Find a grad school personal statement here, an undergraduate personal statement here, and a sample summer internship personal statement here.


  1. Write for a busy reader. The reader reads countless letters and statements. They often don’t read carefully, so the key ideas must be easy to notice as the reader scans.
  2. Organize by theme rather than chronology. Tie the themes to what you think your reader is looking for in a candidate.
  3. Show, don’t tell. Prove that you’re passionate rather than just saying “I am passionate about x.” Use distinctive details to create a statement that no one else could write. You’ll need to do multiple drafts to discover those details.
  4. It’s hard to put yourself in the reader’s shoes, so ask others to read it for you.
  5. Plan on doing multiple drafts: First the writer’s draft to discover your themes and details; Then the reader’s draft to convince a busy reader.

The Writing Process:

First do Writer’s Drafts to discover what you want to say; then do Reader’s drafts to craft how best to say it. Finally, and only at the end, double check for correct punctuation, spelling, etc.

The Writer’s Draft — finding your themes

[1] List your strengths and possible themes, [2] Look for supporting examples and details [3] Decide how to organize the information

Finding Strengths and Themes

  1. List your qualities: e.g. patience, curiosity, detail-oriented, self-discipline, initiative, grit.
  2. List your experiences such as academic, volunteer, summer, jobs.
  3. List skills that are important to the reader: e.g. software programs or instrumentation, writing or communication, teamwork, critical thinking.
  4. List your goals if you get what you’re applying for.

Showing not Telling–finding supporting details

  1. Find supporting details for each of the strengths, experiences, or skills listed above.
  2. Experiment with different ways to convey your commitment. Having a lot of experience doesn’t add up to loving what you do. Saying “I’m passionate” doesn’t prove that you really are. Coming from a family who pursued the same path doesn’t mean that this is the right path for you.

Organizing and Drafting

  1. Use an introductory and concluding paragraph. Have a sort of elevator speech, a thesis, in each.
  2. Arrange the information in the body around 3-4 themes.
  3. Check that you’re not repeating your details and that you have enough support. If there are problems, rearrange.

Writing the Reader’s Draft–Highlighting your key points

  1. Revise the introductory paragraph. You may find your best statement of your purpose in the conclusion. Move that sentence up top. Consider the opening sentence. How can you hook the reader?
  2. Revise the topic sentence of each paragraph. There should be a clear topic sentence–you may find this at the end of the paragraph as a concluding sentence. Paragraphs don’t need concluding sentences, but they definitely need great first sentences. The top of the paragraph is the most important real estate. That’s where all readers’ eyes will land. They may or may not read the rest of the paragraph.
  3. Check the coherence of the sentences in the paragraph. Does each sentence connect clearly to the next? Do all sentences relate to the paragraph topic? A certain amount of repetition is important for coherence. You need to link the first part of each sentence with what you’ve already talked about. The first part of each sentence should feel like ‘old information’ because it links to what you’ve already said. This often means that you need to reverse the order of ideas in the sentence.
  4. Add transitions from one paragraph to the next. Make the relationships between paragraphs obvious. Do NOT use terms like “First, Next” or “Besides” or even “However, Therefore” to make paragraph transitions. Using subordinate clauses works best. E.g. Because of … (summary of the previous paragraph), I decided to … (topic sentence of new paragraph).
  5. Revise the concluding paragraph. It’s ok to transition with “In conclusion.” Reiterate your elevator speech, then add a request for action, such as an interview or request for admission.

Check Format & Style

With a Writing Center Consultant, check that your letter or statement has:

  1. Formal but personal “voice”
  2. Specific, relevant details
  3. Active, confident tone
  4. Clear purpose and contact information
  5. Error-free sentences