Teaching Personal Statement Opening Paragraph

A personal statement for a fellowship or graduate school application is your opportunity to express to the selection committee who you are and why you are a great candidate for the program. In particular, an eye-grabbing lead sentence or opening paragraph is your most important tool for maintaining the reader’s attention. Here are some examples of powerful personal statement openings of winners of highly competitive fellowships.

  1. “My parents are acupuncturists who made the long trip from their tiny cluster of villages in Guangzhou, China, to the quaint suburbs of Northern California, two years before I was born.”

By a winner of a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) in Macau. The applicant draws the reader to something memorable – her parents’ unique vocation – paving the way for an interesting story about her childhood and interest in working abroad. Read more.

  1. “Every morning at 10:00 a.m. I come face to face with the power of language to free; it happens in a classroom. The students I teach at Seattle Central Community College come from night work in an industrial bakery, from a Vietnamese refugee camp, from a 9-to-5 job in a car wash, or from the day care center where they’ve left their children.”

By a graduate fellowship applicant to the University of Washington. This opening paragraph begins to tell a story that reflects on the applicant’s work with a diverse community. Read more.

  1. “My grandparents have touched many lives: former drug addicts, refugees, neighbors, and my own. They have an uncommon ability to build relationships; they are a paradigm of service— where service is more than what you do and is also defined by who you are.”

By a winner of the Fulbright U.S. Student Grant. The lyrical nature of this stand-alone opening paragraph exhibits an advanced ability to use both words and punctuation to express the applicant’s personal values and how they originated. Read more.

  1. “Thirty years ago, my dad boarded a one-way flight to the U.S. Unlike the people he left behind, he was coming to a new country filled with educational opportunities his homeland could not provide. He was not limited by his place of birth.”

By a successful applicant to Teach for America. Immediately, the applicant has built a framework to describe his interest in education and equal opportunity, and his personal experience as a child of an American immigrant. Read more.

  1. “In the sixth grade, I took a test to see if I was left- or right-brained. To my elementary eyes, the result of that quiz would be the truth from on high—a resolute word that would define the man to come as either analytic or artistic.”

By a Marshall Scholar to the U.K. The applicant masterfully opens with a story to describe the early beginnings of his intellectual curiosity, a key characteristic that the selection committee seeks in applicants. Read more.

A common aspect of these opening statements is their ability to draw the reader in to a unique and memorable story that begins to describe why the applicant is applying to the fellowship. You can identify more personal statement samples like these online by Googling “personal statement example pdf” with the name of the fellowship.

For more tips on writing a compelling personal statement, see our Step-by-Step Guide For A Competitive Fellowship Application.

© Victoria Johnson 2016, all rights reserved.

More than 4,000 students began their Ucas personal statement with exactly the same opening line as more than a thousand other students. So much for standing out from the crowd.

Ucas has released the most common opening lines from the 2015 application cycle. Almost all of them featured general assertions about the applicant’s motivation, but the seventh most common phrase was specific to one degree course, used identically by 211 applicants.

Mary Curnock Cook, Ucas’ chief executive, said: “The personal statement is supposed to be personal. Learning to write about yourself in a compelling way is a vital skill when applying for jobs; using hackneyed phrases is not the best way to stand out.”

Be warned future applicants; don’t fall into the trap by using these common phrases to begin your statements.

Most common opening lines from personal statements 2015

1. From a young age I have (always) been [interested in/fascinated by]

Used by 1,779 applicants

2. For as long as I can remember I have…

Used by 1,451 applicants

3. I am applying for this course because…

Used by 1,370 applicants

4. I have always been interested in…

Used by 927 applicants

5. Throughout my life I have always enjoyed…

Used by 310 applicants

6. Reflecting on my educational experiences…

Used by 257 applicants

7. Nursing is a very challenging and demanding [career/profession/course]…

Used by 211 applicants

8. Academically, I have always been…

Used by 168 applicants

9. I have always wanted to pursue a career in…

Used by 160 applicants

9. I have always been passionate about…

Used by 160 applicants

 11. Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world…

Used by 148 applicants

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