As part of your applications to graduate schools, you will need to write a personal statement. But what is a personal statement? What should you write about? And more importantly, how long should a personal statement be?
A personal statement is important because it allows you to make sure your application stands out from others. It will allow you to show off your biggest achievements in life and what you consider to be your best attributes.
Explore the below tips to learn how to write a strong personal statement and what length you should keep your personal statement at.
What Is a Personal Statement?
A personal statement is an essay explaining your reasons for wanting to enter the coding bootcamp, four-year program, or graduate program you are applying for. It is your chance to tell the school who you are and how you became interested in your field.
In your personal statement, you should show your passion for the subject and motivation behind applying for the program. There should also be an emphasis on storytelling. Schools typically require applicants to write about challenges in their lives and how they have overcome them.
Maybe you are choosing a program that does not align with your previous education, or maybe you do not have specific work experience related to the field. In this case, a personal statement will help you emphasize your strengths and show why you belong in the program.
How Long Should a Personal Statement Be?
It is best to focus on the message you are delivering in the essay rather than the length. Requirements for the length of a personal essay may vary depending on the school to which you are applying. Typically, colleges and coding bootcamps ask for a word count of about 200 to 500.
How Long Should a Personal Statement Be for College?
While you won’t run into this often, you may find the occasional college application to a four-year school that requires a personal statement. If your ideal college requires a personal statement as part of the college application, you should plan on writing around 500 words.
During the application process, you will likely find out the personal statement word limit set by your school. It is important to double-check the requirements set forth by your ideal college because 500 words is simply a ballpark number. Some schools may require shorter or longer essays.
How Long Should a Personal Statement Be for Grad School?
If you are working on a statement for graduate school applications, you can expect to write a bit more than you would for a four-year college. Typically, a grad school application requires a personal statement that is around two to three pages in length.
A personal statement for graduate school is also a bit more serious than one for a four-year college. You’ll notice the entire grad school application requires more application materials in general, like a cover letter. That means you will need to work extra hard to avoid awkward sentences, punctuation errors, and exceeding or not meeting the required length for your personal statement letter.
What Are Schools Looking for in a Personal Statement?
Through a personal statement, schools are trying to get to know you on a deeper level. It is important to include a story about yourself in your statement. It should be related to your personal failures and triumphs.
All the experiences you write about should also be related to your field of study. It’s a good idea to avoid opening your essay with a quote and try not to use cliches or get too creative. You still want to come across as a professional, serious applicant.
The admissions committee will also be looking for your inspiration behind entering your chosen field. They will want to know what made you interested in the specialization. While explaining your interests, do not make the mistake of going back to the beginning of your life, or even to high school. Avoid starting your statements with “I fell in love with …. When I was 8.”
The school will want to find out what personally motivated you to apply. Be honest in your statement and explain why it is an appropriate step on your educational path, and how it will help you achieve your future career goals.
Of course, strong writing skills are crucial to a strong essay. A successful personal statement will show that you can write coherently. Make sure you use correct grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. Ask a couple of family members, friends, or former professors to proofread your essay when you feel you are finished.
There are five universal traits that most schools will be looking for you to demonstrate in your essay:
- Ability to work independently
- Good communication skills
- Time management abilities
- Determination and perseverance
How to Start Off a Personal Statement
If you want to submit a stand-out personal statement letter with your college application, you’ll want to know exactly how to start off a personal statement. The opening sentence is incredibly important to your personal statement essay, as it needs to be clean, clear, and eye-catching.
Throughout each application cycle, the college admissions team will see hundreds of personal statements. Many applicants open their letters with a quote, and while this is not a bad idea, it has become generic. Try starting your personal statement off with a quick and interesting anecdote about a valuable experience that has impacted your desire to enroll in the program.
Any sort of life experience or challenging experience you can think of related to your field of study should go into the essay as early as possible. That being said, don’t cram in all of the relevant experiences you can think of in the first paragraph. If you find yourself doing this, try adding an extra paragraph to your opener.
A killer personal statement should also allude to a few personal characteristics that fit with the field of study. For example, in the law, medical, and philanthropic fields, you may want to start off your personal statement with a quick anecdote about a life experience that displays your ability to logically help others.
How to Start Off a Personal Statement: A Sample
The following sample is tailored to a student applying for medical school:
In 2016, I spent one month in rural Haiti volunteering at a hospital. This was an extremely challenging experience for me, as I saw many people in need of critical healthcare that simply was not available to them. However, it was this experience that helped me decide I wanted to attend medical school and study to become a doctor.
I quickly learned to separate my logical self from my emotional self so that I could help people receive treatment as quickly and efficiently as possible, while also providing reassurance and bedside company to those who needed it.
Writing a Personal Statement Step-by-Step
Writing a personal statement can be challenging. On top of having to explain all of your strengths in one short essay, you will also need to follow the rules and have no grammatical errors. Here are eight steps to take when writing a personal statement:
1. Start Early
Start the process a couple of months before your application is due. Personal statements take a lot of work, especially if you are also balancing other commitments in your life. Setting aside extra time means you will not have to squeeze in hours of work at the last minute. Starting early also allows for careful planning to ensure everything down to the sentence structure is perfect in your finished application essay.
2. Read the Requirements Thoroughly
It is very important to make sure that you understand the instructions fully. Your program will give the information as to what content your statement should focus on, how long it should be, and even how to save your essay.
"Career Karma entered my life when I needed it most and quickly helped me match with a bootcamp. Two months after graduating, I found my dream job that aligned with my values and goals in life!"
Venus, Software Engineer at Rockbot
Some colleges are very specific and will give you a character limit for your piece of writing, while others will be much more relaxed. If you have trouble finding the personal statement instructions, try reaching out to your school’s admissions staff.
3. Brainstorm Ideas
Brainstorm topics you would like to discuss. Common topics for this essay include extracurricular activities, a compelling story, and concrete examples of why you are one of the most qualified students for the program.
This can give you a better shot at admissions by separating you from the other numerous candidates. Figure out how you will present your goals, what the program means to you, and why you are interested in it.
4. Make an Outline
Create a chart or a list of the things you plan to mention in your essay and the order you would like to discuss them. This is the time to develop your personal statement structure. You can find inspiration for your own essay by looking at personal statement examples online.
5. Draft Your Essay
Now, begin writing your admission essay. When you enter this stage, it is entirely okay to write down anything that seems relevant. While you continue to draft, you can take out parts that seem unnecessary. An admission tutor would be very helpful during the actual writing process and can help you become the perfect candidate.
6. Get Feedback
Allow people you trust to read your essay and provide feedback. They will see your writing with fresh eyes and tell you what needs to be fixed. Discussing your essay with people who have read it will help you improve your writing.
7. Edit Your Essay
Now that you have feedback, you will be able to revise and edit your statement based on the responses of people you trust. Look out for sentences with unnecessary information. Personal statements are intended to be short, so if one sentence is not essential, take it out. You can even send your essay to a personal statement editing service.
The last step is to proofread, a lot. Make use of your computer’s spellchecker, Grammarly, and any other resources available to you. Proofread one sentence at a time. Then, allow others to proofread your final draft. If they see a problem, go back one step, then proofread again.
How Long Should a Personal Statement Be FAQ
Typically, personal statements are double-spaced. You may find a college requiring single-spaced personal statements, but unless it is clearly stated, double-spaced is a safe option. If you are really unsure, reach out to your admissions office for guidance.
If your personal statement is too long, review it and remove any information that is not 100 percent necessary. Unless a sentence is providing clear, important information about you as a candidate for the program, it should be removed. You can look up personal statement examples to get a better idea of how yours should be.
Avoid saying anything in your personal statement that is negative or braggy, or that takes the focus away from you. Many students complain about past educational experiences, but if you do this, you will likely have a harder time being accepted into the program. You want to describe positive personal experiences you have had but aim to do so without bragging about yourself.
It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to write a personal statement. It primarily depends on how far in advance you plan your essay, your writing style, and how much time you put into editing and reviewing. Taking some extra time to write this statement is never a bad idea.
About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.