Whether you are writing a 'personal statement' for the UK, or a personal narrative for the Common Application or a Letter of Motivation for the European Business Schools, the most important thing to remember is that your answer must be about one thing....YOU!!
Students have between 400 and 700 words, depending on the application, to convince an Admission Committee that they would make a positive contribution to the university community in question. This is no time to elaborate on the nuances of the IB curriculum, your long lost uncle who taught you how to snow shoe or your hypothesis of the role of marketing is in Business. This is no time to tell your audience about things they already know or things they do not have time to know. Almost every sentence should be evidence in your defense!
Commonly Asked Essay Questions
- 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. (Common Application)
- The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? (Common Application)
- Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again? (Common Application)
- Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. (Common Application)
- Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family. (Common Application)
- What does Play-Doh™ have to do with Plato?
- A successful college community depends greatly on the intellectual and personal contribution of its individual members. Please share what you believe another student could learn from you, both inside and outside the classroom.
- We would like you to write an essay on any topic that is of genuine interest to you.
- This school community abides by an honor code that governs academic as well as personal life…..As a prospective member of our community, please use the space below to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of an honor code and your role in it.
- You have just completed your 300-page autobiography. Please submit page 217.
- Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote, “Between living and dreaming there is a third thing. Guess it.” Give us your guess.
- "Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born." Anais Nin. From freshman year to now, we know that you have interacted with a number of people in your high school who are different from you and have affected who you are now. Tell us about one such relationship with a close friend, with a focus on the details of your interaction, not the person.
It's not often that students have had the opportunity to write in a narrative style that demonstrates what motivates them and how their mind works. NPR's This I Believe is a collection of stories of people sharing their core beliefs. This is a great resource for students to listen to and get inspiration for their own unique, personal narrative.
Common Application Essay
This essay website is hands down the best resource. "Dante" at Essay Hell covers everything you can imagine from the Do's & Don'ts to Sample Essays to Procrastination Busters. There are special tips for the University of California Essays, Top Students, International Students, Math and Science Students. Whoever you are, wherever you are in the process, the Essay Hell website has great advice.
Check out the
Common App Guide.
UCAS personal statement
What is great about the simple diagram below is the emphasis on where to start. The starting point is key for the UCAS PS. "Choose the subject you want to study."
UCAS also has videos and other resources on writing the PS. The most critical thing to remember when writing for the UK universities is that they tend to be very focused on a clear career direction. For more information on your Career plan, Naviance is the best place to go. For more analysis of your Personal Statement, here's a pretty cool tool that counts characters, identifies themes, repetitions and more. Also check-out the UK section in the Universities section.
UCAS Personal Statement
The personal statement on the UCAS application is the best way for admissions tutors to hear your voice. It is the one chance you will have to provide insight into your personality and goals. There is no specific required format but specific recommendations are made by the British university admissions officers. The personal statement cannot exceed 4000 characters or 47 lines. Seventy percent of the personal statement should relate to the course of study and your high school preparation. The other 30 percent can be about personal interests and out of school activities. The organization of your personal statement will reflect on your academic habits and abilities. Structure is important! Use clear paragraphs or sections that are easy to follow and read. Tutors recommend that the first paragraph explain why you have chosen the course of study. Forgo the obvious like “History is my favorite subject.” It is better to explain what it is about the subject that you enjoy. It is important to articulate your commitment to the course. Other paragraphs should be used to describe your interests and activities as well as part time work or volunteer activities. This helps the tutors to identify students who can organize their time and demonstrate commitment. Do not just list activities (makes for boring reading!) but do describe what importance the activity has for you or what you have gained from the activity. Avoid things that are a distraction to your viability as a potential student like “I enjoy socializing.” Check your essay for grammar, clarity and punctuation.
Click here for more info.
Rules of Thumb
- Be specific
- Start early
- Use 5 sections
- Avoid obvious statements or cliché terms
- Always keep the chosen course in mind
- Construct bridges
- Avoid passive writing
- Stick to what you know
- Demonstrate maturity
- Be enthusiastic
- State things about yourself
- End sentences and paragraphs with nouns
- Don’t start all sentences with "I"
- Give evidence rather than simply state an interest/skill/etc
Five Section Structure for a Personal Statement
Why have you chosen this course?
What evidence can you give that shows your interest in the subject?
- First paragraph must grab the reader’s attention.
- Demonstrate your thorough understanding of the course.
- Demonstrate your suitability for the course.
- Before writing identify: reasons you enjoy the subject, what particular aspect of the subject intrigues you, what do you want to learn more about, experiences that confirm your interests, what skills are linked to the subject, what career goals will it lead to.
- Make your first sentence personal—something specific about you!
How do your ISB courses relate to your chosen field of study?
- How is your interest gone beyond the classroom?
- How can you demonstrate curiosity about the subject?
- Be genuine in your interest.
- Demonstrate interest in materials related to your field that is outside of the classroom (other readings, films, books, conferences, classes outside of ISB).
- Present relevant work experience.
- Keep in mind your course of study!
What have you learned outside the classroom that is linked to your course or field of study?
- Explain your course selection and how it ties into your chosen field of study.
- How do the “secondary” subjects link to your area of interest?
What is your goal? Where do you hope that your university studies will lead you?
- How does your general experience prepare you for studying?
- Demonstrate self-motivation, discipline and independence.
- Explain how you have balance in your life.
- Focus on recent events/activities (not from childhood).
- Offer your willingness to face new opportunities and challenges.
- Imbed the characteristic in a description rather than list characteristics you possess.
- What qualities do you want the reader to associate with you?
- Keep your course of study in mind. Be specific about how it ties in.
- What volunteer work or activities have you done that highlight the characteristics you feel are necessary for your field of study?
- Refocus the reader to your chosen field of study.
- Bridge together the pieces of information offered and your field of study.
- Link personal experience or ambition to the course of study.
General Recommendations for Personal Statements and Essays
- Start with a pre-write session. Brainstorm what you want the reader to know about you. Keep that handy. Refer back to it as you read your essay/statement over.
- Read your essay aloud. Listen to the tone.
- If given a prompt, answer the question—all parts of it!
- Be specific! Avoid generalities!
- Don’t write something that anyone could write. Demonstrate your understanding of the course of study, university or program!
- Re-write, re-write, re-write!
- Organize your paragraphs and worry about connecting sentences later.
- Provide evidence of your ability, character or interests.
- Don’t repeat material already in your application elsewhere.
- Concentrate on substance not style!
Analyze your personal statement here
Letter of Motivation