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How to Write a Better Personal Statement for College Entry
by Brian Konradt

With the possible exception of your thesis, your personal statement is probably the most important piece of writing that a university or college will require you to produce before you graduate high school.

1. What is the personal statement?

The personal statement is an autobiographical essay, designed to showcase you in the most accurate and most appealing way to your prospective graduate school. It represents an opportunity to demonstrate your intellect and personality, and to present your principal attributes. Your personal statement needs to convince the "College Selection Panel" to grant you that all-important place before your fellow students.

2. Where do you start?

Begin by planning. Spend some time reflecting on who you are as a person, how you, as a person, come across to other people, and how you wish the College Selection Panel to perceive you.

This is your chance to package your academic achievements into the context of "you" as a person. Consider how you have handled opportunities and obstacles during your lifetime.

Your personal statement essay must focus on two key elements: how it provides evidence of your achievements (in a way that you have not addressed elsewhere on your application form) and how and why these events have shaped you academically.

3. How long should your personal statement be?

A typical personal statement consists of two pages, no less and no more. You can choose a 12 or 13 point typeface, and use a 1-1/2 line space between sentences. A page might contain between 380-450 words.

4. Introductory paragraph

Begin your personal statement with an introductory paragraph that sets the tone for your statement. The introductory paragraph must hook the reader--so choose your words carefully. Keep your sentences concise but make every word count. If you find yourself struggling with your introduction, then put it aside and start with the main body of writing. Even though the introduction sets the tone for the whole piece, you can focus on the main body and see where it goes. Then you can return to the introductory paragraph to write those all-important first lines.

5. Body paragraphs

Plan out how your theme develops, then work towards achieving this in two to four paragraphs of body text. This is where you will expand your theme and tell your story, leading your reader with you on a journey through to its conclusion. Ensure each paragraph builds upon your ideas and transitions strongly to and from the next. Include accomplishments that make you proud of yourself (and will make other people proud of you), and explain why this is. Include incidents that show a level of responsibility or problem-solving; advantages and disadvantages that you have faced; and how you overcame some form of adversity.

6. Be reflective

The ideal personal statement contains several key elements to make it work, and one of the most important elements is reflection. Make sure your statement shows that you have thought carefully and gained a sense of perspective on your position, your influences, and your goals. Aim for quality not quantity – a good statement will address a few key aspects in the context of you and your application. Less is more so make it count.

7. Focus on good writing

Whoever reviews your personal statement does not want to see any errors. Do the obvious: make sure you use correct grammar. Never abbreviate words, or write informally. Never submit anything without running it through a spell check. Check instructions carefully to make sure your essay conforms to specific requirements such as paper size, margins, line spacing, and so on.

8. Be informed

Write your essay with your acquired knowledge of the major or college you are applying to at its very heart. A personal statement is not a one-size-fits-all piece that you can apply to any given circumstance. Course content and focus may differ subtly or not so subtly from one university to the next, and each college has something different to offer its students.

9. Proofread, proofread, proofread!

Read and re-read your finished work with a critical eye for detail, as well as for its content. And don’t trust in your own abilities, no matter how strong a student you are. Ask trusted friends, colleagues or family to read your essay and give their view – you never know what gems they might contribute, nor what elusive errors they may spot.

10. Believe in Yourself

Be confident and believe in your abilities and you will succeed. Believe that you are the best of the bunch and focus your essay on demonstrating that in a measured, concise and intelligent way. Keep these tips in mind as you write your personal statement and you are sure to find success.

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