Writing a personal statement is unlike any other part of the college application process. Almost everything else you’re asked to do involves providing the college with basic facts about yourself — information such as your name and date of birth, schools you’ve attended, and jobs you’ve held. None of this allows you to share the intangible qualities that make you a great candidate for admission.
Your personal statement, on the other hand, can be open ended. In many ways, it’s a blank canvas where you have a chance to paint yourself in the way you want colleges to see you.
For many people, this is their least favorite part of the application process. This is understandable, since talking about yourself can be hard. It requires self-reflection, assessing your own strengths and weaknesses, and then sharing these personal details with people you’ve never met. If you haven’t written an essay since high school English class, this task can be even more intimidating.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be so difficult. Follow the steps below and you can be well on your way to writing a winning personal statement.
Read the directions:
Before you do anything else, review what’s being asked of you. As an example, when you apply to Ohio University’s Online MBA program, here’s what the application requests:
“A personal statement discussing your career goals, how the master’s degree will help you achieve those goals, areas or competencies that you expect the program will help you strengthen, and what you plan to contribute to the learning community.”
Some colleges are open ended in what you can include, while others have specific topics they want you to discuss or a finite word count. You don’t want to write the “perfect” 1,500-word essay only to discover the limit is 1,000 words or that you didn’t address one of the questions.
Create an outline:
Once you have a clear idea of what you need to discuss, the next step is to start organizing your thoughts. What are the key points you want to make in your personal statement, and in what order would you like your story to flow? Refer to the instructions to ensure you’re covering everything being asked of you.
Take it one step at a time:
Another benefit of creating an outline is that it can allow you to work on your statement incrementally rather than trying to write it all at once. Think of every section of your outline as a separate block of content.
Here’s an example. Let’s say your outline has four main topics you want to cover: Why you’ve always wanted to own your own business; how an MBA can make you a more effective business owner; what you hope you learn in your MBA program; and your career goals for after you’ve eared your degree.
When you start writing, just focus on the first content block. When that’s in a good place, take a little break and then start working on the second part, and so on. Before you know it, you’ll be done.
Think about what motivates you:
Your educational transcripts are important, as is prior work experience. But a college can only learn so much about you from looking at your GPA or resume. Your personal statement is your best opportunity to explain why you’d make an ideal candidate.
Pursuing a higher education degree is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in your life, and you likely have a great story behind what inspired you to make this decision. Talk about your goals, any challenges you’ve had to overcome along the way, and how earning your degree can help you make a positive impact.
Make your personal statement personal:
This may sound self-evident, but it’s important to remember. Your life experiences are unlike anyone else’s. Let your personal statement reflect this. Rather than using vague phrases and speaking in generalities, tell detailed stories about events in your life that have shaped you, and give specific examples when talking about your goals and what you’re looking to accomplish.
Keep it simple:
Many people think using a lot of fancy words equates to better writing. In fact, the opposite is true. Clear, simple language is easier to understand and more enjoyable to read. Try to stick to language you would use in everyday conversation. You’ll find that you can express yourself more effectively this way and your essay will be a more authentic reflection of who you are.
Take a fresh look:
When you’ve finished writing your personal statement, set it aside for a few days, then reread it. Often, taking a little time away can give you a fresh perspective, allowing you to better see sections you might want to rework, places where you’re using redundant language, or typos you missed the first time around.
Share it with a friend:
We can all benefit from getting a second opinion. After you’re done writing and revising your personal statement, let a trusted friend or family member have a look. They may have some great ideas for how you can make your essay even stronger.
Reach out for support:
As you’re working on your personal statement, you may find that you’re still struggling to get it exactly how you want it. Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance. If you’re considering Ohio University to further your education, know that we have a dedicated team of enrollment experts who want you to succeed and are here to answer any of your questions and help you through the process.
Embrace the opportunity to write a personal statement. It may take you out of your comfort zone, and it may challenge you to think in ways you’re not used to. But it’s worth it. Ultimately, it might end up being one of the strongest parts of your college application — and can help you learn more about yourself in the process.