What Is the Difference Between an Essay & a Personal Statement?

An essay is a structured piece of writing that deals with a particular subject. A personal statement, on the other hand, is a form of essay that relays autobiographical information about its author. Whether applying for scholarships or completing an assignment for a class, students are regularly called on to write personal statements and essays. While the two may share the similar structure of introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion, they also differ in numerous ways.


The subject matter is the major point of difference between a personal statement and an essay. While essays can focus on a particular author, article, book or theory, the author is typically the subject of a personal statement. Specifically, the subject matter can include the description of a particular life event, personal motivations or characteristics. Writing personal statements gives students the opportunity to highlight their strengths and talents, and typically serve as a means of adding a personal touch when applying for scholarships, college admissions or postgraduate study programs.


The approach employed by students when writing a personal statement also differs from the approach necessary for an essay. Personal statements are typically composed in the first person and, when recounting particular events, can be written in the form of a story. Essays, on the other hand, may employ more technical terms and cite specific quotes or statistics. The biggest difference between the two writing styles can appear in the introduction paragraph. While a personal statement may start with a "hook," or angle, to grab the reader's attention, the first paragraph of an essay could include a summary of the arguments and information that will be presented in the rest of the text.

Structure and Contents

Creating the content for an essay or personal statement can be the most challenging aspect of the writing process for a student. Fortunately, the structure of an essay allows the author to concentrate on including key elements, such as a main argument, examples, counter-argument, rebuttal and a conclusion. After the writer has decided on a specific thesis, he can rely on supporting texts to strengthen his argument. When writing a personal statement, the author is less likely to depend on outside sources of information. On the other hand, some may prefer personal statements, because they allow for more freedom in both the structure and contents of a text. Still, controversial topics must not be included in a personal statement.


The essay and the personal statement also have different purposes. While the goal of a personal statement is to interest and move the reader, the goal of the essay is to show knowledge or expertise on a particular subject or deliver a convincing argument. Essays are typically graded by a teacher or professor, while personal statements may not be evaluated individually, but considered along with other application materials, such as grades and letters of recommendation. Generally speaking, the purpose of a personal statement is to show how the author differs from other candidates, and what unique perspective or background he can contribute. Essays have four main purposes: Narration, exposition, description and argumentation.

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