How To Write a Personal Statement That Stands Out
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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.
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:
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.
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.
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..."
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.
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:
Using Wordtune’s suggestion, I can highlight my eagerness to learn and provide examples to support my argument.
This is your chance to shine! A personal statement should highlight your best qualities — provided they relate to your prompt.
- 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.
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.”
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.
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 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.