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37 Personal Purpose Statement Examples & Ideas for 2024

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So much of life has gone by an, yet, I still have so much more I want to accomplish. I want people to know what I stand for and that I made a difference.

Have you ever felt like this? Like you need a roadmap for your life?

Well, a personal purpose statement is that roadmap .

In this post, I'll offer 37 personal purpose statement examples and tips that will help you write your own.

But first, let's start with a simple definition.

Table of Contents

What is a Personal Purpose Statement? 

A personal purpose statement defines what you want to accomplish in life. It gives you direction to accomplish what's important to you … as it reflects what you stand for, your goals and core values.

It's also commonly referred to as a personal mission statement, and is usually only one to two sentences long.

Think of it as your motto — even your brand. Once written, you can make sure your decisions and actions are in line with carrying out this purpose.

Benefits of Personal Purpose Statement

As humans, we are a product of our environment. We often take on the  values and beliefs of our parents or whoever raised us,  our current life situation… and can even be influenced to a certain degree by society at large.

A personal purpose statement requires you to  focus on your values, beliefs, goals, and purpose in life . You'll have to think about what's really important to you… not someone else. It's a self-discovery process.  It helps you realize who you are.

Coming up with a personal purpose statement requires you to realize your skills, talents, likes and dislikes . You may surprise yourself and arrive at a whole new level of self-appreciation.

As you're thinking about where you want to get to, you'll also consider where you are currently. It makes you mindful of what you have now, how you got it, and the people who played a role in that journey. This can give you a sense of gratefulness .

Once written, you can refer to this statement as a guide to making life decisions. It will help you know how to spend your time, and possibly even what professional and personal networks to build.

With your power statement, you'll know exactly what you want out of life and what you would like to contribute to the world. You'll know what you want your legacy to be. 

Positive Energy Quotes - “When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds.” - Patanjali

It's that roadmap I mentioned earlier. If you know you're trying to get to Detroit from Atlanta, you're not going to go in the direction of Florida. So, it not only helps you decide what direction to go in, it helps you know what not to do as well.  It keeps you on track.

Once your statement is written, you can center all of your decisions on making it happen.

You can avoid wasting your time making decisions and carrying out behaviors that do not provide what you really want out of life and want to contribute to the world.

For example, your statement can help you decide which classes to take in school, which job to choose, what projects or promotions to pursue at work and even where to live.  

It helps you realize who you are and stick to it, no matter what someone else may be doing or trying to persuade you to do.

I think most would agree that saying no can be hard. Your statement gives you something to refer to when you're on the fence about a decision or action.

You won't have to try and figure out on the spur of the moment if you should say no. Just think about or read your mission statement. Will saying yes bring you closer to its manifestation?

One of the most important things your personal purpose statement can do is help you continue to soldier forward, even in the face of adversities and set-backs.

It can be your guide to happiness. Once you know your purpose, you know what fulfills and completes you. You can always refer to it when things get hard or seem futile.

It keeps you hungry for your purpose because it's a constant reminder. Check out these personal purpose statement examples from successful people.  

You're on your way to being amongst the great!

How to Create a Personal Purpose Statement

Start by brainstorming. This means you’ll need to consider all ideas and exclude nothing. Once you've documented all of your thoughts… you can go back and eliminate, modify, and polish for your final statement.

Here are some things to think about and ask yourself:

Write down what's most important to you , what you value, and what you're passionate about.

What are you for and what are you against?

Who are you? Who do you want to be? 

What are your talents and strengths?

How do you want to change the world or what do you want your impact to be on the world ? 

What would you like others to say about you when you're no longer here? What do you want your legacy to be?

What are your professional and personal goals?

What do you need to accomplish your purpose, goals, or to become the person you want to be? Do you need a specific degree or skill?

Who are the people you want to affect? Who are the most important individuals to you,  and how do they fit in with your life purpose, values, beliefs, desired legacy? 

This article gives you nine life purpose examples that can help you realize what's most important to you.

Watch the video below to learn about the two ways you can find purpose in your life and explore and provide practical strategies you can use, so you can find more meaning with your daily routine.

Make your statement affirmative. Write what you want, not what you don't want. Most statements are written in the present tense, but I've seen some written in future tense, too.

It might sound like a daunting task to reduce your whole purpose on this earth to one to two sentences, but think of it as a guide or overarching statement. It's your umbrella.

Don't worry or think about the details of how you're going to get it. Now is the time to think about what you really want to achieve. 

If these starter questions aren't enough, this  Developgoodhabits.com article  goes into more depth and will help you think more deeply. 

The following personal purpose statement examples will help you get started. 

37 Personal Purpose Statement Examples and Ideas

Some of these are one-size-fits-all. Change a word or two to fit your purpose, or exchange the field used in the example for yours. For instance, “To provide legal services … ,” could be, “To provide social services, educational services, or healthcare services.”

  • To motivate and inspire others to live a life where they are mentally and physically healthy, and have peace and contentment.
  • I am dedicated to working on behalf of children, to bring them the resources they need for a healthy and prosperous present and future life.
  • To bring more convenient and functional technology to the world that will improve the quality of life. 
  • To lead by example, personifying my values of kindness, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, and hard work.
  • To bring joy to the world through music and lyrics that inspire.
  • I want to instill in others the self-love and confidence that gives them the self-efficacy to excel and make their dreams come true.
  • To live each day to the fullest and appreciate, as well as learn and grow from every experience.
  • To play a significant role in creating a company culture where all workers feel appreciated, so that they feel like their time with the company is a worthwhile investment in themselves, their families, and their future.
  • To use my cooking skills to bring families and individuals nutritious, tasty food options.
  • To appreciate and enjoy my family every day, by making decisions that put their best interests first.
  • To create communication devices that free individuals up to spend more quality, in-person time with loved ones. I want to make devices that foster more work-life balance.
  • To embrace my God-given talent, work hard to cultivate and enhance it, and be the best at what I do.
  • To put forth the effort, discipline, and all that it takes to excel and be the best athlete.
  • To gain the knowledge necessary to educate others on how to become financially independent, and empower individuals with that knowledge.
  • To teach children about nutrition, the short and long-term benefits of a healthy lifestyle, and how to start and maintain such a lifestyle.
  • To provide healthcare and hope to the suffering and their loved ones.

More Quotes about Compassion and Love - “The purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others.” – Albert Schweitzer | compassion quotes | compassion quotes for students | love and compassion quotes

  • To provide legal services that reduce social injustices and other disparities that exist due to the status quo.
  • To provide legal services that give the disenfranchised and marginalized a voice.
  • To create materials, services, or products that help girls and women achieve and maintain a healthy self-esteem.
  • To empower marginalized young men by giving them the resources they need to overcome racial, educational, political, and socioeconomic barriers and injustices.
  • To participate in the creation and enactment of laws that reduces the number of women and children negatively impacted by domestic violence.
  • To make the world a better place for individuals with special needs, by participating in initiatives that focus on inclusivity and strengths recognition.
  • I want to treat others as I want to be treated, forgive freely, and embrace and appreciate commonalities and differences. I want to be remembered as someone who brought more peace, understanding, and love to the world.
  • To lead by example and be the loving, caring, forgiving human being God intended. To love my neighbor as I love myself and as God loves.
  • To be a parent who meets my children's needs. To teach and show them that success is about being the best person you can be, treating everyone as you wish to be treated, and doing what makes you happy.
  • To make sure the world always has transportation that is safe, reliable, and accessible.
  • To build infrastructures that improve communities and the quality of life.
  • To design transportation systems that put products in consumers' hands faster and more economically.
  • To work with and serve the elderly in a way that makes them feel valued, needed, and like an integral part of a thriving society.
  • To serve in a role where I identify the most vulnerable, and work to bring them resources that will help them gain physiological security. 
  • To touch the world with my art, and be an outlet for others to express or feel that someone else is expressing their true vulnerabilities and feelings. My art will do more than entertain, it will make people feel supported and understood.
  • To achieve the education required to serve the purpose God intended for me. With that education, I will give back to society generously, and remarkably leave the world in some concrete way better than it was before my contribution.
  • I want to be an educator who helps students see learning as a fun part of their life that they look forward to experiencing.    
  • To be a father who raises sons to be caring, loving, respectful, responsible men, protective of their loved ones, and daughters to be caring, loving, respectful, responsible women who know their value and will not compromise it.
  • To be the best wife, mother, and professional, successful at creating a secure, loving life for my family and myself.
  • To look at challenges or failures as stepping stones placed in my path so that when I do realize my full potential — my purpose — that purpose will be that much greater, better, and appreciated. To be a positive presence to others, to help them view life in the same way.
  • I want to approach life with a spirit of happiness, laughter, and forgiveness.

Final Thoughts on Personal Purpose Statement Examples

This article was designed to inspire you to go after all you seek in life. All you want to do, see and be.

These ideas and templates are designed to get your personal-mission-statement wheels turning… so don't worry if you don't see yourself represented in every example.

If you're feeling like you can't capture your purpose in one statement, that's okay, too. You're defining you and your path on this earth. Your reason for being is unique, and you can have more than one !

Or, it may be that all of the personal purpose statement examples in the world won’t help… because you’re still struggling to find your why. If you feel you are in that situation, read this article on five steps for people struggling with their why.

There are also actionable steps you can take to help you find your purpose. Things like practicing mindfulness , self-care and journaling can work wonders to help you get to the bottom of things.

Finally, if you want to increase your happiness and life satisfaction, then watch this free video that details the 7-minute habit for planning your day to focus on what's important .

personal purpose statement examples | personal mission and vision statement examples | personal mission statement definition

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Be True. Be Strong. Be Focused.

Your Guide to Creating a Personal Purpose Statement

Your Guide to Creating a Personal Purpose Statement

July 27, 2023

whats the purpose of a personal statement

When you’re connected to your purpose, life feels like a wonderful gift. 

It allows you to be resilient, move through every day with a sense of inner wisdom, optimism, and contentment, and see the beauty in the small things.

But when you don’t know your purpose , life can feel, well, empty – full of hardship and a nagging feeling that something is missing . 

If you’ve felt this way before, you’re not alone. Many of my clients – including high-performing entrepreneurs and accomplished professionals with multiple degrees – have deeply questioned the meaning of their lives.

What I’ve learned is that this feeling of discontentment isn’t something to fear. It’s actually an invitation to uncover your badass purpose and step into the best version of you! 

Studies have discovered that people with a sense of purpose are happier, more resilient, and filled with hope. On top of that, they tend to live longer and often enjoy higher incomes. Clearly, there’s a lot to gain by discovering your purpose. 

Okay, Lyn, I hear you say, having a sense of purpose sounds great – but how do I find it?

By creating your personal purpose statement.

Come, let me show you how.

What Is a Personal Purpose Statement?

Your personal purpose statement is the driving force behind your actions. It’s a sentence that encapsulates the language of your soul and helps you live your life as your authentic self.

Uncovering this statement is like embarking on a personal adventure of discovery, and it deserves your time and effort.

Everyone’s personal purpose statement is going to sound different, and it might take people different lengths of time to truly refine it.

Look at me, for example; I didn’t find my personal purpose statement until my thirties. Using one of the exercises I’ll show you below, I developed this draft for my life’s purpose: “I am an agent for goodness.” 

Later, in my fifties, I took another assessment, and one line in the report perfectly captured the combination of my top strengths: “I am here to enliven and enlarge your vision of who you are and what you can achieve with who you are.”

I check in with this purpose statement often and use it to guide my day-to-day decisions and actions – who I should spend my time with, or what course of action I should take for a specific business decision.

Now that we know what a personal purpose statement is, let me show you a number of exercises to help you discover yours.

How to Write a Personal Purpose Statement: 3 Easy Exercises

Don’t overcomplicate it.

A personal mission statement sounds like a big deal, but it really doesn’t need to be overly extravagant or embellished.

When crafting your personal purpose statement, draw from your intentions and interests, think about your dreams , and channel what sparks your happiness. 

Before starting, it’s worth noting that your purpose statement can change several times throughout your life. 

So don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get it perfect the first time – it’s meant to be a joyful task of compassionate self-exploration rather than a competition to hit the mark precisely!

With that said, here are three different exercises you can use to uncover your personal mission statement.

1. Reflection

Look back at any past assessments you’ve taken such as the Myers-Briggs test, DISC assessment, or Enneagram test. See if any sentences jump out at you as potential purpose statements. Jot them down on a pad of paper.

Reflect on your childhood and think about activities that made you lose track of time and exhilarate you. Add those items to the notes you’ve already taken.

Look for patterns among the items you’ve listed. Do any of them overlap and represent an aspect of your identity that you’d like to embrace as part of your purpose?

2. Purpose Attachment

Take a small event or a specific section of your life and attach a purpose to it. This could be a recent vacation, a creative project, or time you spent with friends. 

Identify your overall intention for that event.

Think about the parts of that event that interest you the most.

Combine your thoughts into a mission statement. Here are a few examples to inspire you:

  • “To create lasting memories and deepen connections during this vacation.”
  • “To bring joy and relaxation to my weekend by engaging in activities that rejuvenate my spirit.”
  • “To transform my living space through a creative and fulfilling room repainting project.”

3. Hard-Hitting Questions

Here’s a more soul-busting way to uncover your purpose. It consists of asking yourself some pretty deep questions and embarking on a quest to formulate your life purpose statement. 

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What would you do if you never had to worry about earning money? Imagine beyond the initial excitement and think about how you would spend your time in the long run.
  • What topics make you so passionate that you would engage in a heated debate with strangers? 
  • What fears do you have about being judged by others? Are they stopping you from pursuing dreams that would enrich your life? 
  • Can you envision a bold, fearless version of yourself? What is the vision that includes doing daring things?

Once you have your answers, play around with them and try to write at least three different purpose statements. 

Personal Mission Statement Examples

With these simple exercises, I want you to be gentle with yourself. Stay curious, lean into your creativity, and explore your inner world with courage and kindness. 

To help inspire you to come up with your own, here are some examples of personal mission statements: 

  • ​​To empower others to unlock their full potential and live purpose-driven life.
  • To inspire positive change in the world through creativity and innovation.
  • To promote health and wellness in individuals and communities.
  • To advocate for equal rights and social justice for all.
  • To educate and empower underprivileged children through access to quality education.
  • To foster environmental sustainability and protect the planet for future generations.
  • To be a compassionate and caring advocate for those in need.
  • To lead by example and inspire others to lead fulfilling and balanced lives.
  • To bring joy and happiness to people’s lives through my artistic expression.
  • To build meaningful and authentic relationships based on trust and respect.
  • To continuously learn and grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.
  • To promote financial literacy and empower individuals to achieve financial independence.
  • To be a loving and supportive partner, parent, and family member.
  • To be a lifelong learner and share knowledge with others.
  • To be a catalyst for personal and professional growth in others.
  • To use my skills and resources to alleviate poverty and improve the lives of marginalized communities.
  • To be a compassionate listener and support others in their journey of self-discovery and healing.
  • To champion diversity and inclusivity in all aspects of life.
  • To be an advocate for mental health awareness and destigmatization.
  • To leave a legacy of kindness, empathy, and positive change.
  • To be a role model and mentor for aspiring leaders.
  • To foster creativity and innovation in education.
  • To create beautiful and meaningful art that evokes emotion and inspires others.
  • To promote animal welfare and be a voice for those who cannot speak.
  • To lead a balanced and healthy lifestyle, prioritizing self-care and well-being.
  • To bring hope and happiness to individuals facing adversity.
  • To be a lifelong advocate for personal and environmental sustainability.
  • To serve my community and make a positive difference in the lives of others.
  • To use my platform to raise awareness and support for important social causes.

It’s Time to Boldly State Your Purpose

Uncovering your purpose can feel daunting, but it’s already within you, waiting to be discovered. 

In my new book, I give you all the tools you need to discover your purpose, boost your confidence, and find lasting fulfillment.

Get your copy today and start reaching for the purpose-filled, badass life of your dreams!

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About Lyn Christian

Hi there, I'm Lyn . My purpose is to support you to earn a living and live your life by doing what inspires you. To accomplish this, I work as a coach, consultant, TEDx speaker, author and founder of SoulSalt Inc.

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

whats the purpose of a personal statement

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.

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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.

whats the purpose of a personal statement

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.

whats the purpose of a personal statement

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 

How do you write a powerful personal statement, what makes an amazing personal statement, how do you start an amazing personal statement, scholarships360 recommended.

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How to Write a Strong Personal Statement

  • Ruth Gotian
  • Ushma S. Neill

whats the purpose of a personal statement

A few adjustments can get your application noticed.

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

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

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

whats the purpose of a personal statement

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

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

Hannah Yang headshot

Hannah Yang

How to write a personal statement

Table of Contents

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

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

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

So, how do you write a compelling personal statement?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some things a personal statement can be:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

personal statement definition

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

Tip 1: Do Some Serious Self-Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip 2: Try to Avoid Cliché Topics

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

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

Winning a tournament or sports game

Volunteering in a foreign country

Moving to a new home

Becoming an older sibling

Being an immigrant or having immigrant parents

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

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

whats the purpose of a personal statement

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Tip 3: Show, Don’t Tell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip 5: Write in Your Own Voice

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

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

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

Tip 6: Edit, Edit, Edit!

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

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

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

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

Harvard Personal Statement Example

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

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

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

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

Tufts Personal Statement Example

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

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

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

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

Law School Personal Statement Essay Example

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

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

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

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

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

How Long Should a Personal Statement Be?

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

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

Should Personal Statements Be Different for Scholarships?

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

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

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

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

Consider the following questions:

Why is this organization offering scholarships?

What would their ideal scholarship candidate look like?

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

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

How to Start a Personal Statement

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

Here are some examples of hooks you can use:

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a quick recap: 

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

Start with a strong hook that pulls the reader in

Tell a story to engage the reader 

Write in your own voice, not in a formal tone

Good luck, and happy writing!

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

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How To Write a Personal Statement That Stands Out

How To Write a Personal Statement That Stands Out

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whats the purpose of a personal statement

Laura Jane Bradbury

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

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

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

Key Takeaways

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

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

Follow these steps to accurately write and tailor your statement.

Understand your prompt

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

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

whats the purpose of a personal statement

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

Show, don't just tell

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

whats the purpose of a personal statement

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

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

Start strong

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

Examples of a strong opening include:

A meaningful statistic

This draws readers in and increases credibility: 

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

A personal story

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

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

An alarming statement

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

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

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

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

whats the purpose of a personal statement

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

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

Address weaknesses

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

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

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

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

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

Highlight achievements

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

Ask yourself:

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

Connect with the institution or company

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

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

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

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

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

End with a strong conclusion

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

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

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

Different types of personal statements

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

whats the purpose of a personal statement

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

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

Personal statement checklist

Use this checklist to ensure that your statement includes: 

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

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

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

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

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

What is the purpose of a personal statement?

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

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whats the purpose of a personal statement

Applying to grad school means having to write a killer statement. This statement can be either a statement of purpose or a personal statement (or both, as we’ll explain later). But what exactly is the difference between these two types of essays?

In this guide to the statement of purpose vs personal statement, we take an in-depth look at the unique purposes of the grad school statement of purpose and personal statement, how the two essays are different and alike, and what you can do to ensure you produce an essay that’s guaranteed to get you into grad school.

What’s the Difference Between a Personal Statement and a Statement of Purpose?

First off, what is the main difference between a statement of purpose and a personal statement for grad school?

The short answer is that a statement of purpose is about what you want to do, while a personal statement is about who you are. Each essay has its own goals in what it’s supposed to do for you and the program you’re applying to.

Whereas the statement of purpose showcases your academic strengths and background, career goals, research interests, and fit with the program, the personal statement highlights your personal motivations for applying to the program and any major accomplishments you’ve had or challenges you’ve faced along the way.

In spite of these big differences, both statements essentially serve the same overarching purpose: to make the admissions committee think you are a good fit and will be successful in the program to which you’re applying.

Here’s a brief overview of the biggest differences between a personal statement and a statement of purpose:

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Statement of Purpose vs Personal Statement: Which Do You Need to Write?

Now that you know the main difference between a personal statement and a statement of purpose, which one will you have to actually write for your grad school applications?

The answer to this question depends on what documents your school requires and how it defines the two types of essays.

While some grad schools, such as  Michigan State University and the UC system , clearly distinguish between the two essays and require two separate statements for admission, other schools don’t distinguish at all between the personal statement and statement of purpose. In fact, many grad programs use the terms interchangeably!

Meanwhile, some grad schools combine qualities from both statements into one comprehensive statement.  Notre Dame’s Creative Writing MFA program , for instance, requires an essay that’s really a combination of the personal statement and statement of purpose: it asks applicants to talk about their future academic and professional goals as well as any personal aspects of their identity that influence their writing.

Generally, most grad programs will require at least one essay. For research-based programs, this will likely be the more academic, more formal statement of purpose.

To figure out which essay you’ll need to write for your program (and whether you’ll need to write more than one), check the program’s official website. You should be able to find details on either the program’s application requirements page or the application itself.  I also advise checking the FAQ page to see whether anyone has asked a question about the program’s essay requirements.

If you’re still confused about what your grad school admissions essay should focus on and/or what type of essay you’re required to write for your application, contact the program directly by email or phone.

How to Approach the Statement of Purpose vs Personal Statement: 11 Tips

In light of these major differences between the personal statement and statement of purpose, it’s important that you also know the differences in how you approach each essay.

In this section, we give you our top tips for how to write a truly effective and compelling personal statement and statement of purpose for grad school. We also give you some general tips you can use for both essays.

whats the purpose of a personal statement

How to Write a Statement of Purpose

We’ll start with the statement of purpose—the more formal, more academic essay.

Tip 1: Consider Your Future Goals

Most statements of purpose will require you to introduce your future goals (academic, professional, or both) and describe how this particular program will help you achieve these goals. Therefore, it’s important that you clearly lay out in your essay the ambitions you have, and explain how these relate to the field you want to enter and the program to which you’re applying.

Think deeply about what you hope this grad program will do for you, academically and/or professionally. For example, if you’re applying for a master’s program in computer science, you could talk about how you plan to leave your career as a real estate agent to become a freelance web developer.

Make sure that you also explain why this program in particular will help you. Perhaps you enjoy the grad program’s emphasis on internships and believe these will let you more easily enter the professional world upon graduation, for example.

Tip 2: Research the Program and Its Professors

You likely already did some research on the program—why else would you be applying?—but it’s important to dig even deeper so you can write about specific aspects of the program that interest you.

Here are some examples of features you could write about:

  • Professors with whom you wish to work
  • Certain classes you hope to take
  • Internships, networking events, and/or other professionally oriented events offered by the program or school
  • The program’s emphasis on a certain topic, idea, or skill
  • Any other attributes of the program, such as its small class sizes, its emphasis on group projects, its contests or competitions in your field, etc.

Note that it’s best NOT to mention these things in your essay:

  • The program’s selectivity or acceptance rate
  • The program’s ranking

The best way to begin research on your program is to simply look at the program’s official website. This should give you all the information you need on what the program requires, what it focuses on, what types of students it’s geared toward, and so on.

I also recommend visiting websites such as The Grad Cafe and Reddit . With these websites, you can get the inside scoop by reading what real students have to say about the program you’re applying to.

Tip 3: Explain How You’re a Good Match

Grad programs must make sure that the applicants they admit will be able to study what they want to research and will fit well with the program’s overall focus and its faculty members’ areas of expertise.

This point is especially important for those applying to doctoral programs, since you’re most likely going to be working one-on-one with a specific faculty member on a major research project or dissertation.

Here are some things you can write about in your statement of purpose to highlight your “fit” with the program:

  • A professor whose research areas and expertise align with your research interests, background, and/or skills
  • The academic or professional focus of the program and how this matches your future goals (see Tip 1)

For example, maybe you hope to work with a professor whose research areas match the general topic you want to write about for your dissertation.

Tip 4: Emphasize Your Accomplishments

The statement of purpose isn’t just for explaining your goals and fit but also for talking about your (relevant) academic and professional accomplishments.

You don’t want to repeat what’s already on your undergraduate transcript or CV/resume, so try to be extremely specific  here about what you’ve done and how this achievement has influenced your decision to get a graduate degree in this field.

whats the purpose of a personal statement

How to Write a Personal Statement

Now that we’ve covered how to write a statement of purpose, let’s look at how your approach might differ for the personal statement.

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Tip 5: Tell a Story

Since the personal statement is less formal and more personal, you’ll want to ensure you’re telling a compelling story. In other words, you have more free rein to be creative with the personal statement than you do with the statement of purpose.

The personal statement is the one part of your grad school application where you can really flex your creative muscles. For instance, you don’t need to stick with the conventional chronological format (though there’s nothing wrong with this, of course).

A good way to show off your creativity is to use a variety of literary techniques , from imagery and metaphors to dialogue and colloquialisms. It’s also OK to write a little less formally than you would in a statement of purpose. So go ahead and tell that joke, or share that eccentric story!

Just be careful to not go overboard with informalities,  and make sure you’re still clearly presenting yourself as a serious applicant who is an ideal fit for the program.

Tip 6: Focus On Your Personal Motivations

Since the personal statement allows you to be a bit more personal than the statement of purpose does, it’s best to use this space to focus more on your own personal reasons for developing an interest in this field and applying to this grad program specifically.

Take time to consider what motivated you to apply to grad school and to continue schooling in this particular field. Don’t just focus on grad school in general but on the specific program you are applying to. What initially drew you to this program and at this time?

Tip 7: Explain Any Weaknesses/Challenges You’ve Overcome

You can also use your grad school personal statement to discuss any major weaknesses in your application or any challenges or barriers you’ve overcome in recent years. These can be personal struggles with things such as your career, school, health, money, etc.

For example, maybe your undergraduate GPA wasn’t that high your freshman year because you struggled with living away from home and not knowing anyone at your college. In your personal statement, you could discuss how joining your school’s badminton team helped you make friends and more easily adjust to college life.

Regardless of the challenge you write about,  put a positive spin on it. This will prove to the grad admissions committee that you’re able to overcome challenges on your own and can push forward to be successful.

whats the purpose of a personal statement

General Tips for Both the Statement of Purpose and Personal Statement

In this final section, we give you some general tips you can use for both grad school statements.

Tip 8: Read the Instructions Carefully

The #1 most important rule for any statement for grad school is that you follow all the instructions for the essay.  Specifically, this means you should do the following:

  • Answer the prompt and all the questions in it —some prompts won’t require you to answer every single question it asks, though it’s best to answer most if you can
  • Adhere to the length requirements —most grad school essays will give you either a word limit (e.g., 500 words) or a page limit (e.g., two to three double-spaced pages), so don’t go over this!
  • Include any information the program requires you to put on each page of your essay —this will most likely be your full name and might also include the document type, page number, etc.

If you have any questions about the requirements for your personal statement or statement of purpose, contact the grad program directly to ask.

Tip 9: Use Specific Details

In any essay you write, it’s important to be as specific as possible. And in a grad school personal statement and statement of purpose, it’s critical that you  include the names of people and places, as well as vivid descriptions of people, ideas, events, and emotions.  Doing this will make your essay not only more realistic but also more relatable to the admissions committee.

Moreover,  try to touch on specific aspects of the grad program, including your research interests and what drew you to this field of study. Don’t just write, “I developed an interest in psychology after taking an introductory psychology class in college.” Tell us who taught the class, the topics you studied that were most fascinating to you, and why you initially decided to enroll in this class.

Tip 10: Be Authentic

While a statement of purpose is more formal than a personal statement is, you still want to sound authentic in both essays. So  make an effort to write in your real, honest voice.  Don’t feel the need to grab a thesaurus to look up difficult vocab words to include in your essay—the admissions committee will be able to tell you’re just trying to sound smart!

Ultimately, you want to write in a sophisticated yet natural-sounding voice that shows off your personality while also highlighting your intelligence and maturity.

Tip 11: Edit and Proofread

Finally, give yourself plenty of time to edit and proofread your essays for your grad school applications. A big part of the personal statement and statement of purpose is showing off your superior, grad-level writing skills, so take your time to craft a compelling (and technically correct!) statement.

Once you’ve got a rough draft completed, look it over for any typos; errors in grammar, spelling, or punctuation; and awkward or irrelevant areas. After you’ve done your own edit, give your essay to someone else to read, such as a former professor (if he or she has agreed to look at it   for you),   and ask for some feedback on what you could improve or change.

Conclusion: The Critical Difference Between a Statement of Purpose and Personal Statement

When it comes down to the statement of purpose vs personal statement for grad school, how exactly are the two different—and how are they alike? While both essays are meant to make the grad admissions committee want to admit you, they each contain pretty different information.

The statement of purpose is the more formal of the two, highlighting your academic/professional background and accomplishments, your future goals, and how you see yourself fitting with the program you’re applying to.

By contrast, the personal statement is less formal and focuses more on who you are as a person, including what motivated you to apply to grad school (and this program) and what kinds of obstacles you’ve faced in life.

Most grad programs require at least one statement; this could be either a personal statement, a statement of purpose, or a statement that’s some sort of combination of the two. And some programs require both essays.

Because a statement of purpose differs from a personal statement, the way you approach each statement is also different.

Here’s what you want to do for a statement of purpose:

  • Consider your future goals
  • Research the program and professors
  • Explain how you’re a good match
  • Emphasize your accomplishments

For a personal statement, on the other hand, you’ll want to do the following:

  • Tell a story
  • Focus on your personal motivations
  • Explain any weaknesses or challenges you’ve overcome

Finally, for both statements, be sure to take these four steps:

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  • Read the instructions carefully
  • Use specific details
  • Be authentic
  • Edit and proofread

Now that you understand the major difference between a statement of purpose and personal statement, you can get started on writing an amazing grad school admissions essay!

What’s Next?

Still not sure how to approach the grad school statement? Then check out our collections of real examples of statements of purpose and personal statements .

For even more tips on how to write a killer grad school essay, take a look at our expert guides to how to write the statement of purpose and how to write the personal statement .

What does a grad school application look like? Learn more about grad school application requirements , and get tips on how to find acceptance rates for the grad programs you’re applying to .

Ready to improve your GRE score by 7 points?

whats the purpose of a personal statement

Author: Hannah Muniz

Hannah graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in English and East Asian languages and cultures. After graduation, she taught English in Japan for two years via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel. View all posts by Hannah Muniz

whats the purpose of a personal statement

Differences between statements of purpose and personal statements

Statement of purpose.

The focus of a statement of purpose is typically what you have accomplished academically in the past and what you plan to accomplish academically and professionally in the future.

This document focuses primarily on the purpose you have for applying to a specific program. It is less about your character and more about your previous experiences, your goals, and the connections to the program to which you are applying.

The goal of the statement of purpose is to demonstrate your understanding and preparation for the academic pursuits and rigors of a graduate program, including the coursework, research, and possibly teaching expectations.

Be specific about research interests. While no one will hold you accountable to pursuing the research you describe in your Statement of Purpose, a specific research focus allows the admissions committee to evaluate whether your interests are a good match for their program.

This document is more technical and academic and less biographical.

Personal statement

The focus of the personal statement is typically on personal thoughts, feelings, and reflections. This document is more biographical than the statement of purpose.

A good way to understand the personal statement is as a document that shows your passion for the field to which you are applying. You will want to demonstrate personal characteristics that show your readiness for graduate school.

This document encourages a discussion of your background, perspectives of diversity, and how your experiences have shaped you as a person and a learner.

You can discuss overcoming significant barriers, but try to stay positive, focusing on what you learned and gained from overcoming the barriers.

Both documents are used to determine if you are a good investment and match for the program to which you are applying. Sometimes schools may ask for a personal statement that does the work of a statement of purpose—Read carefully what you are being asked to do in the document.

Jenna. (2016). Statement of purpose versus personal statement: Knowing the difference. Cambridge Coaching. Retrieved from http://blog.cambridgecoaching.com/statement-of-purpose-versus-personal-statement-knowing-the-difference

Peterson’s. (2013). Personal statements vs. statement of purpose—What’s the difference? Is there one? Retrieved from: https://www.petersons.com/blog/personal-statement-vs-statement-of-purpose-whats-the-difference-is-there-one/

Swales, J.M., Feak, C.B. (2011). Navigating academia: Writing supporting genres, Volume 4 . Ann Arbor, MI


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

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

College Essay Glossary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Do Colleges Ask For an Essay?

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

#1: Insight Into Your Personality

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

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

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

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

#2: Evidence of Writing Skills

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

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

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

#3: Explanation of Extenuating Circumstances

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

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

#4: Your Reasons for Applying to the School

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

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

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What Kind of Questions Do Colleges Ask?

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

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

Prompt Type 1: Your Personal History

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

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

Common App 1

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

Common App 5

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

University of California 2

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

University of California 6

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

Prompt Type 2: Facing a Problem

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

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

Common App 2

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

Harvard University 7

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

Prompt Type 3: Diversity

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

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

Common App 3

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

Johns Hopkins University

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

Duke University Optional 1

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


Prompt Type 4: Your Future Goals

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

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

University of Southern California (Architecture)

Princeton Supplement 1

Prompt Type 5: Why This School

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

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

Chapman University

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

Columbia University

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

Rice University

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

Princeton University

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

Prompt Type 6: Creative Prompts

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

University of Chicago

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

University of Vermont

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


What Makes a Strong Personal Statement?

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

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

Showing Who You Are

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eloquent Writing

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

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

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

Top Five Essay-Writing Tips

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

#1: Start Early!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


#3: Focus on Specifics

But how do you write an interesting essay? Focus.

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

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

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

#4: Use Your Own Voice

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

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

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

#5: Be Ruthless

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

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

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

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


What's Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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Writing the Personal Statement

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The personal statement, your opportunity to sell yourself in the application process, generally falls into one of two categories:

1. The general, comprehensive personal statement:

This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms.

2. The response to very specific questions:

Often, business and graduate school applications ask specific questions, and your statement should respond specifically to the question being asked. Some business school applications favor multiple essays, typically asking for responses to three or more questions.

Questions to ask yourself before you write:

  • What's special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
  • What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
  • When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
  • How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
  • If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has that work contributed to your growth?
  • What are your career goals?
  • Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre LSAT or GRE scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)?
  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?
  • What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
  • What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?
  • Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school—and more successful and effective in the profession or field than other applicants?
  • What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?

General advice

Answer the questions that are asked

  • If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar.
  • Don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the question being asked.

Tell a story

  • Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.

Be specific

  • Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.

Find an angle

  • If you're like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or a "hook" is vital.

Concentrate on your opening paragraph

  • The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader's attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.

Tell what you know

  • The middle section of your essay might detail your interest and experience in your particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the field. Too many people graduate with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they hope to enter. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it. Since you will have to select what you include in your statement, the choices you make are often an indication of your judgment.

Don't include some subjects

  • There are certain things best left out of personal statements. For example, references to experiences or accomplishments in high school or earlier are generally not a good idea. Don't mention potentially controversial subjects (for example, controversial religious or political issues).

Do some research, if needed

  • If a school wants to know why you're applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. If the school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this might be a factor to mention.

Write well and correctly

  • Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.

Avoid clichés

  • A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements.

For more information on writing a personal statement, see the personal statement vidcast .

whats the purpose of a personal statement

Personal Statement vs. Statement of Purpose: Key Differences

Person writing a personal statement

Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/15/24

What is the difference between a personal statement vs statement of purpose? Keep reading as we differentiate between the different types of statements you might have to write for your application. 

Scholars wanting to take the next step in their academic career and apply to grad school will most likely have to write personal statements and statements of purpose in the application process. 

The big question is: what is the difference between a personal statement vs a statement of interest? Is a statement of purpose the same as a personal statement? Which one should you submit? 

To best stand out on applications and impress admissions officers, understanding the expectations of each statement is key. 

If you’re getting your grad school applications together and are unsure of which statement to write or the differences between the two, we’ve got you covered! 

Keep reading as we outline the differences between the two statements and answer some of your frequently asked questions. 

What is The Difference Between a Personal Statement and a Statement of Purpose?

A personal statement and a statement of purpose serve distinct purposes in the admissions process. 

The personal statement is typically a concise one-page document where you reflect on your academic journey and personal growth. It's an opportunity to share how your experiences have shaped your character and influenced your decision to pursue further education.

In contrast, the statement of purpose is a longer, more detailed document that focuses on your qualifications, motivations, and aspirations related to the specific program or field of study you're applying to.

Ultimately, both statements have similar goals. They both require the applicant to demonstrate why they are a great candidate for the chosen program and institute and why they should be accepted into the program. 

Personal Statement vs. Statement of Purpose: Which One To Write?

First and foremost, ensure that you read the instructions on the school’s webpage! The webpage will clearly list and define what each school is asking for. Look at the program’s FAQ page for more information as well. 

Some schools will clearly define which type of statement they require hopeful students to submit. Some schools, however, ask for a mix of the two. 

For example, the University of Notre Dame’s MFA in Creative Writing program asks applicants to write a statement of intent that describes both personal goals and motivations for applying to the program. Make sure you know exactly what the program is asking for before you begin writing. 

If you need to make the call on which statement to submit on your own, there are a few things you should consider. One thing to keep in mind is the program you are applying to. 

Typically, research-based programs will be looking for more professional essays. In this case, submitting a statement of purpose may be the better choice.

If you are applying to a creative writing program or a grad program in the humanities, writing a personal statement may be more fitting. Typically, humanities programs want to know more about you as a person and how your experiences have shaped you into the person you are now. 

Humanities programs, like English or Gender Studies, want to see that students can be reflective, as the research topics pursued in these programs often require self-reflection and critical thought. In cases like this, you should write a personal statement as it often provides more insight into who you are. 

Tips on How to Write a Personal Statement

Your personal statement is a necessary element of many college applications. It may seem like a daunting task, but here are some tips to help you tackle it: 

  • Start with a hook : If you want your personal statement to stand out from the rest, you’ll need to start with a bang . Consider using a descriptive or action-packed hook to grab your reader’s attention right off the bat and keep them reading. 
  • Stay away from clichés : Admissions officers have to read tens of thousands of personal statements; they hear the same things over and over again. It’s okay to talk about an experience that may be considered cliché, but make it your own. Include details that are unique to your personal story. 
  • Use engaging language : Your personal statement should draw the reader in. Paint a picture with your words. Use sensory language and descriptive details to convey your emotions and experiences. If you’d like, you can take a look at some personal statement examples to give you inspiration. 

Some other details to include in your personal statement include but are not necessarily limited to the following:

  • Personal information 
  • Specific courses that changed your perspective or inspired you 
  • Your passions 
  • Your hobbies and extracurricular activities

Remember to stay focused while writing. Your personal statement should answer the question, “What do I want the college admissions team to know about me?” Don’t get off-track and make your statement any longer than it needs to be . 

If you’re still overwhelmed by this task, there’s nothing wrong with seeking help. You can get expert help with personal statements to make your application stand out from the crowd!

Tips on How to Write a Statement of Purpose

Your statement of purpose, while similar, should be more direct than your personal statement. As you write, remember that you’re trying to answer the question, “What do I intend to do with this degree?” 

  • Provide specific examples : Show, don’t tell. You can make many claims about your skills or abilities, but you need to back up these claims with specific evidence. UC Berkeley advises students to use examples for everything - “don’t say directly that you’re a persistent person, show it.”
  • Demonstrate your knowledge of the school : Be specific about why you want to attend this particular school. This shows passion and a sense of direction and motivation. Avoid writing a generic, lackluster statement of purpose to reuse for multiple schools. Instead, include certain classes or professors that intrigue you. 
  • Look toward the future : Make sure to end your statement of purpose with a glimpse into your future at the school and beyond. How will attending this particular school and program help you to make strides in your career and the world around you? 

Some other achievements to highlight in your statement of purpose include:

  • Extracurricular activities that you participated in
  • Community service or volunteer hours 
  • Long-term career goals

Of course, having good grammar and spelling applies to both statements. Make sure that your work is error-free by proofreading multiple times and asking friends or family members to read it over for you. 

FAQs: Personal Statement Vs. Statement Of Purpose

Now that we’ve answered “is a statement of purpose the same as a personal statement?”, let’s move on to answering some of your other frequently asked questions about personal statements vs statements of purpose. 

1. What is the Difference Between a Personal Statement and SOP?

Simply put, a personal statement should include your motivations and interests–speaking more to who you are as a person. Meanwhile, a statement of purpose focuses more on why you want to study in the program you’re applying to and your academic abilities. 

While writing a statement of purpose, make sure to write what the admissions committee wants to hear. Writing a persuasive statement of purpose can help your college application stand out amongst your competition.

2. Can I Submit a Statement of Purpose as a Personal Statement?

As the two statements differ a lot from each other, it won’t be the best idea to submit your statement of purpose as a personal statement. You can, however, tweak your SOP a bit to make it fit into the criteria of a personal statement. 

Your statement of purpose should outline your academic achievements and credentials. You can change up the wording and alter the content a bit to take a more personal approach for a personal statement. 

In showing off your academic prowess and attention to detail, you should pay close attention to how you’re writing your statement. College admission committees will notice if your statement is vague or does not follow what they asked for. 

While it may be time-consuming to write multiple statements (if you are applying for various programs), it is in your best interest to take the time and write a specific statement for each program. 

Don’t cut corners for your college applications.  

3. Is a Personal Statement the Same as a Statement of Purpose?

A personal statement is not the same as a statement of purpose. As we have discussed throughout the article, the two take different tones and have different objectives. 

A personal statement is more of a storytelling piece that reveals how you got to where you are today. It can be less formal and a bit more poetic and intimate than a statement of purpose. 

You can be a bit more creative with your personal statement as well! Try starting it off with a relevant quote or a clever opening line to engage your audience right away. 

A statement of purpose is more traditionally academic in its tone and structure. A statement of purpose should be more formal and focused on your credentials and accomplishments compared to a personal statement.

Final Thoughts

College admissions are no joke. Even if you are a strong applicant, there will also be tons of other applicants that have all the qualifications. Understanding the difference between a personal statement and a statement of purpose is crucial to standing out amongst thousands of other college applicants . 

If you are applying to a research-based program, a statement of purpose will probably fit the requirements more. If you are applying to a humanities program, something more personal and less formal, like a personal statement, would be more fitting. 

Use your own judgment to decide whether a personal statement or a statement of purpose would be most appropriate for the program. 

Best of luck!

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Home / Blog / Grad Schools / Personal Statement vs. Statement of Purpose – What’s the Difference? Is there one?

Personal Statement vs. Statement of Purpose – What’s the Difference? Is there one?

Student working on applying to school

As you work to complete your graduate school applications, your program will likely ask for a personal statement, a statement of purpose, or even both. The program might give you detailed instructions on what should be included in the statement or leave you to figure it out on your own with an enigmatic ‘Include a Personal Statement/Statement of Purpose’.

If you are applying to multiple graduate programs, you might be wondering if you can use the same general content regardless of whether the program asks for a ‘personal statement’ or a ‘statement of purpose’. The good news is there is significant crossover between to the two, but there are subtle differences. Shaping the essay the right way can greatly enhance the essay’s effectiveness by providing the admissions officers with the information that they want to know about you.

Here are some hints on how to submit the right essay to your graduate program.

Personal Statement Only

A personal statement gives you more leeway than a statement of purpose. However, this can also be more challenging in that you need to show your readiness for a graduate program both in terms of skills and character. The majority of the essay needs to be about your passion for your chosen field and why you have chosen to apply to a particular program. If you have space left over in the essay, you may want to write about an experience not directly related to your field, such as volunteer service. Even so, end the passage with a clear statement about how that experience has better prepared you for graduate studies.

Statement of Purpose Only

A statement of purpose should have a sharper focus than a personal statement. It should show that you have a strong sense of, well, purpose in applying to the program. In your statement of purpose, place the emphasis on all of the reasons that you are applying to graduate school. You may want to write about experiences directly related to the graduate program and go into detail about why you are choosing a specific program. Information about particular classes, professors whose work you admire or whose work aligns with your own research goals, and other factors like location of the school or internship opportunities should be included. Avoid writing about anything not directly related to the program. For example, if you are applying to a program in Materials Science, don’t start the essay with an anecdote about running a marathon or spend a paragraph writing about your experience volunteering at a homeless shelter.

Both a Personal Statement and a Statement of Purpose

Seeing the request for both a ‘personal statement’ and a ‘statement of purpose’ can instill dread in the hearts of applicants. If this is the case, write your statement of purpose first to write about your research skills and experience, internships, and reasons for choosing the program. In your personal statement, you can go more into detail about the path you took to choosing your field, significant experiences not directly related to your field, and other aspects of your life that demonstrate your character and potential.

Need help getting started on your grad school search? Search by location, major, admission difficulty, and more with Peterson’s Graduate School Search .

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Front-End Developer Resume Guide

The next step to getting hired is creating an effective front-end developer resume. Use this guide to highlight your best skills and stand out.

[Featured Image] A front-end developer sits with an employee in an office for a job interview after creating her front-end developer resume.

A front-end developer resume allows you to show hiring managers how skilled and talented you are. As hiring managers are often busy with stacks of resumes on their desks, it’s important to grab their attention quickly and have compelling details to keep their attention and interest in you as a candidate. Even if you’re creating a front-end developer resume with no experience, when you know how to produce an effective resume, you make it easy for human resources and hiring managers to see, at a glance, that you’re a highly skilled candidate. 

Before formatting your resume, it’s important to know what to include. Explore the skills hiring managers seek, then read through a section-by-section guide to writing your resume. 

What skills do you need to become a front-end developer? 

Front-end developers use various technologies and tools to create and manage the user interface of development projects. You’ll want to make sure your resume marks your qualifications in the following areas: 

Programming languages (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery)

Frameworks (JS like Angular, Backbone; front end like Bootstrap)

CSS Preprocessors (LESS, Sass)

APIs (JSONPlaceholder, Unsplash, RandomUser)

Responsive design

Content Management Systems (Joomla, Drupal)

Debugging and testing

Version Control (Git, Mercurial)

Less than 10 percent of front-end developers work alone [1], so communication skills and a proven track record of success in a team are also important. Lastly, if you have any projects or demonstrations of problem-solving skills, include those in your resume. 

What are hiring managers looking for in front-end developers? 

Hiring managers want front-end developers with the proper technical and workplace skills arrangement. The core technical skills of front-end design will vary depending on the project and the technology used. Developers must understand the material they will be working with directly. These skills include HTML/CSS, JavaScript, JQuery, Scrum, Agile, or GitHub. 

Workplace skills are measured differently than technical skills. It's easy enough to list a Meta Front-End Developer Professional Certificate that showcases your technical achievements. Still, you may need to include important workplace skills like creativity, problem-solving, and conflict resolution. You can demonstrate these skills to hiring managers by noting how they contributed to the success of some of your most recent projects. You can go into greater detail during the interview but don’t omit these human skills directly from your resume. 

How to write a front-end developer resume: section by section 

A front-end developer resume should be one page with all the most important information in an easy-to-read format. The goal is to make it as easy for your hiring manager as possible. If they have to hunt all over the page before seeing your qualifications, they will skip it and move on to the next resume. As you write each section, remember who you are addressing: someone who wants to find the information as quickly as possible. A hiring manager will thank you when you don’t take up too much of their time. 

This section includes your personal information, such as your name, address, and email address. At a glance, a hiring manager can quickly locate your contact information to schedule an interview. 

Statement of Purpose

Resumes don’t offer many opportunities to show your personality and goals. The statement or objective is a rare chance to explain what you’re passionate about and what career goals you hold. This allows potential employers to see how this work fits your overall plan and whether your goals align with the company's objectives. 

The experience section of your resume lists similar things you’ve done in the past, such as previous developer roles and projects you’ve worked on. As a rule of thumb, start with the most recent experience and work backwards. If you have work or other experiences unrelated to the job, you don’t have to include them unless you need to demonstrate work experience in general. Use action words for each experience you list to describe your responsibilities and accomplishments in the position.

If you’re writing a front-end developer resume with no experience, this section might be trickier, but you can add unpaid experience to this section. You can include a portfolio of student work or complete a project to obtain a deliverable, such as a website you can showcase on your resume.  

Unlike experience, which generally moves in chronological order, you may list your education with the highest level completed at the top of the resume, moving down to lesser qualifications. For example, you may want to list your bachelor’s degree first, followed by certifications and diploma programmes, even if you completed them after your bachelor's degree. If you’ve completed an advanced degree, such as a master’s or bachelor’s, you don’t have to list your secondary school diploma. 

The skills section of your resume is important because hiring managers are likely looking for specific technical skills that will fit nicely into the technology used in their project. Employing excellent organization is key to keeping this section of the resume impactful. If you arrange the information well, you can list many skills without making your resume difficult to read.

Some common front-end developer skills include: 


Data structures

SQL/database design 

If you know ahead of time any of the technology used in the role you’re applying for, you should tailor your resume to those skills. For example, if you know the project uses specific frameworks or APIs, ensure those are on your resume, even if they aren’t common in the industry. Although it is more work to tailor your resume to every job you apply for, it helps you stand out by making it much easier for the hiring manager to see that you are qualified. 

Resume tips 

As you create your front-end developer resume, keep these tips in mind to have the most impact:

Use action words and avoid passive tense . A promotion wasn’t awarded to you. You earned a promotion. Your last project didn’t see revenue after six months. Your work created revenue. Action words show confidence and clarify that you were the cause of your success. 

Keep it to one page, neat, and professional . This is not the time to express yourself with font choices or assemble an entire presentation. Remember, the point is to make it as easy as possible for the hiring manager to choose your resume from the pile. Too long or too hard to read, and they may not take the time to read what you’ve written. 

Don’t waste space on less important skills . It’s okay if your resume has some white space. Don’t crowd your achievements to fit everything on the page; instead, keep to only the most relevant and impactful skills and experiences. 

Look for an example : It can be helpful to look at front-end developer resume samples online to see what sort of skills other developers list. 

If you’re still not sure where to start, don’t worry. You can find many online resources to help you write your resume immediately, including the Writing Winning Resumes and Cover Letters course , delivered by The University of Maryland on Coursera. 

If you’re worried about your front-end developer resume with no experience, consider completing Meta’s Front-End Developer Professional Certificate to build your skills and add a credential to your resume.  

Article sources

The Software House. “The State of Frontend 2022, https://tsh.io/state-of-frontend/ .” Accessed April 20, 2024. 

Keep reading

Coursera staff.

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.


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