You can add to this list as you go if you think of other things that should be included.
What to include in your Personal Statement
There are no hard and fast rules about what exactly you should include, or indeed, exclude.
It will depend on you, and what you are trying to demonstrate in your personal statement.
However, there are some simple rules that you should follow to decide what to include.
1. Show that you know what you are talking about
When you write a covering letter for a job application, you need to show that you understand the nature of the job. When you write a personal statement, you also need to show that you understand what you are applying for.
If it is a university course, demonstrate that you know about the course or subject, and what studying it will involve. If it is a sixth form, show that you are interested in your potential subjects, and the college or school. If a job, show that you understand something about what you will have to do each day, and that you have knowledge of the company or organisation.
2. Say why you want to study the course or do the job.
You may think this is obvious, but the reader does not know. It is worth explaining what makes you interested in the subject or job. You might, for example, say how you first came across the subject, and what interested you, then what you have done to explore it further.
3. Focus on what makes you unique and suitable, and include evidence
The purpose of a personal statement is to make you stand out from the crowd, for all the right reasons. It therefore needs to focus on what makes you unique, and why the employer/school/college/university should select you over and above all the other candidates.
Your personal statement should, therefore, explain what skills you have, and also why they are relevant to the course or job. Always include evidence to back up your assertions about your skills and, wherever possible, use independent witnesses. For example, instead of saying:
‘I have really good communication skills’
You should be saying:
‘I have really good communication skills, honed by a year spent as secretary to the Sixth Form committee and running an events group. Teachers commented that the notes of meetings and messages to others were particularly clear’.
You can include information from all areas of your life: work, home, school, extra studies, and so on, but do make sure it is part of explaining how you are suitable.
4. Make sure that everything you include is relevant
Focus on what you really need to get across, and make sure that is fully covered. Check that everything that you have said is relevant to the task in hand. This may well mean cutting down some of the explanations of what you were doing when you developed that particular skill, but that is better than excluding details of another relevant skill.
Deciding on the Structure of Your Personal Statement
You may be given guidelines on structure. If so, follow them.
If not, it is a good idea to decide on a structure before you start, and stick to it. Rather like an essay, a good broad outline is something like:
- An opening paragraph to explain why you want to attend that school/college/university, and why you want to study that course, or why you think you would be perfect for the job.
- A middle section, which provides all the evidence to back up your opening paragraph, broken down into some sensible order.
- A conclusion, which sums up your statement, and reminds the reader of your perfect fit for the course or job.
Some style rules to follow
Avoid clichés and jargon
A cliché is a word or phrase that is overused in writing. For a personal statement, it might include comments like:
“I have always wanted to be a lawyer”
“I just want to help people, and that’s why I want to study medicine”
Instead, try to use your own words. Read them out loud, and make sure that you don’t sound like a character in a bad soap opera. There is more about this on our page: Clichés to Avoid.
Draft, draft, and draft again
You will not get it right first time, or possibly even the second. Keep drafting and tweaking until you are sure it is as clear as possible, and says everything that you need. Be prepared to have at least two or three drafts before you are satisfied, and make sure you leave enough time for this before your deadline.
Use plain English and keep it simple
Plain English is always better than using complicated language. Keep it simple, and keep your sentences short. As a rule of thumb, sentences should not be much longer than one line. It is also a good idea to avoid sub-clauses, as these can over-complicate your text.
Reduce, reduce and reduce some more, until you are absolutely certain that you have used no more words than necessary, and the simplest words possible.
If you are not sure about this, have a look at our page on Plain English.
Reading something out loud is a very good way to make sure it is easy to read. If you find you are getting lost in your own sentences, you will need to shorten them, and make them simpler.
When you have finished…
Read it over carefully for any errors or inconsistencies
When you think you have finished, read your personal statement over carefully, and check for spelling and grammatical errors. The spelling and grammar checks in word processing packages are not fully reliable, but they will be a good starting point.
Ask someone else to check it over for you
It is a good idea to ask someone else to read your personal statement over for you as they may spot errors that you have missed, and also bits that are not as clear as they could be.
Check that you have included everything that was on your initial list of ideas
Go back to your initial list of ideas, and make sure that you have included everything.
…remember that every personal statement is unique.
It is no good copying someone else’s, or using the same one for several different applications. Of course you will be able to reuse elements of previous versions, especially if you are, for example, applying to several different schools at the same time, or for several jobs. But it needs to be tailored: specific to both you and the situation.