How to Start a Personal Statement
Set the scene. Strong personal statements often pick a particular moment and use it to set the "scene" for the rest of the statement. Giving a vivid idea of what you felt, thought, and experienced in that moment can help introduce you to your readers.
- For example, you might begin a personal statement for medical school by talking about a particular moment in which you realized you wanted to be a doctor.
- If you are interested in a particular subject, you might start with an anecdote about how you became interested in it, or a particularly exhilarating moment when you got to explore something about your subject.
Tell a personal story. The strongest personal statements provide insight into your own life. Basing your statement in your own experience allows the readers to learn more about whether or not you'd be a good fit for their program.
- Use your opening as a springboard for the rest of your statement.
- Think about how your experiences brought you to this application process. What stands out in your memories that the application's readers might want to know?
- The best essays share someone's own personal growth, difficulty, strength, or confidence, all of which people experience in very different ways.
- Consider the examples here: http://www.cmu.edu/hpp/apply-to-schools/personal-statements/samples.html. Both of these essays, while very different, make a deeply personal connection between the authors' lives and their desire to study in a particular program.
Try for an element of surprise. Readers of applications read hundreds of personal statements every year, and
many of these use the same openings. Try for something unexpected or surprising to catch your reader's attention.
- For example, you could start by describing yourself already working in your desired career. What would you be doing, and why?
- You may even try an opening that says you have not always wanted to be a doctor/lawyer/professor/etc. This will allow you to show your development over time and could be a more interesting opening for readers.
Use concrete language. Starting your personal statement by saying something like "I have been interested in archaeology since I participated in an internship program" is vague and general. Instead, try to use concrete, detailed language to give your readers a vivid picture of your thoughts and feelings: "Kneeling in the dirt hunched over a delicate fossil, I realized that even though I was sunburned and aching from the long hours of meticulous labor, this was where I was meant to be."
Keep your writing formal, not stiff. Your writing should sound friendly and natural. Keep your wording concise, and avoid using overly complex wording when you can. Avoid unexplained jargon and "SAT" words -- these don't make you look more intelligent, they make it look as though you don't know your audience.
- If you love the topic you'll be studying, allow this to come through in your writing.
- Incorporating quotes can help you articulate your theme. You can use quotes to accentuate your point, add humor, or provide insight. However, avoid relying too much on others' words -- the committee wants to know who you are.
Category: Personal statement