DO’s and DON’Ts: Personal Statements

You may need a personal statement, letter of intent, or application letter when applying for jobs, internships, and graduate/professional programs. In most cases, personal statements are needed for graduate/professional schools. This document challenges you to concisely outline your strengths, goals, experiences and qualifications while demonstrating good writing skills.

While working with a student last week, I came across some tips from Peterson’s Perfect Personal Statements, a book that is available in the CDS resource library. I want to share a few of the do’s and don’ts from the author:

Top 10 Tips to Write By
1. DO strive for depth rather than breadth: narrow your focus to one or two themes, ideas, or experiences.
2. DO tell the reader what no other applicant will honestly be able to say.
3. DO provide the reader with insight into what drives you – i.e., what makes you “tick”.
4. DO be yourself rather than pretending to be the “ideal” applicant.
5. DO get creative and imaginative, particularly in your opening remarks.
6. DO address the particular school’s unique features that attract you.
7. DO focus on the affirmative in the personal statement itself; consider an addendum to explain deficiencies or blemishes.
8. DO evaluate your experiences rather than merely recounting them.
9. DO enlist others to proofread your essay for grammar, syntax, punctuation, word usage, and style.
10. DO use a highly readable typeface with conventional spacing and margins (on paper-based applications).

Top 10 Personal Statement Pitfalls
1. DON’T submit an expository resume; avoid merely repeating information already provided elsewhere in your application.
2. DON’T complain or whine about the “system” or about your circumstances in life; however, constructive criticism is fine as long as it relates directly to your career goals.
3. DON’T get on a soapbox and preach to the reader; while expressing your values and opinions is fine, avoid coming across as fanatical or extreme.
4. DON’T talk about money as a motivating factor in your plans for the future.
5. DON’T discuss your minority status or disadvantaged background unless you have a compelling and unique story that relates directly to it.
6. DON’T remind the school of its ranking among various programs of its type.
7. DON’T waste your personal statement opportunity with a hackneyed introduction or conclusion.
8. DON’T use a gimmicky style or format.
9. DON'T submit supplemental materials unless the school requests them.
10. DON’T get the name of the school wrong.

For more information on writing a personal statement, check out the CDS tip sheet.

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