What is a Personal Statement?

by Ben Frederick MD

on November 13, 2013

Are you applying for a college program or graduate school? If so, you are not alone. Enrollment in college is on the rise—between 1985 and 2010, it spiked 78 percent. That means programs are more competitive, admission is more coveted, and applications have to be more spot-on than ever before.

The Numbers

  • 21 million – The number of students expected to enroll in American universities in 2014, a 6 million increase since the year 2000.
  • 5.5 million – The number of people who will attend private colleges.
  • 4 million – The 18 to 24 year old U.S. population increased by 4 million (from 27 million to 31 million) between 2000 and 2010.
  • 2.6 million – During the 2012 to 2013 academic year, schools awarded over 900,000 associate degrees, 1.8 million bachelor degrees, 750,000 master degrees, and 175,000 doctoral degrees.

How can applicants stand out among the countless others who may have similar academic credentials? The key is the personal statement. This portion of your application is where the test scores, the grades, and the lifeless facts stop speaking for you. This is where you get to describe, in your own words, why you are a strong college program or graduate school candidate.

What is a Personal Statement?

The personal statement is an essay that tells the admission committee members details about the applicant. What’s more, it is an opportunity for you to explain the details of your resume and academic experience. The individual composition should explain why you are suited for this profession, what qualities and qualifications will help you succeed in this field, and how you can cope with the demands of the course study.

Why is the Personal Statement Important?

What’s the big deal with personal statements anyway? If you have earned your decent high school and undergraduate grades, studied hard for admissions tests like the SAT and GRE, and have made an effort to gain relevant work experience, why do admission essays even matter?

We will let a pro answer this. According to Dr. Liza Cariaga-Lo, Assistant Dean, Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, “The personal statement is seriously important, as it is often (in cases where there is no interview requirement) the only opportunity for the student to share information about relevant to the pursuit of graduate study.” In other words, your individual composition is your one shot for admissions committee members to see you as a person, not just a smattering of grades and a modicum of test scores.


The readers are likely asking two questions:

  • Do we want this student in this program?
  • Do we want this person at this university?

A personal statement paints a picture of you and answers these questions:

  • Who am I? - This essay provides a detailed explanation of you as a student, potential scholar, and individual.
  • Who do I want to be? – This composition allows committee members to understand your educational goals and career ambitions.
  • How will I make a contribution? – The personal statement explains what you will contribute to this particular program.

So there you have it, a basic overview of the personal statement.  If you need more help, check out The Ultimate Guide: How to Write a Personal Statement.

About the author:

Ben Frederick MD

My name is Ben. I'm a resident physician and I help future medical professionals write great personal statements. If you need help, check out our eBooks and editing services. Let me know if you have any questions.

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