Testimony Of A Good Personal Essay

God's So Great Salvation: A Personal Testimony

Born in Massachusetts [U.S.A.] in 1947, I was born again by God's grace, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, in 1975 at the age of 28.

Prior to the day of my salvation, my life was one of searching and questioning. I would ask myself the same questions over and over again:

—what is the purpose of life?

—is life worth it?

—what does the future hold?

In telling how God saved me, let me first give some background of my years prior to that life-changing day.

My upbringing was nominal Christian. We were Protestants, not Roman Catholics.

After living in Massachusetts for a short time, my family lived in upstate New York during my elementary and junior high school years, and on Long Island, New York, during my high school years.

Growing up in the rural environment of upstate New York included vegetable gardening, raising chickens, fishing, a paper route and piano lessons. The country environs afforded me many opportunities to experience and appreciate the wonders of God's creation.

My family attended a Reformed Church. I remember my Dad playing trumpet solos and singing in the choir and the time I sold the most cans of candy for a church fundraiser and how good that felt.

My teenage years exposed me to the urban world of Long Island, New York. During those years we attended a United Methodist Church and I enrolled in a membership class, was sprinkled with water, and became a member. I remember it as a time of religious awakening and feeling a nearness to God.

Christmas with candlelight services and Easter with sunrise services always gave me a temporary inner feeling of peace.

I do not remember the Lord Jesus being mentioned in our home, but whatever I was taught, I believed the Bible was God's Word and true.

Off to State college in northern New York after graduation from high school, I worked as a messenger for a construction company and later as an apprentice carpenter during the summers to help pay for my college expenses.

It was while at college that I met my wife to be. Married in 1969, it was off to graduate school to study botany. This was the time of the Vietnam Conflict and the draft lottery. I believed that killing another human being was morally wrong and was of a pacifist mind set, but did not participate in any of the protests of the time. My lottery draw resulted in a low number and I applied for and was granted Conscientious Objector status after a prolonged period of turmoil in my life.

We moved to Maine after the year of graduate school and I served two years of alternative service doing custodial work in two hospitals. Overall, it was a good experience. It was during this time that our first child was born.

After the two years in Maine, we moved to Long Island, New York, where I attended graduate school while working nights at a microelectronics corporation.

When I could not find employment after graduating with a Master's degree, my parents invited us to live in a downstairs apartment in their house in Vermont.

Living there let me get to know my parents better. More importantly, they shared their faith in a living God who could transform my life and fill the emptiness that I had. Since my college years, they had each believed on the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour and their lives had changed.

They told me of God's love and how He sent His Son Jesus Christ to earth to die on the Cross and shed His blood, and rise from the dead, so that by believing on Him, I could have my sins forgiven and have everlasting life.

I remember arguing with my parents because of my disbelief in what they told me about salvation through Christ and Christ alone. But I was challenged to read the Bible which I believed to be true until it was settled in my mind one way or the other! Either they were right or I was!

After nights of reading the Bible, one evening while I was reading in the Gospels, I saw that Jesus was God and the only way of salvation. Whereas I was previously blind to spiritual things, God opened my eyes and my unbelief suddenly left. What my parents had told me about God's salvation was true!

I now understood John 3:16 in the Bible (For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life) and I believed God and His provision of His Son for me, and I placed my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour.

Amazing grace—how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.

Accepting the fact that I was a sinner was never difficult for me; rather I felt that I was too great a sinner to be accepted by God, no matter how much I worked to please Him. What a blessing to realize that it was not by my good works, but by God's grace through faith in the Lord Jesus that I could be saved!

With a new life with Christ as my Saviour came a purpose for living and the assurance of heaven when I die. I thank and praise God for His grace which allowed a sinner like me to have forgiveness of sins and the opportunity to serve and have fellowship with Him both now and forever!

If you do not personally know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, I encourage you to read the Gospel of John in the New Testament, the gospel messages on this site such as Herein Is Love and to attend a Bible-believing local church where you can learn more of the living and true God and His so great salvation which He wants you to have!

You will never regret believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and becoming a child of God with a new life in Christ; one with joy unspeakable and full of glory!

—Stephen Ross

about | contact us | terms of use | store
Copyright © 2018 • Wholesome Words • All Rights Reserved
"...to the glory of God." • since 1996

Imagine having to type and sign your name under this (redundant) sentence at the end of your personal statement:

I certify that this essay is original work prepared by me, the author.

Well, you need not imagine it—many scholarship and grad school applications include just such a statement for you to sign. Though it may seem almost absurd, by definition, that a student’s personal statement would need to be endorsed as being personal and original, growing concerns about academic integrity have made such a testimony necessary in the eyes of many.

The evidence that many students cheat in college is overwhelming. There are popular “self-help” handbooks published on the subject, and a growing number of classes in high school and college where teachers ban cell phones so that students can’t text message test answers to each other (there are other good reasons to ban cells in classes, too). As cited in the article "Educators blame Internet for rise in student cheating" in The Seattle Times, one survey of 70,000 students conducted by the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University found that 95 percent of high school and college students “admit to some form of academic cheating.” Other surveys report far less shocking but equally troubling results, usually settling on figures of about 50 percent of students who note that they have participated at least once in academic cheating.

Given the temptation and habit built into a culture where many students do cheat, and given the high stakes involved when applying for a scholarship or to grad school, it is not unreasonable to think that some students practice some form of cheating even in their personal statements. In this context, unethical practices range from exaggeration to poor source citation to outright plagiarism.

Lies, Exaggerations, and “Creative Truths”

One of the most famous cases of lies in a personal essay, which eventually led to a lawsuit by the writer of the essay, was in the news in 1998 (see the article "Judge Vindicates Princeton/School Blew Whistle on Lying Student"). Princeton University alerted the medical schools one of its graduates had applied to that he had made false claims in his personal statement. The graduate and would-be doctor then sued Princeton, but the judge threw out the case after testimony was over and before the case had gone to jury. During the course of the trial, the graduate admitted to telling several lies and “creative truths” in his application. In his personal statement, he misidentified his race, lied about winning a prestigious scholarship, and falsely claimed that “a family of lepers had donated half their beggings” to support his dream. (This last claim is particularly creative, in that it is highly difficult and unsavory to check up on its veracity.) In the article cited above, Dean Nancy Malkiel at Princeton testified that the school had an obligation to inform the student’s target medical programs: “It’s up to us to see to it that the people entering the medical profession are competent, confident and trustworthy.”

And then there are “optimistic exaggerations” with just a whiff of truth. I once worked with a student on his personal essay, pausing with interest over a comment that he had “started a foundation” to help the unfortunate in a particular third world country meet their technological needs. (Impressive, certainly, but also so exact and unusual that I questioned him about it.) Because this student was applying for a prestigious national scholarship, where humanitarian service is especially valued, I knew this essay detail would capture the attention of the selection committee if the student reached the interview stage. Well, it turns out that he had indeed spent a semester in the third world country he had cited—again, impressive—but the “foundation” he spoke of was really just him kindly sending a rebuilt computer to his former supervisor in that country upon his return to the States. He had plans to send more hardware and start an organized effort, but in fact it was much more of a noble dream than a reality.

My example isn’t meant to belittle the student—in fact, his application otherwise was impressive and he quickly retracted his original statement after some discussion—but to represent how tempting it can be to exaggerate with the hope of impressing, and to note just how harmful a trumped up claim can be to one’s credibility. I’ve seen creative exaggeration on resumes submitted as part of an application as well: “I served as an institutional sanitation engineer” really translated to “I was a school janitor”; “I was President of the Nancy Club” really meant “I traded old Nancy and Sluggo comics with some of my friends on facebook.” I genuinely believe that students who write like this don’t necessarily mean to lie; they just aren’t sure if the truth sounds impressive enough. And in the case of the “Nancy Club” —well, there’s simply no way to dress it up, and it just doesn’t belong.

Clearly, students making exaggerated claims and telling “creative truths” in their personal essays only hurt their ethos and raise their audience’s doubts. Usually these kinds of claims are highly transparent as well, and the only person who is in a position to defend or explain them is the writer. Seasoned readers easily sniff out the exaggeration or, worse, may even ask the student about the claim in an interview, only to receive a fumbling response or a downright, regrettable lie.

To state the obvious, then, tell the truth about yourself. A good rule of thumb is to assume that anything you write in a personal essay or on an application resume could come back to haunt you in a follow-up interview. Be prepared to back up any claim you make with verbal evidence, even beyond that provided in your essay, and don’t put yourself in a position of having to retract something just because you hoped to make it look more impressive than it actually was.


As a writing tutor who helps students wrestle with issues of source citation on a daily basis, I know that well-meaning students are sometimes genuinely puzzled about ethical source citation practices. The nuances of this issue are many, especially when one cites internet sources; however, the underlying ethic should be clear—when you use someone else’s original ideas or words directly, you must cite your source. Unfortunately, so many students are habitually guilty of “sloppy thinking” in this area that professors have to give the issue special attention, even though they’d much rather not. I once had a student copy an entire page from another student’s paper during a rough draft session without her knowledge, then hand the paper in as his own. When I compared the two papers and pointed out that he had actually plagiarized much of the material, he tried to claim that he had simply failed to cite the other student’s paper. I’ve also had students innocently claim that if material appears on the web it need not be cited because, by definition, it’s common knowledge. Such appalling reasoning induces premature aging and weary hearts in teachers.

In regards to citation practices within personal essays, the first principle you must understand is that citation within a personal essay is indeed a common practice. You need not worry that it will look odd to cite sources within your essay, especially when you apply for, say, a Goldwater Scholarship or a National Science Foundation Fellowship. In these instances, parts of the application are akin to a scientific literature review, so failure to cite your sources professionally could actually be a kiss of death.

The second principle is that the same rules for citation are relevant as applied in your college papers—i.e., you must cite sources in the following circumstances:

  • When you use statistics or data generated by other authors;
  • When your quote verbatim or paraphrase in a way that your wording closely resembles the original source;
  • When you borrow another author’s interpretation, argument, theory, or hypothesis;
  • When you wish to enhance your credibility or argument by comparing it to the published work of another.

In such circumstances, always cite your source, following the maxim that it is better to be safe than sorry. Further standards and mechanics to follow when citing sources in personal essays are detailed in the "Citing Sources" section of Chapter 2 of this handbook. For much more extensive advice on source use, you can refer to Chapter 5 of Style for Students Online.

Avoiding Plagiarism and Using Samples in This Handbook Responsibly

If you’re not convinced that plagiarism is practiced by students applying to graduate school, just visit one of the many websites where papers and personal statements are sold to students, such as 123helpme.com. At schoolsucks.com, one of the oldest websites devoted to this mission, a search for the keywords “personal statement” turns up hits including personal essays written for students seeking graduate study in nursing, philosophy, education, and criminal justice. For about $30-40 a pop, foolish (and apparently wealthy) students can purchase one of these personal statements and potentially plagiarize from it, fundamentally cheating both themselves and their readers. Success in such a venture is, of course, perhaps unlikely and certainly unethical, and the idea that material from someone else’s personal essay can simply be transplanted into your own reflects badly on the quality of the original and even more badly on your own self-image.

Even harder evidence that plagiarism occurs in personal essays is provided by way of a Penn State's blog site, in a 2013 article entitled "Smeal rejects 48 MBA applications over plagiarism. This article details how 48 plagiarized essays were  rejected during the first and second rounds of the Smeal College of Business's MBA admissions cycle, thanks to MBA Managing Director Carrie Marcinkevage and a plagiarism-checking service called TurnItIn.

Acknowledging the above, I do offer many sample personal statements in this handbook for your considered study, and that is exactly how you should use them—for study. Chapter 4 offers both examples and brief reviews of those examples, while Chapter 5 includes both essays that won national scholarships and those that did not win but are nevertheless effective. These essays were written by students from across the country and abroad, and I adapted them for print with the permission of the essay writers, aiming for a diversity of samples and voices. When studying these examples responsibly, you’ll realize that strong personal essays are so good that they, quite simply, cannot be copied; they succeed by persuading as argument, by achieving individuality, and—most importantly—by being personal.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *