6. Start with a strong opening sentence and introduction
The opening sentence and introductory paragraph will set the tone for your personal statement. Will your reader begrudgingly endure your statement or will they read on with interest? It all depends on how you start. A surprising, humorous, touching, or unique opener can win over your reader. Whatever you write, make sure it fits your personality and connects with the rest of your statement.
Coming up with that perfect opening sentence can be a challenge, so take your time. If you’re stuck, you can come back to your opening sentence or paragraph. It’s sometimes easier to write the opening after you’ve reached the conclusion. You can also try deleting the first few sentences, which may be aimless throat-clearing, to see if that creates an energizing introduction.
7. Connect your story to your dream program
Your personal statement should connect your history to your future in your dream program. Explain why you’re applying and how the program will help you achieve your goals. Be specific. Invite the reader to imagine your future with you, and make it memorable—“show, don’t tell.” Consider writing about your intended major, research, or career path; how you discovered your program and what inspired you to apply; and why the experience is important to you. If you’re stumped, try writing about the program’s location, internship opportunities, or extra-curricular activities.
8. Leave some subjects out of your personal statement
With a name like personal statement, you might think there’s no limit to how personal you can be, but that’s a mistake. Unless the prompt from your program specifically asks you to discuss controversial topics such as religion or politics, avoid them. Respect boundaries: don’t overshare. Leave out irrelevant or outdated experience. If you’ve already graduated from college, steer clear of experiences or accomplishments you’ve had in high school or earlier.
Your personal statement should help the reader get to know you and make them want to learn more. Write about your unique achievements, interests, experiences, qualities, or opinions. Avoid irrelevant or inappropriate topics—they won’t make you memorable for the right reasons.
9. Don’t worry about word counts for your first draft
Outlines, lists, unrelated paragraphs—first drafts can take many different forms. However you write your first draft, remember it’s not your final draft, so it need not abide by the word limit or every punctuation rule you’ve ever learned. You just need to get your ideas on paper; expanding on or condensing them can come later.
10. Write in active voice
A personal statement should not read like a long-form, detached summary of your resume. Don’t forget that you’re telling a story. Use the active voice to make sure you’re the star of your story and use action verbs to set the pace and drive engagement. Falling into passive voice minimizes your presence in the story and diminishes the value of your experience, judgment, and decision-making. Use “I” in your sentences and don’t use “allowed,” “gave,” or similar words which make you the receiver of a particular action. Choose dynamic verbs that capture your reader’s imagination; weak, generic verbs won’t hold your reader’s attention or make a lasting impression.
11. Make your personal statement concise
Concise is compelling, so choose your words carefully. When you don’t waste words, you show you’re confident about your message and delivery. Long words, winding sentences, redundant phrases, filler words, and unclear language make you seem uncertain about your story or insecure about yourself. They also slow down reading, which bores the reader and encourages nitpicking about writing style. Focus on clarity and brevity to wow your reader with a captivating personal statement.
12. Choose your editors carefully
You obviously want to choose editors who write well, but it’s also important they know you well. Your friend’s sister’s girlfriend who works as a copy editor might make good grammar suggestions, but she won’t know if you’re writing in your own voice. If an editor encourages you to use long words and jargon, or to take other approaches that don’t come naturally to you, find a different editor. An editor who is a good fit won’t let their prescriptive ideals overwhelm your authentic voice. Don’t get caught up in spelling and grammar errors before you know you’ve expressed the ideas you want to convey. Friend’s sister’s girlfriends, and editing software like WordRake, will be there when you’re ready to polish your draft.
Impress Your Reader with a Polished Personal Statement
The key to writing a good personal statement (or any other document) lies in revising and editing until you create a polished piece that explains why you have applied to a specific school or fellowship. Editing features in Microsoft Word’s grammar checker and spell checker can help, and add-ins like WordRake will suggest ways to clean up and clarify your writing so your message is clear to the reviewing committee.
With WordRake’s help, you can:
- Edit your essay for plain language
- Cut unnecessary introductory phrases
- Improve the pace with shorter words and sentences
- Remove filler words and redundancies
- Correct usage errors
- Detect high-level grammar and punctuation errors
- Stay under maximum word limits
- Write using professional style and tone
Make sure your personal statement shows your personality and your writing skills. Try WordRake on your personal statement (and anything else you write) for the next seven days for free at wordrake.com/trial.
About the Author
Caroline Engle is WordRake’s Marketing Communications Specialist. She convinced WordRake to hire her as an intern after placing in editing competitions and writing a novel in a month. When she isn’t editing or writing copy, coordinating conference logistics, or helping improve WordRake’s functionality, she’s reading, going on ten-mile walks, or looking up flight prices. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.