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University Writing Center

SWC 9: Writing Personal Statements for College Admissions

Dynamic PDF: SWC 9: Writing Personal Statements for College Admissions

What is a personal statement?

A personal statement is a way to introduce yourself to a college admissions committee. It helps the admissions personnel get a better idea of an individual’s qualifications, goals, values, and fit for the program.

Is there more than one type of personal statement? Yes.

Open-ended prompts:

  • These allow applicants to decide the direction(s) they want to take.
  • Prompts may include broad questions like:
    • Why do you want to attend this university?
    • What are your goals?
    • What is something you value and why?
  • Prompts may also remain general while providing slightly more structure:
    • “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.”[1]
    • “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?”[2]

Specific prompts:

  • These allow applicants to respond to a specific topic, issue, or question such as:
    • What is a book you love? How has it impacted you? In what way(s) do you identify with the text/characters?
    • What extracurricular activity has had a significant impact on your life?
    • Is there a particular moment in your life that has made you who you are today? What was the moment, and how/why did it impact you?

What is the process for writing a personal statement?

  • Brainstorming:
    • Take your time and evaluate multiple writing options/paths
    • Remember the purpose: to portray yourself accurately, to highlight your strengths, and to explain why you are an ideal candidate
    • Keep the personal statement parameters in mind including word count (You want to choose a topic that you can fully cover.)
    • Keep the audience in mind and consider how you will build ethos (your credibility)
    • Consult our brainstorming handout: COM 4: Brainstorming
  • Outlining:
    • After selecting a primary topic, form a preliminary thesis statement to guide your personal statement
    • Next, decide your subtopics that support the thesis
    • Organize these subtopics in a logical way (e.g., chronological, order of importance, etc.)
  • Drafting:
    • Using your outline, begin writing your personal statement section by section
    • While drafting, ensure your focus remains clear (thesis statement) and your points are well supported (topic sentences and supporting information)
  • Revising:
    • Ensure you have adequately explained your ideas to your audience
    • Receive feedback from multiple sources (UWC tutors, professors, etc.)
    • Focus on the content during this stage (grammar can wait):
      • Is there information you should omit?
      • Have you adequately supported all of your main ideas/sub-topics?
      • Did you sufficiently address the prompt?
      • If you were on the admissions counsel, what would your impression be?
  • Editing:
    • After revising, begin editing for grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, word choice, and typos.
    • Consult our editing handout: COM 11: Editing Strategies
  • Submitting:
    • Ensure that all application documents meet the institution’s criteria
    • Convert all documents to PDFs (unless otherwise specified)

Final tips for a successful personal statement:

  • Do:
    • Tell your audience specifically what you mean through descriptions and details
    • Write about a topic that truly represents you or something that you care about
    • Be genuine and detailed in your descriptions
    • Honor your authentic writing voice and consider word choice that fits the rhetorical situation
    • Remember that typos will stand out
  • Don’t:
    • Use clichéd statements that make your writing vague or impersonal
    • Force a topic that doesn’t fit with you or your life, interests, or goals
    • Exaggerate or be redundant in your writing
    • Use words you don’t know, slang, or profanity
    • Forget to proofread and get feedback



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