Regional College Access Center


The Personal Statement: Basic Tips

What is a personal statement?

What are the qualities of a good personal statement?

What should the personal statement include?

What are the requirements of the personal statement?

How can I get started?

What are some tips to writing a powerful personal statement?

Essay #1

Through seven-year-old eyes I watched in tenor as my mother grimaced in pain. I held her hand, wiped her forehead with a cool wet towel, and longed for the pain to subside. All our long discussions, all the maternity books, all the studied fetus pictures, did little to prepare me for the birthing process. During the long labor I frequently walked out of the room, pacing, torn between fear and loyalty. My two younger sisters were with Grandma, away from chaos, and although my parents thought I was sufficiently mature to watch the birth of my brother, I was frightened. Blood, screams, breathing techniques, tight squeezes on small hands, and later smiles, a beautiful baby, sisters crowding, coos, and laughs made my first experience with obstetrics one of the most memorable and unique experiences of my life.

Later on, two more sisters joined our family. Being in a home with five women instilled in me a deep sense of empathy and listening skills that would later be necessary for me in a field where the presenting symptoms and problems would never be personally experienced. From an early age I was exposed to a full range of women's health issues which now allows me to discuss these issues in an open and comfortable manner in a variety of clinical settings. Having a sister with Down syndrome gave me many opportunities to educate others from a young age, which has since developed into a strong desire to be in an environment where education and teaching are prevalent. Coming from a large family, there are differing passionate views of everything from religion and politics down to how to cook a turkey, which conditioned me to be a team player, overcoming differences and obstacles to reach a common goal. Ultimately growing up in this environment helped me develop the interpersonal skills and characteristics necessary to succeed as a physician. Being a new 3rd year medical student on the surgery service, it didn't take much time to realize that a man lying in bed, writhing in discomfort, doesn't want to hear the common greeting "How's it going?" I found myself avoiding the phrase in the hospital, it being inappropriate where pain and death were so prevalent. Nine months later, walking into an exam room, my tongue slipped and the taboo greeting came out. However this was different. As smiles and greetings were exchanged, questions asked and answered, plans for futures shared, concerns addressed, and potential baby names revealed, I realized these prenatal visits were the most positive clinic experiences I'd had.

Obstetrics and Gynecology has much to offer and although challenges are a part of any medical field, I enjoy working with a patient population where health and new life are prevalent. I was surprised at the powerful emotions I felt while delivering a child. I enjoy the moments of intensity that every birth and every c-section offer. The various and interesting gynecologic surgeries and procedures appeal to my desire to be in a surgical field. I appreciate the clinics where patient relationships are established and maintained. Despite being told my gender didn't belong and discouraging accounts of the litigation environment, I can't deny the affinity I feel towards Obstetrics and Gynecology. Ultimately the benefits far exceed the small hesitations, and as I further evaluate this field I believe my characteristics and skills, developed since childhood, will help me give back to this unique patient population

Essay #2 - My Hill - Stanford University

I am pumping my arms, trying to keep my legs moving. I feel lightheaded and frail needing to catch my breath, but I am only half the way up. I will not stop. I will keep going and going until I reach the top. These are some of the feelings I get as I am running up my hill. The community of El Sereno, which I live in, is full of hills. The biggest one with the antennae on top is "my hill." I use it to work out, to reflect upon things and just to be alone. As I am running up my hill, I remember how hard my mom has worked all her life for my sister and me. I remember playing basketball as a fifth grader amongst teenagers and grown men, learning to believe in myself and to stay on the right path. When I reach the top I look around and appreciate the beauty, tradition and all the hard workers of my community. I realize that I am part of it. I must contribute to the tradition and give back.

Sometimes I feel that I am not in tip-top shape, but I know I must be to play all my sports. At these times I say to myself, "Let's hit the hill." I have to work the hardest. That is just how I am. This comes from my mom. I always think of her when I am running my hill. She is the hardest worker I know. I remember the times we got off the bus at 10 o'clock at night coming from downtown LA after a full day of shopping for the things my mom sold throughout the week to support us. We would still have to walk about a mile as my mom carried my little sister and a bag in one arm and held me by the other hand while I carried another bag. Besides earning a living, my mom went to school to learn English. She has gone to school for as long as my sister and I to try to earn her high school diploma. Even though it has been a tough road, she has never given up. I take that feeling with me going up my hill and in life.

Another reflection I have when I am on my hill is of when I was a fifth grader playing basketball every day at my elementary school until it was too dark to see anything. All the older guys would come and play too. They tossed me around, but it made me tough. I will not be afraid of anything after playing with them. It was a great challenge, and I love challenges. They taught me to believe in myself and never let anything put me down. They were not the greatest of role models as they did drugs and basically did not have a future, but they always talked to me as if I was their little boy. I could have ended up like them as other childhood friends have, but I just took the advice and stayed on the right path. One guy told me, "Keep on practicing and one day you can make it to the NBA." I probably will not be a professional basketball player, but just the belief that they had and actually still have in me has given me the boost to always excel. Being on my hill helps me reflect upon what has shaped me in my community.

On top of my hill I can see all of El Sereno on one side and the rest of Los Angeles on the other. I love to look at my community, especially my high school. My high school represents the place in which I live. It represents the whole community, as it holds our future. It also holds our past, as many of our teachers are Wilson alumni. It is a great tradition at our school that allows our teachers to teach with more passion since they are back to where they started. They really want to help our youth and that is what makes the place where I live special. It has shaped me to look at life as a mission to help people succeed. It has given me a positive outlook that has motivated me to give back to my community as much as I can as I get older.

My hill gives me my motivation, lets me reflect on my past and lets me see the future. It is a long journey in life as it is a long run up the hill. My hill starts off pretty easy, although I cannot see how far it is or where exactly I am headed because of the tall grass. Eventually though, I see the top and what path I have to take to get there, but I realize I still have a long way to go. I face obstacles and doubts, but I do not let them stop me. I am determined. When I get to the top, always knowing that I will, I feel unstoppable. I know the hard work will pay off.

Essay #3 - What Not To Do

I want to make my personal statement for enrollment in your college program for Special Education something different. i think the best way to do this is very clear. It does pay to be open and honest at all times. Especially being honest and open with you on all fronts too. Why do I want to be a student in your individual teaching program of education a whole lot? Well, I'm going to give you the best answer I can, which does come straight from my heart and soul. I love to teach, and I learned this at a very early age. At the young age of only five, I was playing teacher in my bedroom, and my dolls and stuffed toys were my only students. Also, when Grammy Emma would visit, she would also lovingly be one of my students too. Everyone in the family knew then that I would be a teacher someday. This is why I am now applying for educational instruction in your special education program.

I have just always loved to learn. Going to school for me was a real adventure. Every discovery, I did make via training, was something that I added to my own personal collection of learning as I grew up from child to adult. I think the desire to teach was something that started very early on, when I was in kindergarten. It began the moment, I learned how to interact with other kids of my age, and then developed a real love for wanting to learn. School proved to be a very fun place for me in every way. I just loved being in the classroom. I was very unlike other children, some of whom didn't like school, all that much. It seems that I was born to be in a classroom, don't ask me why. Maybe all of these things were a clear indication that I was meant to be a teacher someday.

Why do I want to teach special students the most? Well, the answer is very clear on this, and it is because special students need that little special touch when it comes to learning. I have the patience, the willingness, as well as a great love to want to teach these very exceptional students. This is because they do need the most caring of all instruction possible, and I can do that kind of teaching the best because it will be coming from my heart. Exceptional students are indeed outstanding in every way. They need all of understanding, as well as the most caring of all instruction, which a dedicated and devoted teacher can give them. I want to be that very special teacher, to these so very needing students, in all the ways that count the most.

Teaching special children requires a different kind of instructor. I think that I can be that very kind of teacher if given the chance. So, please do consider what I have said here, and do approve my application for continued learning in your unique program of study for those who desire to be teachers

Personal Statement - Peggy Jenkins - April 4, 2009

How to set an opening hook: Some examples

Use of quote:

"Margaret: What a wit you are." These words from my freshman writing teacher, Miss Dryden, written in red ink at the top of my essay, made me want to be a writing teacher myself.

Use of a story:

The summer after my freshman year in high school, I was walking alone one evening at sunset. I remember watching the sun sinking low in the sky as I suddenly had this thought: when I am an English teacher, I will have an apartment of my own and take long walks every night after school." Except for wanting to lead African safaris when I was ten years-old, and then at twelve years-old wanting to be a US Senator, I had never had such a clear thought before in answer to the frequently asked question "What do you want to be when you grow up." I still wonder to this day how I had such a clear vision for my future that summer I turned fifteen.

Use of a question:

What do you want to be when you grow up? Since the days I played school on the driveway of my house, I had from time to time wondered if I would grow up to be a teacher. Of course I also thought about leading safaris or serving on the Supreme Court. But after I gave a book report to my freshman English class, I realized how much fun it would be to be in front of class talking about books every day.

Personal Statement 5 Minute Drill

Student Name:_________________

In 5 minutes answer the following 3 questions. Don't think too much about getting it "right'", just write what comes naturally.

1. List some of your strengths and weaknesses.

2. State a positive quality you would like to share in a message to a college or scholarship committee in the sentence "I am a very person."

3. Quickly list 5-7 specific events or moments in your life that demonstrate 1) how you learned to be the kind of person you named in #2 or 2) showed that you are the kind of person you named in #2.

4. Bonus: name an object that symbolizes who you are/ your positive quality and explain why.

Sample Essay Questions from Real Colleges

Directly or indirectly, application essay questions ask for a story with a message — with you as the main character. As you look at each question, consider what kind of personal experience (academic, extracurricular, personal) and what time frame (past, present, future) it's asking you to draw upon. Keep in mind that if you're writing about the future, it's best to make connections to the past or present as well.

  1. Personal statement: focus on one aspect of your life not evident from your academic record, and tell us about it
  2. Write a page of your own autobiography
  3. Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you and describe that influence
  4. How do you see your world of 2020?
  5. Describe how a song, poem, piece of art, book, etc. influenced your life
  6. Evaluate a significant experience or achievement that has special meaning to you.
  7. Describe a situation in which your values were challenged
  8. Pick a recent event and relate it to a turning point in your life
  9. Relate your future goals to studying at our school
  10. Describe your most rewarding or unrewarding educational experience