A personal statement, although not required by all colleges,
universities or scholarship agencies, is a mandatory part of the
UC Admissions application. You have to submit a personal
statement in order to be considered for acceptance. More than
that, however, the personal statement is your chance to convince
the admissions reader why you should be accepted into their
university. It tells them who you are and what you can contribute
to their campus community. It is not the only component of the UC
application, but it can be the most important.
Your application will be compared to those of other students with
similar experiences—those serving as student body or organization
leaders, those playing and exceeding in sports, those
volunteering for community service and those achieving high grade
point averages. The personal statement enables you to set
yourself apart from the others, to tell the admissions reader
more about your life and past experiences than the listing of
accomplishments or classes already stated in your application.
You can tell them if you have battled a serious illness, injury
or disability, if you have had obstacles or special circumstances
in your past that you have overcome and what you have learned
from them, or, if you have not faced hardships or obstacles, how
you have taken advantage of opportunities available to you.
The personal statement is not a sample of your writing skills
although proper grammar, spelling and level of word usage is
expected. It is not a listing of your accomplishments,
honors and awards—those should already appear in your
application. It is not an exaggeration of problems or obstacles.
The personal statement should be honest and original and should
be written in your own voice. It should be based on your life and
show that you have taken responsibility for your choices and
behavior. It should show how your world, experiences, talents,
personal qualities, or contributions have shaped your life and
made you who you are. It
is your personal statement, and
although you should have others proofread your statement and give
you feedback, you should never let someone else write
it or rewrite it for you.
Steps to Writing an Effective Personal
1. Before diving into the personal statement, gather information
and complete the application first. This can help you
organize your thoughts and your experiences.
2. Read over your application and analyze it. Your life
story is so familiar to you that you may not think there is
anything worth mentioning. Ask yourself questions. The
levels of questions can give you insight into how to approach
your personal statement.
Level 1 – answers to these questions are evident in the
application and can provide details in your personal
Examples: What classes do I excel in? What sports do I
prefer? What types of clubs do I join?
Level 2 – answers to these questions are open to
interpretation using the information provided in the
application. They provide clarity to what is in the
application and can be used as topic sentences for your
Examples: Why am I so interested in science? Why do I
excel in English classes? Why is math so challenging?
Level 3 – answers to these questions address larger issues
not evident in the application but supported by the
application. They answer the question, “So what?” or “What
does it matter?” They can provide the thesis
statements for your personal statement.
Example: How can I use my interest in science and volunteer
experience at a nursing home to contribute to the health needs of
the elderly? How does excelling in English classes and
reading literature lead to a larger understanding of social
injustice and prejudices in this country, and how can I help to
alleviate those injustices?
3. After you have completed your application, analyzed it and
questioned it, you are ready to develop a topic. Your
personal statement should be direct and focused—it should NOT
address multiple topics. Ask yourself—What am I trying to
say? If you can’t answer the question easily, your topic is
not clearly defined or you’re trying to address more than one
topic in your writing.
4. Finally, get feedback. Do not try to complete your personal
statement in one sitting. Write it, leave it, read it, edit
it. You should be revising your personal statement multiple
times before submitting it, and you should have someone giving
you feedback in between. Ask your reader what they have learned
about you from reading your personal statement and if your
statement answers the questions asked in the
prompts. Furthermore, ask them to help you with grammar and
spelling. Although your essay is not being judged on grammar
and spelling, you are applying for college and your writing
should reflect your ability to write at college entrance level.
De-mystifying the Personal Statement Prompts
The personal statement consists of 2 prompts that can be broken
down into 4 parts. You are limited to 1,000 total words that can
be split between the 2 prompts. However, if you choose to
elaborate more on one prompt, the response to the other prompt
should not be shorter than 250 words. Stay within the word limit
as closely as possible. A little over—1,012 words, for example—is
Prompt #1 – Describe the world you come from—for example, your
family, community or school—and tell us how your world has shaped
your dreams and aspirations.
Part 1: Describe the world you come from…
Part 2: Tell us how your world has shaped your dreams
Answer both parts. Many students answer the first part and
ignore the second when the second part will tell the reader more
about you. The reader doesn’t need to know where you came
from; they need to know how the “world” from which you came
shaped who you are. Part one sets the background but part
two answers the question.
DO NOT try to describe all three (family, community or
school). Focus on one. You can even define your world
as your room, club or church, if you wish. Choose one that
is important to you and describe it to the reader.
Look at the questions you came up with while analyzing your
application and sort them according to the prompt they best
fit. Here are some examples of questions that would best
fit this prompt:
How has serving as my family’s interpreter encouraged me to
excel in school and influenced my decision to study sociology and
How did my student government experiences shape my
perspective on the political process and how do I want to
participate in shaping that process in the future?
How has my experience working in a local hospital contributed
to my understanding and desire to work on health care issues?
How did studying literature that exposed the social
injustices of the world lead me to volunteer my time at a local
soup kitchen, and how do I plan to use this experience and
knowledge to alleviate social injustice in the future?
Focus on one topic per prompt and chose the one that will give
you the opportunity to make the most persuasive argument and will
answer the most pressing questions related to the prompt. In
other words, which topic will tell the admissions reader how your
“world” has shaped who you are and made you a student who will
contribute to their university’s community?
Prompt #2 – Tell us about a personal quality, talent,
accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to
you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud
and how does it relate to the person you are?
Part 1: Tell us about a personal quality, talent,
accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to
Part 2: What about this quality or accomplishment makes
you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?
The setup for this prompt is similar to the first prompt—set
up the background. This is the “what” of the prompt—what
quality, what talent, what accomplishment, what experience—and,
like the first prompt, you will use your application as evidence
to support your statement.
The most challenging aspect of this prompt is figuring out
what to focus on. Many students think they have to focus on a
talent or an accomplishment, but if you read the prompt, you will
see that you have a wide degree of freedom to focus on just about
anything—a personal quality or an experience. Since a
person’s life is made up of nothing but experiences, you will
have plenty to draw on. You can focus on an experience
related to your educational goals or on a life-altering
experience that changed your perspective on life. You can focus
on a contribution you made while volunteering your time or how
leading a local youth group has strengthened your leadership
As with prompt one, look at the questions you came up with
while analyzing your application. Here are some
examples of questions that would best fit this prompt:
How did my focus on fencing impact my grades? (Talent)
What did I learn about myself as a participant in the
academic preparation program Upward Bound and how has the program
prepared me for college? (Experience)
How did establishing and editing my school’s newspaper
influence my decision to become a writer and what did I learn
from the experience? (Accomplishment)
Why is personal leadership so important to me?
What impact has the service club I started at my school had
on student morale and achievement? (Contribution)
Also like prompt one—focus on one topic. Don’t try to
impress the reader with an array of qualities, talents,
accomplishments, contributions or experiences. Do not repeat
the list you have already entered on your
application. Choose one quality, talent, accomplishment,
contribution or experience that has meaning to you and
significantly relates to who you are.
Final Tips When Writing Your Personal Statement
COMPLETE YOUR UC APPLICATION BEFORE WRITING YOUR PERSONAL
STATEMENT. The personal statement supplements the
information you have provided in your application.
Be mindful that your audience will be professionals who know
nothing about you other than what is written in your
application. They are college graduates, most likely
proficient writers themselves, who would appreciate reading
essays not only free of grammatical and spelling errors but also
organized, focused and full of details. It is critical that you
read and re-read your writing and have someone else proofread it
before submitting it.
DO NOT attempt to write a story to make the reader feel bad
for you. You will not gain admittance through pity. If
you have endured hardships, your essay should focus on how your
life has been shaped by those hardships and how you have overcome
Don’t repeat information. The personal statement should
not be a list of what you have already stated in your
application. It should focus on one topic per prompt and
explain how they shaped who you are.
Don’t complain. Avoid the pitfall referred to as
“whining.” You might think your ninth-grade teacher
didn’t like you, but it won’t help you gain access to a
university if that is the topic of your personal statement.
DO NOT focus on someone else’s experience. Your single
mother may have had to work 3 jobs to put food on the table, and
you might admire her strength and determination and resilience,
but your mother isn’t applying for college—you are. While
you can use your mother’s situation as a background, the focus of
your writing must be about you. Focus
on your strength and determination and resilience.
Avoid clichés, over-the-top prose, and words seldom used in
day-to-day speech. Words and phrases like, “there is nothing
to fear but fear itself,” or “a feeling of indescribable
disbelief overcame me,” or “admirable erudition,” serve only to
use up precious word count or demonstrate that you know how to
look works up in a thesaurus.
Don’t try to be funny or wildly creative. Few people can
pull it off successfully, and it may not achieve the effect you
If applying for the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), a
support group for students from low-income families in which
neither parent is a college graduate, write about your
determination to succeed even though you may have lacked academic
or financial support and discuss how this program might benefit
Following the personal statement, there is a section called
Additional Comments. Use this space—up to 500 words—to tell
the admissions reader anything you want them to know about you or
your academic record that you have not had the opportunity to
describe elsewhere in the application.
A lot of help writing the personal statement can be found
online. Read as much as you can and become familiar with
what the personal statement is and what it is not. Once you
understand why you need to write a personal statement, what
information you need to convey in it, and the audience you will
be addressing, writing the personal statement will not be such a
formidable task. For more information about the personal
statement, go to: