What is a Personal Statement?


A personal statement, also known as a statement of purpose, is a priority tool used by college admissions teams as a part of the college application process. The personal statement is particularly useful as it essentially serves as a self-manifested demonstration of your unique qualifications. The personal statement also provides a glimpse into your writing ability, creativity, and career goals. Admissions committees look to personal statements to gain insight about you and understand your motivations as they relate to school and career choices.

A successful personal statement should highlight the writer’s achievements, goals, background, and special attributes. A good personal statement also addresses who you are, how you got to this point, and where you want to go.

The personal statement is designed to:

  1. Tell the reader(s) something about you and why you should be accepted to the school that they cannot learn from reviewing your transcripts, test scores, CV, or other materials.

  2. Demonstrate that you can write clearly, coherently and effectively.

A personal statement is required for most college applications including those for admission as an undergraduate, a transfer student, or a graduate student. Personal statements can range in length from 350 words to several pages. Most are between 500 and 2000 words, which means you have limited space to describe your experiences, achievements, and goals.

Generally, personal statements fall into two categories:

1. The general, comprehensive personal statement, which allows you maximum flexibility in terms of what you choose to write about.

2. The response to very specific questions like, “Explain why you’re a good fit for X Program,” that are more frequently used for graduate school statements of purpose and short response essays.

Photo by  Clay Banks  on  Unsplash

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Who reads your personal statement?

So, I’ve seen the question pop up over and over again from applicants wanting to know who is actually reading their personal statements.

For most undergraduate applications, personal statements and the applications overall, are read by admissions office staff members or admissions committee members who have specialized training and experience reading and reviewing college applications. Usually between one and three professional admissions staff or committee members will read your application.

I began my work reading and assessing college applications for the University of Washington as a graduate student, so it’s also not unheard of to have your personal statement read and evaluated by trained student employees or temporary admissions office staff members.

The admissions committees for graduate programs are usually composed of professors and staff members for the program or department you’re applying for. They will want to know why you’re choosing a major in their specific profession and why you think you will do well in it for the long term.

All that being said, it’s nearly impossible to know for sure who will read your application, especially at large universities, so consider that anyone could be looking at your personal statement. This includes people from a range of backgrounds, ages, and belief systems.

Nonetheless, each person who reads your application is working on behalf of the college or university and are eager to accept students who are a good fit. The personal statement is your opportunity to make your case for admission.

Don’t forget to like and share on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Have a question about college admissions, you want answered, submit a question here, and I might pick it to answer on the blog. Be sure to read more tips on writing personal statements and navigating the college admissions process by checking out the Koodoos Blog.

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