5 Tips for Your Personal Statement If You Aren’t Sure Where to Start

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Summer is here, bringing with it endless hours to spend on exciting (socially-distanced) activities like lazing away on the couch, binging Netflix, learning new hobbies and reading that stack of books you never got around to. But for some students, it brings approaching deadlines for medical school and other graduate programs. If that’s you, you may be facing what is many students’ most dreaded genre (yes, even more than ENG 1304’s Toulmin Analysis Essay)—the personal statement. 

Even though the task of putting your entire heart and soul into a few pages seems pretty hard, the personal statement doesn’t have to be something you dread—it can actually be the key to making you stand out as a candidate, helping give your application the last push that it needs! If you’re currently staring at a blank page, wondering how this thing is ever going to come together, here are a few tips to help you get started.

  1. Start by brainstorming the qualities about yourself you want to show off. Are you passionate about volunteer work? A straight-A student? Into extracurriculars? Have a 5-digit number of followers on your Instagram meme page? You’ll want to show off things that are well-suited to the program you’re applying for, but don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. If you just aren’t sure what to write about, ask friends and family members to list three words that would describe you, and see if there are common trends. After you come up with this list, you can then reflect on your experiences both inside and outside of your academic career that show off these qualities.

  1. Aim for quality over quantity. Getting started on the personal statement can be pretty daunting if you aren’t sure how to squeeze your whole life story in 5300 characters or so. Use your list of qualities from before to come up with just a handful of stories that show off who you are as a person. Although there is probably a lot you could cover, a few detailed examples are easier for your reader to digest and will give you the room you need to fully communicate how an experience impacted you. Getting specific will help you make a lasting impression on your reader!

Sometimes, you have to start writing first before you know what it is you really want to talk about. After trying out a few different examples, if you are unsure which experiences are best communicating who you are, ask someone to see what interests them most!

  1. Show, don’t tell. You’ve already listed your many impressive accomplishments everywhere else in your application–use the personal statement as a chance to share your story with your readers. Instead of saying, “I like to help others,” try proving this with an anecdote that shows how you have already helped others. Use sensory details and emotions to make your story more specific and relatable. The personal statement is your chance to show off your own voice, so let it shine through! Don’t be afraid to use humor when appropriate.

  1. Write, write, and rewrite! Personal statements can be tricky to get just right, but it’s the one place in your application where you can really make yourself stand out as an individual, so it’ s important to get it as polished as possible. It might take a few drafts before it’s ready! If you’re feeling stuck, don’t be afraid to start over entirely, and see what you approach differently when you have a blank page. Then, you can synthesize the parts of each draft that you like most to get to a final product. This might seem a little disheartening at first, but all of the hard work will be worth it!

5. And, of course, make an appointment at the UWC! We’ll be open all summer and we’re ready to help you all summer for synchronous and asynchronous online consultations. We can’t wait to hear all about your experiences and help you get into the school of your dreams!