Your personal statement (or admission essay) is your opportunity to show the admission officers why you would be a perfect fit at the university, how you would contribute to the student body, and why the university should accept you over other candidates.
The admission officers of top universities have shared their opinion on what common mistakes the students make when writing their personal statement.
- Repeating what is written in the application form. Your essay is your opportunity to tell the admission officers something that you could not include into your application form or delve into something you wrote there. There is no point in simply retelling your application or CV.
- Not writing to the specific university. Apart from telling about yourself, your statement should also demonstrate how you would fit in at the university you are applying to. Explain one or two things about the university that make it the best one for you. Make sure that you are not writing only the general things that can be true for any university.
- Having a boring introduction. It is not a good idea to start your essay by repeating the question asked or introducing yourself. Think about something to grab the attention of the admission committee. For example, you can start from conveying something that you really believe in or describing a situation which influenced your way of thinking.
- Trying to make too many points. It is better to focus on a single well thought-out point than briefly mentioning many different ones. Think about supporting your points with various examples.
- Not sharing something about yourself. When writing you should always ask yourself if your essay reveals something about your character. Your essay should be unique and personal.
- Forgetting to proofread. Not only proofreading helps to avoid spelling, grammatical or punctuation errors, but also gives you an opportunity to check if your essay does not accidentally contain the name of another university you are applying to.
- Forcing humour. Do not try to sound witty or funny if you are not. In any case if you include a joke into your essay, be sure to ask an adult or two to read it to see if they agree with you that it is funny.
- Trying to be someone else. Don’t try to seem like a perfect student who is committed to every subject area, has numerous talents, plays multiple sports and enjoys volunteering and extra-curricular activities if it is not who you are. Just be yourself and express your genuine thoughts and feelings.
- Not answering the question. Each application form includes brief instructions on the points you are asked to cover in your essay. Make sure that your essay addresses those particular issues.
- Writing your personal statement (essay) at the last moment. It is not wise to hurry up and writing your essay the night before it is due. Start writing well in advance, take some time to think about it and return to it later to polish.
Examples of successful personal statements (admission essays)
- Personal statement of a student applying to technological university
- Motivation letter of a student applying to Biology programme.
- Admission essay of a student applying to medical programme.
- Motivation letter of a student applying to Dutch technological university.
- Motivation letter, written by a student applying for the MSc Computer Science programme.
- Motivation letter of a student enrolling in the Master's Logistics programme at a Dutch university.
- The letter of motivation of a student applying for the Natural Science programme at a Dutch university.
- Admission essay of a student enrolling in the Bachelor's IBMS programme at a university of applied sciences in Holland.
- Motivation letter of a students applying for the Arts programme taught in the Netherlands and Austria.
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Below is a pdf link to personal statements and application essays representing strong efforts by students applying for both undergraduate and graduate opportunities. These ten essays have one thing in common: They were all written by students under the constraint of the essay being 1-2 pages due to the target program’s explicit instructions. In such circumstances, writers must attend carefully to the essay prompt (sometimes as simple as “Write a one-page summary of your reasons for wanting to pursue graduate study”) and recognize that evaluators tend to judge these essays on the same fundamental principles, as follows:
- First, you are typically expected to provide a window into your personal motivations, offer a summary of your field, your research, or your background, set some long-term goals, and note specific interest in the program to which you are applying.
- Second, you are expected to provide some personal detail and to communicate effectively and efficiently. Failure to do so can greatly limit your chances of acceptance.
Good writers accomplish these tasks by immediately establishing each paragraph’s topic and maintaining paragraph unity, by using concrete, personal examples to demonstrate their points, and by not prolonging the ending of the essay needlessly. Also, good writers study the target opportunity as carefully as they can, seeking to become an “insider,” perhaps even communicating with a professor they would like to work with at the target program, and tailoring the material accordingly so that evaluators can gauge the sincerity of their interest
Overview of Short Essay Samples
Geological Sciences Samples
In the pdf link below, the first two one-page statements written by students in the geological sciences are interesting to compare to each other. Despite their different areas of research specialization within the same field, both writers demonstrate a good deal of scientific fluency and kinship with their target programs.
Geography Student Sample
The short essay by a geography student applying to an internship program opens with the writer admitting that she previously had a limited view of geography, then describing how a course changed her way of thinking so that she came to understand geography as a “balance of physical, social, and cultural studies.” Despite her limited experience, she shows that she has aspirations of joining the Peace Corps or obtaining a law degree, and her final paragraph links her interests directly to the internship program to which she is applying.
Materials Sciences Student Sample
For the sample from materials sciences, directed at an internal fellowship, the one-page essay has an especially difficult task: The writer must persuade those who already know him (and thus know both his strengths and limitations) that he is worthy of internal funds to help him continue his graduate education. He attempts this by first citing the specific goal of his research group, followed by a brief summary of the literature related to this topic, then ending with a summary of his own research and lab experience.
Teach for America Student Sample
The student applying for the Teach for America program, which recruits recent college graduates to teach for two years in underprivileged urban and rural public schools, knows that she must convince readers of her suitability to such a demanding commitment, and she has just two short essays with which to do so. She successfully achieves this through examples related to service mission work that she completed in Ecuador before entering college.
Neuroscience Student Sample
The sample essay by a neuroscience student opens with narrative technique, telling an affecting story about working in a lab at the University of Pittsburgh. Thus we are introduced to one of the motivating forces behind her interest in neuroscience. Later paragraphs cite three undergraduate research experiences and her interest in the linked sciences of disease: immunology, biochemistry, genetics, and pathology.
Medieval Literature Student Sample
This sample essay immerses us in detail about medieval literature throughout, eventually citing several Irish medieval manuscripts. With these examples and others, we are convinced that this student truly does see medieval literature as a “passion,” as she claims in her first sentence. Later, the writer repeatedly cites two professors and “mentors” whom she has already met, noting how they have shaped her highly specific academic goals, and tying her almost headlong approach directly to the National University of Ireland at Maynooth, where she will have flexibility in designing her own program.
Beinecke Scholarship Student Sample
The Beinecke Scholarship essay is written by a junior faced with stiff competition from a program that awards $34,000 towards senior year and graduate school. This student takes an interesting theme-based approach and projects forward toward graduate school with confidence. This writer’s sense of self-definition is particularly strong, and her personal story compelling. Having witnessed repeated instances of injustice in her own life, the writer describes in her final paragraphs how these experiences have led to her proposed senior thesis research and her goal of becoming a policy analyst for the government’s Department of Education.
Online Education Student Sample
Written during a height of US involvement in Iraq, this essay manages the intriguing challenge of how a member of the military can make an effective case for on-line graduate study. The obvious need here, especially for an Air Force pilot of seven years, is to keep the focus on academic interests rather than, say, battle successes and the number of missions flown. An additional challenge is to use military experience and vocabulary in a way that is not obscure nor off-putting to academic selection committee members. To address these challenges, this writer intertwines his literacy in matters both military and academic, keeping focus on applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), his chosen field of graduate study.
Engineer Applying to a Master’s Program Sample
This example shows that even for an engineer with years of experience in the field, the fundamentals of personal essay writing remain the same. This statement opens with the engineer describing a formative experience—visiting a meat packaging plant as a teenager—that influenced the writer to work in the health and safety field. Now, as the writer prepares to advance his education while remaining a full-time safety engineer, he proves that he is capable by detailing examples that show his record of personal and professional success. Especially noteworthy is his partnering with a government agency to help protect workers from dust exposures, and he ties his extensive work experience directly to his goal of becoming a Certified Industrial Hygienist.
Click here to download a pdf of ten short essay samples.