Personal Statement FAQ

If you have a question that you think might be relevant to other students, send it to us at steelec@yorku.ca with the subject line “Personal Statement – FAQ” and you will get a response. If it’s common enough, we’ll post it here too!

What is the difference between a personal statement and a letter of intent?

There isn’t a difference, they are just different ways of referring to the document that helps the selection committee understand why you want to pursue further study in that area, and in that program. You can attend any of the support services to help you with all aspects of your post grad application including the writing of your personal statement.

How long should a personal statement be?

Most programs will post length in terms of pages, words or more common in online applications, character count. Do not exceed these limits. If no limitations are posted, the default is about 500 words.

Is there a particular structure or format I should use?

The short answer is “no”. Read the instructions for each application carefully to see if there are specific questions or content they want you to address. Other than that, it is a little like writing an essay – the structure depends on your content and your rhetorical approach.

A lot of the examples of personal statements online seem to start with an exciting or dramatic story. I'm in Biology – do I need to compose a story in my personal statement?

One of the purposes of a personal statement is to distinguish yourself from the other applicants so, sharing a pivotal anecdote that is related to your decision to pursue further education can be an effective way of doing this, especially when applying to a program where your personality is important e.g. Education, Law, Medicine, Social Work etc. It is not the only way, or the best way for many students however. In fields where your suitability is not related to such matters, however, it would be more relevant to focus on your interests and curiosities rather than your personal attributes.

I’ve heard there are people who will write my personal statement for me for a fee. I’m not a great writer, so would using one of these services be a good option for me?

Absolutely not – for a couple of reasons. First, this constitutes academic dishonesty, and if it were ever discovered that you plagiarized your statement, now or in the future, you could be expelled and/or stripped of your degree(s). The personal statement is also a showcase for your writing/argumentation skills to ensure you are a strong enough writer to be successful in the program. It will become painfully apparent fairly soon if you are not. A writing coach, and lots of proofreaders can be enormously helpful in preparing a competitive statement, regardless of your writing abilities.