Sample ‘First in my family’ effective personal statement essay outline

Sample ‘First in my family’ effective personal statement essay outline

If you have researched the academic institutions you are applying to, you would quickly know that they are looking for accomplished individuals as well as promising individuals. The amount of ‘acceptable’ promise and accomplishment a person brings to the admissions table vary widely from program to program and institution to institution. Regardless, one particular personal theme that many programs find admirable is if you are the first in your family to achieve an academic goal. Some familiar firsts are: first to go to college, first to go to law school, first to go to medical school, so on and so forth. The ‘first’ theme touches on a few points: first, the applicant’s family, for some reason, encountered some barriers that prevented earlier generations from reaching particularly middle class or ‘expected’ middle class milestones like entering and graduating college. Second, the typical ‘first in my family’ essay highlights the applicant’s own ability to set a goal and make the necessary sacrifices to reach that goal. It goes without saying that the applicant put in the required amount of work to reach the goal or, in the case of being the first to go to college, shoot for the goal.

Theme analysis

Possible Advantages

The great thing about using this theme is that it hits many different questions the admissions committee is looking for. Of course, all these smaller questions point to a larger overall question which is ‘Why should we admit you instead of another person?’ These smaller subsidiary questions are:

What makes your personal situation different from other candidates who typically apply to the same program? How have you overcome disadvantages or challenges in your life and what does this show about your personal character? How have your goals been shaped by your specific personal background? What else do you promise outside of your academic potential? These are pretty substantive questions and, if answered well, go quite a long way in answering the Admissions Committee’s concerns regarding picking you over another candidate that may be in the similar grade/score range as you. However, this theme is not a ‘slam dunk.’

Possible Disadvantages

The big disadvantage about using this theme is that applicants might be tempted to go way overboard. An essay that celebrates individual gumption and focus can quickly, and easily, degenerate into bragging or, on the other end of the spectrum, self-pity and blame finding. Writing essays based on this theme is, above all else, an exercise in self-restraint and focus.


Carl is an immigrant to the US from the Philippines. His parents are lower middle class in the Philippines but struggled in the US. Carl’s father gets a break after a few years and his family makes the transition from the ‘rough’ parts of Los Angeles to an upwardly mobile part of suburban Los Angeles. Carl is the first in his family to apply to law school.

Step 1:

Draw the reader’s attention with the disparity between the experiences of the applicant’s parents and the applicant’s own experiences. Draw on a continuity between the parents’ dreams and aspirations and the applicant’s own dreams in the United States.

Your outline should begin with a vivid and direct juxtaposition of experiences-your parents and yours. Paint a story of your own success in high school and your parents’ sacrifices that made your accomplishment possible.

Step 2:

The outline should proceed with paragraph by paragraph discussions of what being the ‘first’ in a particular academic program means for you and for your family. Remember that you are using your family background as a framework only to draw out your personal drive, your personal qualities, and your personal goals. Under no circumstance should any part of your essay read like the admissions committee ‘owe’ you admissions because of the hard lot of your parents or ancestors.

Step 3:

The conclusion should encapsulate why YOU are ready for the academic program you are applying for. It should summarize the personal traits you bring to the table while briefly repeating the earlier motif of being the ‘first’ in your family to enter a particular academic program.

Learn how to write An Effective MBA Application Essay.