How to Write a Personal Statement

Around here, we spend a lot of time talking about applications and the writing samples that comprise those applications. For MBA candidates, the focus is on essays and how to both answer a school’s question while also injecting your key message points into the response. Essay writing requires a specific approach, which is an intuitive concept for most applicants, given the specific nature of the essay questions and the variety of issues that matter to individual schools. But what of the personal statement? How do you take a blank page and vague instructions and maximize the opportunity before you? Personal statements also require a specific approach, one that can best be understood as a three-step process.

Before examining the three steps to writing a great personal statement, note that there will always be subtle differences in strategy, depending on the program type. For the personal statement on a law school application, the goal is always to maximize the space in whatever way that circumstances dictate. On a medical school AMCAS personal statement, there is always going to be a “stand out from the crowd” element to consider. For many grad school programs, candidates need to make sure they understand the program in question. You can go right down the list and find a caveat for every type of graduate school. That said, once you account for those nuances, you will always come back to the following three steps:

1. Determine Your Position. Positioning focuses on the major thrust of the personal statement. What is the strength you most want to advertise? The weakness you most need to mitigate? Is there a unique factor you can showcase? What is the one hole in your application that the admissions committee is dying for you to resolve in this space? This can be different for each applicant, but the one thing that is certain is that the personal statement exists for you to tell the reader what he or she needs to know. Forget what you think you should write about or what makes for the best traditional essay