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Today, I searched for “personal statement” in Twitter and found many very recent laments about the difficulty of writing one. Many people find the open-ended nature of these statements daunting…or just a plain old pain in the you know what.

One trick to writing a good personal statement/personal essay (or whatever it is called) is to have a strategy or approach. If you think about the purpose of the personal essay, you can devise a story or presentation that will best help you get that internship, job, fellowship or admitted into a certificate or degree program.

The General Purpose of the Personal Statement:
To provide an authentic picture of you and how you are unique

  • Describe experiences and events that shaped your personality
  • Explain your values, goals and the professional/academic/training experiences you seek
  • A personal statement IS
    • A picture of you – now and in the future
    • An invitation
    • An indication of priorities and judgment
    • Your story (authentic)
  • A personal statement IS NOT
    • An academic paper with you as the subject
    • A resume in narrative form
    • A journal entry
    • A direct “please hire me” justification

Below is more advice based on the sources below and my personal experience reading hundreds of applications for degree and summer programs.

Follow instructions.

Every application has instructions for the content of the personal essay/statement (or whatever they call it). Be sure to address specific content and to not exceed the requested length.

Do not only rely on feedback services or examples from other people.

Schools and public health organizations are increasingly using software to catch text that is too similar or matches online examples. (Yes, we can do that.) Examples, are just that. Be careful to not copy their content. Part of the personal in personal statement is that it comes from you and shows your voice, thought processes and experiences.

Demonstrate how you are a good match for that opportunity.

One way to differentiate your application is to talk about how you fit with the organization and why the organization is a great fit for you. 1) Identify your qualifications (strengths, goals, skills), 2) Identify what the employer/school/organization wants/needs, and 3) Showcase how 1 and 2 fit together.

Be specific, but not repetitive.

Do not just reiterate what is on your resume or transcript. If you mention a course you completed, explain how it inspired you to pursue training that would help you eliminate childhood obesity and not just that you did well in a great class.

Pay Attention to Your Writing.

This document can be the first indication the selection or hiring committee has of your voice or personality. Demonstrate good communication skills with 1) correct grammar and spelling, 2) clear and concise writing, and 3) a beginning, middle and end to the presentation (a cohesive “story”).

Other Sources

Definition of a Personal Statement, Mary Hale Tolar
Writing a Personal Statement for Application to a Health Profession School, UC Davis-Health Sciences Advising