Thought #19: How to Write a Winning Personal Statement

Perform a quick Google search or read any popular news publication, like Business Insider, and you’ll find stories of inspirational students and entrepreneurs who have leveraged a killer personal statement to gain admission into the most prestigious colleges or secure tens of thousands of dollars of funding for tuition, academic projects, and entrepreneurial pursuits.

Personal statements are a key component of admission applications for most competitive colleges and universities, like University of California and the Ivy League. Sometimes, personal statements are the determining factor in admissions decisions where academic performance and test scores are generally strong across the board for candidates. Moreover, many business and foundations have tons of scholarship and fellowship monies earmarked to spend on promising students, and they use personal statements to determine fit with their mission and goals.

The personal statement can be your secret weapon to college access and career advancement – especially for communities who have been historically underrepresented in higher education and business and who are disadvantaged by generational poverty and disenfranchisement. A good personal statement can demonstrate your originality, passion, and critical thinking skills to application readers and scholarship judges; however, a lot of people (from personal experience) go about writing their personal statement all wrong!

With only 250 to 1000 words to represent who you are and high stakes, it’s important to nail the personal statement and put your best foot forward. For Thought #19, I want to share 3 tips that will take your personal statement to the next-level and produce results.

1. Know Who You’re Dealing With

Before you even begin to write a personal statement, you have to know who you’re audience is, which means you’re going to have to do your research. Most colleges and foundations have mission statements that explain the type of problem they are trying to solve or the result they are hoping to produce with their products or services. Whatever their mission is, you want to know it!

If you know a college’s or foundation’s mission,  you can make a strong argument for how choosing you will advance their mission. While most colleges and foundations are genuinely interested in getting to know students more, they are always trying to evaluate the best fit for their schools and donors, so you want to have some sense of what they are looking for.

2. Share a Slice of Your Life

When it comes to writing a personal statement, it’s paramount to keep it focused and engaging. A mistake that many people make with their personal statements is compiling a “Brag Sheet” or CV – these documents require you to list all your accomplishments and achievements.  Instead, personal statements should be seen as more curated and strategic.

Thoughtfully choose anecdote(s) to answer essay prompts and bring your own authentic experiences to life and captivate your audience. You can use a couple of carefully selected anecdotes to really hone in on personal characteristics and illustrate people, places, things, or opportunities that have been most influential to you, which is what application readers want to see.

To ensure that you are adequately detailing your anecdotes in your personal statement, use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, description, and pacing to tell events and show how you responded to the things that happened.

3. Elaborate, Elaborate, Elaborate!

Application readers and scholarship judges look for depth and complexity of thought in personal statements. It’s not enough to just write a beautiful anecdote; you also need to breakdown and explain to your audience how it answers the prompt/question they’ve asked you. As a result, I want to quickly review elaboration and how to incorporate more into your personal statement.

In terms of personal statements, elaboration describes the process of breaking down, interpreting, and explaining how the chosen anecdote(s) answer a prompt.

Do these three things the next time you write a personal statement, and I guarantee you’ll transform your personal statement from good to great. Cheers writing your personal statement!

If you enjoyed Thought #19, please like or leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you! Also, please subscribe to Thoughts on my website to get notified of new posts.


Author: Kyle Hill

Thoughts is the official blog of Critical Thinkers Consulting. Topics span school, work, and all other phenomena relating to the transition to adulthood.

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