Thoughts Of Successful Personal Statements
Writing the Personal Statement
This handout provides information about writing personal statements for academic and other positions.
Contributors:Jo Doran, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2018-03-07 02:18:40
The personal statement, your opportunity to sell yourself in the application process, generally falls into one of two categories:
1. The general, comprehensive personal statement:
This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms.
2. The response to very specific questions:
Often, business and graduate school applications ask specific questions, and your statement should respond specifically to the question being asked. Some business school applications favor multiple essays, typically asking for responses to three or more questions.
Questions to ask yourself before you write:
- What's special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
- What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
- When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
- How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
- If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has that work contributed to your growth?
- What are your career goals?
- Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre LSAT or GRE scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)?
- Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?
- What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
- What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?
- Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school—and more successful and effective in the profession or field than other applicants?
- What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?
Answer the questions that are asked
- If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar.
- Don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the question being asked.
Tell a story
- Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.
- Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.
Find an angle
- If you're like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or a "hook" is vital.
Concentrate on your opening paragraph
- The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader's attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.
Tell what you know
- The middle section of your essay might detail your interest and experience in your particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the field. Too many people graduate with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they hope to enter. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it. Since you will have to select what you include in your statement, the choices you make are often an indication of your judgment.
Don't include some subjects
- There are certain things best left out of personal statements. For example, references to experiences or accomplishments in high school or earlier are generally not a good idea. Don't mention potentially controversial subjects (for example, controversial religious or political issues).
Do some research, if needed
- If a school wants to know why you're applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. If the school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this might be a factor to mention.
Write well and correctly
- Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.
- A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements.
For more information on writing a personal statement, see the personal statement vidcast.
How to Write a Successful Personal Statement for Art School
Table of Contents
If an art school offers the option of submitting a personal statement, it may be tempting for forgo the opportunity. However, it could actually work to your advantage! In addition to showcasing your personality and thought process, submitting an application essay allows the admissions team to see that you are so much more than just your transcripts. Whether you were a top student or perhaps received lower than average test scores, an art school application essay allows you to showcase your direction as an artist, as well as highlight any additional accomplishments, making you further stand out as an applicant.
When it comes to an art college essay, you may be asked about your art philosophy, your artistic influences, maybe even how you have evolved as an artist. Although the content of the essay itself is subjective, it is a potentially powerful piece that may make the difference between admission and rejection. Needless to say, you need to showcase the very best of you, especially if it may not have come out in the other parts of the application package.
What Should Be in My Personal Essay for Art School?
Some applications may require a lengthier autobiographical essay while others, such as Hussian College, simply request a succinct couple of paragraphs. Either way, there are a few crucial elements to consider to help your artist statement stand out for the right reason.
Although there are no “rules” (unless they are outlined in the requirements), you should remember that it is an essay to be written with care. Ideas should flow together in a way that makes sense and attention should be paid to grammar and verbiage. By showing that you are able to craft a professional piece of content that is mindful of proper grammar and verbiage while speaking to who you are as an individual, your personal statement will truly stand out.
Structuring Your Art School Application Essay
Just like the essays you were taught to write in school, your personal statement should have a discernible introduction, body, and conclusion.
- The Introduction: Ideally, your introduction should frame the question being asked of you in the context of how you envision yourself as an artist. It is a good place to set out the parameters of your essay so the reader knows what is to come. You could also use the introduction to provide the reader a basic roadmap so that they can understand how your statement is intended to flow.
- The Body: The body will contain your arguments and explanations. Where applicable, make sure you provide concrete examples that can paint a vivid picture for the reader. For example, if you say that abstract modern art has influenced your aesthetic style, you may identify a particular painting, artist, or group of works, that embody what you love. If you pick something like Picasso’s Guernica, speak to the individual visual elements that make the work stand out to you. Is it the use of color? The way the artist has interpreted the historical bombing? What is it that you see in this work or art that may not have been evident to others?
- The Conclusion: Though you may be relieved to finally be writing the conclusion, don’t let your personal statement end abruptly! The conclusion, after all, is your last chance to leave a final great first impression. It should reiterate the theme of your statement without introducing any new ideas. Essentially, the reader should be left feeling as though they have a better understanding of who you are as an artist. Think of it this way: if the rest of the essay was the journey, the conclusion is the destination.
Some institutions, like Hussian College, ask for a short statement of 200-500 words. Despite its short length, you should still approach it in a methodical way, with an engaging introduction, clear conclusion, and body that supports the conclusion. Treat it no differently than you would a lengthier essay!
Personal Statement Essay Do’s and Don’ts
While many schools encourage creativity when it comes to crafting your personal statement, it is important to incorporate best writing practices to ensure a piece that is easy to read, thorough, and engaging. Here are a few art school essay writing tips you may wish to adopt to ensure that you put your best foot forward.
Personal Essay Do’s
- Answer all the parts of the question. A common mistake that students make when writing a personal statement is to simply list all the positive things about themselves. Make sure that you understand what the question is asking. Sometimes the college wants to see your creativity; other times, they are looking for more fact-based responses. It can be helpful to make an outline or map out the question on a sheet of paper prior to actually writing. This helps to ensure you are touching upon every part of the question(s).
- Focus on your strengths. You are, after all, trying to persuade the reader that you are the candidate they want to admit. You want them to understand that you have much to offer their program. Unless you are being specifically asked about a weakness, concentrate your writing on your best facets.
- Use specific, personal examples. Not only do these allow the reader to really get to know you, but it will give you a bit more credibility. Instead of vague claims, you will be better able to explain why you think you deserve to be part of their program. You can demonstrate the impact something has had on you, and how you were shaped by it. You may even be showing some out-of-the-box, innovative thinking, which is usually a sought-after trait in an artist.
- Make your essay easy to read and follow. Use line breaks to break up paragraphs. Where appropriate, use headings and subheadings. Members of an art school admissions staff often have to read dozens, even hundreds, of personal statements and art essays. Ideally, you want reading your essay to be a pleasant experience, one that is easy to follow and to the point.
Personal Essay Don’ts
- Don’t recycle personal statements. If you are applying to multiple art schools, it may be tempting to use the same application or personal essay. However, it’s a good idea to refrain from doing this. What you think of for your graphic design personal statement ideas could be quite different from what you would include in a fine art essay sample, for example. It’s best to treat each personal statement as a separate essay with different focuses.
- Don’t lie or embellish. Personal statements are just that… personal! Embellishments or lies can often be sensed by the reader, especially if you are not entirely familiar with a particular topic. Keeping your writing personal and true only adds to the passion, something that admissions teams often look for in an art student. In addition, some colleges conduct interviews. They are free to ask you about the statements you have made in your essay, and if it is full of embellishments, you may find yourself stuck when responding.
- Don’t speak in generalities. Very general phrases about what you like or dislike do nothing to actually convey what inspires or influences you. Instead, explain the why. Rather than simply state, “I like bold colors,” you might say: “I prefer the attention that is drawn to bold and saturated colors, often utilized to emphasize a contrast between objects and subject matter.” Ideally, a personal statement is your opportunity to really differentiate yourself as an applicant, not blend into a sea of overly general, unengaging essays.
- Don’t get too “avant-garde”, political, or humorous. Even though the essay is an excellent opportunity to give the admissions team a glimpse of your personality, do it strategically. Overdoing the bubbliness may make you appear to not be taking the statement seriously while going overboard with political themes may come off as uninviting to opposing viewpoints. Incorporate your personality, but do so mindfully.
- Don’t rely on lists. Unless you are specifically asked to list technical qualifications, lists can be awkward within an application essay and don’t really add to the narrative of your personal statement. As important as the content is, the admissions team is trying to get a sense of how you communicate and what your thought process is. A bullet-style list of art class experience or your favorite artists doesn’t necessarily give them any such insight.
- Don’t make excuses. Just as you should be focusing on your strengths, try not to bring up the negative. Why your grade in a certain class was low, for example, may not have been a question in the mind of the reader. If anything, this will only draw attention to this anomaly. The admissions team are only interested in your life events to the extent that they are relevant to what they have asked you to write.
Personal Statement Prompts
Often, a school will provide very broad guidelines for their requested personal statement or application essay. If your forte isn’t writing, very general requirements may be challenging to handle. Where do you start? In these instances, it may be helpful to practice with personal statement writing prompts, which can offer some guidance. There are a few directions that writing prompts may put you in…
Information About Yourself as a Person and Artist
If you’d like to focus on highlighting who you are as a person and as an artist, consider the following writing prompts. Not only do they provide a way to prepare for writing your personal statement, but they allow you to include all the important information about yourself in one place, which could make plotting out your essay much smoother.
- Why is this school or program right for you and what you hope to gain from it?
- Why are you right for this school or program and what will you offer?
- How have you pursued your artistic interest outside of school – hobbies, extra-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.?
- How are your personal and life experiences relevant to this program and to your desired career?
- What transferable skills do you have?
- What leadership opportunities have you had – leading a project, for example – and what lessons were learned from these experiences?
- What are your short, medium, and long-term goals?
- Which artists have influenced your work – for better or for worse?
- How would you describe your artistic style?
- What sorts of media do you use and why – or what your favorite medium is and why?
- What motivates or inspires you to create art? What are you trying to achieve through art?
- What makes you and/or your art unique?
Rhetorical, Creative Thinking Type Questions
Some may prefer to take a more philosophical approach to their art college essay. These types of essays may be quirky or humorous, but don’t be fooled – they are sometimes harder to answer than the more personal, factual questions! Here are some prompts for those who may be looking to get creative:
- Can art be simultaneously appealing AND morally corrupt?
- Does the amount of freedom in society have an effect on the artwork produced in that society? Explain.
- Does art play a greater role in influencing a society or reflecting a society?
- Describe the importance of painting in a world with digital photography.
- Which is more important in a work of art: technical quality or emotion? Why?
- Define “art” based on your personal experience.
- How is the creative process in art similar to or different from the creative process in science?
- Do artists have an obligation to tell the “truth”? Why or why not?
Making a Great First Impression with Your Personal Artist Statement
Your artist statement really is your chance to make a great first impression, especially if your high school transcripts or standardized test scores are less than impressive. Let the readers—the admissions team—know that you truly do want to attend their school by ensuring a high-quality essay that speaks to who you are as an artist.
With that said, after drafting your personal statement, you may be inclined to submit it right away, especially if you are working on multiple applications at the same time. Given its importance and its function in the application package though, go the extra mile by:
- Spell checking your statement. Twice.
- Reviewing your grammar and making sure your verb tenses match and your sentences are structured cleanly.
- Tinkering with wording to improve the flow. Read your draft out loud to yourself – you’d be surprised how many little errors you can catch when actually hearing the words.
- Alternatively, have a friend, family member, or even a previous teacher or art instructor proofread your essay and provide feedback. Let them know if there’s something in particular you’re concerned about, such as the flow of the ideas, or whether your explanations are compelling.
Most Importantly, Don’t Sweat It
It’s easy for students to become overwhelmed at the thought of writing a personal statement for their art school application, especially if they are applying to multiple schools. Don’t stress yourself out! If you’re in a bind, free write on a sheet of paper and get the ideas flowing. Remember to stay true to who you are—that’s what the admissions teams are looking for, after all!
Put these tips to the test when crafting a personal artist statement for your application to Hussian College! We can’t wait to see all that you have to offer as a student. You may also review our course curriculum to find just the right program for you.