Four Things People Won’t Tell You About Writing a Personal Statement

By Emily K. Tudorache

Recently, I applied for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, a process which—although generally quite daunting—worsened when the time came to write my personal statement. Never in my three years of college has a writing assignment posed such a challenge or made me question my validity as a student and writer.

I spent hours reorganizing and revising, only to receive feedback telling me I still hadn’t quite hit the mark. My starting anecdote wasn’t catchy enough, or my theme and personality weren’t apparent. I cycled through drafts so many times that before long I’d exhausted my motivation and ideas.

Writing a personal statement doesn’t have to be so painful, though. In retrospect, I’m here to tell you the four things I wish I’d known while writing my personal statement.

Too Much Planning May Work to Your Detriment

I bet you never thought you’d hear writing advice beginning with, “Don’t plan too much,” but when writing a personal statement, sticking to a structured outline might actually stifle your personality. While writing my statement, I fixated on the same anecdotes and organizational patterns I started with—even when I knew they weren’t really working to present me as the best candidate I could be.

Talking to people about why I was applying for a Fulbright helped me get out of my structural funk. After a few (too many) lengthy conversations with coworkers, my advisors, and my mom, I realized what I actually wanted to say and conjured up stories from my life that were more representative of my motivation than my initial ideas.

Frustration Will Distract You

At times, it may feel impossible to keep your cool during the drafting and revising process. I’d become so frustrated while trying to address feedback from my advisors that I’d spend more time seething over my writing ability than working productively. Instead of forcing myself to sit at my computer and struggle over sentence-level details, I should’ve taken a few moments to step away and breathe.

When I was crunched for time before a revision was due and couldn’t fit in a break, I would work in the library. Working in a quiet environment alongside other students helped to keep me calm, focused, and productive—even when I was frustrated.

Too Many Opinions Can Get Confusing

The most popular piece of advice you’ll probably hear when writing a personal statement is to have anyone and everyone read it. While second opinions can be helpful for ensuring your point is coming across clearly and effectively, too many eyes on your writing can become distracting.

After showing my personal statement to nearly everyone in Reno, I often found myself torn between conflicting pieces of feedback, which only made revising more stressful. To avoid juggling others’ opinions, find someone whose feedback you can trust and prioritize their suggestions. You can even discuss others’ feedback with them to better adjust your revisions to your specific needs as a writer.

You Are Worthy

When writing a personal statement, it can be easy to surrender to impostor syndrome. You may have thoughts like, “I’m only here because I got lucky,” “I’m not qualified for this,” or “Everyone’s going to find out I don’t actually have what it takes to be here and to do this.” You start feeling like you shouldn’t even try because it’s too hard or you might not be accepted.

I spent far too much time and energy doubting myself. Thinking about giving up was an occurrence I often indulged in with my morning coffee while reviewing the work that had to be done that day. Remember that you decided to apply for the program, job, or grant for a reason—that reason is enough for you to continue trying.

Writing a personal statement can be difficult for a variety reasons. It’s supposed to be sophisticated and personal, yet it all has to fit on one page—a seemingly Herculean feat. Just keep that pen to paper, and it’ll be worth it in the end.

Good luck!

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