How Long Should a Personal Statement Be?

A student with curly hair frustrated about how long a personal statement should be.
Updated:
January 3, 2024
8 min read
Contents

”Mary

Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 08/17/23

Unsure about the length of your personal statement? Below, we’ll answer your questions about word count and what you could do to satisfy the requirements!

A common misconception is that achieving excellent grades and test scores alone can land you a spot in a high-ranking university. While academic performance is important in the admissions process, applicants must effectively tell schools who they are and what they hope to achieve once accepted.

And here’s where the personal statement comes in. Not to be confused with the statement of purpose, a personal statement accounts for your achievements, talents, interests, and goals. Needless to say, how your personal statement is written can give your application a major boost. 

The length of a personal statement plays a significant role in its effectiveness. In this article, we’ll go over the ideal length your personal statement should be!

How Long Should Your Personal Statement Be?

You will usually submit a personal statement 2-3 pages long, double-spaced, with 1-inch margins, using Times New Roman font in 12-pt font size. While there are no concrete length or formatting rules, generally, statements are between 500 to 650 words long and follow the above formatting guidelines.

Put simply, the length of your personal statement depends on the application service (or university, if you’re not applying through the Common or Coalition Applications) you use! These are the personal statement word limits for each application: 

Application Portal Personal Statement Length
Common Application 250-650 words
Coalition Application 500-650 words (recommended)
QuestBridge Application 650 words

To provide a more in-depth answer, your response should fall within close range of these suggestions without using unnecessary filler words or repeating ideas! Stay focused, keep concise, and know you do not have to meet the maximum word count! 

If you’re applying to MIT, Georgetown, or any school in the UC system, you’ll apply using each’s school-specific portal. Keep in mind, these schools don’t require personal statements; instead, you’ll write a handful of shorter essays (comparable to supplemental essays) to highlight your candidacy. 

How Long Should a Personal Statement Be If There is No Limit Specified?

The length of a personal statement depends on the application platform you use. However, in cases where there are no specific requirements given, you may need to decide for yourself. The bottom line is you need to ensure your personal statement achieves its purpose. 

If no word limit is given, it’s still best to aim for around 500 – 650 words, which works out to about two to three pages double-spaced. This length gives you ample space to paint a well-rounded picture of your experiences, achievements, and qualifications without overwhelming the reader. 

Regardless of the word count, aim for clarity and concision in your writing. Each word should work towards presenting a clear and compelling picture of who you are, leaving a lasting impression on the admissions committee.

Tips to Write a Personal Statement With an Ideal Length

Here are key tips to help you write an effective personal statement that’s just the right length. 

Don’t Bluff or Fluff

It’s a common mistake when writing a personal statement to be tempted to present yourself as an “ideal candidate” to impress the admission committee. 

However, it’s important to remember there’s no such thing; each person is unique, and the admissions committee wants to see the real you. So if you truly want to write an impressive personal statement, staying true to yourself is your best bet.

Don't make things up or exaggerate life events to make them appear more “spectacular.” The admission committee can easily see through false claims, which will only detract from your application. Instead, embrace your individuality and show them the steps you’ve taken to grow and learn. 

Be confident in your own potential and what you have to offer. Your stories make you unique, so don’t be afraid to share them in your personal statement. 

Stay Relevant

When writing your personal statement, it’s crucial to keep the content relevant and focused on the prompt you’re responding to. Avoid going off track and straying too far from your main topic—whatever it may be. This will help your personal statement length stay within the word limit. 

Do Not Repeat Yourself

It’s important to ensure you’re not repeating information already found in other parts of your application.

For example, don’t talk about your GPA or test scores. To make the most use of the word count, focus on sharing information and experiences that can’t be found anywhere else, like passion projects you’re proud of or defining moments in your academic career or personal life.  

Write With Purpose

Even if you have a 650-word limit for your personal statement, ensure each word counts and is carefully thought out! Start with an engaging hook to draw your readers in, follow it with concise and valuable personal insights, and end your essay with a bang to leave a lasting impression on the admissions committee! 

Don’t Be Vague

When composing your personal statement, steer clear of ambiguity. Vagueness can lead to confusion. You’re applying to college for a reason! You should have some direction of what your careers aspirations are and what you plan on doing after college! Share these specific goals with the committee. 

Being specific when discussing your experiences can greatly enhance the clarity and impact of your writing. It’s also a great way to ensure you adhere to word count restrictions. 

Dip Deeper

Avoid simply rehashing all of the extracurriculars you participated in, listing your highest grades, and the impressive awards you won along the way. Share what makes you, you! What inspires you? What are you passionate about? What do you hope to change or improve?

3 Examples of Personal Statements That Worked

Let's see how these tips and tricks come together, and review a few examples of successful personal statements:

Example 1

“In the summer of [YEAR], my sister was graduating college. My family and I drove to [CITY] to give our unconditional love and support and to celebrate. We ate dinner at a beautiful restaurant together and shared an amazing cake the day before. Unfortunately, it became the most tumultuous time in my life.
The 8 hour drive back was brutal on my workaholic dad; he neglected his health to keep a bright future for me and my sister. A few days after coming home, my dad went to the doctor with aggravating chest pain.
Soon after, the doctor dropped the news: my dad suffered a heart attack. I was [AGE], the youngest in my family, and refused to believe that my dad’s life could be cut short. Around this time, I was irresponsible and jaded; uncomfortable being empathetic, and always wishing problems to go away. 
The news weighed heavily on my shoulders. As I studied my dad’s condition, I soon realized and understood the great lengths he had worked to provide me a better future. Ultimately, I knew I had to change to be better for myself and for my dad. 
Post procedures, my dad returned home. Consequently, I was more empathetic, open to being vulnerable, and affectionate towards family which I had previously been too afraid to express. I would regularly hug my family members, didn’t hesitate to speak up if I was feeling scared or frustrated, listened to my dad more attentively, and I smiled more. Over the summer, I took care of my dad: I paid attention to his sodium intake, made sure he drank enough water, started doing his laundry, and slept in his room in case anything happened. There was nothing else that mattered more to me. 
I’m proud to say I can be vulnerable and act on my insecurities. I became an amicable, self-aware, and social person gaining respect and friendship amongst teachers and peers. Throughout college, I make sure to spend time with my family by cooking dinner for them once a week, sending them silly texts of cute animals, or just giving them a call. My transition to becoming more open has ultimately led to my career path as an [JOB TITLE] - creating better lives for marginalized communities. Understanding what other people go through and being susceptible will allow me to properly achieve my goals and assist those in need. 
It’s [YEAR], and my dad is in the best shape of his life. I show my gratitude by accompanying him during his checkups and scolding him for trying to eat poorly.”

Why It Works

Here’s what this personal statement does well: 

  • Engaging narrative: The essay begins with a relatable and engaging story that immediately catches the reader's attention. The use of a significant life event creates an emotional connection and sets the tone for personal growth.
  • Character development: There is a clear arc of personal development. The writer admits to being irresponsible at first but experiences a transformative journey towards empathy, vulnerability, and greater appreciation for family.
  • Relevance to career goals: The essay effectively connects the personal story to the writer's aspirations and career goals.
  • Word count: At only 429 words, this essay still gets a strong and impactful message across, attesting to this students’ ability to stay concise and use their words wisely!

Overall, this personal statement stands out due to its emotional resonance, clear development of character and meaningful reflection!

Example 2 

“Short, delicate strokes of paint, form a story of a beautiful soul to be displayed
on a canvas. All the unexpected, yet perfect details add character and life to the figure,
drawing viewers closer and enveloping them in a tale of curiosity, hardship, and
triumph. Just as the work of the mighty painter ever progresses, so too does the painter.
Neither the depicted young female nor the painter is yet to finish her transformation to a
woman. Every stroke a new day, every color a new era, to create the masterpiece that
is life and experience: my life and my experience.
The eyes, white spheres with green splashes that have seen both too much pain
and too little of the world. They harness a piece of the spirit of the forever curious girl
who hopes to change the world. The girl who grew up admiring the world’s brightest
engineers and most talented artists, hoping to one day grow into one of these awe-
invoking figures. Thinking, perhaps, she too could be a name in a history book because
of the good she created. Whether that means protesting for [CAUSE],
supporting efforts to protect the [CAUSE], or helping [PEOPLE] in need, she will
do what it takes to help others and make a meaningful impact.
With these big dreams, she also has scars as the girl who has been hurt many
times before. Each event leaving a mark in creation of who she would one day become.
Although the scars hurt in the beginning, she would not be the same without them. A
large strike along her throat, from when she was shut down. A horrendous mark about
the chest in an attempt to destroy her heart. Bruising and scrapes among her abdomen,
from the gut wrenching events that took away those she loved. And, an abundance of
carvings across her back, from events that hurt her most. To the viewer, the marks are
invisible; through her candid disposition, no one can observe the pain she has endured.
But, in asking her how she feels about the scars, she would not reference them as disfigurations, rather they are enchanting, incredible, and reveal her maturation and
strength. She treasures them because they prove her resilience and conquest.
Her hair, wild and seemingly untamed to others, but to her a masterpiece. Years
and years of worrying about perfection. Is it straight? Is it smooth enough? Only to
realize her authentic, curly hair is a part of her own beauty and uniqueness, similar to
the chaotic perfection of a Jackson Pollock. Growing up she molded herself to what she
believed others thought she should be, without giving a single thought to what she truly
can and should be: herself. To her, her hair symbolizes and brings forth the ferocious
lion inside her comparatively small self.
The girl’s lips are half sutured. As she works to rip out the heavy stitchwork, she
finds her voice. To her surprise, although the voice remains developing, her words and
ideas already begin to inspire individuals to be themselves. She will forever use her
voice for good, however subtle it may be. As the painting is finished, there will be no
trace of the once-conforming thoughts that held her back. One day, everyone will hear
her, loud and clear.
Unlike the painting, however, the story of my beautiful, bewitching, bold soul
continues to be unfinished. For I have the power to paint, ponder, and develop my story,
despite what unexpected details life may put in my way. I have the power to paint my
adventure, to keep placing those short, delicate strokes, to develop my character and
champion my story.”

Why It Works

Let’s review this essays’ most impressive features:

  • Creative metaphor: The student uses a creative metaphor of painting to symbolize their growth and journey. 
  • Vivid imagery: The writer's use of descriptive language paints a vivid picture, both of the physical image of a painting and their emotions to engage the reader and help them feel more connected to the narrative.
  • Consistency and unity: By maintaining a consistent theme and narrative thread from beginning to end, the student creates a cohesive and well-structured essay.
  • Word count: The essay effectively stays within the recommended word count (at 611 words) without being repetitive or veering off topic. While it is a longer essay it does not include repetitive information or unnecessary language. 

This is a captivating essay from beginning to end, and should inspire you to think outside of the box and get creative with your own personal statement! 

Example 3

“Standing on the volleyball court in April of my junior year, I look at my teammates before what could be the final serve. This game will determine whether my team receives a bid to Junior Nationals, the highest-level competition for a junior volleyball player. As our fans in the arena cheer us on, I feel the pressure, but I’m feeling joyous just to be part of the team.
The experiences leading to this moment were not all positive. My initial years of volleyball were difficult. I was placed on a team with a group of seemingly very motivated girls, however, I struggled with my teammates constantly criticizing each other, their only goal to look good individually to the coach. I was terrified of making a mistake and having my self-esteem crushed by manipulative teammates looking for someone to blame for another loss.
I realized I did not thrive in this combative environment and if I wanted to become a strong and confident player, I would have to make a change. I gathered the courage to try out for one of the most accomplished teams in northern [STATE]. I was offered the final spot on this team and worked as hard as I could to succeed. The new team’s atmosphere of support and positivity, where no one is afraid to fail, allows experimentation with new techniques which improved my game to the point where I was given a starter position. As my new mindset and leadership were recognized, I was presented with the opportunity to be a captain by the second season.
As team captain, I learned to be aware of what my teammates were experiencing and what their different needs were. I felt personal responsibility to keep the team optimistic even in the backdrop of COVID. I emphasized positivity and encouraged these girls to be successful by both helping and relying upon each other. I led by having fun.
This experience of positivity spilled over into other parts of my life. I now try to be a positive, supportive person at all times. I use my voice to create results instead of shying away from uncomfortable situations. I applied my new skills as a coach and mentor for new volleyball players who had the goal of making the high school volleyball team. I emphasized positivity and encouraged these girls to rely upon each other. Their attitude, talent, and hard work paid off and they all made the junior varsity team, something I’m very proud of. In addition, my positive attitude contributed to my confidence on the court which made me a much stronger player, and I was named All League in the [LOCAL] Conference.
The ref blows his whistle and signals the ball can now be served. The chemistry, spirit, and faith my team has in each other permit a perfect execution of the play and give us the final point we need to qualify for the spot at Nationals. What a journey it has been.”

Why It Works

Here’s why this essay works:

  • Compelling introduction: The essay begins by placing the reader in a high-stakes moment on the volleyball court which draws the reader into the narrative.
  • Specific examples: The student provides concrete examples of their actions, such as trying out for a different team, becoming a captain, and coaching new players. These examples illustrate the writer's progress and impact.
  • Connection to personal values: The writer's values of positivity, teamwork, and leadership are consistently woven throughout the essay. 
  • Impactful ending: The essay concludes by bringing the narrative full circle, returning to the opening scene and revealing the positive outcome to leave a strong impression on the reader.
  • Word count: This is another relatively short but sweet essay (492 words) that gets straight to the point, satisfies the reader nonetheless, and stays concise! 

To recap, all of these examples of personal statement were engaging, insightful, and reflective! Implementing these qualities into your own essay will undoubtedly elevate it!

FAQs: Length of a Personal Statement

Still have questions about the best length for personal statements? Don’t worry; check out these FAQs instead!

1. How Strict Are Word Counts?

We advise you not to exceed word limits or ranges. Following the word count shows you can follow instructions. If there’s a word limit, it’s there for a reason! 

2. Are 200 Words Enough for a Personal Statement?

Typically, 200 words aren’t enough for a personal statement, but supplemental essay word limits tend to fall in this range. 

3. Can a Personal Statement Exceed 500 Words?

It’s quite common for college personal statements to exceed 500 words – the Common, Coalition, and QuestBridge Apps all recommend or cap personal statements at 650 words.

4. Can a Personal Statement Be 1,000 Words?

Excluding special cases, 1,000 words is typically too long for a personal statement.

5. Are Two Pages Too Long for a Personal Statement?

This depends on what the application or school requests, so ensure you double-check any requirements for personal statements. 

6. What is the Typical Recommended Length of a Personal Statement?

Recommended personal statement lengths typically range from 500 to 650 words. 

7. Are 600 Words Too Much for a Personal Statement? 

Not at all! All three main college application services recommend (or limit) personal statements to 650 words. 

Final Thoughts

So, how long should a personal statement be? That depends on the application portal you choose. Remember, your personal statement is all about you. It’s your chance to shine and let yourself be known to admission committees as an aspiring applicant. Happy writing!

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