Many institutions of higher education require applicants to submit a personal statement or admissions essay as part of the application process. The personal statement or admissions essay is an important tool for universities to determine whether an applicant has what it takes to succeed at the institution. At California Southern University, the personal statement has been required of all Juris Doctor applicants for several years, and recently the requirement has been extended to those seeking admission to any of CalSouthern’s graduate degree programs.
Since it is such a critical part of the application process, here are a few tips for preparing the best possible personal statement.
Do not write a letter. The personal statement or admissions essay is not a letter. Therefore, it should not be formatted like a letter. The essay should not start with “Dear Admissions Committee” or any similar salutation. On a similar note, the essay should not end with a valediction, such as “Sincerely, Joe Smith.”
Follow the call of the question. Oftentimes, the admitting university provides specific topics for the applicant to discuss in the personal statement. For example, applicants to CalSouthern’s Juris Doctor program are asked to discuss “the ways in which your background, education, and professional experiences prepare you for the study of law and the ways in which your personal qualities will contribute to your success as a distance learner.” The personal statement should be organized in such a manner that it addresses all aspects of the call of the question. This lets the reader know the applicant is serious about gaining admission to the university.
Proofread! The purpose of the personal statement is to present oneself in the best light possible and demonstrate to the university that the applicant is capable of succeeding in the desired degree program. Typos and grammatical errors distract the reader and, as harsh as this may seem, call into question the applicant’s academic abilities. Therefore, applicants should adhere to standard writing conventions and check carefully for spelling and other errors.
If an applicant is submitting the same personal statement to multiple universities, care should be taken to ensure that any references to other institutions are deleted. For example, one should not write, “I would be honored to attend ABC University,” in a personal statement that will be submitted to XYZ University.
A final note on proofreading: while it is fine to check one’s work immediately upon finishing it, if possible, try to “sleep on it” and proof the personal statement again the following day. It is amazing how many mistakes or helpful edits become apparent when the material is re-read with fresh eyes.