What is a Personal Statement?

By | August 24, 2020

In addition to SAT or ACT scores and proficiency test scores , a personal statement is a mandatory part of many applications for US universities. In this text, we will explain what, in fact, a personal statement is, why universities use this form of assessment and the types of personal statement that exist. Come on?

The terminology can be confusing if you’re not familiar, so let’s start by defining a few terms:

  • Personal statement– an essay you write to show the evaluators of the college’s selection process who you are and why you deserve to be admitted to that institution. It is important to note that, unlike the “college essay”, this term is also used for application essays for graduate students.
  • College essay– basically the same as a personal statement, but aimed only at the undergraduate field.
  • Essay prompt– a question or statement that your personal statement must answer.
  • Supplemental essay– an extra essay, specific to the school or program, in addition to the main personal statement.

Many colleges only request an essay. However, other institutions ask the candidate to respond to several prompts or send additional essays, in addition to the main personal statement.

What is a personal statement

Why do universities ask for a personal statement?

There are a few reasons why colleges ask applicants to submit a personal statement , but the basic idea is that this document provides more information about you, especially who you are in addition to grades.

1. Understand your personality

The most important role of the personal statement is to give evaluators a sense of your personality and what you could add to the academic community. Are you curious? Ambitious? Careful? These types of qualities will have a profound impact on your college experience, but are difficult to determine based on your high school grades. Basically, the essay contextualizes your application and shows what kind of person you are in addition to your test scores and scores.

2. Assess your writing skills

A secondary objective of the personal statement is to help colleges verify that you have the skills necessary to succeed in class. The personal statement is your best chance to showcase your writing, so take the time to create a text you’re really proud of.

That said, don’t panic if you’re not a great writer. Evaluators just want to see if you can express your ideas clearly. However, your writing should not include any spelling or typing errors.

3. Explain problems with your application

For some students, the essay is also a chance to explain the factors that have affected their school record. Did your grades drop in the second year because you were dealing with a family emergency? Did you leave an extracurricular because of a medical certificate?

In such cases, colleges want to know if you have experienced a serious problem that has affected your performance. Therefore, remember to indicate any relevant circumstances in your application. Also remember that in some cases, there will be a separate section for you to address these types of issues.

4. Your reasons for applying for that institution

Many colleges ask you to write an essay or paragraph explaining why you are applying to that institution specifically. In asking these questions, the evaluators are trying to determine whether you are really excited about the school and whether you are likely to enroll, if you are accepted.

types of personal statement

Prompt types

Fortunately, applications don’t simply ask you to “send an essay about yourself” – they include a question or prompt that you must answer. These requests are generally quite open and can be addressed in a number of different ways.

However, most questions fall into some main categories. Let’s look at each of the most common types of prompt , with examples from the Common App, the University of California selection process, and a few other institutions.

1. Your personal history

This type of question asks you to write about an experience that has transformed your life. Here, the evaluators want to understand what is important to you and how your experience has shaped you as a person.

These questions are common and complicated. The most common pitfall that students fall into is trying to tell whole life stories – it is better to focus on a very specific point in time and explain why it was meaningful to you.


Common App

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

University of California

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and / or outside of the classroom.

2. Facing a problem

Many prompts deal with how you solve problems or deal with failure. College can be difficult, both personally and academically, and evaluators want to see if you are prepared to face these challenges. The key to this type of question is to identify a real problem or failure (not a disguised success!) And to show how you have adapted and grown up to coping with it.


Common App

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

The lessons we learn from the obstacles we encounter can be critical to success in the future. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback or failure. How did it affect you and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Diversity

Most universities are quite diverse, with students from different backgrounds. The personal statement on diversity is designed to help evaluators understand how you interact with people who are different from you. By answering these prompts, you must show that you are able to engage with new ideas and to relate to people who may have different beliefs than you do.


Johns Hopkins University

Founded in the spirit of exploration and discovery, Johns Hopkins University encourages students to share their perspectives, develop their interests, and pursue new experiences. Use this space to share something you’d like the admissions committee to know about you (your interests, your background, your identity, or your community), and how it has shaped what you want to get out of your college experience at Hopkins.

4. Your goals

This type of prompt asks what you want to do in the future: sometimes just what you would like to study, sometimes long-term career goals. Colleges want to understand what you’re interested in and how you plan to work to achieve your goals.

You will see these statements mainly if you are signing up for a specialized program (like pre-med or Engineering) or signing up by transfer. Some institutions also ask for complementary essays in this regard.


University of Southern California (Architecture)

Describe one example of how you might use design as a future architect. The admission committee will review this statement as a measure of your awareness, determination and vision.

5. Why this university?

The most common prompt style is “Why us?”. In these essays, you must address the specific reasons why you chose to go to the college you are applying to. Whatever you do, never “recycle” these essays for more than one institution.


Chapman University

There are thousands of universities and colleges. Why are you interested in attending Chapman?

Columbia University

Why are you interested in attending Columbia University?

6. Creative prompts

More selective colleges often have requests for personal statements with stranger or specific questions. The University of Chicago is famous for its strange requests, but it is not the only institution that asks you to think outside the box when answering your questions.


University of Chicago

What can actually be divided by zero?

University of Chicago

University of Richmond

By the time you graduate from college, there will be jobs that don’t exist today. Describe one of them and how Richmond might prepare you for it.