Business School Personal Statement Writing
Writing a personal statement for business school that stands out from the crowd can seem like a daunting task. Admissions tutors want to read about you and why you’re passionate enough about business to study it at grad school and start a career in business.
Unfortunately, they also want to find out this information in a compelling, intelligent, and enthusiastic manner that will grab their attention and make them want to accept you onto their program.
All applicants to the program want to enter the world of business, so how will you present your own reasons in a unique way that no one else can?
It should therefore come as no surprise that we recommend you start drafting your business school personal statement as early as possible, so that you have plenty of time to think about your approach, put together a first draft, and then redraft it as many times as you need to using your own thoughts and other people’s feedback.
This way you will have the best chance of writing a successful, well-rounded statement that will get you accepted on to your chosen business school programs.
What is a personal statement?
Defining a personal statement for business school will give you a clearer idea of exactly what is required to write an excellent statement.
A personal statement is a way for business admissions teams (usually consisting of faculty) to learn more about you as a candidate. It is a piece of creative writing that allows you to sell your abilities, skills and experience to others, much like a covering letter for a job application.
Admissions tutors not only want to see why you are interested in their business program, but also what you can bring to them and their university. Think about the following as a starting point:
- What interests, skills, experience and qualifications make you a great applicant for this program?
- How will you contribute to the field of business through research, seminars, conferences and other opportunities?
- Why have you chosen business as a career path?
- Why does this university’s business program appeal to you and how can it help you fulfil your ambitions?
Normally you will be asked to write a general statement that isn’t a response to a specific prompt, but business schools may suggest some topics for you to consider.
What are business school admissions staff looking for in my personal statement?
When the admissions faculty look at your personal statement, they are likely to be asking two main questions:
1. Do we want this student on this program?
2. Do we want this student at this university?
These questions can then be broken up further to make it easier to answer them thoroughly:
- Is the student suited to the business program that they are applying for?
- Does the student have the necessary qualifications and personal qualities for the program?
- Is the student conscientious, hardworking and unlikely to drop out?
- Will the student do their best and cope with the demands of business school?
- Can the student work under pressure?
- Will the student be able to adjust to their new environment?
- What are their communication skills like?
- Are they dedicated to this program and have they researched it well?
- Do they have a genuine interest in business and a desire to learn more about it?
These are the sorts of questions you need to answer in your personal statement.
Unfortunately you cannot answer them directly with a simple 'yes' or 'no' - you need to provide evidence and make it sound believable. This means showing, not telling, the tutors why you are such a great candidate.
Ultimately, business school admissions tutors are human too, and may well have hundreds of program applications to sift through, so even if you think you've answered all these questions really well, you may still be unlucky.
The rest of this guide will show you can give yourself the best chance of being noticed through your personal statement, and get accepted onto your chosen business programs.
Remember that this is your first opportunity to introduce yourself to the business school in your own words, so think of your statement as a personal job advert, where you are selling yourself by highlighting your skills, experience and life goals.
Programs want to know more about:
- Current achievements in your college degree
- Experiences outside of the classroom that have inspired you to pursue a career in business
The best way to begin putting together a successful personal statement is to sit down and have a brainstorming session. First, think about the following points and jot down some notes:
- Personal achievements - what relevant attributes and interests make you a special candidate? These can be either inside or outside of the college classroom.
- Extracurricular activities - have you completed any volunteering work or got involved with any charities or other groups/organisations that help the community? You could also include any leisure or sports activities you participate in during your spare time, providing the skills you gain from these are relevant to the program.
- Academic success - are there any appropriate projects or other pieces of college work that you scored highly in and are particularly proud of? Have you received any awards or other type of recognition for your studies?
- Work experience - what professional skills can you bring to the program? How have work placements helped shape you into an ideal applicant?
Next, build up some vocabulary that will allow you to establish a comprehensive, yet coherent statement that represents a true reflection of yourself and portrays you in the best possible light.
Try using the following words as category headings and see if you can put at least two or three words in each:
- Communication - e.g. speaking, writing, collaborating, explaining, discussing, listening.
- Research - e.g. analysing, collecting, investigating, interpreting,examining, collecting, evaluating, concluding.
- Creative - e.g. imagining, designing, illustrating, original, envisioning, artistic, inventive.
- Leadership and management - e.g. coordinated, delegated, responsible, teamwork, directed, assigned, negotiated.
- IT and Technical - e.g. networking, programming, web development, hardware, software, operating, engineering.
Other headings you might wish to use include: Clerical/Administrative, Problem Solving, Training, Media, Financial and Human/Public Relations. Feel free to add any of your own headings that you feel are relevant to your application, too.
Hopefully you should now have a nice long list of keywords that demonstrate all of your skills and personal qualities. For each one, write down:
- How you have demonstrated this skill or trait - try to think of a specific experience that provides evidence you possess this skill. Remember, your personal statement will be much more solid and believable if you backup everything with examples.
- When you began to develop it, e.g. high school, college - again, try to be as specific as possible.
- How it will benefit you during the program - tutors will want to see how your skills will make you a successful business student.
- How you might use it once you have completed business school - think beyond your program and show your commitment to business by demonstrating how you plan to use your skills and attributes in business later on.
- Any related skills or traits you hope to gain during your time at business school - recognise that there are still areas you could improve on, and tell the admissions faculty how the program can help you with these.
At this stage you should have a whole host of skills and personal qualities that you can demonstrate through a particular experience. Now you need to begin constructing actual sentences with all the information you have gathered.
It helps to write an opening paragraph that will grab the admission tutor’s attention straight away. This means avoiding overused cliches such as “I’ve always wanted to set up a business since I was a child”. A good way to do this is to start by conveying an experience that tells a relevant story, e.g. your interest in business was sparked by your parents having a yard sale one summer.
As this will form the opening to your personal statement, choose your experience carefully - the more personal it is, the more engaging your statement is likely to be.
Think about the following once you have decided what to write about:
- Does the story offer the business school genuine insight to your personality, and if so, how?
- Will the reader get a sense of enthusiasm for business?
- Does it explain why you have chosen to pursue a career in business?
- Are your long-term career plans or professional hopes indicated?
The rest of the first draft of your personal statement should follow a similar pattern, with further skills addressed using specific examples from your past. Remember - show, don’t tell the admissions staff why you should be accepted on to their business program.
The final paragraph should form a memorable conclusion that will again attract the admission tutor’s attention and make you a memorable candidate. As mentioned earlier, you need to stand out from the crowd if you want to have a chance of being accepted.
As you start writing the first draft of your personal statement, try to avoid making the following errors so that you end up with a reasonably decent statement to start with:
- Including lots of information from your resume - don't waste precious space relating standard information that admissions staff can find elsewhere on your application. Never cut and paste from other documents - it never works and makes you look lazy. The personal statement has to be "personal", so listing grades, awards and other achievements is not going to impress anyone. Write something new and original the tutors will want to read.
- Ignoring the topic question or other directions - only do this if you want to appear incompetent and produce an essay that is completely irrelevant. Read any prompt(s) you have been given carefully, and make sure your statement reflects a consideration of this.
- Failing to explain why you want to attend this school - although this seems like quite an obvious point, you'll be surprised at how many business school candidates do not include this vital information in their personal statement. As mentioned earlier, tell the tutors what you can bring to the school and why you would make such a great addition to this incoming class. You should also talk about how the school might help you in return with your personal development and career ambitions.
- Telling your story in a boring, forgettable manner - again, you need to write about yourself and your experiences in a personal way. This means providing specific examples to back up what you are saying, and not using general, sweeping statements that will just wash over the admissions tutors. Writing from the heart and being honest will result in a winning statement that will help you get accepted on to your chosen programs.
- Dwelling on negative aspects of your record - you only have limited space to portray yourself in the best possible light, so don't waste it by making apologies for things that don't look so great. So make sure you turn everything you write about into something positive.
If you're struggling to put together your first draft, take a look at some example business school personal statements to help get your creative juices flowing. Our graduate school personal statement style guide will also help you to avoid common mistakes made by applicants.
Once you have completed the first draft of your personal statement, you will need to analyse it critically and evaluate how it might be improved. There are two ways you should do this:
#1 Critique it yourself
Read through it carefully and ask yourself the following questions to help you highlight its strengths and weaknesses:
- Is the opening paragraph interesting enough to make you want to read further?
- Have you provided specific examples for all of the skills and personal attributes mentioned?
- Have you talked about your work and/or voluntary experience in detail, and how this will be useful during the program?
- Is your statement engaging throughout? If not, how could you change the vocabulary, sentence structure and/or content to improve this?
- Is your statement focused enough that it explains why you have chosen to pursue a career in business, rather than a related one such as Economics or Accountancy?
- Are there any spelling, grammar or formatting issues that need to be fixed? Check the word or character count, and make sure you have addressed all the points you have been asked to (if necessary).
#2 Ask for feedback from family, friends, college professors and career counselors
It’s often hard to be objective about your own work, especially when you have spent so much time looking at it, so it’s always a good idea to show your statement to at least several other people if possible.
Ask them to comment on the strengths and how it could be improved (it’s best to give them a printed copy and let them write on it).
Read through all the feedback and take it all on board - are there any common areas people have noted that could be improved?
Next, go through each point and see if it would make the statement better overall. If you feel it doesn’t, don’t incorporate that particular suggestion into your new draft.
Although other people’s views are essential here, it’s also important that you are happy with the statement. Never let someone else rewrite your statement - it should only be your own writing.
Don’t underestimate how long this part of the writing process can take - you may go through many cycles of drafting and asking for feedback, so again, try to start writing your personal statement as early as possible.
The final draft
Write as many drafts as you feel are necessary, until you have a polished statement that you are completely happy with sending off to your programs.
Check carefully for any spelling and grammar mistakes, as these errors are likely to be noticed and will make you look incompetent. Don't just rely on a spell checker for this - you should read your final statement several times and do these checks by eye.
Also make sure that your statement meets any word or character limits, as well as any other requirements outlined by the graduate school. Otherwise it will look like you couldn't be bothered to read the application process and you may be rejected straight away.
Good luck with your business school applications!