My Child Needs Help to Write a Personal Statement! How Do We Start?

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Does your child need to write a personal statement to apply for a school place or a scholarship? Many children may find this daunting, especially if they haven’t done this before. We’ve also had parents ask for tips on writing personal statements on our KiasuParents forum.

First things first: don’t be intimidated! A personal statement is simply a story or letter to help people understand who your child is, what they like, and what they hope to do in the future. It’s a way for your child to show their personality, as well as their thoughts and dreams. 

Need help to get started? Read on for our step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Brainstorm Together 

Explain to your child what a personal statement is — a way for a reader to get to know your child. Unless otherwise stated, a personal statement can have a fairly casual tone, and it should certainly sound like it was written by your child, in his or her conversational voice. 

If this is part of an application that your child is submitting, read the application guidelines carefully. For instance, your child may be asked to describe a challenge faced in a team situation, and how it was resolved. Or your child could be asked why they want to attend a school or course, and how they intend to contribute.

These days, it’s common to use ChatGPT to generate preliminary ideas. Introductions are especially tricky to write, so you could type a specific request into ChatGPT, such as “How do I write an introduction to a personal essay for a 12-year-old, who had to lead a team for a clean-up project, but faced challenges?”

ChatGPT might supply a response such as this: “Imagine a beautiful park with trees, flowers, and a sparkling river. One day, I was given a special responsibility — to lead a team of friends in a mission to clean up and protect our beloved park. It was an exciting opportunity, but little did I know that this journey would test my leadership skills and teach me valuable lessons about teamwork, perseverance, and the power of community.”

Do resist the temptation to use ChatGPT’s text wholesale, which would render the whole exercise meaningless. To use ChatGPT ethically, you should only use it as a starting point for brainstorming. 

Based on the generated text, you can ask your child questions such as: 

  • How would you describe the park to a friend? (Perhaps the park is home to a motley crew of animals — otters, a thriving chicken community, and monkeys.) 
  • Do you have a favourite spot, and why is that spot meaningful? 
  • Is there a story behind the project to clean up the park, and why were you chosen as the leader? 
  • Tell me about the biggest challenges that you faced. Did bad weather foil your plans, or did close friends fail to show up for the clean-up mission?
  • How did you feel about each of these challenges?
  • What solutions did you come up with?
  • What did you learn from being part of the project? Has leading the project changed you in any way?
  • What’s the proudest moment of this project for you?

The important thing to remember about ChatGPT is that while it can provide some scaffolding for your child’s story, it’s not your child’s story. One should never try to pass off ChatGPT’s writing as their own. 

Step 2: Organise Ideas into a Draft

For an easy way to structure the personal statement, your child can organise ideas into three main sections:

  1. Introduction: Does your child have an interesting anecdote to share, which is relevant to the application? For instance, even if your child has applied and failed before, this can be turned into a story of resilience — ”This is my second attempt applying for this, but I’m determined to try again because…” 
  2. Main Body: This is the central part of the personal statement, where your child provides details about their experiences and goals. Your child can write about a single impactful event, or divide the main body into several paragraphs, each focusing on a different experience or achievement. There should be specific information on the highs and lows of these experiences, and how they’ve impacted your child’s character, values, or skills. Your child should also try to connect these past events to future goals and ambitions — presumably the reason for the application. (For instance, your child, on realising how hard it was to gather friends for a park clean-up effort, was driven to educate others on the small things we can do for environmental sustainability, by setting up a social media account or website.)
  3. Conclusion: This is where your child shows enthusiasm and commitment to specific goals, and explains how their dreams align with the school or programme being applied for. Do end on a positive note, but at the same time, try not to make it sound like a perfect ending has been achieved, or that your child has accomplished everything on his or her list. A statement that acknowledges one’s skill gaps and areas for improvement reflects a positive learning attitude, and gives a sense of maturity and depth.

Step 3: Edit and Proofread

Some children may not be keen on having their parents review their essay drafts. If this is the case, you could ask your child if they would prefer having a trusted friend or mentor read their essay to provide feedback. 

If your child is willing to let you have the first read, don’t fixate on grammar and spelling errors. Instead, look out for vague statements that make you wonder “Oh, what exactly happened here?” For instance, if your child says “My teammates and I had numerous disagreements but we eventually learned to compromise,” without providing at least one example, you should flag this for your child’s attention. If you feel that the introduction or conclusion lacks conviction or a personal voice, you should also let your child know this.

Once your child has made the necessary edits, he or she can proofread the draft while using the speech tool to read the text aloud — it’s good to hear how the text ‘sounds,’ and this also helps to highlight more errors than by eyeballing the text alone. Fix any spelling and grammar errors that are spotted, and the draft is ready for submission!

Want to see what other parents have said about personal statements? Search our KiasuParents forum to browse relevant discussions!