What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

What Is a College Personal Statement?


You know you need to write a personal statement for colleges—but what exactly is it? How much does it matter? And most importantly, what should you say in it? Read on to find out the ins and outs of a college personal statement.



What Is a Personal Statement?

While other aspects of your application offer insight into your academic skills, the personal statement shows colleges your personality. Sometimes, the personal statement is used interchangeably with Common or Coalition Application essay, which is usually written based on an assigned topic or topic of your choice about a specific issue. But some colleges will have you write both. In that case, the personal statement may be shorter and more about you as a person and your ambitions, rather than the essay, which will focus on the topic of choice.


Your personal statement also gives colleges a glimpse into your thinking process and showcases your writing skills. It is NOT a regurgitation of your resume; it’s about you—your ambitions, dreams, and personality. Learn more about it in Mastering the Personal Statement: How to Be Confident Without Being Overconfident.



How Much Does the Personal Statement Matter to Colleges?

In short: It depends. A huge public university might not place as much weight on your personal statement, because this type of school focuses more on the numbers and has too many applicants to review each one in detail. Smaller schools will likely pay more attention, although they will probably weed out unqualified applicants based on test scores and GPA first.

Essentially, if you’re a borderline candidate, your personal statement could push you over the top. However, it’s not going to make up for weak stats. Furthermore, if you want to major in a writing-related discipline such as English or creative writing, your essay will need to be particularly strong. After all, your writing skills are the basis of your candidacy. For more thoughts, read How Important Is the College Essay?.



How Do I Come Up With an Idea for a Personal Statement?

Brainstorming is key to developing a great topic for your personal statement. Spend some time thinking about your interests, passions, and goals. Consider challenges you’ve faced, unique activities or spins on common ones, and adversity. Bounce ideas off of friends and family members, or ask for their tips. For more strategies for developing a topic, check out these posts:


What If I Don’t Have Anything Interesting to Write About in My College Essay?

How to Come Up With an Idea for a Personal Statement.



What Topics Should I Avoid?

There are, of course, some topics you should avoid in your personal statement. They include cliche ideas like sports injuries or pet death. These are overused and likely to annoy adcoms. You should also avoid overly controversial topics. It’s fine to discuss ways you’ve participated in political events or groups, but steer clear of making inflammatory statements that might bother someone who has a different view or belief from you.


You should also, of course, avoid writing anything prejudicial or using hate language against any group, person, or demographic, as well as anything inappropriate. Finally, as noted earlier, don’t regurgitate your resume. While you can make note of an accomplishment as it relates to your topic, your essay shouldn’t just be a list of achievements; instead, it should show adcoms who you really are.



A Final Word

Your personal statement is about you. You’re showing colleges the person behind the application. What are your unique takes on issues? What would it be like to have a conversation with you? Who are you? These are the types of questions you should consider when writing. Approach it like you want adcoms to get to know the real you—because that’s the whole point.


For more tips on writing a personal statement, read:



Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.

Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.