If you are planning to study abroad in an English-speaking country, you have probably already learned that submitting a personal statement is a crucial part of your university application. So what exactly is this essay all about, when should you write it and how should it be structured? Here are some tips on how to write a personal statement to apply for university admission.

When is the personal statement required?

American colleges and universities all tend to require a personal statement to be included with your application materials, as does the centralized British UCAS university application program. Canadian schools don’t usually demand it, but students are often encouraged to include an optional personal essay. A personal statement is considered a replacement for an in-person interview, so its importance cannot be overestimated. This is your chance to prove to your dream university that you belong there.

What is the difference between a personal statement and a statement of purpose?

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A personal statement can also be called a personal essay or an introductory essay about yourself. However, if you see a request for a statement of purpose, this may be a different thing altogether. Make sure to double-check the exact name of the statement you are asked to produce before you get to work, and read the instructions. The main thing to know is that a statement of purpose is most typical when applying to graduate programs. It is heavily focused on your academic goals, your training and your research interests within a particular field. If you are asked to write a statement of purpose, check out this SchoolApply article for handy tips on how to do a good job with that. A personal statement, on the other hand, can be less about your goals as a student and a scholar, and more about what makes you a unique human being. However, it’s still crucial for the essay to keep some type of an academic focus.

How do you write a great personal statement?

When writing a personal statement for university admission, try to highlight your multi-dimensionality – you can do this by introducing the personal, academic and professional sides of your personality. Think of what makes you special. What have been some important events in your life? What types of hardships have you overcome? What has made you the person you are today? Think of what stories you would share with a new friend who wanted to get to know the real you. Be authentic and truthful. Explain why you would be a great fit for a particular institution or a major.

What is the structure of a personal statement?

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When you are trying to figure out how to write a personal statement for university, keep in mind that the rules are pretty similar to regular essay writing. Starting with a strong anecdotal story is always a good idea – for example, you could describe a defining moment in your past that has shaped who you are today. If you can tie this story in with the reason why you are applying to a specific university, even better. The middle part of the essay should be the meat of your writing. This means it should include your main arguments and points that you want to make. To end your essay, think of a conclusion that ties everything together. Reflecting back on that first anecdote you wrote about is a popular option for ending an essay, but is certainly not the only way. If you want more detailed instructions on writing personal statements, check out this article from SchoolApply.

Should I worry about doing a perfect job with my essay?

Writing a personal statement can be an intimidating task. After all, this little essay of about 500 words can play a major part in whether or not you get into the school of your dreams. But try not to stress out too much – that never helps. Instead, try to stay relaxed and keep in mind that writing a personal essay can be easy and even fun, if you have the right attitude. Start writing the essay several weeks before it’s due so that you can keep any last-minute panic at bay. Don’t worry about perfection. If your other application materials are solid, even an average essay will do. Don’t think that you need to pretend to be someone you are not, or to make yourself seem more interesting by inventing stories. Instead, you do you. Think of this essay just as an opportunity to introduce yourself to the faculty at your future university. After that, the ball is in their court and they can determine if you and your dream school are as good of a match as you think you would be.

Read more articles on prerequisites for applying to your dream school abroad only at SchoolApply.

About the Writer: Mirva Lempiäinen is a US-educated freelance journalist from Finland. After calling New York City home for about a decade, she now resides on the French-Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.