How to Write a Personal History Statement

Writing a personal history statement is well worth the time and energy.

In an effort to select only the best candidates from a vast pool of hundreds of applications, many college programs and employers require additional application materials to supplement a cover letter and resume. A personal history statement demonstrates how your decision to pursue a scholarly or business career with a specific college or company was informed by your background and upbringing. It also outlines how your future career goals are a natural consequence of your past. Mastering the principles of a personal history statement will allow you to distinguish yourself from a collection of similarly qualified candidates.

Research both the prompt and the organization providing the prompt carefully. Identify all requirements of the prompt, and ensure you can address them in your statement.

Gather information you can use in your statement. The information should demonstrate how perfect a fit you are with the organization to which you apply.

Free-write continuously and honestly, for at least 10 minutes, about your specific reasons for pursuing your intended educational or occupational experience. This will be your personal statement draft.

Free-write continuously and honestly about the moment in your past that led you to your intended school or job. It could be a past interaction with a teacher, an inspiring book or movie, or a personal working or studying experience. This will be your personal history draft.

List your experiences and accomplishments. Try to limit yourself to experiences accomplishments that relate specifically to your intended educational or occupational interests.

List your personal goals. Try to limit yourself to goals that relate specifically to your intended educational or occupational interests.

Craft your personal statement draft into a concise expression of your reason for pursuing your intended educational or occupational experience. This expression should be limited to one sentence.

Connect your experiences in your personal history draft with your list of accomplishments and goals. Try to demonstrate the ways in which your personal history enabled you to achieve your accomplishments. Also indicate how your personal history inspires you to go after your future goals.

Compose your first draft carefully. Choose two or three past experiences that led to unique accomplishments and will lead to future goals. Isolate each of these experience-to-goal-accomplishment chains in its own paragraph. Refer to these chains in both your introduction and conclusion.

  • Using too much expressive language can seem contrived and stilted.
  • Use expressive language (specifically verbs) to show your experiences rather than tell them.
  • Have at least two people proofread and edit your drafts. One of these people should be a former teacher or employer.

Samuel Hamilton has been writing since 2002. His work has appeared in “The Penn,” “The Antithesis,” “New Growth Arts Review" and “Deek” magazine. Hamilton holds a Master of Arts in English education from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Master of Arts in composition from the University of Florida.