February 2, 2024

Tips for Expert Idea Generation in Your Personal Statement

“The hardest thing about getting started is getting started.” This quote is often attributed to Guy Kawasaki, a marketer who helped popularize Apple’s Macintosh computer.

You’re facing a less daunting task in writing a Personal Statement, but I’m sure Kawasaki’s quote still resonates with you as you stare at your blank doc and wonder how the heck you’re supposed to jumpstart your essay in a memorable way.

The opening line, or sometimes the whole opening paragraph, is often referred to as “the hook” because of its need to grab and pull the reader in. Sometimes the process of writing a hook will stymie students for weeks as they wallow in writer’s block. Reversely, once they have their hook, the rest of the essay sometimes writes itself. It’s that crucial for success.

So how do we start in getting started? Before anything else, here are some common “hook” mistakes to avoid:

  • Don’t worry about making your hook directly relate to your career or field of interest
  • Don’t worry about making your hook fit some kind of “theme”

It’s far more important for your hook to simply be interesting and show your value as a person! There’s always a way to eventually connect your story (whatever it may be) to the driving principles and core qualities that underlie your future goals.

So, ask yourself the following questions:

‍1. Is any aspect of my background or experiences particularly unusual?‍


  • You were a child actor in Toys-R-Us commercials
  • You grew up working at your parents’ Harley Davidson motorcycle dealership
  • You earned your pilot’s license before you learned how to drive
  • You escaped war-torn Ethiopia and emigrated to the US alone at age 17
  • You ran a side business as a magician and performed at birthday parties

These are all real stories from our past students, but they are a minority! Don’t feel bad if you don’t have a story like this! We have many more options for your hook.

2. Have I ever left a group, organization, or community better than I found it?


  • Integrated mental health into your school’s curriculum
  • Created “Elder Tech” program to help nursing home residents use technology
  • Designed JUUL attachment and phone app to help people quit vaping
  • Established water filtration systems in impoverished Ecuadorian villages
  • Founded a new mentor-mentee system for international students at your college

Admissions committees (at all levels) LOVE to see this kind of impact. Yours does not have to be as large in scale as the examples above. It just needs to be an example of a time you showed initiative to fill a gap or need in the communities around you.

3. Can I share a meaningful experience of me advocating for others?


  • Working as a Big Brother or Big Sister for a child with Asperger’s
  • Translating for Spanish-speaking patients at a free clinic
  • Helping a friend, classmate, or peer find treatment for their eating disorder
  • Tutoring prisoners to help them earn their GED
  • Acting as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) for a kid in foster care

These forms of personal impact lend themselves to interesting narratives that will show your value to others right away.  

4. Can I “nerd out” and show my intense passion for a subject?


  • Hosting ‘Philosophy Nights’ to discuss thought experiments with your peers
  • Giving tours as a docent at an aviation museum
  • Making endless attempts to bake tasty gluten-free desserts
  • Researching and dutifully counting your ‘macros’ to ensure optimal nutrition
  • Taking apart and refurbishing vintage video game consoles

Even if this interest doesn’t perfectly connect with your long-term goals, readers respond well to passion. The more specific the details, the better.

The HALL OF SHAME- Personal Statement Hooks to Avoid at All Costs!

  • Don’t open with a quote from a famous person (extra shame if it’s a super common one from Einstein, Gandhi, MLK, or Mother Theresa)
  • Don’t claim you’ve wanted to be a [insert career] for as long as you can remember or “ever since you were a young child” (even if it’s true)
  • Don’t say that you come from a long line of [insert career] and want to follow in their footsteps (even if it’s true)
  • Don’t tell a story where you’re uninvolved or not an active participant
  • Don’t write about events, issues, statistics, or data in an expository way that sounds like a research abstract or academic paper

We hope these do’s and don’ts for Personal Statement hooks have given you several ideas to jumpstart your essay and highlight your best qualities.

But we also know there’s more to this process than just having a good idea. Stay tuned for our next post where we’ll cover the stylistic qualities of good hooks and give some strong examples!

- Ryan and Rob

P.S. We are in the process of building out the Pathfinder Med School Course - a FREE series of online courses to help students master their applications. Read about it here!

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