Linda Abraham

2 Personal Statement Myths & Realities

You’re working on your grad school admissions application and the time has come to write your personal statement. You want your statement to be persuasive and engaging and help you get accepted to your target school. Not falling for the following myths will help put your personal statement – and your application – on the top of the accepted pile.

Myth #1: Personal statements are read by machines, so you need to work in keywords and repeat text from the school’s website

Reality: Although there have been amazing strides in artificial intelligence, adcoms are still comprised of living, breathing humans. So make sure you write your personal statement in a way that will catch a human’s attention. (In other words, write compellingly, in your own voice.) Your personal statement should not merely be a list of keywords. It needs to have information to back up the phrases you use. For example, merely using the word “leader” and its derivatives – lead, leadership, leading, etc. – will not convince the adcoms that you are, in reality, a leader. You have to show your reader that you are a leader by using real-life examples. In fact, the actual word “leader” doesn’t even have to appear in your statement if you are able to illustrate the trait through stories.

Example: You were assigned to a team at work that has been underachieving and coming in over budget. By reorganizing the team, setting deadlines for sub-tasks, and rewarding performance, you were able to complete your project on time and 10% under budget. Telling this story would allow you to illustrate both leadership and initiative in an engaging, persuasive manner that will keep the adcom interested in learning more about you.

Myth #2: The adcoms are like judges awarding prizes based on objective criteria and merit

Reality: The adcoms view themselves as professional class creators. They want to craft classes of students that are both high achieving and diverse and interesting – a class that will meld into a picture that is greater than the sum of its parts. They don’t see their job as one of rewarding you for past achievements. For them, merit is not measured just by test scores, grades, or even extracurricular activities. Therefore, your job is to show the admissions committee what is unique about what you will bring to their school.

Example: While volunteering with at-risk high school students during a summer break from college, you designed a program to enable them to shadow workers at a local accounting firm. The program has since grown from four students that first summer to 20 just three years later, and two of the original four participants are now in college. Telling this story demonstrates the impact you’ve had (which helps the adcom see the type of student you might be in the future). It also adds more layers of interest to your application, which already shows your outstanding test scores and grades.

By not falling for these personal statement myths you are showing the adcoms that you are more than just the black and white data on your application, but a multi-faceted, multicolored gem that will add to the beautiful mosaic of their incoming class picture.

For more tips on writing a personal statement that will get you noticed and accepted, check out our guide, From Example to Exemplary.


About Linda Abraham:

Catherine Blogger has guided thousands of applicants to acceptances at top universities since 1994 – they know what works and what doesn’t, so follow Linda Abraham on Google+ and contact Accepted to get started or visit for all your admissions consulting needs today!




  • Linda Abraham

    Linda Abraham is the founder and CEO of Accepted, the top-tier admissions consultancy that helps you unlock your competitive advantage. Linda has written or co-authored 13 ebooks on the college admissions process. In 2007, she co-founded the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) and became its first president. For the last 20 years Linda and her highly credentialed, experienced team have helped thousands of applicants get accepted to top colleges and graduate schools worldwide, including but not limited to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Columbia, Kellogg, and MIT. She has been featured in The Wall St. Journal, The New York Times, US News, The Sunday Times of London, Businessweek, Poets & Quants and MBA Podcaster.