Dos and Don’ts of Personal Statement Writing

Here are a few handy dos and don’ts to keep in mind as you move through the planning and writing stages.

DON’T simply list your achievements on paper. Be aware that there are lots of applicants with strikingly similar academic experiences as you. Sticking to those and those only will not make you stand out. What will make you sparkle and shine is what other applicants don’t share with you—voice and unique perspective. These are distinct characteristics that you (the graduate applicant) possess.

DO research each individual program and school to which you are applying. Then address the program specifically in your personal statement. A uniform, untailored composition used for multiple applications is easy for admissions officers to sniff out, and the conclusions that they will draw about you will not be flattering. Be sure to discuss that specific program and answer every question in that particular program’s essay prompt.

DON’T talk about irrelevant personal details. Sure, you may have an impressive stamp collection, be an all-star athlete, or love Yosemite National Park. While these are all interesting details, they don’t directly strengthen your case of why you would make a fantastic graduate school student.

DO proofread. Small errors will kill even the most stimulating and well-organized personal statement. Have others read your writing and offer constructive criticism—chances are, they will catch things that you overlooked. The need for spotless, pristine writing cannot be stressed enough.

DON’T ignore flaws that appear elsewhere in your application. For example, say you received terrible grades one semester during your undergraduate years. Instead of leaving the evaluators of the application to wonder why that happened, the personal statement may be a good place to address that flaw and even show how the situation made you a stronger, more qualified candidate for graduate study.

If you need more help, check out The Ultimate Guide: How to Write a Personal Statement.

Writing a Personal Statement?


Ben Frederick M.D.
Co-Founder
During my fourth year of medical school, I was faced with writing yet another personal statement, this time for a radiology residency. I'm not a strong writer, but after sending my personal statement to our founding editor, Sam Dever, I had to turn down interviews because I was getting too many. True story!

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