Writing a Personal Statement for Transfers, Veterans, Grad Students, and Job Seekers


As you apply for college programs at various points in your life, your personal statement should differ as a result. Admissions committees expect a personal statement for a transfer student to be much different from a college admissions essay from an incoming freshman student. With that in mind, here are some unique considerations to keep in mind when writing personal statements as an undergrad, transfer, veteran, graduate school applicant, or job seeker.

Writing a personal statement for undergrad

When applying for undergraduate admission, you should primarily focus your essay on what has shaped your interests throughout your life, specifically over the last four years of high school. You should also focus on your academic studies and experiences in high school as well as how they’ve prepared you for a college-level curriculum. Another important topic you should write about for your essays is how you will fit into the culture of the college and what unique attributes you’ll bring to campus. For diversity and supplemental statements focus on your community, personal identity, and any adversity you’ve experienced in your life.


Writing a personal statement for veterans

As an active-duty veteran, I’ll be the first to say that in the military we get accustomed to writing in a very specific military-style, which is characterized by communication of the bottom line up front and a focus on informing the reader. This concise and straightforward style is essential for military communications, but doesn’t work well for writing personal statements that are meant to be somewhat creative and introspective. So for veterans, remember to inject your personality into your writing and ditch the objectivity characteristic of the military writing style. Further, most college admissions committees are comprised of civilians with little experience working with military personnel or reading military correspondence. So avoid using military jargon or translate military speak to the civilian equivalent.

Some schools might also expect you to discuss your military service and how those experiences have influenced your educational and career goals. I recommend including this type of information in your personal statements in so far as you would with any other job you’ve had in the past, especially if the experience has been a significant part of your life over the last few years.

Writing a personal statement for transfer students

As a transfer student, you should have a bit of a different focus for your personal statement than the average high school senior. For instance, you might want to discuss the specific reasons you wish to leave your current college/university or program of study. You might also devote space in your statement to explaining your current academic interests and what prerequisites you will complete before transferring.

Personal statements from transfer students should reflect the experience and maturity of someone who has already attended college. It should also demonstrate your understanding of the effort it takes to pursue a college education, and balance competing demands in a university setting.

For transfer students, the college application essay is also your opportunity to take responsibility for less-than-perfect grades, recognize academic challenges, and explain the steps they have taken to conquer them.

Writing a personal statement for graduate school.

Often, the readers of your graduate school statement of purpose want to see you answer three general questions:

  • Why them?

    Your graduate school admissions essay should hone in on the specifics of why you want to study in the program you’re applying to. Why are you applying to this school, department, internship, or program and not some other? What is special about them? Are there specific professors you’d like to work and conduct research with and why? What are your connections to the program’s location?

  • Why you?

    What is special about you? What is in your background, interests, or achievements that shows you are an ideal candidate? Remember though that grad schools, more than undergrad program, also expect to benefit from having you as a student, so it’s important to also explain how you will contribute to the culture, reputation, and work of the program through your research and leadership activities.

  • Why now?

Grad school admissions committees and department heads are also hoping to understand why you’re applying at this point in your life, whether that is straight out of undergrad or after a 10-year career. More importantly, they want to know how the decision to pursue a graduate education right now fits in with your long-term goals?

Your answer to these questions should continuously circle back to how studying in the program will help you attain your academic and career goals.  

Writing a personal statement for a job or internship

A personal statement for a summer job or internship will differ than a personal statement for college admissions in that it should stress the qualifications that will make you successful in the workplace or lab. Your focus for these essays should be on the skills, experiences, and education that makes you a good fit for the job. Include content that explains the personal strengths and traits that have prepared you to be successful in the position you’re applying for.

My recommendation is to take the job listing, list out the key attributes and skills the position calls for, and to focus your essay narrative on describing the particular experiences and learning that has prepared to fulfill those criteria.