personal statement

The Do’s & Don’ts of Writing a Personal Statement

You probably already know that personal statements are commonly used during the college admissions process. But, did you know that many scholarship programs require them, as well? Unlike your résumé or essay, this component of your application is often used by committees to get a better understanding of who you are as a person. Think of it like an extended Super Bowl commercial where you have a limited amount of time to grab your reader’s attention. If you have all the right elements, your reader will be interested in learning more about you, which may lead to an interview, or better yet…winning the scholarship!

start hereStarting the process is often the most difficult step. It’s a good idea to just write freely at first. Think about the story of your life — past, present, and future. It may even help to create a timeline of events or organize ideas by category, such as family background, personal achievements, academic and career goals, as well as other important details that make your story unique. Once you have a few pages, read through them and see which events stand out. Take two or three, and expand upon them. Pay close attention to the tone of your writing, as well. What does it say about you to the reader? You want to come across as confident but not conceited. It’s also a risk to dwell on too many negative events as the reader may feel you are trying to use the ‘pity me’ card to gain favor. Here are a few other do’s and don’ts to consider when writing your personal statement.


Write from the heart
Define a central idea or theme
Highlight your strengths
Include your interests and goals
Tell a story
Sell yourself
Be honest
Share overly personal details
Use clichés or quotes
Boast too much
Write a list of accomplishments
Begin with “Hi, my name is…”
Make promises you can’t keep
Embellish or lie









Do you remember when your grade school teacher told you to ‘show’ your story and not to ‘tell’ it? That applies here, as well. The elements should flow together and paint a clear picture of who you are as a person and a student. If you want to make sure you’re on the right track, Carnegie Mellon University has two sample personal statements that are good examples of how to incorporate all the necessary elements into a concise, well-written story.

cat imposterOne Last Thing

Before you submit your final draft with your scholarship application, set it aside for a few days and come back to it with fresh eyes. This will not only help you catch any grammatical errors you may have made, but also help you improve upon the overall piece. It’s also a good idea to let a few teachers, mentors, or friends read over your work, as they can provide valuable feedback. Be sure that your personal statement meets all the necessary requirements, as well. Did you answer all the prompts? Is it within the word count allowed? Are you using the proper font and text size? A well-written personal statement that doesn’t follow the rules is like trying to enter a dog in a cat show. It may look amazing, but it won’t be eligible to win anything.

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Tamara is the Social Media Coordinator and a regular writer for, and She enjoys helping students prepare for college. As a mother of four, Tamara has first-hand experience with many areas of education, including special needs (autism), the International Baccalaureate program and post-secondary education. She enjoys speaking at schools and mentoring others online. In her free time, Tamara enjoys volunteering and supporting her favorite football team, the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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