Personal Statement - Hooking the Reader


An introduction can make or break your personal statement. Essays that begin with, "My name is..." lack personality and tell the admissions committee nothing they cannot already extract from other materials in your application package. In order to avoid the slush pile, and leave a lasting impression on admission officers, you want to hook their interest from the very first sentence.

The personal statement is an essential component of any application, regardless if you're applying to college, or pursuing an advanced MBA, JD, PhD, or MD degree. Throughout the years, I've consulted many undergraduate and professional students across all disciplines. These individuals come from diverse academic and personal backgrounds; however, they are all confronted with the same problem—How do I stand out?

TIP OVERVIEW Start off with something the admissions committee cannot learn from the rest of your application. In other words, try not to jump right into talking about your GPA, volunteer/work experience, or awards. Your official transcript, resume, and/or curriculum vitae will cover that. Reveal something in that first sentence that will draw from your personal experience. For example, a childhood memory—that sparked your interest in the program you're applying to—is a great experience worthy of sharing.

WHAT NOT TO DO Hi, my name is Jane Doe. I'm applying to your law program because I love intellectual property law.

WHAT TO DO My grandmother wanted to share her children stories with everyone she came across, but she never published her work. The day she took me to Barnes and Noble, and found her children's book among the new releases, I knew that was something I wanted to fight against.

Okay, okay, okay. So, I pulled the granny card. But it got your attention, right? You felt sorry for granny, who wrote tirelessly about dragons and princesses in distress, only to find out that someone she trusted plagiarized her work. This childhood memory shows the applicant's personal investment in law, passion for helping others, and ethical disposition—all character traits needed to fight for justice. That's a hook that'll keep an admissions officer reading.

WARNING Just remember, your introduction should not TELL what can already be found elsewhere. Rather, it should SHOW a "relevant, unique, and honest" aspect of yourself, which helps an admissions officer better understand the person behind the application.

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