Here’s an example of a common prompt: ”A personal statement of 1,000 words or less from the nominee describing his or her background, interests, plans for graduate study and career aspirations. The statement should include a discussion of some experiences and ideas that have shaped those interests, plans and aspirations.”
As Mary Tolar has noted, “If you are applying for nationally competitive scholarships, for graduate school, or for a number of post-graduate service or employment opportunities, you have seen the vaguely phrased request; in one form or another, it comes down to “tell us something about yourself… You are asked to share your “academic and other interests. A clearer charge might be: compose an essay that reveals who you are, what you care about, and what you intend to do in this life. Tell this story in a compelling manner, and do so in less than a thousand words. What’s so hard about that? Simply make sense of your life. (right.) But what does that mean?”
The personal statement is more like a genre than a rubric; there are set of constraints, but no formulas. This means that we need to triangulate our understanding of what it will be with more than one piece of advice rather than a single definition.
For that reason, I recommend you begin by printing out Mary Tolar’s advice. Highlight the phrases that strike you as helpful. Chances are, these are the phrases that surprise you or confirm what was a hunch. Noticing what stands out will help reveal assumptions you may not have even known you had. (This is a stage in the process that should not be overlooked in your rush to master the personal statement. The more you notice what you are learning, the easier the process will become.)
Check the application of every school to which you’re applying, but in general, you should follow these guidelines.
I prefer a one-line header. Put your name on the left, your LSAC number in the middle, and the words “Personal Statement,” followed by a page number, on the right. It looks like this:
In case you’re not comfortable with Word headers, I’ve made a correctly formatted .docx file with a one-line header. Click here to download the sample text, then substitute your information for the placeholders.
You can also put all the information on the right-hand side, in three lines, like this:
If you use a three-line header on the first page, you may want to use a shorter header—name, page number—on subsequent pages.
The Essay Body
- Don’t give your essay a title.
- Use twelve-point, Times New Roman font.
- Use one-inch margins all around.
- Double-space your essay.
- Left-align or justify your essay.
- Add half-inch indentations to each paragraph.
- Don’t add an extra return between paragraphs.
- Use one space after periods.
I’ve implemented this formatting in the personal statement format sample.
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