How to Write a Personal Statement

September 16, 2021

College admission season comes with a lot of things to do, including college essays like the personal statement.

Personal statements are a very common essay prompt for a college application. College essays can be stressful because students know that they are being read to help universities decide whether to accept you into their school or not. 

But don't worry. With this guide you'll learn all about what a personal statement is, the traditional personal statement format, and even see some personal statement examples. 

What is a Personal Statement?

Many college admissions applications will ask for an essay or two. In fact, scholarship applications often ask for scholarship essays too.  They'll usually provide the prompts for these essays and one of the most common college essay prompts is to write a personal statement. This type of essay can also sometimes be called a statement of purpose. 

A personal statement is an essay that outlines your personal reasons for pursuing a certain college or college program. In a way, it's like a college cover letter. It's your opportunity to tell the college admissions office what you most want to say about why you chose this school, this program, and your academic ambitions. 

Personal Statement Format

A personal statement might come with a very open prompt or a very specific prompt. Rather than asking for a personal statement, some college applications will ask a specific question for you to respond to in your essay. This is helpful because it gives you an inside look into exactly what they want to know about you in your personal statement. 

The most important thing you want to accomplish in a personal statement is answering the prompt. Answering the prompt completely and impressing the admissions office is a lot easier when you follow traditional personal statement formatting. Basic college essay format includes a heading, title, opening paragraph, body paragraphs, and closing paragraph. 

Personal Statement Header

The very first thing that should appear in your essay is a header. This header includes basic information that the admissions office needs to distinguish your paper from everyone else's. A basic essay heading should include your name, the name of the college or program, and the date. 

Jane Smith 

University of Michigan

5/5/2025

This header is usually left-aligned at the top of the page. If you want, you could also include the name of the program and your email address to provide more detail. 

Jane Smith, janesmith@email.com

University of Michigan, Fine Arts Program 

5/5/2025

Beware of forgetting to include a header. Not only does this make the admissions office worker's job more difficult, but it looks less professional when a submitted paper has no header. Including this header will also help your paper to be more memorable and distinguishable among all the other essays. This is especially important when you want to give a good first impression that you are a good student and know about college essay format. 

Personal Statement Title 

Adding an essay title is another great way to show that you are a dutiful student and make your paper even more distinguishable among all the many applicants. When your essay has a name, it's easier for readers to remember your essay and thus remember you. 

Art is a Way of Life

The title of your essay should be right after the heading and center-aligned. Don't make it too long or too short. It should also be a good fit with what the essay is about and interesting enough to grab the reader's attention. 

One way to brainstorm an essay title is to think about the prompt and how you could answer that prompt in the shortest amount of words. For instance, maybe Jane Smith's personal statement prompt was, "What does art mean to you?" An answer for Jane might be that Art is a Way of Life. Now her essay not only has a title but a focus as well. 

Personal Statement Opening Paragraph

Much like the general guidelines for a cover letter, the opening paragraph of a personal essay should introduce yourself, reiterate the prompt, and give the readers a glimpse into the heart of the essay. 

My name is Jane Smith and I graduated from high school this year. Now that my high school years are done, I am looking forward to continuing my education at the University of Michigan. Art has been a prominent part of my life from an early age thanks to the encouragement of my teachers and family members. Thanks to their support I've been able to use art throughout all phases of my life, leading me to experience first-hand how much art is a way of life. 

These introductory paragraphs should hook your reader but also serve as a seamless entryway into the rest of your paper. 

Personal Statement Body Paragraphs

The body paragraphs of your college application essay might be the most difficult part of the essay. Here is where you'll want to do the most brainstorming and outlining. You want to completely answer the essay prompt, but you also want to keep your wording as concise as possible so that every sentence is necessary and useful. 

Try providing short stories and real-world examples that help to illustrate and prove your point. For example, maybe Jane remembers a time in her elementary, middle school, and high school years when art helped her understand the world around her. 

When I was in middle school I remember having a hard time with the labs in my science class. But because of art, I had already learned that the best way to learn something new is to watch the artists you look up to and watch how they do it to learn how to do it yourself. 

When I was in high school, I had to write a final paper for the end of the school year and I was struggling with writer's block. Thankfully, from art I had learned that sometimes it helps to step away from a piece you're working on for a bit and come back to it later in order to have fresh eyes. This lesson from art helped me to beat writer's block and finish that important paper. 

An important part of college admission essay writing is to make sure you reread these paragraphs and declutter any unnecessary sentences, words, or tangents. Whatever you do, stick to the point and purpose of the paper. 

Personal Statement Closing Paragraphs

In the opening paragraph Jane introduces that her answer to the prompt is that art is a way of life and her body paragraphs illustrate what she means by that. Let your own personal statement introductory paragraph also introduce the essence of your personal statement. Let your body paragraphs also illustrate this essence in more detail. Then, when you come to the final closing paragraph of your essay, drive your personal statement focus home by summarizing clearly what your examples all mean together. 

The reason I have chosen the Fine Arts Program is because I have a personal understanding of how art can connect to and help with all aspects of life. I want to continue my art education so that I can continue to hone this understanding and some day help others to incorporate art and its life lessons as well. 

Personal Statement Examples

Download a College Essay Template.

We've already outlined a longer version of a personal statement essay above in the essay format sections, but what about when you have a word count limit and need to write a shortened version? Now you really need to make sure every sentence and every word is absolutely necessary to drive your point home. 

Luckily, even in a single paragraph the essay format remains the same, just reduce each paragraph to a sentence or 2 instead. 

  1. Use the first sentence to introduce your answer to the prompt. 
  2. Use the next sentence or 2 to back up your answer to the prompt. Have a specific reason or a short story to back up your answer. 
  3. Drive your point home with the final sentence, reiterating your answer but with more detail now that we know the reasons for your answer. 

For example: 

Art has been a prominent part of my life from an early age and has taught me how much art is a way of life. Art has taught me that the best way to learn something new is to watch the masters at work and learn how to do it yourself through careful observation and study. Art has also taught me that sometimes the answer in life is to take a step back in order to see the bigger picture more clearly. I want to continue my art education so that I can continue to hone this understanding and some day help others to incorporate art and its life lessons as well. 

In Conclusion, 

There's a lot to prepare for when college is on its way. There are college essentials to pack and budgets to make so you can save money in college. Hopefully this college essay guide will help you easily write an awesome personal statement so you can have one less thing to worry about as your first college semester approaches.