How to Write a Personal Statement (Tips + Essay Examples)

Example 1: “Cheers” 

While my friends binge The Office, I’m at home with my favorite family tavern, Cheers. Reminiscing on my first visit five-years-ago, going into my tenth visit, I realize the gang at Cheers is my mirror: they reflect how I’ve grown. 

Sam Malone. Handsome, charming, ex-pro athlete. When I first met Sam, I had the typical impression: a playboy. However, I now see the real Sam: a compassionate being. Raised in Birmingham, I’ve learned many positive lessons, but there are some lessons I’m ashamed of. Homophobia is still prevalent in Alabama; something platonic as hugging your friend fuels ridicule. There’s an episode where Sam is conflicted after discovering his old best-friend was gay. By the end, he determines that whom his friend loves shouldn’t affect their friendship–a progressive act for 1983. This became personal when my brother came out. I was angered that a society that taught me Southern hospitality tried to teach me to hate one of the people I love most. Sam’s actions taught me who one chooses to love doesn’t change their humanity and encouraged me to promote that view in Alabama. When classmates make homophobic comments, I always bring up my brother and our story. These same classmates are now attending the annual Pride parades, standing up for our friends’ rights.

Diane Chambers. Educated, elitist, starving artist. Diane loved the arts and displayed her work proudly, even if her cartoons of people depicted animals. As a kid, my dad attempted to teach me how to draw. These sessions ended in frustration, as I wasn’t able to recreate his work. While I was fascinated by the expression of creativity, I thought, “I’m not talented.” Through Diane’s character arcs, I learned art is not linear; it’s multi-dimensional. Diane would appreciate the discovery of my means of expression: graphic design and programming. I blend the two mediums to create an impactful product. Whether it’s designing and developing an app to battle the Tanzanian Water Crisis, or creating advertisements and social media posts for my internship at a construction-tech start-up, I reveal my vision through my greatest passion: technology.

Dr. Frasier Crane. Intelligent, empathetic, scientist. Frasier (we’re on a first-name basis), joined the gang later after falling in love with Diane at a mental health retreat. I first met Frasier when I struggled to fit in with my peers. While I had a passion for STEM and its ability to uncover mysteries of the unknown, my peers had a passion for hating everything academic. While I thought Frasier was super cool, I still called him a nerd. However, watching the way Frasier embraced science gradually allowed me to realize my love for it is something to hone rather than suppress. Eventually, I developed enough confidence to reach out to a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham to conduct computational physics research. Over the past three years, I have completed two research projects, currently researching the distinct applications of computer vision, and have become a pioneer within STEM.  Inspired by the love for Computer Science competitions, I founded the district’s first CS team. Upon concluding our presentation at the U.S. Capitol, I knew Frasier would be proud. 

The Cheers gang. I have wondered why I clicked with them so well since we are different people. Sam the jock, Frasier the nerd, Diane the artist, I the awkward teenager. I’ve realized each of them is a part of me. When I face societal pressure, I always learn and overcome. While I’m passionate about science, I also love the arts. Whereas I used to be an antisocial 7th grader, I’m now a senior with great friends and mentors. No matter what I’m struggling with in life, I know I can return to Cheers, where everybody knows your name.

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Why this essay worked:

This essay does a great job of using the Montage Structure to incorporate a bunch of different aspects of the applicant’s life into one coherent piece. You’ll notice that they use the TV show Cheers and the characters in it as a clothesline off which to “hang” their interest in computer science and graphic design, LGBTQ+ community allyship, and generally endearing nerdiness. This is a really clever way of bringing together seemingly disparate topics. It doesn’t take itself too seriously but tells a lot about the author and how she thinks. It also gives her a very clear structure for her essay. Each paragraph is devoted to one Cheers character and (more importantly) expounds on the ways the author connects to that individual. The essay has a clear purpose despite lacking a linear narrative.

Also notice that the author doesn’t necessarily have a super clear idea of what she wants to do, career-wise. However, she still incorporates specific details about how she’s synthesized computer science and artistic design in various clubs and events. She doesn’t explicitly have to tell us what her future career is for us to get a sense of what interests she might pursue in college. This is a prime example of how you can write an outstanding personal statement even if you don’t totally know what you want to do in college and haven’t faced a significant challenge.

Example 2: 

All that I remember from my childhood are happy memories – of blowing balloons in summer after eating an ice-cone, coming from school to find my favourite snacks lined up on the table, my grandma feeding me with her own hands and never failing to add that extra spoon of ghee (clarified butter) to my rice.

My parents shielded us from everything that was bad in this world or could somehow hurt us. They were so protective that I learned to ride a bike on the roof of our three-story house because my parents didn’t think it was safe for me to ride on the road. Even on our roof, a place well within the four walls of our house, I had someone looking out for me.

That protective bubble around me finally popped when I was stopped from entering a temple where my family goes annually on an auspicious day. I loved that subtle fragrance of saffron and seeing the beautifully decorated temple with thousands of pilgrims lining up. My grandpa donates a lot there which allows us to enter early in the morning and perform the rituals without the usual crowd. The problem this year was a new rule that prohibited Western clothing. The strange thing was that they didn’t stop male my cousin even though we were wearing the exact same thing, jeans and t-shirt. I wouldn’t be surprised if this happened today but I was then, as I was only in middle school. I hadn’t seen anything like this yet because my family never treated us differently — we hadn’t previously seen this side of the world.

I started trying to learn more about the “real world”, reading more news and participating in intercultural exchanges and debates, anything that would give me more insight. This process of exploring different versions of an event, of noticing how different people might see the same thing, made me more observant. But this also made me think of how others might see me and I became scared of being judged.

When I was elected Head Girl this past year, I became even more self-conscious because I was in the limelight — and everything I would do would reflect on the school.

I thankfully realized how irrational my fears were during a hectic Round Square International Conference (RSIC) at school. I was busy heading our student team and managing crises. When a school bought more students than they’d registered, I didn’t have time to think, I had to rely on my instincts and take action. Teachers from across the world praised me; one even said I’d been the soul of our conference.

These small but empowering moments have helped me realize that I could trust my decisions, my input counted too. I need to be myself and worry less about what others think. I could have easily changed my clothes that day at the temple but I didn’t because that’s not who I am. There’s always going to be someone who might not approve of what I do and that is all right. 

I am choosing to attend college in the United States because there I can continue my quest to learn more about the complexities of this world. My family never allowed me to use the public transportation in my city. I understand their concern, but I think it’s time for me to explore outside the safety of home, to ride a bike or take the subway, make my mistakes, and learn my way. At school, I felt like I was in the spotlight yet so invisible mostly because I worried about what others might think. But now I will choose to be visible, choose to be me.

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Why this essay worked:

Off the bat, one of the biggest things that stands out about this essay is the level of detail in it. In the intro, the author evokes very visceral images of blowing balloons in the summer, extra spoonfuls of ghee on rice, and riding bikes on rooftops. The more you can drop the reader into your world and engage their senses, the better. You want people to be able to identify with you so that they have a clear sense of who you are as a person. It also helps you stand out. The more specifically you write, the less likely it is that anyone else could have written it. That’s what this whole personal statement thing is all about—showing what you can uniquely bring to the table. 

The other great thing about this essay is that it ends in a different place from where it begins. This shows insight and growth. The author goes from questioning her instincts and judgements to seeing her inherent value. She begins to gain confidence and see the positive ways in which she can contribute to the conversations she’s a part of. This transformation is important because it’s a hook that keeps people reading. They don’t know where the essay is going to take them, so they keep reading to see where the author will end up. It also demonstrates the applicant’s growth and ability to self-reflect, which are always great qualities to highlight in college essays.

Example 3: 

Apparently, I have a natural “mom vibe.” 

On my volleyball team, I am team mom in every way. As a natural worrier, I like to make sure that everyone has all of their necessities: knee pads, water bottle, hair elastic, uniform. Did everyone go to the bathroom before leaving on the bus? Did we count to make sure that all fourteen of us are here? Does anyone want an apple slice? Over my many years of playing volleyball, I have learned how to play every position well enough to fill in for any member of my team, whether that’s front, back, libero, setter, or hitter, so that I can always be there for my team in a pinch. 

A few years ago, I transitioned from looking after only my teammates to also helping actual children. I started volunteering at my former elementary school as a teacher’s assistant. I guide third graders through difficult word problems or sentence structures, sometimes translating the lesson to Mandarin for the Chinese students who are struggling with English. I live for that moment when the impossible suddenly becomes possible and I see a student use what they just learned correctly without any assistance.

I love helping kids ask big questions, and think about how to solve them, because it reminds me of how my parents guided me. Ever since I can remember, every time my father and I are alone on a long trip, we ask each other questions and the other has to answer with scientific evidence. Do birds have eyelids? Why is gelatin gelatinous? What does schizophrenia look like in a brain? I love thinking about how things work from the molecular level all the way up to the mechanical level.

During a recent internship, I had the opportunity to ask big questions through research, a step beyond the guesstimating I was used to doing in my dad’s CRV. The team I was working with was conducting studies focused on treating alcoholism. My job was to “clean up” the data, or make it more readable. I sifted through spreadsheets, digging for the important data and piecing everything together logically. Knowing that my contribution would have a positive impact on people’s lives was incredibly meaningful.

I’ve always enjoyed putting things together like a puzzle. As Chief Layout Editor of my school newspaper, I help my designers compile every edition. Like a real-life game of Tetris, every article must fit perfectly with the other articles around it, lined up into evenly lengthed columns. No matter how much experience a graphic designer has, no one gets all of their articles laid out nicely on the first try. We solve every edition by trial and error, which often results in lots of frustration, but no amount of frustration can surpass the pride and satisfaction once we have all the pages compiled and printed.

As a pediatrician, I will be able to strengthen and use all these parts of me. I will have the chance to treat a multitude of illnesses and injuries and problem solve my way through each one. Each day, I will be able to think critically and scientifically to give families possible solutions and peace of mind about their child’s health. I hope to continually expand my knowledge as medicine advances and ask big questions by frequently participating in research. Hopefully I’ll be able to work with a great group of peers in a clinic and in public health. I want to find new solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems, and finally, use all of my skills and qualities to help better the lives of others. 

Plus, as a pediatrician, I will be able to take care of children who cannot always advocate for themselves, so my mom instinct will be one of my greatest assets.

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Why this essay worked:

This is another creative example of how you can go about writing a montage essay. The author uses her “mom vibe” to her advantage and discusses how her interest in attending to the people (and world) around her has influenced different spheres of her life. Notice how well the first line hooks us into the story. It’s short, sweet, funny, and visibly distinct from the denser paragraphs below. When you’re writing, think very carefully about your first sentence and the work it’s doing to rope your reader in. That first sentence is your first impression on readers, so you want it to be a good one. 

One last standout aspect of this essay is the way it uses questions. In it, the author poses a lot of big and (oftentimes) unanswered questions. This is great because it highlights her natural curiosity and shows her mind in action. She doesn’t have to answer the questions for them to speak volumes about her personality and interests. Don’t feel like you have to resolve everything neatly by the end of your essay. That would be unrealistic, and ultimately, pretty uninteresting. It’s okay to pose questions for the sake of sheer wonder. In fact, it’s better than okay—it’s great. Nerd out a little. Have fun with it.

With all these writing/brainstorming strategies and example essays, the personal statement shouldn’t feel too intimidating anymore. Now you have all the tools you need to start writing an amazing essay.

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