Guide to Writing a Winning Personal Statement for University

In this article, we provide a complete guide to writing a winning personal statement for university including tips, advice and personal statement examples.

Every year, millions of students around the world apply to colleges and universities.

They may be future lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers or entrepreneurs. Each of them writes a personal statement as part of the application process. Without it, their application can not be accepted.

Yes, your grades matter. But the personal statement is critical to being accepted to your dream school. Keep reading for help and support to plan, draft and write your perfect one.

Table of Contents

personal statement guide

What is a personal statement?

A personal statement provides an overview of a candidate’s qualifications, interests, and experiences in relation to what they are applying for, in order to be selected.

It is an opportunity for the applicant to demonstrate their understanding of the subject matter or role, and express their motivation.

The personal statement should be tailored specifically for each application, typically with a length between 400-1000 words.

It should include relevant personal experiences and research that will help explain why the candidate believes they would be suitable for the program or position.

What is the format of a personal statement?

To create a winning personal statement for the university, it has to be clear, concise and focused on your own relationship to the relevant field.

Ideally, it’s one side of A4 or between 400 and 1,000 words and should highlight your relevant experience, achievements and passions.

Additionally, mentioning why the program they are applying to is a good fit for them is important.

The writer should also include information regarding the research focus of the program as well as any faculty or other resources available.

Personal statements should be well-written with stories that illustrate your strengths in order to impress their chosen university’s selection committee. For example, a scholarship program committee will want to know why you would be a better choice than other applicants.

Below is a simple three-section format to help you write a winning personal statement for university applications.

  • Introduction: Who you are and why you want to study the chosen course at the university
  • Body: Discuss experiences in your background that are relevant to your chosen course and highlight why you’re a great candidate
  • Conclusion: Extra-curricular/ non-academic activities you have done that make you a great fit for the course

How to start a personal statement

Step 1: Brainstorm potential topics and stories

Brainstorming potential topics and stories is important when starting a personal statement because it allows the writer to get their thoughts out of their head and onto paper.

This creates focus on what should be included in the essay, as well as interesting stories that capture attention.

Think of every example, team or achievement as another piece of the puzzle to get you to a ‘yes’ – acceptance onto your dream course or that perfect job.

  • Have you won any prizes or awards? For example, a former student of ours won a public speaking award after entering a city-wide debate competition.
  • Have you done any volunteer work? For example, someone I used to teach loved animals and helped raise money for their local shelter. A celebrity retweeted one of their fundraising pages and they raised more than $5,00 overnight to pay for pet food and medical bills.
  • Have you held a position of responsibility at school?

Informal examples work too – have you organised an English study group for some of your classmates? This is a great way to show that you are a committed student and can support your peers.

  • Do you have a part-time job?
  • Have you helped make any changes in your community?
  • What’s the most extraordinary thing that has ever happened to you?
  • What have been the most important life lessons for you?
  • How has technology changed the way you do something?

For example, one of my students from Vietnam has used Zoom to practice English and do language exchanges with online friends in Canada.

There are several ways to approach this task. Brainstorming with a friend or family member can also improve your stories and help write statements for maximum impact.

Find a quiet room, either at home or at school, and take your time. Some students find that more than one brainstorming session is useful.

Even if your personal statement needs to be written in English, it doesn’t mean that you can’t brainstorm in your first language, whether that is Urdu, Hindi, Vietnamese or anything else.

Step 2. Prepare by researching and outlining so your statement makes sense

First, it is important to consider who the intended audience is (what school or program are they representing?). You should include facts that demonstrate you are an ideal candidate for them.

Brainstorming ideas and collecting relevant information can help with organizing thoughts into introduction, body, and conclusion sections ahead of writing each paragraph.

Thinking about key events in life and how those unique experiences have shaped your interests can also help inform what to write about.

Another set of eyes on your work is always a good idea. Ask for feedback from friends, teachers at your high school or family.

Finally, try to mention technology somewhere in your answer. It’s an important part of modern life and most schools want to know their future students are comfortable using a range of devices and apps.

Step 3: Shortlist your ideas

It is important to shortlist ideas when starting a personal statement because it helps the writer identify which topic has the most relevance and potential for expansion.

Having multiple topics to choose from means more creative freedom for the author.

By narrowing down options beforehand, you will choose the most appropriate examples for that specific school or course. These will showcase your strengths and personality in an effective way.

Step 4: Free-write about your possible essay topics

Freewriting is an important tool for university applicants to explore their possible essay topics. Freewriting can help organize thoughts and reveal which topics are most interesting to the writer.

It is also a beneficial way of getting ideas out of one’s head and onto paper while allowing the writer to come up with interesting stories that show something meaningful about themselves.

BONUS! Freewriting may also generate ideas for possible essay topics that could not be captured by other parts of the application. Therefore, it is important for applicants to try freewriting when crafting their personal statements to help reflect on who they are and what makes them unique.

What are the elements of a great personal statement?

Hit the big three: story, implication and connection to college/major

A great personal statement should contain three elements:

  • an anecdote or story
  • explanation as to why that anecdote is important to who you are
  • a connection between this information and why you are applying to a certain college.

It should also include information about your academic and professional background as well as any extracurricular activities. Your essay needs to communicate that you are an individual with many skills and interests, showing your potential for success in college and your hope to make a contribution to your new team.

What are some tips on how to write a winning personal statement?

Get personal and speak like you

When writing a personal statement for the university, it is important to get personal and speak like yourself. Showing off your true personality, values and experiences can help you stand out from other applicants and make your application more memorable.

Writing in a genuine tone that reflects who you are will give the reader an insight into your character.

Using specific details and examples to illustrate your points will also help to create a compelling statement that speaks directly to the admissions committee.

Powerful storytelling can be used to connect with the reader on an emotional level as well, making them more likely to remember what they’ve read about you.

Prepare by researching the college or program you’re applying to

Remember your audience! It is important to research the college or program you are applying to help the admissions committee better understand your qualities and experiences.

Even if you’ve never seen the campus with your own eyes, there are always Youtube videos and websites to give you a better picture of where you want to go.

If you have a good understanding of what the particular institution or program expects from its applicants, you’ll write a more effective and persuasive personal statement.

For example, one student I know was watching a video of a blogger at her 1st choice school and happened to notice a poster asking for volunteers to help at the local soup kitchen. She was able to mention her own experience volunteering in her home town and connected it with the university volunteer program, which really impressed the committee!

Prepare by answering specific questions

Some of the questions above can help organize and focus your thoughts.

Questions for applicants such as what have they chosen to spend their time on, what defining moments in life have changed them, and what strengths they possess can provide insight into the motivations behind their desire to attend a particular school or pursue an activity.

Also, think about quotes or stories that inspire you which could be included in your statement. Gathering feedback from family, friends, professors and employers can also prove helpful.

Draft the statement

When drafting a great personal statement, it is important to evaluate any areas that need improvement and rewrite them accordingly. Try to avoid too much passive voice, unnecessary words, repetition and long sentences.

The statement must be clear enough to be understood by readers who have never met the applicant. It should be sincere and enthusiastic, well-organized and concise, focusing on the strengths of the applicant in relation to the course they are applying for.

Proofread and edit the document

Proofreading and editing a personal statement are important to ensure accuracy and clarity. Here are a few tips for editing your personal statement.

  • Taking a break before beginning proofreading allows the author to return to the text with a fresh perspective.
  • When revising your personal statement keep in mind that any reader should be able to comprehend it without prior knowledge of you or your experiences.
  • Use online tools to improve your grammar, fix mistakes, and choose the appropriate tone for your personal statement.
  • Ensure the essay follows all of the rules laid out in the essay brief, including adhering to the specified word count. Many organisations, they want to know that you can follow instructions as well as achieve excellent grades.

Perfection can only do so much

An application is the start of a journey – you have a long road ahead! It is important to not strive for perfection when writing a personal statement because it can lead to hesitation, and a lack of creativity and can make it difficult to communicate ideas effectively.

Fix errors with help from others

It is important to get help from others when editing a personal statement because they could spot mistakes that could otherwise go unnoticed. Get help from family, teachers or professional proofreading services so your statement is as good as possible.

Be brave and submit the statement

Being brave – the best candidates step out of their comfort zone and take risks. It shows the admissions committee that the applicant is daring enough to stand out from the crowd by having the confidence to be honest and open in their writing.

Example Personal Statements

College Personal Statement Examples and Writing Tips - Wordvice

This guide includes personal statement examples to show you what is expected in a personal statement and help you showcase your writing skills. They demonstrate the different types of writing required for a personal statement.

These example personal statements can be used as inspiration when crafting your own submission, helping you to make an informed decision about which topics you are passionate about.


Many people refer to a conclusion as a call to action. This is true of both your personal statement and this conclusion!

Having read this article, we hope you will look at more of our examples and tips in the links and related pages, and get started writing a winning personal statement that will make the recruiters at your chosen college or company decide that you have what it takes to join them.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What are some common essay topics for personal statements?

These include reflecting on a time when they faced a challenge and learned from it, as well as questioning or challenging an existing belief or idea.

Additionally, essays can be written about any topic of personal importance such as an accomplishment or something that interests the student.

Whatever the chosen topic, the essay should be well-organised and clear.

What are some things to consider when writing a personal statement?

You must know what the program is looking for, from the course description, and to answer each prompt.

Stories can be used to demonstrate why an applicant would make a good fit for a particular program, so it is useful to think about key points that make them stand out and why they should be offered a place at that university.

What is the word count limit for personal statements?

It is recommended that a personal statement be around 500 words in length. A good range of experiences to cover within this length is three to four, however, one or two can still provide enough depth for a great personal statement.

What are some common mistakes people make when writing personal statements?

People commonly make mistakes when writing personal statements, such as using big words just to show off instead of genuine language that reflects the individual.

It is essential to take time to revise the statement carefully before submitting it and ensure that everything would be clear and understandable to a reader who has never met the person.

Additionally, honesty is vital when crafting a personal statement. While it’s true that some students may have had very unique experiences, involving heroic actions in war or a trauma such as a hunger strike, the college or organisation wants to get to know YOU a bit better and you can only be who you are.

How can you make your personal statement stand out?

It is important to avoid using clichés and instead focus on unique talents and experiences. To make the statement stand out, one should use techniques that differ from the norm.

For example, one can use vivid imagery, detailed descriptions of past experiences or interesting anecdotes to demonstrate qualities and skills in a more creative way. Additionally, using active language when writing can help draw the reader’s attention, not forgetting to proofread several times.

One example we loved was an essay explaining how a student had used their love of graffiti to help them study for tests, describing how their study group had created an ‘intricate wall of words encapsulating a year of learning’.

Why do personal statements matter?

Personal statements are incredibly important for college applications as they provide insight into a student’s qualities and motivations.

Personal statements give admissions officers an opportunity to learn more about applicants beyond what is presented in their transcripts, SAT scores, and letters of recommendation.

A compelling personal statement can help an applicant stand out from the crowd by displaying storytelling skills and unique life experiences. It also allows students to explain their motivations for wanting to attend college, which is invaluable information when making decisions on acceptance.

How do you organise a personal statement?

When creating a personal statement, it’s important to structure your essay in a way that answers the prompt while also showcasing your strengths.

  • Start by considering who you are writing for – is it a college application, or a job application? The tone of your personal statement should reflect this audience.
  • When organizing ideas into topics relevant to the program you are applying for, prioritize evidence of your work experience and skills that will be attractive to the reader.
  • Finally, make sure the required information is included in an organized fashion so it is easy for the reader to understand.

How do you write a 250-word personal statement?

Writing a 250-word personal statement for the university can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. A few simple tips can help make the task easier.

  • Start by showing your enthusiasm for the subject and share your ambitions.
  • Focus on what you can say in the limited word count.
  • When writing about experiences and accomplishments, aim to cover three or four of them in a concise way and avoid overthinking the opening.
  • To ensure that everything fits within 250 words, try writing about one specific 24-hour time period that covers two separate experiences.
  • Keep it relevant and simple – don’t forget to explain why you’re interested in the school – and you’ll have a winning personal statement!

More Personal Statement Tutorials