The Catholic University of America

Writing Your Personal Statement

First Things First

What is a personal statement?
•    Similar to your college application, it’s an essay addressing your interest in the program and why it’s a good fit for you. Generally there are two kinds of personal statements –

1) Open-ended: Asks a general question.
             Ex: “Why are you applying for this graduate program?

2) Focused: Asks specific questions that you need to address.
             Ex: 1) How does your education, personal, and, professional experiences make you qualified for this program?
               2) How does this program apply to your career goals and aspirations?

NOTE: A personal statement is not the same as a cover letter!


How long should it be?
•    Some essays will give a word count. Ex: In 500 words or less . . .
•    If they do not give stated directions, it can be anywhere from 2-3 pages, typed and double-spaced. It is advised that you do not go over 3 pages. Whoever is reading your statement will likely read so many, he/she will quickly lose interest in your 10-page essay. In this case, less is more.

Getting Started

Your essay will be just one of hundreds read by members of a selection committee. It’s your chance to show them who you are, why you have decided upon this program, and why you are committed to their school.

To help you brainstorm on what to write, here are some questions to consider:
•    Why do you want to apply to this particular graduate school? What do you like about them?
•    What kind of experiences have you had that illustrates your sincere interest for the program? Give some concrete examples.
•    What are your career goals?
•    What are your long-term life goals? How will this experience help you achieve them?
•    How are you unique and different from other applicants?

Now that you’ve considered these questions, include at least 1 or 2 of these factors in your statement:
•    Your personal background (outside influences from family members, teachers, role models, mentors)
•    Your academic background (your major, classes you’ve taken, projects you’ve done, thesis, study abroad)
•    Your non-academic experiences (Examples include your volunteer work, job experience, travel, recreational activities, athletics)
•    Your most significant accomplishment(s) to date, whether it be academic, vocational, athletic.

Don’t forget to demonstrate the following to the selection committee. Through your writing, show that you
•    researched the program
•    thoughtfully considered your reasons for applying to this program

Find Your Voice

•    Review your personal history: You want to reveal facts that illustrate a unique dimension about yourself, or relate to your professional goals. In defining yourself, turn to family and friends for their perspective. Oftentimes, they see things about you that you do not see in yourself.

•    Find an angle: Everyone has an individual style of writing, or a unique way of expressing themselves. Identify yours before you begin writing.

•    Use examples to back up your statements. If you state that you have a strong work ethic, then give an example.

•    Be positive and confident, BUT avoid sounding arrogant or condescending. It's okay to be proud of your accomplishments but don't overdo it.

•    Be articulate and concise: Write for clarity. Develop a theme for your essay, elaborate on it. Make it a point to use active verbs like "organized," "managed," and "researched." Most of all be logical, organize your thoughts, and be specific.

PITFALLS to avoid!

•    Answer the question. Don’t go off on a tangent.
•    Follow the directions. If it states you must keep within 400 words or less, it is not okay to have 410.
•    Go beyond the obvious. It is not enough to write “I’ve always wanted to help people…” Selection committees read this statement all the time, but it does not say anything about you.
•    No misspellings or grammar errors! None. Do not rely on spellcheck. Proof it several times.
•    It is advised you do not write your personal statement hastily, i.e. the night before the application is due. Be prepared to write several drafts before you have the one that you want to use.

Getting Assistance
•    Ask faculty, especially your advisor, to read and critique your document.
•    Seek more than one opinion. Different people will see different things about you.
•    Note – With so many opinions & 2 or 3 drafts, be careful not to let your essay turn into the work of several people. At the end of the day, it is still your essay. Use your words and voice to express yourself.