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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

How to Focus on Your Values in Your Personal Statement

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by CEG Essay Specialist Kaila Barber in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


What’s Covered: 



Identifying Your Own Values


It’s important to keep in mind what your reader is hoping to learn from your personal statement. The statement is an opportunity to reflect on your experiences and demonstrate how you think about and relate to the world around you. Specifically, what are some of your values? What’s meaningful to you? What do you find important? 


Personal values can be things like communication, patience, nature, health, personal development, courage, self-love, authenticity, healthy boundaries, or even humor. Before you start drafting your personal statement, take a moment to reflect on the things that you find important and why. 


We’re all very different people coming from different backgrounds, and we have different experiences that impact our individual values. While some of your values will overlap with those of other people, your personal reflection on the values that resonate most with you will separate your statement from someone else’s. 


Demonstrate Your Values with Examples


The best way to include your values, skills, and traits in your essay is to pair them with specific examples and anecdotes. Each anecdote should align with at least one of the values that you find most important and should be accompanied by your personal reflection on the value and its related experience. 


Here’s an example. A student does not have a parent or guardian around to shoulder the expenses of caring for them and their younger sibling. In their outline, the student says that they value autonomy, financial stability, and family. Throughout the essay, they demonstrate these values by talking about getting a part-time job to help support the family and caring for their sibling at home. They also excel academically and even petition to have an AP Physics II course offered at their school. 


The student has shown autonomy by taking the initiative to petition for the new course and by getting a job. They have also demonstrated that both financial stability and family are important to them by pitching in to support their parent and sibling.


Your examples should show your reader your values by being specific and personal to your background and experiences.


Reflecting on Your Experiences 


Reflecting on your values is an equally important part of the personal statement. Your reflections or insight should focus on not only your experiences but also who you are and who you want to become. The insight you include in your essay shows that you’ve really found meaning from your personal experiences.


Insight can take a few forms. A common way to show insight is by writing about a growth experience. Show how you went from point A in your life to point B, and share the lessons you’ve learned along the way. For example, people often reflect on how navigating a strenuous activity or challenge changed the way that they thought about themselves and what they could handle. Reflecting on that change in confidence is one way to demonstrate insight.


One of the clearest ways to explore insight is to self-reflect and write about how something has either connected you to, influenced, or reframed how you think of your own values. Maybe you once pushed yourself too hard, and that experience showed you the value of rest and mindfulness. Or perhaps a change in circumstances shifted or redefined your values to an extent. 


For example, a person might say that while they craved stability as a child because of their home life, they now see the value of risk-taking and adventure in enriching their own knowledge and experiences. In this example, both security and risk are important to the speaker, but their experiences ultimately shifted weight from one value to another.


Regardless of how you approach your personal statement, insight is the overarching meaning that you take away from the relevant experiences and values you’ve shared.


Are you looking for more guidance as you draft your personal statement? Check out this post on how to come up with a strong topic that wows your admissions reader!