How to Format Your Personal Statement

by | Jul 15, 2011 | Application Essays | 2 comments

This is part I in a three-part series on how to format a personal statement or application essay.

How Not to Begin

Many students get stuck trying to figure out how to begin their personal statement essay.  They feel they should write an essay using the standard 5 paragraph format they use for their English paper or their SAT/ACT essays.  They want to use an introduction that ends in a straightforward thesis statement, has 2-3 body paragraphs to back up the thesis, and then a conclusion.  Other students believe they need to have the first paragraph set the scene for the reader…before they really get to writing.

Do not use a specific format when writing your personal statement essay.  Throw formatting out the window!

Here are some examples of how NOT to start your essay:

  1. During the summer between my 9th and 10th grades, I took a trip with 50 other students from around the United States.  We all flew on a plane together to Washington, D.C. and had a really great trip together.
  2. Throughout the last few years of my life, certain qualities such as integrity and honor, and acting for the good of the community have become ingrained in my personality.  I feel that I could bring these great qualities to the University of _______.
  3. Each different thing I choose to become in my life determines how happy I am. I went through a very long and stressful thought process in determining my path because I wasn’t sure if it would make me happy. I got to this point in my decision because of my love for creativity, imagination, and painting.
  4. Out of the many cultural differences I have encountered throughout my life, the one that I have learned the most from is my experience with _______ program.
  5. Without a doubt the most influential person in my life has been and is my grandmother, Gigi.  My relationship with her has been a life-long one in which I have learned to love and embrace life through her teachings, which have given me the ability to love, focus on the present, and never give up.
  6. The craziest thing happened to me last Labor Day weekend.  When my family and I packed our bags for the east coast, like we do every Labor Day, little did we know what was really going to happen to us.
  7. I thought I knew what pain was until I really felt it when I broke my arm during a basketball game.  I was supposed to be the starting point guard and the captain of my team.

As the reader, we see this beginning and know that the whole essay will TELL us who the student is instead of SHOW us who he/she is.  We also know exactly what to predict.  Remember these admissions officers read thousands of essays.  You can imagine what they think when they get an essay that basically says: “this is what I am going to write about and these are my reasons why.”


How to Format Your Personal Statement last edited by Danielle Bianchi Golod on