Many graduate school programs, scholarship and internship applications request candidates to write a personal essay. Specific questions may be provided for you to answer, or in some cases you will have the freedom to write about the topic of your choice. The personal essay serves as a writing sample and a chance to present yourself as an individual. It should be something that only you could have written.
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How to Focus Your Essay
Use the Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing Your Personal Statement section of this guide to help you determine how to best approach the story you have to tell.
You can focus your essay to: Relate a personal anecdote Connect your past, present and future Present a distinct point of view Relate your goals Describe unique life experiences Explain why you chose this particular school or opportunity Illustrate your commitment to a cause
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing a Personal Statement Questions about your individuality:
Does any attribute, quality, or skill distinguish me from everyone else? How did I develop this attribute? What is my strongest, most unwavering personality trait? What are my favorite books, movies, and artwork? Have these influenced my life in a meaningful way? What was the most difficult time in my life, and why? How did my perspective on life change as a result? Have I ever struggled for something and succeeded? What made me successful? Have I ever struggled for something and failed? How did I respond? Have I experienced an epiphany, as if my eyes became open to something I was previously blind to? How would my friends describe me? What would they write about if they were writing my essay for me? How have I changed/grown over the years? What caused these changes? How have they affected me? Are there obstacles that I had to overcome and how have I dealt with these difficulties from my past? Who has influenced me over the years (e.g. parent, sibling, teacher, or friend) and in what way have they influenced me? What are my career goals? Why did I choose this career path? Why might I be a stronger candidate than others? What sets me apart from other candidates? Given a stack of similar applications, why should a committee choose me? What are my dreams for the future? When I look back on my life in thirty years, what would it take for me to consider my life successful? What people, things, and accomplishments do I need? How does this particular program/position fit into my plans for the future?
Questions about your field of study:
When did I become interested in my field of study? Why am I interested in my field of study? What experiences confirmed that this is what I really want to study? What have I learned about my subject of interest? How has my discipline shaped me? What has my field of study taught me about myself?
What am I most passionate about relative to my field? What special interests do I have within my chosen field?
Questions about your academic record:
Are there gaps or inconsistencies on my records (transcript and/or exam scores) that I can explain? Are there any awards, recognitions, or honors that I have received that are worth mentioning?
Questions about your non-academic experiences:
What internships and/or jobs have I had in the past? How are these experiences related to my field of interest? What have I learned from these experiences? What skills have I acquired? What extracurricular activities have I participated in and how do they relate to my professional goals? What have I done outside of the classroom that demonstrates qualities sought after by universities or employers? Of these, which means the most to me? What are my most important campus and community...