Writing a Strong Personal Statement
Many Arab students are not used to writing "reflective" and "personal" essays about themselves. Our educational system relies on studying hard and then taking a test. For US applications, the process is entirely different. One critical piece of the application process is your personal statement.
A personal statement is a story about you. Before you start writing our essay, we recommend you take some time to deeply reflect on the following questions:
What influenced you? people, events, books, etc.
What do you care about and why? What do you stand up for?
What challenges you and why?
In the activities you did or at your school, what have you learned? How did you grow?
When did you exercise leadership? How do you define leadership? When did you fail to exercise leadership?
What are your strengths and why?
Why are you interested in studying abroad?
Now that you've taken the time to reflect on your experiences and stories, take a look at the following two key resources for tips on how to write an incredible essay:
This video by the Purdue university guide on writing a personal statement offers concrete examples of how to draft a personal statement and the dos and donts when drafting your statement. It also provides samples on different ways to structure your personal statement
More examples by the University of Chicago are available here.
Advice from the Bridges Community
Ahmed El Kahwagy explains that “Each person has their specific story that identifies and characterizes them. In my opinion, this is the most important advantage to keep in mind when writing a personal statement. I would say that the first part of a strong motivation letter should be written around this specific "me", this DNA of the personality and its experience, in an honest and unpretentious way. Of course, the candidate should always keep in mind the requirements of the academic institution he or she is addressing, the "you" as a second part of the personal statement. Thus, I advise not to use too many details unless they can be used to fulfill a criterion or to show a personality trait that will be attractive to the program to which one is applying. Finally, it is preferable to find a way to join the first two parts, to create a "we" which attests to a kind of harmony between the qualities of the candidate and the scientific orientation of the establishment. There is no catalog for this kind of exercise, but candidates should not be afraid to be creative and expressive.”
Omar Abu-Qamar elaborates, “I was hesitant to apply at first, given that I didn’t have extensive research experience, but I was wrong. What is more important is highlighting your passion for research, and the potential of using the skills you will gain in the future. You can demonstrate this by showing a clear vision of what area within medicine attracts you and what question(s) within this field puzzles you and motivates you to join such a program to be equipped with the necessary tools to answer. This is where the personal statement becomes very important and can make up for the lack of a large list of publications in your CV.”
Mai Atta suggests “avoiding clichés or overused phrases such as “hard worker, passionate...”. You do not need to echo your resume, they have it and read it. Try to write your story, a turning point, a moment of success or achievement, a situation where you stood out. Also, balance your narrative between your background and what you want to do and have to offer to this program. You do not need to have a solid idea about your research interests and professors know it will change. However, giving them an idea about your area of interest is very helpful.”
Yosr Hammad encourages applicants to “not get bored of writing it many times. It took me at least 10 drafts to reach the final version of the statement of purpose. In your statement you need to address the following aspects: first, write about yourself and what made you choose the undergrad school. Second, how your work experience enhances your knowledge and increases your passion to continue in the field. Third, what makes you want to expand your knowledge and get the master. Fourth, why you think this specific university is a good fit for you and why you are a good fit for it.”
Sandra El Sabbagh indicates that “ the content should be clear and concise in showing your commitment and capabilities and it is very important to personalise it. Not thinking of it as an obligatory requirement but rather a way of expressing and convincing the person reading your great passion for the field and how it enhances your future career opportunities beyond the standard details of application materials.”
Rana El Kahwagy advises students “to be very honest in their personal statement; tell your unique story and be precise especially regarding your personality, your dreams and aspirations and why you want to apply to this particular program. To write my personal statement, I spoke about my childhood, my growth in different cities and how this affected my respect to other cultures and religions. Then I wrote the reasons why I decided to study law and how being part of the LLM program would help me to accomplish my dream in pursuing an academic position and improving legal education in Egypt.”
Maryam Esmat recommends to “be yourself. The personal statement/essay is your time to shine—market yourself! If you take the journey of writing a perfect personal statement seriously, you will learn new aspects about yourself. I cannot say this enough: Start early! In writing multiple drafts, you train and broaden your abilities to express yourself and show your personality on paper. When showcasing your great personality traits, do not tell—show. For example, do not say that you are persevering; explain the struggles you went through and continued nonetheless until you succeeded. Avoid heavy metaphors and SAT vocabulary words (unless you are intending to major in writing, journalism, etc. but even then, don’t overdo it). Be natural with a good command of the language. Talk to your friends about it and listen to what they have to say; they know you best. Have someone read it and ask them if it sounds like you, and if it does not, then have the courage to change it. Make sure the essay reeks of you.”