Personal Statement

7 Things to Avoid in Your Personal Statement

🚫 Make sure you're not doing anything from this list.

If you're still writing your essay, start with this guide on writing a personal statement. But if you have a first draft, then go through this checklist and make sure you're NOT doing any of these 7 things.

1. Whining. Don't whine in your essay! Definitely talk about challenges you've faced in your life, and how you've grown, but don't spend too much time talking about how tough you've had it. You're not looking for pity; you're looking for respect. Take a look at this paragraph:

"Every time he cries, no matter what the reason is, my parents always blame me for making him cry. I have tasted the injustice, but I cannot do anything to it. Since the birth of my brother, half of my time has been spent on him instead of hanging out with friends after school. My mom has stopped attending anything related to my education. I feel like I am not only the foreigner to this country, but also to this family that I belong to. My family always tells me that it is my responsibility to care about my brother, meaning I need to fill out every form for him, everything!"

See how it just feels like a list of complaints? Avoid doing this.

2. Someone else is the hero. Your essay might talk about someone else in your life who has had a positive or negative influence on you. But, make sure you're still the hero of the story! If you have more than 1-2 paragraphs talking about someone else, you might need to rewrite your essay. Take a look at this paragraph:

"Ultimately, my sister did a lot of seemingly spontaneous and irrational things. But, I realized these moments were some of the most satisfying and transformative moments growing up. I realized that my sister’s humor worked its way into my heart and loosened the constraints I put myself through previously. Progressively, I went from somebody who, in their frantic, stressed life, became discouraged when not getting what they expect to someone who finds value in every moment."

Tbh, the sister in this story seems the most interesting - as a reader, I want to know more about her. She seems pretty cool. On the flip side, we haven't learned much about the narrator.

3. Reads like a resume. Your resume is like the polished, fancy version of you. Your essay is your chance to be honest, personal, and vulnerable. Don't list off your accomplishments and only focus on all the shiny, good parts of your life. Give the reader a chance to connect with you.

Don't fake smile - be your true, authentic self.

4. Lack of focus. This is the most common issue we see. Don't throw in details that aren't relevant to the story you're telling. Every sentence you write should contribute to the overall story you're telling. Take a look at this paragraph:

"After exams, my father took us out to dinner. I cherished every single dish, licking my plate clean while my mother chided me on how improper that is. Back home, she scolded me about tiny stains of food on my shirt, all the while trying to hide a smile. I studied for these moments too. She suffers from depression, so it is rare to see her smile. On an oddly cold Tuesday morning, I got a call from the British Council; I had scored the highest marks in Economics in Pakistan."

See how there are too many distracting details? It's like, each sentence gives us something that we want to know more about, but then just moves on. Why does the narrator cherish each dish? How has his mother's depression affected him? Unless you're planning to dig deep into details like these, don't include them.

Stay focused! Don't try to do too many things at once.

5. Leaves out personal growth. If your essay is about overcoming a challenge or changing as a person, make sure you focus the bulk of your essay on how you grew and changed. Don't just brush over it. Check out these paragraphs:

"After a male teacher directly asked if synchronized swimming took any effort, I vowed never to tell another soul about my sport. My floral swim cap, which once stood proudly on my dresser like a brightly colored flag, slowly inched its way deeper into my dresser. Now at sixteen, I have accepted my existence in floral swim caps."

See how we're set up to learn how the narrator changed? She talks about how she was hiding herself and her passions. But, then she never actually talks about the process of accepting herself. What happened? Did she find support from her friends? Did winning a competition change her perspective? But she never addresses it, and just says that she accepts herself now.

Don't hide the tough moments or challenges - overcoming obstacles in your life make you who you are, and this essay is about sharing who you are.

6. Overcomplicated language. Don't overcomplicate your sentences. Don't use super long sentences - limit it to 2 independent clauses per sentence unless you have a REALLY good reason for something longer.

And try not to sound like a thesaurus. Don't say things like "I was already being informed about the divergent underlying notions encompassing gender." Just say "I was already learning about the different expectations for different genders."

Be you, don't be pretentious.

7. Incorrect grammar or spelling. Check your grammar! Use spellcheck or grammarly to make sure you don't have any grammar issues in your essay.

Now, make sure you also know the 5 things you SHOULD do in your personal statement.