How Long Should a Personal Essay Be?

A personal essay, also known as a personal statement, is a creative nonfiction form of writing, which, as the name suggests, is often about the writer. It's considered the most flexible type of literature as it gives the author the freedom to share their most intimate thoughts on a particular subject or their experiences. While a personal essay is often easy to write, figuring out how long it should be is a debate that's yet to be settled and one we are about to address.

Personal Essay

This kind of essay also incorporates an array of writing styles, and you may be asked to write about a significant period, event, or person in your life. It was once only part of the application process of those seeking to join a graduate program. However, today, even most employers will request it as part of your job application. The surprising bit is that it often plays a crucial role in your application approval or denial. Therefore, knowing how to write a good one can be lifesaving. In respect to that, here is all you need to know about it and also an excellent example of a personal essay to help you out in this task

To write a professional-grade personal essay ensure you;

  1. Find a Compelling Story- Line

The best personal essays are those whose topics are relatable to most people. Even if your story is unique to your life, those who read it should be able to either directly or indirectly relate to it on a personal level. In other words, you should connect the topic of your essay to a universally accepted truth. In the sample personal essay below for instance, the writer talks about how the loss of a loved one fueled their career choice. This is a story that most of us relate to directly and indirectly.

Therefore, if you decide to write about a particular period in your life, ensure you help the reader understand how it changed your perception on a certain matter and pushed you to follow a certain path. To find a compelling storyline, take time to reflect on the topic at hand. Analyze how a specific person, event, or time of your life altered your personality and your perspective on a particular matter.

  1. Understand the Structure

Before anything else, make sure you understand the structure of a personal essay. Proper knowledge of how a good personal essay is structured will enable you to organize your ideas effectively, making the finished essay clear and easily readable. Similar to a typical essay, a personal statement often has

  • An Introduction

Just like that of any other essay, your introduction should be catchy enough to make your reader want to finish the rest of the essay. It should also introduce the reader to your main topic by giving a little background information on what you’ll write about on the other parts of the essay.

  • Body

The body of a personal essay should have a minimum of three paragraphs. Each paragraph should naturally transition from one to the next. Since it’s a creative nonfiction type of writing, you’re free to use descriptive words to engage with the reader. Again, as noted, a personal essay is often all about you. So feel free to share feelings and emotions.

  • The Conclusion

The conclusion provides a summary of your points. It’s also in this paragraph that you should share insights and lessons that you want the reader to take away from your entire essay. Other than providing a summary of your points, your conclusion also serves as your last chance to convince the reader how that one event, person, or period changed your life.

  1. Know and Stick to the Appropriate Length

Before you put pen to paper, it’s vital you know just how long a personal essay should be. While every facility has its formatting requirements, most essays often fall between 250 and 750. Therefore, you might be told to write a maximum of 250 words, while in some facilities, your prompt might request you write a minimum of 500 words. It can be tempting to go over the essay length limit if you need more space to write about yourself. However, as tempting as it might be, you should remain within the length limit because

  • A Qualified and Wise Applicant Follows Directions

Not sticking to the word count is considered not following instructions. As mentioned, a personal essay is often written by students seeking to join a graduate program and is usually used in their vetting process. Since countless applicants are applying for the same spot, something as small as going way over or way below the word count might be the cause of your disqualification. So stick to the length limit.

  • A Qualified Applicant Should be Able to Edit and Cut

Other than following instructions, staying within the length limit is a plus for you as it proves to the board that you have excellent writing and editing skills.

  1. Create an Outline

Other than personal essays, the secret ingredient to success in any form of essay writing is having an outline. Outlining enables you to organize your thoughts and ideas before turning them into sentences and paragraphs, so your story flows smoothly from one section to the next.

  1. Don’t Shy Off from Revealing Your Character

We’ll mention this again; a personal essay is all about you. So while writing it, feel free to reveal your character. Keep in mind that the admission board and potential employers aren’t looking for applicants with straight As. They are instead looking for individuals who can add value to any environment they are in and the community in general. Therefore your essay should reveal your character, beliefs, values, and even sense of humor. It should show you take pride in your achievements with a show of humility.

  1. Find the Balance between Personal and Professional

A personal essay might be about you, but keep in mind your audience consists of skilled admission officers. Therefore, as much as you have the freedom to express your intimate thoughts on the subject, strike a balance between personal and formal. Tell your story in a personal way, but at the same time, don’t be overly personal. Don’t stray from the main topic and watch out for grammatical errors.

Personal Essay Examples; Popular Essay Prompts to Use

Even though a personal essay is all about you and the motivating factors behind your career choice, you may find it difficult to write one. To ensure you don’t we outlined good personal essay example prompts you could use to craft yours

  • Obstacles

Obstacles make great personal essay topics. The lessons we derive from obstacles we face every day can be at times the cause of our greatest success. For instance in the personal essay sample shown below, the applicant recounts the story of how they lost their relative to cancer and how this influenced their career choice.

Besides something that happened in your past, you could also write about an obstacle you’re currently facing or an existing problem that you’d like to solve as the reason why you deserve a spot in the grad program you’re applying.

  • Accomplishments

Other than obstacles, you could also make your accomplishment the subject of your personal essay. Write about how a certain achievement helped you realize your potential, driving you to take a certain career path. For instance, if you pursued a psychology course because you once prevented someone from committing suicide, write about how this instance motivated you to take on the course. Additionally, use it to increase your chances of approval by adding that your approval into the program will help save more lives.

  • Your Background/ Interest/Talent

Most personal reflective essay examples often use this as the main subject and you too could use it. For instance, if you come from a humble home, write about how and why this motivated you to pursue a certain calling. Write about how your approval will help others in the same situation.

With the above tips, writing your essay should be a breeze. To make it even easier for you, we put our tips in action through the example below.

The Personal Essay Sample

The personal essay sample below is an excerpt from a high quality one to help you get an idea of the tone and also how to write yours

Personal Essay Sample of a Medicine Grad School Applicant

When I was seven years, my best cousin, who was also the same age as me, died of a particularly bad case of flu. This instance as trivial as it may seem, affected me so greatly, I made up my mind to pursue a medicine course when I came of age. I wanted to connect my life with this career path and study the disease to save someone else’s life. I may have not saved my cousin but as long as it’s within my scope, I will not let anyone else succumb to a flu. Even though I’m almost there, it has not been easy. I almost gave up on my dream in high school when I thought I didn’t have what it takes. But amidst my self-doubt, I tried to join several biology and medical clubs and I was approved. This strengthened my resolution even further.

As you can see in the personal essay sample above, the writer talks of how their cousin’ death inspired them to pursue medicine. This is a good personal reflective essay example of how you can use obstacles and difficulties in life to write your personal essay.


Even though admission board officers consider quality over quantity and the length isn’t as important as the content on your essay, it’s essential to stick to the required length limit. While at it, also ensure you follow the tips listed above for a top-notch personal essay and feel free to contact one of our experts for a professional helping hand.