How to write a personal statement that people WANT to read

November 8, 2021

Writing a personal mission statement is easier said than done!

My car was idling at a red light when one of those giant inflatable tubes on a sidewalk caught my attention. Next to the wild waving arms was a huge sign: EVERYTHING MUST GO. Up until that moment, I didn’t have any urge to spend money, but I found myself scanning the parking lot. What must go? Furniture? Clothes? 

This is the type of response you want to get from a personal mission statement or personal essay. Catch the reader’s attention so they feel compelled to read on. 

You’ll need personal statements and essays to apply for colleges, scholarships, loans, jobs, competitions, and so much more. In other words, this is not just a quick high school assignment. 

So let’s take a step back and brainstorm how to write out your story.

Figure out what success means to you

Some introspection is important before you start writing. The folks at Benefit Book put together a helpful video to get you thinking about what success means to you. “Success” boils down to who you want to be (character), and what you want to do (achievements). 

Freewrite about a few of your ideas

There’s no way to fully capture your life, dreams, and goals in a single essay, and that’s okay! Kelly Lamano at Going Merry has a great strategy. She suggests you come up with a few possible essay topics and then:

Start by writing a few sentences or paragraphs about any of your shortlisted topics, and let the words flow. Write for about 15 minutes, on each shortlisted topic.

No judgment on words or clarity. Just write to exercise the muscle and see what sticks. 

Choose one direction and get your first ideas on paper

University of Connecticut’s Writing Center offers this encouragement:

Show how your personal history relates to your goals, and how you’re a good fit for this particular program. If your first attempt looks halting and a little half-baked, don’t worry. The first draft is supposed to look this way.

Don’t worry about perfection. Take the time to blurt out your ideas, knowing you’ll revise, revise, and revise some more. 

How to start the essay

Wait, why are we talking about the start after writing a draft? Once you see the big picture and general flow of your ideas, it’ll be much easier to write an opening. Take the pressure off by saving this step for after you’ve got at least the first draft. 

UCAS is an organization that helps guide students through college and career planning. They have this advice:

One of the dangers of trying to come up with a great opening sentence is that you can end up overthinking it, and going overboard. As one admissions tutor said: ‘Be succinct and draw the reader in, but not with a gimmick.

Finishing the essay

A personal statement may never feel fully complete. That’s normal. But as you review and revise your essay, ask yourself if it’s truly about you, and if it’s uplifting.

If you need some inspiration, check out these written examples

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