A personal statement can be as simple or complex as the person whom it is about, which adds to the diversity and complexity that is already present in this genre. The main goal of a personal statement is for the author to be accepted into a program to which he or she is interested in participating; the reasons for writing a personal statement vary, but the desired end result remains constant. This genre’s audience is typically made up of a group of experts — or at the very least consists of a passionate committee who is somehow emotionally (or financially) invested — in the particular program to which the author is applying, and thus is quite a critical bunch who must be creatively persuaded as to the author’s motivations and qualifications for the program. Personal statements are a competitive narrative that must effectively communicate factual details of the author’s qualifications and motivations, while directly affecting each member of the committee who is judging not only the author’s qualifications, but also their personality and creativity, as it pertains to their specific discipline.

How to Write a Personal Statement:

Write a catchy introduction – The introductory paragraph is used to introduce yourself to the committee. Give them a glimpse of who you are and what your motivations are for applying.    

Tug at the audience’s heart-strings –  Being able to persuade an audience effectively takes practice, but is a powerful skill to learn. This is where you can talk about a personal challenge you have faced and how you overcame it. Be descriptive and really expose yourself; you may feel uncomfortable telling complete strangers about a terrible thing that happened to you in your past, but it can be quite compelling and shows your strength and motivation. Let the audience know your history.

“Sell” yourself to the audience – Why are you the right candidate for this program? How will they benefit? How are you unique? These are questions you should answer in an indirect and subtle manner. Let your audience know what you’ve accomplished, why you’re passionate about this field or program, and what you plan to do if you are accepted. How will you use this opportunity to better yourself or others?         

Write a strong conclusion – A strong conclusion is absolutely imperative for a personal statement to be effective. Tie it back in with the introduction, in some way, and don’t leave the audience with any lingering questions (unless this is done on purpose, in a creative way… but be careful, your intentions may not be as crystal clear as you think)! Your last sentence should make you memorable in some way; a provocative statement, thought, quote, or question can all be effective, but the key is that they must tie in with the rest of your personal statement.

Check and double check your grammar – Having bad grammar is the easiest way to lose all credibility. Certain errors are forgivable, while others are not. Be sure to have someone read your personal statement, before you submit it, so you have an alternative perspective. Another person can clue you in on how clearly you conveyed your thoughts, and they will point out phrases that don’t make sense, are too wordy, or poorly organized.

Things to Consider:


        §Tell your story and let the audience know who you are.

        §Use academic language.

        §Write in essay format.

        §Use plain-style text.

        §Use a thesaurus to say exactly what you mean.

        §Stick to the length requirement.

        §Make sure you answer the prompt question(s) that is provided.


        §Don’t write in a “poor me” manner.

        §Don’t misspell the name of the program to which you are applying.

        §Don’t use jargon or slang.

        §Don’t write in third person.

        §Don’t go over the word limit!

Here's an example of an effective personal statement:

I peered over my toes at the water streaming fifty feet down to the muddy pool below me and felt a queer beat in my stomach. For half an hour I had hiked a steep incline up to the cliff in flip-flops. Clinging tenaciously to the footpads, I skipped across small creeks, pulled myself up with the aid of jutting rocks and tree roots, and swung across gaps in the path on branches. But as I stood on the cliff, barefoot now, I forgot my strenuous climb and remembered that every step was taken for one reason - to jump. So I stilled the fear bouncing in my stomach, counted to three, hurled my body into the air, and fell.

I have been climbing uphill in flip-flops all my life. While I am aware that everybody climbs hills and faces obstacles in their lives, I also believe that the success of those battles may well be based on the foundation upon which one walks - how firm and supportive it is. As I look back, I realize that the challenges I have faced have enabled me to find a strong footing within a situation that was not altogether stable.

As a ten year old I grappled with panic attacks and even ulcers, a physical manifestation of the fear, guilt, and anxiety I felt primarily as a result of my father, an alcoholic, manic depressive, and sexually abusive man. Though I do have a few positive childhood memories of our motorcycle rides and camping trips, they are unfortunately surrounded and superseded by the majority of my experiences with him. Before I attended therapy and biofeedback sessions in fifth grade, the best way I knew to cope with my intense and disturbing feelings was to imagine them away. Every night before falling asleep I would fold my body tightly together and construct a world in which my father did not exist. He disappeared in a variety of ways - a chance fire, a freak accident, an unexplainable vanishing. In his place would appear a new gentle and supportive father. With these images I wooed myself to sleep every night, but the following morning I would again awake to the reality of my life. Eventually my coping mechanism became insufficient, and I began seeing a counselor.

Quickly this woman taught me to transform my paralyzing fears into a determined drive for success. With this skill learned, my life and my feelings about it improved immeasurably. My relationship with my father changed dramatically resulting from both a change in his behaviors and a change in my responses. Now, my drive for success is no longer fueled by a need to transform my life into something more positive, but rather a desire to continue its trajectory. I am the first person in my immediate family to attend and graduate from college, which I was able to do with the assistance of various academic scholarships. Due to my 64 hour/week job working with developmentally disabled individuals, I have been financially independent from my mother since my first step onto campus. In addition I have been able to financially assist my younger sister who now attends college. Most importantly, I have developed into a woman I am proud of -thoughtful, determined, compassionate, and forgiving, even of my father. I know now that though he has left an indelibly negative imprint on my life, he has also prompted a positive one.

After so many struggles, I'm now emotionally and mentally ready for new hills to climb and new pools to jump into, one of which I hope will be law school. I believe that with my now developed determination I will be able to successfully complete law school and with my heightened sense of compassion I will be able to assist those who, like me, perhaps began life with a shoddy foundation. As for me, my footwear is finally more supportive and sturdy. I've transformed my flip-flops into hiking boots.

Source: http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=4353 (it's the first one in this forum).

Genre Analysis:

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Tips provided by: Sarah Bregman