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How to Write a Personal Statement to Get Into a University

by Soheila Battaglia, studioD

While the transcripts and resume give universities a view of your academic persona, the personal statement provides you a chance to set yourself apart as an individual. This essay should tell a story and communicate to the admission panel your goals, values and strengths. The personal statement should have a clear focus and address your academic and professional goals.


The first step to writing a personal statement for admission to a university is selecting a topic. Schools generally provide students with at least two options from which they can select one. The prompts include writing about a time when you experienced failure, a time when you challenged a belief, the impact of your personal or cultural background on who you are today, and an important accomplishment you have achieved. Once you have selected the topic, you must formulate a thesis statement that clearly states the point of the overall essay. For example, you can write, "After volunteering in medical clinics in Peru, I knew that my life would be dedicated to helping the most needy populations through medicine."


While it is important to be honest in your college essay to provide a more vivid and engaging picture of yourself as an individual, you also want to avoid focusing excessively on your weaknesses and failures. This means that even if you choose to write about a single failure as the topic of your personal statement, you should use the experience to emphasize the lessons you learned and how you grew personally and academically. The goal of the personal statement is to show the admission panel that you are a strong candidate for their university.


No matter how personal the story you are sharing, you should tie in your academic and career goals. Be as specific as possible when describing your aspirations; research the university to which you are applying to name distinct programs, instructors and alumni that relate to your objectives. You want to show the admissions panel that your relationship with the university will be mutually beneficial: The school will help you attain your goals, and your contribution and future success will enrich their institution.

Analysis and Evidence

A key strategy for a successful college essay is narrowing the scope to be able to delve more deeply into the topic, rather than listing several different accomplishments, experiences or goals. Applicants should develop their points through thoughtful analysis and specific evidence. The University of New Mexico advises students to "take a thorough and analytical look at themselves and their objectives." Examples of analysis include describing causes and effects, examining motivations, and explaining the short-term and long-term significance of an idea or action.

About the Author

Soheila Battaglia is a published and award-winning author and filmmaker. She holds an MA in literary cultures from New York University and a BA in ethnic studies from UC Berkeley. She is a college professor of literature and composition.

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