5 Excellent Personal Statement Example With Analysis and Why They Worked

September 26, 2021

If you want to get admission to any college, you will most likely need to write a personal statement as part of your college application. 

Let’s first know what a personal statement really is and what writers should consider to include when writing their own personal statement.

So.

What is a personal statement? 

The main essay is needed by the Common Application and many other application systems. They require you to answer some version of the question like “Who are you, and what do you value?” Nowadays, the main Common Application essay has become very important in colleges’ decision-making process, mainly because many colleges rely significantly less on standardized test scores.

Why study personal statement examples? 

We usually encourage students to analyze examples of personal statements to understand what a great essay looks like and share a broad range of topics, writing styles, and structures to know what’s possible when drafting this essay. 

In this article, we’re sharing 5 of our most-liked examples from the past few years. We’ve also added analysis for what makes them excellent to help you improve your essay. 

What should a personal statement include?

The personal statement should show the skills, qualities, and values that you’ve developed over your life and how those skills have equipped you for attending college. 

In our opinion, an outstanding personal statement example has four qualities: insight, vulnerability, values, and art. 

Have a look at the more in-depth guide on how to write a personal statement 

Let’s read some essays.

Personal statement example 1

Day 19: I am using my school uniform as a slate to tally the days. As the ink slowly seeps through the fabric of my shirt, I begin to understand that being a conscious Arab comes with a cost.

Flashback.

Day 7: I come across a live stream on social media, 1,200 Palestinian political prisoners are on their seventh day of a hunger strike against the Israeli occupation. It is the first I have heard of its occurrence. I allow myself to follow the news daily through social media while regional mainstream media and our local news channels refrain from reporting any news of the strike.

Day 13: I am engulfed by the cry for justice. I feel helplessly overwhelmed, not wanting to confront reality. Still, I force myself to anyway, actively searching, refreshing my phone to tune into live streams from protests, plugging in “Palestinian hunger strike” on the search engine to stay connected to the cause.

Day 18: No one else seems to know anything about what is going on. I am compelled to find a way to embody the struggle. In my first-period class, I see a marker beside the whiteboard. I pick it up, not sure what I’m going to do, but then I hear myself asking my classmates to each draw a vertical line on my shirt. It seems funny at first--they laugh, confused. But each time the marker touches the fabric, it tells a story. It is a story of occupied countries, a story in which resisting apartheid becomes synonymous with criminality, a story we refuse to address because we have grown too apathetic to value life beyond our borders. As my classmates draw the tally, together we tell the story of the hunger strike and mourn the distance human beings have created between each other.

Day 20: My uniform has become a subject of the question. Each pair of eyes that fix their gaze on the ink, I share the story of our Palestinian compatriots. The initial responses are the same: disbelief, followed by a productive conversation on our moral responsibility to educate ourselves on the conflict.

Day 28: Each day the strike continues, I have asked my classmates to draw another line on the tally. While it still comes across as unsettling, it seems to no longer represent the reality of the hunger strike. My classmates are no longer interested in what it means. I am supposed to move on already. I am called into the principal’s office. After being instructed to get a new shirt, I choose to challenge the order. As long as the hunger strike lasts, I will continue to voice the reality of the hundreds of prisoners in hopes of recreating the sense of responsibility I initially sensed in my peers.

Day 41: A compromise deal is offered to the political prisoners, suspending their hunger strike. I walk out of school with a clean uniform and feel whole again, but unnaturally so. I was left feeling an unspoken kind of weakness where I broke under the realization that not all sorrows could resonate with people enough for me to expect them to lead movements.

I would need to be the one to lead, to recreate the energy that the tally once inspired. I decided to found a political streetwear brand, Silla, where fashion choices transcend superficial aesthetics by spreading an important message of equality and donating the profits to NGOs advocating for social change. Through Silla, I can stay in touch with my generation, keeping them engaged with issues because they can now spend their money. Silla has mobilized people to voice their opinions that align with equity and equality. Because I adhered to justice, I was elected student government president. I use it as a platform to be vigilant in reminding my peers of their potential, inspiring them to take action and be outspoken about their beliefs. When the ink seeped through the fabric of my uniform, it also stained my moral fibers and will forever remind me that I am an agent of change.

— — —

Why this essay is great: 

1. Original topic and unique connections. Overall, this is out of box thinking. The unusual story of how the author had lines drawn on her shirt attracts the reader. You wouldn’t find this type of story in other people’s applications; don’t feel daunted. Having a unique topic makes writing a powerful essay a bit easier, but it is not considered a great essay just for that point. This story really praises the connections and tiny observations that the author makes about her classmates and the school’s common response to separate but significant political conflict. The writer does an exceptional job invoking the emotional response of her peers and superbly articulates her own resentment with the apathy. While writing your essay, consider how you can use rare connections to take your reader to places they could never imagine. 

2. Experimental structure. One of the many neat things about this essay is its structure, which shows the quality of the art. The writer uses a montage structure that highlights numbers and chronology, two ideas that are fundamental to the content of the piece itself. By fiddling with the idea of time and distance, the student stresses some of the critical ideas in her essay and shows that she’s fearless to think outside the box. Keep in mind that admissions officers read lots of personal statements; an uncommon structure is super important in helping you go long way in setting you apart from the crowd.

3. Answers the question “so what?” The last paragraph really brings this essay home. . However the story of the uniform which is marked by lines for each day of the hunger strike is captivating, we’re not unaware of its significance to the life of the author until she gets to that last bit. She talks about her politically aware fashion line and her post as school president. Here you’ll know the answer to “so what” because it shows us that she took the teachings the strike and applied them to her life more broadly. After writing your first draft, just go back through it and make sure you have shown what you’ve done to act upon your values.

Personal statement example 2

Day 1: “Labbayka Allāhumma Labbayk. Labbayk Lā Sharīka Laka Labbayk,” we chant, sweat dripping onto the wispy sand in brutal Arabian heat, as millions of us prepare to march from the rocky desert hills of Mount Arafat to the cool, flat valleys of Muzdalifa. As we make our way into the Haram, my heart shakes. Tears rolling down my cheeks, we circumvent the Ka’ba one last time before embarking on Hajj, the compulsory pilgrimage of Islam. It became the spiritual, visceral, and linguistic journey of a lifetime. 

Day 3:

“Ureed an Aśhtareę Hijab.”

“Al-harir aw al-Qathan?”

“Ķhilaahuma.”

“Kham ťhamanu-huma?”

“Mi’at Riyal.”

“La. Khizth sab’een.”

“Sa’uethikhá Sab’een.”

“Shukran laķ.”

“Show me hijabs.”

“Silk or cotton?” 

“Both.”

“How much do these cost?”

“100 Riyal.”

“No. Take 70.”

“Fine. Thanks, Hajjah.” 

In Makkah, I quickly learn shopkeepers rip off foreigners, so exchanges like this, where I only have to say a few Arabic words, make me appear local. It also connects me with real locals: the Saudi Arabian pharmacist who sells me cough syrup, the Egyptian grandmother seeking directions to the restroom, the Moroccan family who educates me on the Algerian conflict. As the sounds of Arabic swirl around me like the fluttering sands (Jamal, Naqah, Ibl, Ba’eer…), I’m reconnecting with an old friend: we’d first met when I decided to add a third language to English and Bengali. 

Day 6: The tents of Mina. Temperature blazing. Humidity high. I sleep next to an old woman who just embarked on her twentieth Hajj. When I discover she’s Pakistani, I speak to her in Urdu. Her ninety-year-old energy--grounded, spiritual, and non-materialistic--inspires me. So far, every day has been a new discovery of my courage, spirit, and faith, and I see myself going on this journey many more times in my life. My new friend is curious about where I, a Bengali, learned Urdu. I explain that as a Muslim living in America’s divided political climate, I wanted to understand my religion better by reading an ancient account of the life of Prophet Muhammad, but Seerat-un-Nabi is only in Urdu, so I learned to read it. I was delighted to discover the resonances: Qi-yaa-mah in Arabic becomes Qi-ya-mat in Urdu, Dh-a-lim becomes Zaa-lim… Urdu, which I had previously only understood academically, was the key to developing a personal connection with a generation different from mine. 

Day 8: “Fix your hair. You look silly,” my mom says in Bengali. When my parents want to speak privately, they speak our native tongue. Phrases like, “Can you grab some guava juice?” draw us closer together. My parents taught me to look out for myself from a young age, so Hajj is one of the only times we experienced something formative together. Our “secret” language made me see Bengali, which I’ve spoken all my life, as beautiful. It also made me aware of how important shared traditions are.

As I think back to those sweltering, eclectic days, the stories and spiritual connections linger. No matter what languages we spoke, we are all Muslims in a Muslim country, the first time I’d ever experienced that. I came out of my American bubble and discovered I was someone to be looked up to. Having studied Islam my whole life, I knew the ins and outs of Hajj. This, along with my love for language, made me, the youngest, the sage of our group. Whether at the Al-Baik store in our camp or the Jamarat where Satan is stoned, people asked me about standards for wearing hijab or to read the Quran out loud. I left the journey feeling fearless. Throughout my life, I’ll continue to seek opportunities where I’m respected, proud to be Muslim, and strong enough to stand up for others. The next time I go to Hajj, I want to speak two more languages: donc je peux parler à plus de gens and quiero escuchar más historias.

— — —

Why this essay is great: 

It’s emotional and reminiscent. Features a specific depth of Urdu words and the conversations this writer shared with the people they met on their trip to Hajj brings this essay to life. Almost every sentence is full of lucid imagery and a new language. These intricate details make this essay fun to read and we appear in the world of the writer. Remember when you’re writing, make sure or at least try to engage all five senses to show, not simply tell, how you experienced something. 

Uses images to show herself. Remark how this writer’s use of images and details gives this essay a dream-like quality, jumping between people, spaces, new languages, and thoughts. The reason the author is able to talk about so many different regards of their culture. The way the details are communicated also shows the aesthetic awareness of the author, giving us a new perspective into who they are as a person. Remember when you’re composing an essay, know how you can take the reader in a dream world to show the reader what you care about. 

Practices dialogue effectively. Using dialogue in a personal statement isn’t always the best plan, as it takes up lots of words without clearly saying anything about who you are. In this essay, however, the writer does a fabulous job of using their conversations with people they meet along their journey to communicate their values and interests. Not only does the dialogue indicate their passion for language, but also it breaks down solid paragraphs into nice easy chunks that are easier to read.

Personal statement example 3

12 is the number of my idol, Tom Brady. It’s the sum of all the letters in my name. It’s also how old I was when I started high school.

In short, I skipped two grades: first and sixth. Between kindergarten and eighth grade, I attended five schools, including two different styles of homeschooling (three years at a co-op and one in my kitchen). Before skipping, I was perennially bored. 

But when I began homeschooling, everything changed. Free to move as fast as I wanted, I devoured tomes from Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison to London, Kipling, and Twain. I wrote 10-page papers on subjects from Ancient Sparta and military history to the founding of the United States and the resounding impact of slavery. I discovered more than I ever had, kindling a lifelong joy for learning. 

While high school offered welcome academic opportunities--studying two languages and taking early science APs chief among them--the social environment was a different beast. Many classmates considered me more a little brother than a true friend, and my age and laser focus on academics initially made me socially inept. I joined sports teams in spring and built better relationships, but my lack of size (5’1”) and strength relegated me to the end of the bench. Oftentimes, I secretly wished I was normal age.

That secret desire manifested itself in different ways. While I’ve loved football since I was a little kid, I soon became obsessed with personal success on the gridiron--the key, I figured, to social acceptance and the solution to my age problem. I had grown up obsessively tracking my New England Patriots. Now, instead of armchair quarterbacking, I poured hours into throwing mechanics and studying film after my homework each night. Itching to grow, I adopted Brady’s diet, cutting dairy, white flour, and processed sugar. But in the rush to change, my attitude towards academics shifted; I came to regard learning as more a job than a joy. No matter what talents I possessed, I viewed myself as a failure because I couldn’t play. 

That view held sway until a conversation with my friend Alex, the fastest receiver on the team. As I told him I wished we could switch places so I could succeed on the gridiron, he stared incredulously. “Dude,” he exclaimed, “I wish I was you!” Hearing my friends voice their confidence in my abilities prompted me to reflect: I quickly realized I was discounting my academic talents to fit a social construct. Instead of pushing myself to be something I wasn’t, I needed to meld my talents and my passions. Instead of playing sports, I recognized, I should coach them.

My goal to coach professionally has already helped me embrace the academic side of the game--my side--rather than sidelining it. I have devoured scouting tomes, analyzed NFL game films, spoken with pros like Dante Scarnecchia, and even joined the American Football Coaches Association. Translating that coach’s mentality into practice, I began explaining the concepts behind different plays to my teammates, helping them see the subtleties of strategy (despite Coach Whitcher’s complaints that I was trying to steal his job). And I discovered that my intellectual understanding of the game is far more important in determining my success than my athletic tools: with the discipline, adaptability, and drive I had already developed, I’ve become a better player, student, and friend.

Physically and mentally, I’ve changed a lot since freshman year, growing 11 inches and gaining newfound confidence in myself and my abilities. Instead of fighting for social acceptance, I’m free to focus on the things I love. Academically, that change re-inspired me. Able to express my full personality without social pressure, I rededicated myself in the classroom and my community. I still secretly wish to be Tom Brady. But now, I’m happy to settle for Bill Belichick.

— — —

Why this essay is great:  

Has a wonderful hook. The first line is exceptional. It’s funny, interesting, and it doesn’t reveal much. From the first line, we know that the author is a football enthusiast, meticulous, and academically intelligent. We don’t get a clear idea about him, but it allows him to move into the meat of his story about how his unusual educational trajectory influenced the person he is today. Remember how you can use the first sentence of your personal statement to constructively introduce readers and hook them into reading more.

Has a surprising moment. Personal statements conveying growth are rare and amazing. Here, the writer struggles to find a place in high school after skipping two grades and being homeschooled for a good amount of time in his life. Things change when his friend affirms his value that he starts to see how his exceptional and unique skills benefit the people around him. If you think of your essay as a movie of your life, this moment is like the climax. Everything changes when the main character’s psyche transforms and allows him to welcome and accept what he’s got. The hopefulness and release of this surprising moment keep readers engaged in the story and shows your ability to be self-reflective and adaptable to change.

Has a long time frame but still fits in lots of great details. This piece starts from the author’s life from 5th grade to this present day. He’s not talking about one specific moment. You could definitely do something with this if you want to display how you’ve developed over a longer period of time. Just notice how the writer here doesn’t sacrifice depth for breadth. Even though he’s covering a wide range of time, he still connects on intricate details about his favorite role models, classes and authors, and conversations with friends. These things make essays great. Remember, if you want to talk about more than just one event, don’t forget to stress important details.

Personal statement example 4

I have been pooped on many times. I mean this in the most literal sense possible. I have been pooped on by pigeons and possums, house finches and hawks, egrets and eastern grays. 

I don’t mind it, either. For that matter, I also don’t mind being pecked at, hissed at, scratched and bitten—and believe me, I have experienced them all.

I don’t mind having to skin dead mice, feeding the remaining red embryonic mass to baby owls. (Actually, that I do mind a little.)

I don’t mind all this because when I’m working with animals, I know that even though they probably hate me as I patch them up, their health and welfare is completely in my hands. Their chances of going back to the wild, going back to their homes, rely on my attention to their needs and behaviors.

My enduring interest in animals and habitat loss led me to intern at the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley over the summer, and it was there that I was lucky enough to meet those opossum joeys that defecated on my shoes whenever I picked them up (forcing me to designate my favorite pair of shoes as animal hospital shoes, never to be worn elsewhere again). It was there that a juvenile squirrel decided my finger looked fit to suckle, and that many an angry pigeon tried to peck off my hands.

And yet, when the internship ended, I found myself hesitant to leave. That hesitation didn’t simply stem from my inherent love of animals. It was from the sense of responsibility that I developed while working with orphaned and injured wildlife. After all, most of the animals are there because of us—the baby opossums and squirrels are there because we hit their mothers with our cars, raptors and coyotes end up there due to secondary rodenticide poisoning and illegal traps. We are responsible for the damage, so I believe we are responsible for doing what we can to help. And of course, there is empathy—empathy for the animals who lost their mothers, their homes, their sight and smell, their ability to fly or swim. I couldn’t just abandon them. 

I couldn’t just abandon them the same way I couldn’t let big oil companies completely devastate the Arctic, earth’s air conditioner. The same way I couldn’t ignore the oceans, where destructive fishing practices have been wiping out ocean life. 

These are not jobs that can be avoided or left half-finished. For some, the Arctic is simply too far away, and the oceans will always teem with life, while for others these problems seem too great to ever conquer. And while I have had these same feelings many times over, I organized letter-writing campaigns, protested, and petitioned the oil companies to withdraw. I campaigned in local parks to educate people on sustaining the seas. I hold on to the hope that persistent efforts will prevent further damage. 

I sometimes wonder if my preoccupation with social and environmental causes just makes me feel less guilty. Maybe I do it just to ease my own conscience, so I can tell people “At least I did something.” I hope that it’s not just that. I hope it’s because my mother always told me to treat others as I want to be treated, even if I sometimes took this to its logical extreme, moving roadkill to the bushes along the side of the road because “Ma, if I was hit by a car I would want someone to move me off the road, too.”  

The upshot is that I simply cannot walk away from injustice, however uncomfortable it is to confront it. I choose to act, taking a stand and exposing the truth in the most effective manner that I think is possible. And while I’m sure I will be dumped on many times, both literally and metaphorically, I won’t do the same to others.

— — —

Why this essay is great: 

One more great hook. The first line is incredible, after hearing it’s all about all the hissing, popping, tapping, and clawing that the author went through, there is a likelihood that you want to read more. And see how the initial pooping hook comes back in the last line of the essay.

As the story progresses the scope gets wider. The writer starts with certain details about an internship opportunity then slowly works her way to extensive topics about social equity and environmental activism. Every part of the story highlights her values, but they are more clearly stated towards the end. When you’re revising your personal statement, notice if each paragraph brings something new and interesting to the table or moves the story forward in some way.

It’s funny. This writer does an incredible job of using humor so as to be liked by her readers, but not as a support to lean on when she has nothing new to say. Not only is joking about poop but also deeply questioning her own motivations for being interested in social and environmental actions. This piece is fun to read with a balance of humor and authentic reflection while also saying a lot about the writer and her values/interests.

Personal statement example 5

February 2011– My brothers and I were showing off our soccer dribbling skills in my grandfather’s yard when we heard gunshots and screaming in the distance. We paused and listened, confused by sounds we had only ever heard on the news or in movies. My mother rushed out of the house and ordered us inside. The Arab Spring had come to Bahrain.

I learned to be alert to the rancid smell of tear gas. Its stench would waft through the air before it invaded my eyes, urging me inside before they started to sting. Newspaper front pages constantly showed images of bloodied clashes, made worse by Molotov cocktails. Martial Law was implemented; roaming tanks became a common sight. On my way to school, I nervously passed burning tires and angry protesters shouting “Yaskut Hamad! “ [“Down with King Hamad!”]. Bahrain, known for its palm trees and pearls, was waking up from a slumber. The only home I had known was now a place where I learned to fear. 

September 2013– Two and a half years after the uprisings, the events were still not a distant memory. I decided the answer to fear was understanding. I began to analyze the events and actions that led to the upheaval of the Arab Springs. In my country, religious and political tensions were brought to light as Shias, who felt underrepresented and neglected within the government, challenged the Sunnis, who were thought to be favored for positions of power. I wanted equality and social justice; I did not want the violence to escalate any further and for my country to descend into the nightmare that is Libya and Syria.

September 2014– Pursuing understanding helped allay my fears, but I also wanted to contribute to Bahrain in a positive way. I participated in student government as a student representative and later as President, became a member of Model United Nations (MUN), and was elected President of the Heritage Club, a charity-focused club supporting refugees and the poor.  

As a MUN delegate, I saw global problems from perspectives other than my own and used my insight to push for compromise. I debated human rights violations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from an Israeli perspective, argued whether Syrian refugees should be allowed entry into neighboring European countries, and then created resolutions for each problem. In the Heritage Club, I raised funds and ran food drives so that my team could provide support for less fortunate Bahrainis. We regularly distributed boxed lunches to migrant workers, bags of rice to refugees, and air conditioners to the poor.  

April 2016 – The Crown Prince International Scholarship Program (CPISP) is an intensive leadership training program where participants are chosen on merit, not political ideologies. Both Shia and Sunni candidates are selected, helping to diversify the future leadership of my country. I was shortlisted to attend the training during that summer.

July 2016 – The CPISP reaffirmed for me the importance of cooperation. At first, building chairs out of balloons and skyscrapers out of sticks didn’t seem meaningful. But as I learned to apply different types of leadership styles to real-life situations and honed my communication skills to lead my team, I began to see what my country was missing: harmony based on trust.  Bringing people together from different backgrounds and successfully completing goals—any goal—builds trust. And trust is the first step to lasting peace.

October 2016 – I have only begun to understand my people and my history, but I no longer live in fear. Instead, I have found purpose. I plan to study political science and economics to find answers for the issues that remain unresolved in my country. Bahrain can be known for something more than pearl diving, palm trees, and the Arab Spring; it can be known for the understanding of its people, including me.

— — —

Why this essay is great:  

Aligns the reader in time. Date and time can be used in an effective manner to structure a story. Here, the writer talks about an extreme political topic, which changed completely over the course of a specific timeframe. Using timestamps in the narrative elevates the story and makes it easier for readers to follow the chronology of the story. If your personal statement topic has changed remarkably over time or has developed in a chronological way, this might be a great blueprint for you. 

We get the perfect amount of context. When you’re talking about political or cultural affairs or events, always remember that your reader won’t have even basic knowledge. Also, you cannot spend a lot of time on the nitty-gritty details of policy refinement or history, you should provide your reader with a basic idea of when something was taking place and why. The author of this essay does that very briefly, clearly, and accessibly in his “September 2013” entry.

Highlight the author’s role and contributions. When talking about a  political topic, it’s easy to get carried away about the problem. However, always remember that this is ultimately a personal statement, not a political statement. Make sure you speak about yourself in the essay. So, even though the writer is talking about a huge event, he focuses on his participation in Model UN, CRISP, and Heritage Club. Keep in mind to think about how big problems manifest in your daily life as well as what you particularly are doing to take action.

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