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College Admissions , College Essays


In addition to standardized test scores and transcripts, a personal statement or essay is a required part of many college applications. The personal statement can be one of the most stressful parts of the application process because it's the most open ended.

In this guide, I'll answer the question, "What is a personal statement?" I'll talk through common college essay topics and what makes for an effective personal statement.

College Essay Glossary

Even the terminology can be confusing if you aren't familiar with it, so let's start by defining some terms:

Personal statement —an essay you write to show a college admissions committee who you are and why you deserve to be admitted to their school. It's worth noting that, unlike "college essay," this term is used for application essays for graduate school as well.

College essay —basically the same as a personal statement (I'll be using the terms interchangeably).

Essay prompt —a question or statement that your college essay is meant to respond to.

Supplemental essay —an extra school or program-specific essay beyond the basic personal statement.

Many colleges ask for only one essay. However, some schools do ask you to respond to multiple prompts or to provide supplemental essays in addition to a primary personal statement.

Either way, don't let it stress you out! This guide will cover everything you need to know about the different types of college essays and get you started thinking about how to write a great one:

  • Why colleges ask for an essay
  • What kinds of essay questions you'll see
  • What sets great essays apart
  • Tips for writing your own essay

Why Do Colleges Ask For an Essay?

There are a couple of reasons that colleges ask applicants to submit an essay, but the basic idea is that it gives them more information about you, especially who you are beyond grades and test scores.

#1: Insight Into Your Personality

The most important role of the essay is to give admissions committees a sense of your personality and what kind of addition you'd be to their school's community . Are you inquisitive? Ambitious? Caring? These kinds of qualities will have a profound impact on your college experience, but they're hard to determine based on a high school transcript.

Basically, the essay contextualizes your application and shows what kind of person you are outside of your grades and test scores . Imagine two students, Jane and Tim: they both have 3.5 GPAs and 1200s on the SAT. Jane lives in Colorado and is the captain of her track team; Tim lives in Vermont and regularly contributes to the school paper. They both want to be doctors, and they both volunteer at the local hospital.

As similar as Jane and Tim seem on paper, in reality, they're actually quite different, and their unique perspectives come through in their essays. Jane writes about how looking into her family history for a school project made her realize how the discovery of modern medical treatments like antibiotics and vaccines had changed the world and drove her to pursue a career as a medical researcher. Tim, meanwhile, recounts a story about how a kind doctor helped him overcome his fear of needles, an interaction that reminded him of the value of empathy and inspired him to become a family practitioner. These two students may seem outwardly similar but their motivations and personalities are very different.

Without an essay, your application is essentially a series of numbers: a GPA, SAT scores, the number of hours spent preparing for quiz bowl competitions. The personal statement is your chance to stand out as an individual.

#2: Evidence of Writing Skills

A secondary purpose of the essay is to serve as a writing sample and help colleges see that you have the skills needed to succeed in college classes. The personal statement is your best chance to show off your writing , so take the time to craft a piece you're really proud of.

That said, don't panic if you aren't a strong writer. Admissions officers aren't expecting you to write like Joan Didion; they just want to see that you can express your ideas clearly.

No matter what, your essay should absolutely not include any errors or typos .

#3: Explanation of Extenuating Circumstances

For some students, the essay is also a chance to explain factors affecting their high school record. Did your grades drop sophomore year because you were dealing with a family emergency? Did you miss out on extracurriculars junior year because of an extended medical absence? Colleges want to know if you struggled with a serious issue that affected your high school record , so make sure to indicate any relevant circumstances on your application.

Keep in mind that in some cases there will be a separate section for you to address these types of issues, as well as any black marks on your record like expulsions or criminal charges.

#4: Your Reasons for Applying to the School

Many colleges ask you to write an essay or paragraph about why you're applying to their school specifically . In asking these questions, admissions officers are trying to determine if you're genuinely excited about the school and whether you're likely to attend if accepted .

I'll talk more about this type of essay below.

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What Kind of Questions Do Colleges Ask?

Thankfully, applications don't simply say, "Please include an essay about yourself"; they include a question or prompt that you're asked to respond to . These prompts are generally pretty open-ended and can be approached in a lot of different ways .

Nonetheless, most questions fall into a few main categories. Let's go through each common type of prompt, with examples from the Common Application, the University of California application, and a few individual schools.

Prompt Type 1: Your Personal History

This sort of question asks you to write about a formative experience, important event, or key relationship from your life . Admissions officers want to understand what is important to you and how your background has shaped you as a person.

These questions are both common and tricky. The most common pit students fall into is trying to tell their entire life stories. It's better to focus in on a very specific point in time and explain why it was meaningful to you.

Common App 1

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Common App 5

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

University of California 2

Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

University of California 6

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

Prompt Type 2: Facing a Problem

A lot of prompts deal with how you solve problems, how you cope with failure, and how you respond to conflict. College can be difficult, both personally and academically, and admissions committees want to see that you're equipped to face those challenges .

The key to these types of questions is to identify a real problem, failure, or conflict ( not a success in disguise) and show how you adapted and grew from addressing the issue.

Common App 2

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Harvard University 7

The Harvard College Honor Code declares that we “hold honesty as the foundation of our community.” As you consider entering this community that is committed to honesty, please reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty.

Prompt Type 3: Diversity

Most colleges are pretty diverse, with students from a wide range of backgrounds. Essay questions about diversity are designed to help admissions committees understand how you interact with people who are different from you .

In addressing these prompts, you want to show that you're capable of engaging with new ideas and relating to people who may have different beliefs than you.

Common App 3

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Johns Hopkins University

Tell us about an aspect of your identity (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, religion, community) or a life experience that has shaped you as an individual and how that influenced what you’d like to pursue in college at Hopkins.  This can be a future goal or experience that is either [sic] academic, extracurricular, or social.

Duke University Optional 1

We believe a wide range of personal perspectives, beliefs, and lived experiences are essential to making Duke a vibrant and meaningful living and learning community. Feel free to share with us anything in this context that might help us better understand you and what you might bring to our community. 


Prompt Type 4: Your Future Goals

This type of prompt asks about what you want to do in the future: sometimes simply what you'd like to study, sometimes longer-term career goals. Colleges want to understand what you're interested in and how you plan to work towards your goals.

You'll mostly see these prompts if you're applying for a specialized program (like pre-med or engineering) or applying as a transfer student. Some schools also ask for supplementary essays along these lines. 

University of Southern California (Architecture)

Princeton Supplement 1

Prompt Type 5: Why This School

The most common style of supplemental essay is the "why us?" essay, although a few schools with their own application use this type of question as their main prompt. In these essays, you're meant to address the specific reasons you want to go to the school you're applying to .

Whatever you do, don't ever recycle these essays for more than one school.

Chapman University

There are thousands of universities and colleges. Why are you interested in attending Chapman?

Columbia University

Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia.

Rice University

Based upon your exploration of Rice University, what elements of the Rice experience appeal to you?

Princeton University

Princeton has a longstanding commitment to understanding our responsibility to society through service and civic engagement. How does your own story intersect with these ideals?

Prompt Type 6: Creative Prompts

More selective schools often have supplemental essays with stranger or more unique questions. University of Chicago is notorious for its weird prompts, but it's not the only school that will ask you to think outside the box in addressing its questions.

University of Chicago

“Vlog,” “Labradoodle,” and “Fauxmage.” Language is filled with portmanteaus. Create a new portmanteau and explain why those two things are a “patch” (perfect match).

University of Vermont

Established in Burlington, VT, Ben & Jerry’s is synonymous with both ice cream and social change. The “Save Our Swirled” flavor raises awareness of climate change, and “I Dough, I Dough” celebrates marriage equality. If you worked alongside Ben & Jerry, what charitable flavor would you develop and why?


What Makes a Strong Personal Statement?

OK , so you're clear on what a college essay is, but you're still not sure how to write a good one . To help you get started, I'm going to explain the main things admissions officers look for in students' essays: an engaging perspective, genuine moments, and lively writing .

I've touched on these ideas already, but here, I'll go into more depth about how the best essays stand out from the pack.

Showing Who You Are

A lot of students panic about finding a unique topic, and certainly writing about something unusual like a successful dating app you developed with your friends or your time working as a mall Santa can't hurt you. But what's really important isn't so much what you write about as how you write about it . You need to use your subject to show something deeper about yourself.

Look at the prompts above: you'll notice that they almost all ask you what you learned or how the experience affected you. Whatever topic you pick, you must be able to specifically address how or why it matters to you .

Say a student, Will, was writing about the mall Santa in response to Common App prompt number 2 (the one about failure): Will was a terrible mall Santa. He was way too skinny to be convincing and the kids would always step on his feet. He could easily write 600 very entertaining words describing this experience, but they wouldn't necessarily add up to an effective college essay.

To do that, he'll need to talk about his motivations and his feelings: why he took such a job in the first place and what he did (and didn't) get out of it. Maybe Will took the job because he needed to make some money to go on a school trip and it was the only one he could find. Despite his lack of enthusiasm for screaming children, he kept doing it because he knew if he persevered through the whole holiday season he would have enough money for his trip. Would you rather read "I failed at being a mall Santa" or "Failing as a mall Santa taught me how to persevere no matter what"? Admissions officers definitely prefer the latter.

Ultimately, the best topics are ones that allow you to explain something surprising about yourself .

Since the main point of the essay is to give schools a sense of who you are, you have to open up enough to let them see your personality . Writing a good college essay means being honest about your feelings and experiences even when they aren't entirely positive.

In this context, honesty doesn't mean going on at length about the time you broke into the local pool at night and nearly got arrested, but it does mean acknowledging when something was difficult or upsetting for you. Think about the mall Santa example above. The essay won't work unless the writer genuinely acknowledges that he was a bad Santa and explains why.

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Eloquent Writing

As I mentioned above, colleges want to know that you are a strong enough writer to survive in college classes . Can you express your ideas clearly and concisely? Can you employ specific details appropriately and avoid clichés and generalizations? These kinds of skills will serve you well in college (and in life!).

Nonetheless, admissions officers recognize that different students have different strengths. They aren't looking for a poetic magnum opus from someone who wants to be a math major. (Honestly, they aren't expecting a masterwork from anyone , but the basic point stands.) Focus on making sure that your thoughts and personality come through, and don't worry about using fancy vocabulary or complex rhetorical devices.

Above all, make sure that you have zero grammar or spelling errors . Typos indicate carelessness, which will hurt your cause with admissions officers.

Top Five Essay-Writing Tips

Now that you have a sense of what colleges are looking for, let's talk about how you can put this new knowledge into practice as you approach your own essay. Below, I've collected my five best tips from years as a college essay counselor.

#1: Start Early!

No matter how much you want to avoid writing your essay, don't leave it until the last minute . One of the most important parts of the essay writing process is editing, and editing takes a lot of time. You want to be able to put your draft in a drawer for a week and come back to it with fresh eyes. You don't want to be stuck with an essay you don't really like because you have to submit your application tomorrow.

You need plenty of time to experiment and rewrite, so I would recommend starting your essays at least two months before the application deadline . For most students, that means starting around Halloween, but if you're applying early, you'll need to get going closer to Labor Day.

Of course, it's even better to get a head start and begin your planning earlier. Many students like to work on their essays over the summer, when they have more free time, but you should keep in mind that each year's application isn't usually released until August or September. Essay questions often stay the same from year to year, however. If you are looking to get a jump on writing, you can try to confirm with the school (or the Common App) whether the essay questions will be the same as the previous year's.

#2: Pick a Topic You're Genuinely Excited About

One of the biggest mistakes students make is trying to write what they think the committee wants to hear. The truth is that there's no "right answer" when it comes to college essays . T he best topics aren't limited to specific categories like volunteer experiences or winning a tournament. Instead, they're topics that actually matter to the writer .

"OK," you're thinking, "but what does she mean by 'a topic that matters to you'? Because to be perfectly honest, right now, what really matters to me is that fall TV starts up this week, and I have a feeling I shouldn't write about that."

You're not wrong (although some great essays have been written about television ). A great topic isn't just something that you're excited about or that you talk to your friends about; it's something that has had a real, describable effect on your perspective .

This doesn't mean that you should overemphasize how something absolutely changed your life , especially if it really didn't. Instead, try to be as specific and honest as you can about how the experience affected you, what it taught you, or what you got out of it.

Let's go back to the TV idea. Sure, writing an essay about how excited you are for the new season of Stranger Things  probably isn't the quickest way to get yourself into college, but you could write a solid essay (in response to the first type of prompt) about how SpongeBob SquarePants was an integral part of your childhood. However, it's not enough to just explain how much you loved SpongeBob—you must also explain why and how watching the show every day after school affected your life. For example, maybe it was a ritual you shared with your brother, which showed you how even seemingly silly pieces of pop culture can bring people together. Dig beneath the surface to show who you are and how you see the world.

When you write about something you don't really care about, your writing will come out clichéd and uninteresting, and you'll likely struggle to motivate yourself. When you instead write about something that is genuinely important to you, you can make even the most ordinary experiences—learning to swim, eating a meal, or watching TV—engaging .


#3: Focus on Specifics

But how do you write an interesting essay? Focus.

Don't try to tell your entire life story or even the story of an entire weekend; 500–650 words may seem like a lot, but you'll reach that limit quickly if you try to pack every single thing that has happened to you into your essay. If, however, you just touch on a wide range of topics, you'll end up with an essay that reads more like a résumé.

Instead, narrow in on one specific event or idea, and talk about it in more depth . The narrower your topic, the better. For example, writing about your role as Mercutio in your school's production of Romeo and Juliet is too general, but writing about opening night, when everything went wrong, could be a great topic.

Whatever your topic, use details to help draw the reader in and express your unique perspective. But keep in mind that you don't have to include every detail of what you did or thought; stick to the important and illustrative ones.

#4: Use Your Own Voice

College essays aren't academic assignments; you don't need to be super formal. Instead, try to be yourself. The best writing sounds like a more eloquent version of the way you talk .

Focus on using clear, simple language that effectively explains a point or evokes a feeling. To do so, avoid the urge to use fancy-sounding synonyms when you don't really know what they mean. Contractions are fine; slang, generally, is not. Don't hesitate to write in the first person.

A final note: you don't need to be relentlessly positive. It's OK to acknowledge that sometimes things don't go how you want—just show how you grew from that.

#5: Be Ruthless

Many students want to call it a day after writing a first draft, but editing is a key part of writing a truly great essay. To be clear, editing doesn't mean just making a few minor wording tweaks and cleaning up typos; it means reading your essay carefully and objectively and thinking about how you could improve it .

Ask yourself questions as you read: is the progression of the essay clear? Do you make a lot of vague, sweeping statements that could be replaced with more interesting specifics? Do your sentences flow together nicely? Do you show something about yourself beyond the surface level?

You will have to delete and rewrite (potentially large) parts of your essay, and no matter how attached you feel to something you wrote, you might have to let it go . If you've ever heard the phrase "kill your darlings," know that it is 100% applicable to college essay writing.

At some point, you might even need to rewrite the whole essay. Even though it's annoying, starting over is sometimes the best way to get an essay that you're really proud of.


What's Next?

Make sure to check out our other posts on college essays , including our step-by-step guide to how to write your college essay , our analysis of the Common App Prompts , and our collection of example essays .

If you're in need of guidance on other parts of the application process , take a look at our guides to choosing the right college for you , writing about extracurriculars , deciding to double major , and requesting teacher recommendations .

Last but not least, if you're planning on taking the SAT one last time , check out our ultimate guide to studying for the SAT and make sure you're as prepared as possible.

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

Alex is an experienced tutor and writer. Over the past five years, she has worked with almost a hundred students and written about pop culture for a wide range of publications. She graduated with honors from University of Chicago, receiving a BA in English and Anthropology, and then went on to earn an MA at NYU in Cultural Reporting and Criticism. In high school, she was a National Merit Scholar, took 12 AP tests and scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and ACT.

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How to Write a Personal Statement

A personal statement can be a key part of your college application, and you can really make yours shine by following a few tips.

[Featured Image] A lady with pink hair is holding a piece of paper with a laptop on her lap.

When you're applying to college—either to an undergraduate or graduate program—you may be asked to submit a personal statement. It's an essay that gives you the chance to share more about who you are and why you'd like to attend the university you're applying to.  

The information you provide in your personal statement can help build on your other application materials, like your transcripts and letters of recommendation, and build a more cohesive picture to help the admissions committee understand your goals.

In this article, we'll go over more about personal statements, including why they're important, what to include in one, and tips for strengthening yours.

What is a personal statement?

A personal statement—sometimes known as a college essay —is a brief written essay you submit with other materials when applying to college or university. Personal statements tend to be most common for undergraduate applications, and they're a great opportunity for an admissions committee to hear your voice directly.

Many colleges and universities in the US, especially those using Common App , provide prompts for you to use. For example, "Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea" or "Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time" [ 1 ]. If the school you're interested in attending doesn't require prompts, you will likely want to craft a response that touches on your story, your values, and your goals if possible.

In grad school, personal statements are sometimes known as letters of intent , and go into more detail about your academic and professional background, while expressing interest in attending the particular program you're applying to.

Why is a personal statement important?

Personal statements are important for a number of reasons. Whereas other materials you submit in an application can address your academic abilities (like your transcripts) or how you perform as a student (like your letters of recommendation), a personal statement is a chance to do exactly that: get more personal.

Personal statements typically:

Permit you to share things that don't fit on your resume, such as personal stories, motivations, and values

Offer schools a chance to see why you're interested in a particular field of study and what you hope to accomplish after you graduate 

Provide an opportunity for you to talk about past employment, volunteer experiences, or skills you have that complement your studies 

Allow colleges to evaluate your writing skills 

Bring life to a college application package otherwise filled with facts and figures 

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How to write a personal statement.

As we mentioned earlier, you may have to respond to a prompt when drafting your personal statement—or a college or university may invite you to respond however you'd like. In either case, use the steps below to begin building your response.

Create a solid hook .

To capture the attention of an admissions committee member, start your personal statement with a hook that relates to the topic of your essay. A hook tends to be a colorful sentence or two at the very beginning that compels the reader to continue reading.

To create a captivating hook, try one of these methods:

Pose a rhetorical question. 

Provide an interesting statistic. 

Insert a quote from a well-known person.

Challenge the reader with a common misconception. 

Use an anecdote, which is a short story that can be true or imaginary. 

Credibility is crucial when writing a personal statement as part of your college application process. If you choose a statistic, quote, or misconception for your hook, make sure it comes from a reliable source.

Follow a narrative.

The best personal statements typically read like a story: they have a common theme, as well as a beginning, middle, and end. This type of format also helps keep your thoughts organized and improves the flow of your essay.

Common themes to consider for your personal statement include:

Special role models from your past

Life-altering events you've experienced

Unusual challenges you've faced

Accomplishments you're especially proud of

Service to others and why you enjoy it

What you've learned from traveling to a particular place

Unique ways you stand out from other candidates

Be specific.

Admissions committees read thousands of personal statements every year, which is why being specific on yours is important. Back up your statements with examples or anecdotes.

For instance, avoid vague assertions like, "I'm interested in your school counseling program because I care about children." Instead, point out experiences you've had with children that emphasize how much you care. For instance, you might mention your summer job as a day camp counselor or your volunteer experience mentoring younger children.

Don't forget to include detail and vibrancy to keep your statement interesting. The use of detail shows how your unique voice and experiences can add value to the college or university you're applying to.

Stay on topic.

It's natural to want to impress the members of the admissions committee who will read your personal statement. The best way to do this is to lead your readers through a cohesive, informative, and descriptive essay.

If you feel you might be going astray, ensure each paragraph in your essay's body supports your introduction. Here are a few more strategies that can help keep you on track:

Know what you want to say and do research if needed. 

Create an outline listing the key points you want to share.

Read your outline aloud to confirm it makes logical sense before proceeding. 

Read your essay aloud while you're writing to confirm you're staying on topic.

Ask a trusted friend or family member to read your essay and make suggestions.

Be true to your own voice.

Because of the importance of your personal statement, you could be tempted to be very formal with structure and language. However, using a more relaxed tone is better than you would for a classroom writing assignment. 

Remember: admissions committees really want to hear from you . Writing in your own voice will help accomplish this. To ensure your tone isn't too relaxed, write your statement as if you were speaking to an older relative or trusted teacher. This way, you'll come across as respectful, confident, and honest.

Tips for drafting an effective personal statement.

Now that you've learned a little about personal statements and how to craft them, here are a few more tips you can follow to strengthen your essay:

1. Customize your statement.

You don't have to completely rewrite your personal statement every time you apply to a new college, but you want to make sure you tailor it as much as possible. For instance, if you talk about wanting to take a certain class or study a certain subject, make sure you adjust any specifics for each application.

2. Avoid cliches.

Admissions committees are ultimately looking for students who will fit the school, and who the school can help guide toward their larger goals. In that case, cliches can get in the way of a reviewer understanding what it is you want from a college education. Watch out for cliches like "making a difference," "broadening my horizons," or "the best thing that ever happened to me."

3. Stay focused.

Try to avoid getting off-track or including tangents in your personal statement. Stay focused by writing a first draft and then re-reading what you've written. Does every paragraph flow from one point to the next? Are the ideas you're presenting cohesive?

4. Stick to topics that aren't controversial.

It's best not to discuss political beliefs or inappropriate topics in your essay. These can be controversial; ideally, you want to share something goals- or values-driven with an admissions committee.

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Article sources

1. Common App. " 2022-2023 Common App Essay Prompts ," Accessed January 9, 2024.

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How to Write a Personal Statement (with Tips and Examples)

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Hannah Yang

How to write a personal statement

Table of Contents

What is a personal statement, 6 tips on how to write a personal statement, personal statement examples (for college and university), faqs about writing personal statements, conclusion on how to write a personal statement.

How do you tell someone who you are in just a few hundred words?

It’s certainly no easy task, but it’s one almost every college applicant must do. The personal statement is a crucial part of any college or university application.

So, how do you write a compelling personal statement?

In this article, we’ll give you all the tools, tips, and examples you need to write an effective personal statement.

A personal statement is a short essay that reveals something important about who you are. It can talk about your background, your interests, your values, your goals in life, or all of the above.

Personal statements are required by many college admission offices and scholarship selection committees. They’re a key part of your application, alongside your academic transcript, standardized test scores, and extracurricular activities.

The reason application committees ask you to write a personal statement is so they can get to know who you are. 

Some personal statements have specific prompts, such as “Discuss a period of personal growth in your life” or “Tell us about a challenge or failure you’ve faced.” Others are more open-ended with prompts that essentially boil down to “Tell us about yourself.”

No matter what the prompt is, your goal is the same: to make yourself stand out to the selection committee as a strong candidate for their program.

Here are some things a personal statement can be:

It can be funny. If you have a great sense of humor, your personal statement is a great place to let that shine.  

It can be vulnerable. Don’t be afraid to open up about hardships in your life or failures you’ve experienced. Showing vulnerability can make you sound more like a real person rather than just a collection of application materials.  

It can be creative. Candidates have got into top schools with personal statements that take the form of “a day in the life” descriptions, third-person short stories, and even cooking recipes.

Now we’ve talked about what a personal statement is, let’s quickly look at what a personal statement isn’t:

It isn’t a formal academic paper. You should write the personal statement in your natural voice, using first-person pronouns like “I” and “me,” not in the formal, objective language you would use to write an academic paper.

It isn’t a five-paragraph essay. You should use as many paragraphs as you need to tell your story instead of sticking to the essay structure you learned in school.

It isn’t a resumé. You should try to describe yourself by telling a clear and cohesive story rather than providing a jumbled list of all of your accomplishments and ambitions.

personal statement definition

Here are our top six tips for writing a strong personal statement.

Tip 1: Do Some Serious Self-Reflection

The hardest part of writing a personal statement isn’t the actual process of writing it.

Before you start typing, you have to figure out what to write about. And that means taking some time to reflect on who you are and what’s important in your life.

Here are some useful questions you can use to start your self-reflection. You can either answer these on your own by writing down your answers, or you can ask a trusted friend to listen as you talk about them together.

What were the key moments that shaped your life? (e.g. an important friendship, a travel experience, an illness or injury)

What are you proud of? (e.g. you’re a good listener, you always keep your promises, you’re a talented musician)

How do you choose to spend your time? (e.g. reading, practicing soccer, spending time with your friends)

What inspires you? (e.g. your grandmother, a celebrity, your favorite song)

Doing this self-reflection is crucial for figuring out the perfect topics and anecdotes you can use to describe who you are.

Tip 2: Try to Avoid Cliché Topics

College application committees read thousands of personal statements a year. That means there are some personal statement topics they see over and over again.

Here are a few examples of common personal statement topics that have become cliché:

Winning a tournament or sports game

Volunteering in a foreign country

Moving to a new home

Becoming an older sibling

Being an immigrant or having immigrant parents

If you want to make a strong impression in the application process, you need to make your personal statement stand out from the crowd.

But if your chosen personal statement topic falls into one of these categories, that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t use it. Just make sure to put a unique spin on it so it still delivers something the committee hasn’t seen before.

personal statements what is it

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Tip 3: Show, Don’t Tell

One common mistake you might make in your personal statement is to simply tell the reader what you want them to know about you, such as by stating “I have a fear of public speaking” or “I love to cook.”

Instead of simply stating these facts, you should show the committee what you’re talking about through a story or scene, which will make your essay much more immersive and memorable.

For example, let’s say you want the committee to know you overcame your fear of public speaking. Instead of writing “I overcame my fear of public speaking,” show them what it was like to be onstage in front of a microphone. Did your palms get clammy? Did you feel light-headed? Did you forget your words?

Or let’s say you want the committee to know you love to cook. Instead of writing “I love to cook,” show them why you love to cook. What’s your favorite dish to cook? What does the air smell like when you’re cooking it? What kitchen appliances do you use to make it?

Tip 4: Connect the Story to Why You’re Applying

Don’t forget that the purpose of your personal statement isn’t simply to tell the admissions committee who you are. That’s an important part of it, of course, but your ultimate goal is to convince them to choose you as a candidate.

That means it’s important to tie your personal story to your reasons for applying to this specific school or scholarship. Finish your essay with a strong thesis.

For example, if your story is about overcoming your fear of public speaking, you might connect that story to your ambition of becoming a politician. You can then tie that to your application by saying, “I want to apply to this school because of its fantastic politics program, which will give me a perfect opportunity to use my voice.”

Tip 5: Write in Your Own Voice

The personal statement isn’t supposed to be written in a formal tone. That’s why they’re called “personal” statements because you have to shape it to fit your own voice and style.

Don’t use complicated or overwrought language. You don’t need to fill your essay with semicolons and big words, unless that’s how you sound in real life.

One way to write in your own voice is by speaking your personal statement out loud. If it doesn’t feel natural, it may need changing. 

Tip 6: Edit, Edit, Edit!

It’s important to revise your personal statement multiple times in order to make sure it’s as close to perfect as possible.

A single typo won’t kill your application, but if your personal statement contains multiple spelling errors or egregious grammar mistakes, you won’t be putting your best foot forward.

ProWritingAid can help you make sure your personal statement is as clean as possible. In addition to catching your grammar errors, typos, and punctuation mistakes, it will also help you improve weaknesses in your writing, such as passive voice, unnecessary repetition, and more.

Let’s look at some of the best personal statements that have worked for successful candidates in the real world. 

Harvard Personal Statement Example

Love. For a word describing such a powerful emotion, it is always in the air. The word “love” has become so pervasive in everyday conversation that it hardly retains its roots in blazing passion and deep adoration. In fact, the word is thrown about so much that it becomes difficult to believe society isn’t just one huge, smitten party, with everyone holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.” In films, it’s the teenage boy’s grudging response to a doting mother. At school, it’s a habitual farewell between friends. But in my Chinese home, it’s never uttered. Watching my grandmother lie unconscious on the hospital bed, waiting for her body to shut down, was excruciatingly painful. Her final quavering breaths formed a discordant rhythm with the steady beep of hospital equipment and the unsympathetic tapping hands of the clock. That evening, I whispered—into unhearing ears—the first, and only, “I love you” I ever said to her, my rankling guilt haunting me relentlessly for weeks after her passing. My warm confession seemed anticlimactic, met with only the coldness of my surroundings—the blank room, impassive doctors, and empty silence. I struggled to understand why the “love” that so easily rolled off my tongue when bantering with friends dissipated from my vocabulary when I spoke to my family. Do Chinese people simply love less than Americans do?

This is an excerpt from a personal statement that got the applicant admitted to Harvard University. The applicant discusses her background as a Chinese-American by musing on the word “love” and what that means within her family.

The writer uses vulnerable details about her relationship with her grandmother to give the reader an understanding of where she comes from and how her family has shaped her.  

You can read the full personal statement on the Harvard Crimson website.

Tufts Personal Statement Example

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver. I saw it in my favorite book, Richard Scarry’s “Cars and Trucks and Things That Go,” and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of driving a giant pickle. Much to the discontent of my younger sister, I insisted that my parents read us that book as many nights as possible so we could find goldbug, a small little golden bug, on every page. I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon. Then I discovered a real goldbug: gold nanoparticles that can reprogram macrophages to assist in killing tumors, produce clear images of them without sacrificing the subject, and heat them to obliteration. Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear. I quickly became enveloped by the world of nanomedicine; I scoured articles about liposomes, polymeric micelles, dendrimers, targeting ligands, and self-assembling nanoparticles, all conquering cancer in some exotic way. Completely absorbed, I set out to find a mentor to dive even deeper into these topics. After several rejections, I was immensely grateful to receive an invitation to work alongside Dr. Sangeeta Ray at Johns Hopkins.

This is the beginning of a personal statement by Renner Kwittken, who was admitted into Tufts University as a pre-medical student.

Renner uses a humorous anecdote about being a pickle truck driver to describe his love for nanomedicine and how he got involved in his field. You can feel his passion for medicine throughout his personal statement.

You can find Renner’s full essay on the Tufts Admissions page.

Law School Personal Statement Essay Example

For most people, the slap on the face that turns their life around is figurative. Mine was literal. Actually, it was a punch delivered by a drill sergeant at Fort Dix, New Jersey, while I was in basic training. That day’s activity, just a few weeks into the program, included instruction in “low-crawling,” a sensible method of moving from one place to another on a battlefield. I felt rather clever for having discovered that, by looking right rather than down, I eliminated my helmet’s unfortunate tendency to dig into the ground and slow my progress. I could thus advance more easily, but I also exposed my unprotected face to hostile fire. Drill sergeants are typically very good at detecting this type of laziness, and mine was an excellent drill sergeant. So, after his repeated suggestions that I correct my performance went unheeded, he drove home his point with a fist to my face. We were both stunned. This was, after all, the New Army, and striking a trainee was a career-ending move for a drill sergeant, as we were both aware. I could have reported him; arguably, I should have. I didn’t. It didn’t seem right for this good sergeant, who had not slept for almost four days, to lose his career for losing his temper with my laziness. Choosing not to report him was the first decision I remember making that made me proud.

These are the first three paragraphs of an anonymous personal statement by a Wheaton College graduate, who used this personal statement to get into a top-25 law school.

This statement describes a time the applicant faced a challenging decision while in the army. He ended up making a decision he was proud of, and as a result, the personal statement gives us a sense of his character.

You can find the full essay on the Wheaton Academics website.

Here are some common questions about how to write a personal statement.

How Long Should a Personal Statement Be?

The length of your personal statement depends on the specific program you’re applying to. The application guidelines usually specify a maximum word count or an ideal word count.  

Most personal statements are between 500–800 words. That’s a good general range to aim for if you don’t have more specific guidelines.  

Should Personal Statements Be Different for Scholarships?

Many scholarship applications will ask for personal statements with similar prompts to those of college applications.

However, the purpose of a personal statement you’d write for a scholarship application is different from the purpose of one you’d write for a college application.

For a scholarship application, your goal is to showcase why you deserve the scholarship. To do that, you need to understand the mission of the organization offering that scholarship.

For example, some scholarships are meant to help first-generation college students get their degree, while others are meant to help women break into STEM.

Consider the following questions:

Why is this organization offering scholarships?

What would their ideal scholarship candidate look like?

How do your experiences and goals overlap with those of their ideal scholarship candidate?

You can use the same personal anecdotes you’d use for any other personal statement, but you’ll have a better chance of winning the scholarship if you tailor your essay to match their specific mission.

How to Start a Personal Statement

You should start your personal statement with a “hook” that pulls the reader in. The sooner you catch the reader’s attention, the more likely they’ll want to read the entire essay.

Here are some examples of hooks you can use:

A story (e.g. When the spotlight hit my face, I tried to remind myself to breathe. )

A setting description (e.g. My bedroom floor is covered with dirty laundry, candy wrappers, and crumpled sheet music. )

A funny anecdote (e.g. When I was a little kid, my friends nicknamed me Mowgli because of my haircut. )

A surprising fact (e.g. I've lived in 37 countries .)

There you have it—our complete guide to writing a personal statement that will make you stand out to the application committee.

Here’s a quick recap: 

A personal statement is a short essay that shows an application committee who you are

Start with a strong hook that pulls the reader in

Tell a story to engage the reader 

Write in your own voice, not in a formal tone

Good luck, and happy writing!

Hannah is a speculative fiction writer who loves all things strange and surreal. She holds a BA from Yale University and lives in Colorado. When she’s not busy writing, you can find her painting watercolors, playing her ukulele, or hiking in the Rockies. Follow her work on or on Twitter at @hannahxyang.

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How to Write a Strong Personal Statement

  • Ruth Gotian
  • Ushma S. Neill

personal statements what is it

A few adjustments can get your application noticed.

Whether applying for a summer internship, a professional development opportunity, such as a Fulbright, an executive MBA program, or a senior leadership development course, a personal statement threads the ideas of your CV, and is longer and has a different tone and purpose than a traditional cover letter. A few adjustments to your personal statement can get your application noticed by the reviewer.

  • Make sure you’re writing what they want to hear. Most organizations that offer a fellowship or internship are using the experience as a pipeline: It’s smart to spend 10 weeks and $15,000 on someone before committing five years and $300,000. Rarely are the organizations being charitable or altruistic, so align your stated goals with theirs
  • Know when to bury the lead, and when to get to the point. It’s hard to paint a picture and explain your motivations in 200 words, but if you have two pages, give the reader a story arc or ease into your point by setting the scene.
  • Recognize that the reviewer will be reading your statement subjectively, meaning you’re being assessed on unknowable criteria. Most people on evaluation committees are reading for whether or not you’re interesting. Stated differently, do they want to go out to dinner with you to hear more? Write it so that the person reading it wants to hear more.
  • Address the elephant in the room (if there is one). Maybe your grades weren’t great in core courses, or perhaps you’ve never worked in the field you’re applying to. Make sure to address the deficiency rather than hoping the reader ignores it because they won’t. A few sentences suffice. Deficiencies do not need to be the cornerstone of the application.

At multiple points in your life, you will need to take action to transition from where you are to where you want to be. This process is layered and time-consuming, and getting yourself to stand out among the masses is an arduous but not impossible task. Having a polished resume that explains what you’ve done is the common first step. But, when an application asks for it, a personal statement can add color and depth to your list of accomplishments. It moves you from a one-dimensional indistinguishable candidate to someone with drive, interest, and nuance.

personal statements what is it

  • Ruth Gotian is the chief learning officer and associate professor of education in anesthesiology at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, and the author of The Success Factor and Financial Times Guide to Mentoring . She was named the #1 emerging management thinker by Thinkers50. You can access her free list of conversation starters and test your mentoring impact . RuthGotian
  • Ushma S. Neill is the Vice President, Scientific Education & Training at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. She runs several summer internships and is involved with the NYC Marshall Scholar Selection Committee. ushmaneill

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How to Write an Amazing Personal Statement (Includes Examples!)

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Lisa Freedland is a Scholarships360 writer with personal experience in psychological research and content writing. She has written content for an online fact-checking organization and has conducted research at the University of Southern California as well as the University of California, Irvine. Lisa graduated from the University of Southern California in Fall 2021 with a degree in Psychology.

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Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

personal statements what is it

Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

How to Write an Amazing Personal Statement (Includes Examples!)

The personal statement. It’s one of the most important parts of the entire college application process. This essay is the perfect opportunity to show admissions officers who you are and what makes you stand out from the crowd. But writing a good personal statement isn’t exactly easy. That’s why we’ve put together the ultimate guide on how to nail your personal statement, complete with example essays . Each essay was reviewed and commented upon by admissions expert Bill Jack. Let’s dive in!

Related: How to write an essay about yourself  

What is a personal statement? 

A personal statement is a special type of essay that’s required when you’re applying to colleges and scholarship programs. In this essay, you’re expected to share something about who you are and what you bring to the table. Think of it as a chance to reveal a side of yourself not found in the rest of your application. Personal statements are typically around 400 – 600 words in length. 

What can I write about? 

Pretty much anything, as long as it’s about you . While this is liberating in the sense that your writing options are nearly unlimited, it’s also overwhelming for the same reason. The good news is that you’ll probably be responding to a specific prompt. Chances are you’re applying to a school that uses the Common App , which means you’ll have seven prompts to choose from . Reviewing these prompts can help generate some ideas, but so can asking yourself meaningful questions. 

Below you’ll find a list of questions to ask yourself during the brainstorming process. For each of the following questions, spend a few minutes jotting down whatever comes to mind. 

  • What experiences have shaped who you are? 
  • What’s special or unique about you or your life story? 
  • Who or what has inspired you the most? 
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of? 
  • What are your goals for the future? How have you arrived at those goals? 
  • If your life was a movie, what would be the most interesting scene? 
  • What have been some of the biggest challenges in your life? How did you respond and what did you learn? 

The purpose of these questions is to prompt you to think about your life at a deeper level. Hopefully by reflecting on them, you’ll find an essay topic that is impactful and meaningful. In the next section, we’ll offer some advice on actually writing your essay. 

Also see:  How to write a 500 word essay

How do I write my personal statement? 

Once you’ve found a topic, it’s time to start writing! Every personal statement is different, so there’s not really one formula that works for every student. That being said, the following tips should get you started in the right direction:  

1. Freewrite, then rewrite 

The blank page tends to get more intimidating the longer you stare at it, so it’s best to go ahead and jump right in! Don’t worry about making the first draft absolutely perfect. Instead, just get your ideas on the page and don’t spend too much time thinking about the finer details. Think of this initial writing session as a “brain dump”. Take 15-30 minutes to quickly empty all your thoughts onto the page without worrying about things like grammar, spelling, or sentence structure. You can even use bullet points if that helps. Once you have your ideas on the page, then you can go back and shape them exactly how you want. 

2. Establish your theme 

Now that you’ve got some basic ideas down on the page, it’s time to lock in on a theme. Your theme is a specific angle that reflects the central message of your essay. It can be summarized in a sentence or even a word. For example, let’s say you’re writing about how you had to establish a whole new group of friends when you moved to a new city. The theme for this type of essay would probably be something like “adaptation”. Having a theme will help you stay focused throughout your essay. Since you only have a limited number of words, you can’t afford to go off on tangents that don’t relate to your theme. 

3. Tell a story

A lot of great essays rely on a specific scene or story. Find the personal anecdote relevant to your theme and transfer it to the page. The best way to do this is by using descriptive language. Consult the five senses as you’re setting the scene. What did you see, hear, taste, touch, or smell? How were you feeling emotionally? Using descriptive language can really help your essay come to life. According to UPchieve , a nonprofit that supports low income students, focusing on a particular moment as a “ revised version of a memoir ” is one way to keep readers engaged. 

Related: College essay primer: show, don’t tell  

4. Focus on your opening paragraph

Your opening paragraph should grab your reader’s attention and set the tone for the rest of your essay. In most cases, this is the best place to include your anecdote (if you have one). By leading with your personal story, you can hook your audience from the get-go. After telling your story, you can explain why it’s important to who you are. 

Related:  How to start a scholarship essay (with examples)

5. Use an authentic voice 

Your personal statement reflects who you are, so you should use a tone that represents you. That means you shouldn’t try to sound like someone else, and you shouldn’t use fancy words just to show off. This isn’t an academic paper, so you don’t have to adopt a super formal tone. Instead, write in a way that allows room for your personality to breathe. 

6. Edit, edit, edit…

Once you’re done writing, give yourself some time away from the essay. Try to allow a few days to pass before looking at the essay again with fresh eyes. This way, you’re more likely to pick up on spelling and grammatical errors. You may even get some new ideas and rethink the way you wrote some things. Once you’re satisfied, let someone else edit your essay. We recommend asking a teacher, parent, or sibling for their thoughts before submitting. 

Examples of personal statements 

Sometimes viewing someone else’s work is the best way to generate inspiration and get the creative juices flowing. The following essays are written in response to four different Common App prompts: 

Prompt 1: “Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”

When I was eight years old, I wanted a GameCube very badly. For weeks I hounded my dad to buy me one and finally he agreed. But there was a catch. He’d only get me a GameCube if I promised to start reading. Every day I played video games, I would have to pick up a book and read for at least one hour. At that point in my life, reading was just something I had to suffer through for school assignments. To read for pleasure seemed ludicrous. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about this proposed agreement. But I figured anything was worth it to get my hands on that shiny new video game console, so I bit the bullet and shook my dad’s hand. Little did I know that I had just made a life-changing deal. 

At first, the required hour of reading was a chore — something I had to do so I could play Mario Kart. But it quickly turned into something more than that. To my complete and utter surprise, I discovered that I actually enjoyed reading. One hour turned into two, two turned into three, and after a while I was spending more time reading than I was playing video games. I found myself captivated by the written word, and I read everything I could get my hands on. Lord of the Rings , Percy Jackson , Goosebumps — you name it. I was falling in love with literature, while my GameCube was accumulating dust in the TV stand. 

Soon enough, reading led to writing. I was beginning to come up with my own stories, so I put pen to paper and let my imagination run wild. It started out small. My first effort was a rudimentary picture book about a friendly raccoon who went to the moon. But things progressed. My stories became more intricate, my characters more complex. I wrote a series of science fiction novellas. I tried my hand at poetry. I was amazed at the worlds I could create with the tip of my pen. I had dreams of becoming an author. 

Then somewhere along the way my family got a subscription to Netflix, and that completely changed the way I thought about storytelling. My nose had been buried in books up until then, so I hadn’t really seen a lot of movies. That quickly changed. It seemed like every other day a pair of new DVDs would arrive in the mail (this was the early days of Netflix). Dark Knight, The Truman Show, Inception, Memento — all these great films were coming in and out of the house. And I couldn’t get enough of them. Movies brought stories to life in a way that books could not. I was head over heels for visual storytelling. 

Suddenly I wasn’t writing novels and short stories anymore. I was writing scripts for movies. Now I wanted to transfer my ideas to the big screen, rather than the pages of a book. But I was still doing the same thing I had always done. I was writing, just in a different format. To help with this process, I read the screenplays of my favorite films and paid attention to the way they were crafted. I kept watching more and more movies. And I hadn’t forgotten about my first love, either. I still cherished books and looked to them for inspiration. By the end of my junior year of high school, I had completed two scripts for short films. 

So why am I telling you all this? Because I want to turn my love of storytelling into a career. I’m not totally sure how to do that yet, but I know I have options. Whether it’s film production, creative writing, or even journalism, I want to find a major that suits my ambitions. Writing has taken me a long way, and I know it can take me even further. As I step into this next chapter of my life, I couldn’t be more excited to see how my craft develops. In the meantime, I should probably get rid of that dusty old GameCube. 

Feedback from admissions professional Bill Jack

Essays don’t always have to reveal details about the student’s intended career path, but one thing I like about this essay is that it gives the reader a sense of the why. Why do they want to pursue storytelling. It also shows the reader that they are open to how they pursue their interest. Being open to exploration is such a vital part of college, so it’s also showing the reader that they likely will be open to new things in college. And, it’s always fun to learn a little bit more about the student’s family, especially if the reader can learn about how the students interacts with their family. 

Prompt 2: “The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”

I remember my first impression of Irvine: weird. It was foggy, stock-full of greenery and eucalyptus trees, and reminded me of my 5th grade trip to a “science camp” which was located in the San Bernardino mountains. Besides Irvine, that was one of the few places in Southern California where you’d find so many non-palm trees. 

Of course, perhaps my initial impression of Irvine was biased, motivated by a desire to stay in my hometown and a fear of the unknown. While that was true to an extent, Irvine was certainly still a little peculiar. The city itself was based on a “master plan” of sorts, with the location of each of its schools, parks, shops, and arguably its trees having been logically “picked” before the foundation was poured. Even the homes all looked roughly the same, with their beige, stucco walls almost serving as a hallmark of the city itself.

Thus, this perfectly structured, perfectly safe city seemed like a paradise of sorts to many outsiders, my parents included. I was a little more hesitant to welcome this. As I saw it, this was a phony city – believing that its uniformity stood for a lack of personality. My hometown, although not as flawlessly safe nor clean as Irvine, was where most of my dearest memories had occurred. From the many sleepovers at Cindie’s house, to trying to avoid my school’s own version of the “infamous” cheese touch, to the many laughs shared with friends and family, I shed a tear at the prospect of leaving my home.

Moving into the foreign city, remnants of the hostility I held towards Irvine remained. Still dwelling in my memories of the past, I was initially unable to see Irvine as a “home.” So, as I walked into my first-ever Irvine class, being greeted by many kind, yet unfamiliar faces around me, I was unable to recognize that some of those new faces would later become some of my dearest friends. Such negative feelings about the city were further reinforced by newer, harder classes, and more complicated homework. Sitting in the discomfort of this unfamiliar environment, it started to seem that “change” was something not only inevitable, but insurmountable.

As the years went on, however, this idea seemed to fade. I got used to my classes and bike racing through Irvine neighborhoods with my friends, watching the trees that once seemed just a “weird” green blob soon transform into one of my favorite parts of the city. While I kept my old, beloved memories stored, I made space for new ones. From carefully making our way over the narrow creek path next to our school, to the laughs we shared during chemistry class, my new memories made with friends seemed to transform a city I once disliked into one I would miss. 

Through this transformation, I have come to recognize that change, although sometimes intimidating at first, can open the door to great times and meaningful connections. Although Irvine may have once seemed like a strange, “phony” place that I couldn’t wait to be rid of, the memories and laughs I had grown to share there were very real. As I move onto this next part of my life, I hope I can use this knowledge that I have gained from my time in Irvine to make the most of what’s to come. Even if the change may be frightening at first, I have learned to embrace what’s on the other side, whether green or not.

One huge plus to writing an essay that focuses on a place is that you might have it read by someone who has been there. Yet, what’s really helpful about this essay is that even if someone hasn’t been there, a picture is painted about what the place is like.  Admission officers have the hard task of really understanding what the student sees, so the use of adjectives and imagery can really help.  It’s also really clever to see that the green that’s mentioned at the beginning is mentioned at the end.  It’s a nice way to bookend the essay and tie it all together.

Prompt 6: “Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?”

I like getting lost. Not literally, of course, but figuratively. Whether it be in the story of a love song by Taylor Swift, or in the memories brought back by listening to my favorite childhood video game’s background music, I’ve always appreciated music’s ability to transport me to another place, another time, another feeling. 

Alas, I cannot sing, nor have I practiced an instrument since my middle school piano class days. So, perhaps Kurt Vonnegut was right. As he puts it, “Virtually every writer I know would rather be a musician.” While I cannot speak for others, I have certainly not debunked his theory. Writing allows many, including myself, to attempt to mimic the transformative power of music – even if our singing voices aren’t exactly “pleasant.” Just as you can get lost in music, you can do so in a story. Whether it is in George Orwell’s totalitarian Oceania, or Little Women’s Orchard House, the stories outlined in novels can provide an amazing look into the lives and worlds of others, and an escape from the worries and problems of those in your own.

While I am certainly not claiming to have the storytelling abilities of the Orwells or Alcotts before me, I’ve had fun trying to recreate such transformative feelings for others. When I was nine, I attempted to write a story about a little girl who had gotten lost in the woods, only managing to get a couple pages through. As I got older, whenever I was assigned a creative writing assignment in school, I wrote about the same pig, Phil. He was always angry: in my 8th grade science class, Phil was mad at some humans who had harbored his friend captive, and in my 9th grade English class, at a couple who robbed him. 

Thus, when I heard about a writing club being opened at my school in 11th grade, I knew I had to join. I wanted to discern whether writing was just a hobby I picked up now and then, or a true passion. If it was a passion, I wanted to learn as much as possible about how I could improve. Although my high school’s writing club certainly wasn’t going to transform me into Shakespeare, I knew I could learn a lot from it – and I did. The club challenged me to do many things, from writing on the spot, to writing poetry, to even writing about myself, something that’s hopefully coming in handy right now. 

From then on, I started to expand into different types of writing, storing short ideas, skits, and more in appropriately-labeled Google Drive folders. At around the same time, I became interested in classic literature, which largely stemmed from a project in English class. We had been required to choose and read a classic on our own, then present it to the class in an interesting way. While my book was certainly interesting and unique in its own right, nearly everyone else’s novels seemed more captivating to me. So, I took it upon myself to read as many classics as I could the following summer.

One of the books I read during the summer, funnily enough, was Animal Farm, which starred angry pigs, reminiscent of Phil. I had also started going over different ideas in my head, thinking about how I could translate them into words using the new skills I learned. While the writing club helped reaffirm my interest in writing and allowed me to develop new skills, my newfound affinity for classics gave me inspiration to write. Now, I am actually considering writing as part of my future. In this endeavor, I hope that Phil, and the music I inevitably listen to as I write, will accompany me every step of the way.

Admission officers might read 70 (or more!) essays in one day. It’s not uncommon for them to start to blend together and sound similar. This essay might not make you laugh out loud. But, it might make the reader chuckle while reading it thanks to the subtle humor and levity. Being able to incorporate a little humor into your essay (if it is natural for you to do… do not force it), can really be a great way to shed additional light into who you are. Remember, the essay isn’t merely about proving that you can write, but it should also reveal a little bit about your personality.

Prompt 5: “Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.”

I learned a lot of things during the summer I worked at Tropical Smoothie. I discovered the value of hard work. I figured out how to save money. I even mastered the art of the Mango Magic smoothie (the secret is lots of sugar). But most importantly, I learned the power of perspective. And I have Deja to thank for that. 

Deja was my shift supervisor, and one of Tropical Smoothie’s best employees. She was punctual, friendly, and always willing to lend a helping hand. She knew the store from top to bottom, and could handle pretty much any situation thrown her way. She made everyone around her better. On top of all that, she was four months pregnant! I was always impressed by Deja’s work ethic, but I gained an entirely new level of respect for her one day.

It was a Friday night, and Deja and I were working the closing shift together. It was very busy, and Deja and I were the only ones on shift. We managed to get by, but we were exhausted by the end of the evening. After wiping down the counters and mopping the floors, we closed up shop and went our separate ways. I was eager to get home. 

I walked a couple blocks to where I had parked my car. Well, it wasn’t my car actually. It was my dad’s ‘98 Chevy pickup truck, and it was in rough shape. It had no heat or A/C, the leather seats were cracked beyond repair, and the driver’s side door was jammed shut. I sighed as I got in through the passenger side and scooted over to the driver’s seat. The whole reason I was working at Tropical Smoothie was to save up enough money to buy my own car. I was hoping to have something more respectable to drive during my senior year of high school. 

I cranked the old thing up and started on my way home. But soon enough, I spotted Deja walking on the side of the road. There was no sidewalk here, the light was low, and she was dangerously close to the passing cars. I pulled over and offered her a ride. She got in and explained that she was on her way home. Apparently she didn’t have a car and had been walking to work every day. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was complaining about my set of wheels, while Deja didn’t have any to begin with.

We got to talking, and she confessed that she had been having a tough time. You would never know from the way she was so cheerful at work, but Deja had a lot on her plate. She was taking care of her mother, her boyfriend had just lost his job, and she was worried about making ends meet. And of course, she was expecting a baby in five months. On top of all that, she had been walking nearly a mile to and from work every day. The whole thing was a real eye opener, and made me reconsider some things in my own life. 

For one, I didn’t mind driving my dad’s truck anymore. It was banged up, sure, but it was a lot better than nothing. My mindset had changed. I appreciated the truck now. I began to think about other things differently, too. I started making mental notes of all the things in my life I was thankful for — my family, my friends, my health. I became grateful for what I had, instead of obsessing over the things I didn’t. 

I also gained more awareness of the world outside my own little bubble. My encounter with Deja had shown me first-hand that everyone is dealing with their own problems, some worse than others. So I started paying more attention to my friends, family members, and coworkers. I started listening more and asking how I could help. I also gave Deja a ride home for the rest of the summer. 

These are all small things, of course, but I think they make a difference. I realized I’m at my best when I’m not fixated on my own life, but when I’m considerate of the lives around me. I want to keep this in mind as I continue to grow and develop as a person. I want to continue to search for ways to support the people around me. And most importantly, I want to keep things in perspective.

Too often we can be focused on our own problems that we fail to realize that everyone has their own things going on in their lives, too.  This essay showcases how it’s important to put things in perspective, a skill that certainly will prove invaluable in college… and not just in the classroom.  Another reason I like this essay is because it provides deeper insight into the student’s life.  Sure, you might have mentioned in your activities list that you have a job.  But as this essay does, you can show why you have the job in the first place, what your responsibilities are, and more.

A few last tips

We hope these essay examples gave you a bit of inspiration of what to include in your own. However, before you go, we’d like to send you off with a few (personal statement) writing tips to help you make your essays as lovely as the memories and anecdotes they’re based off of. Without further ado, here are some of our best tips for writing your personal statements:

1. Open strong

College admissions officers read many, many essays (think 50+) a day, which can sometimes cause them to start blending together and sounding alike. One way to avoid your essay from simply fading into the background is to start strong. This means opening your essay with something memorable, whether an interesting personal anecdote, a descriptive setting, or anything else that you think would catch a reader’s attention (so long as it’s not inappropriate). Not only might this help college admissions officers better remember your essay, but it will also make them curious about what the rest of your essay will entail.

2. Be authentic

Perhaps most important when it comes to writing personal statement essays is to maintain your authenticity. Ultimately, your essays should reflect your unique stories and quirks that make you who you are, and should help college admissions officers determine whether you’d truly be a good fit for their school or not. So, don’t stress trying to figure out what colleges are looking for. Be yourself, and let the colleges come to you!

3. Strong writing

This one may seem a little obvious, but strong writing will certainly appeal to colleges. Not only will it make your essay more compelling, but it may show colleges that you’re ready for college-level essay writing (that you’ll likely have to do a lot of). Just remember that good writing is not limited to grammar. Using captivating detail and descriptions are a huge part of making your essay seem more like a story than a lecture.

4. Proofread

Last but not least, remember to proofread! Make sure your essay contains no errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. When you’re done proofreading your essay yourself, we would also recommend that you ask a teacher, parent, or other grammatically savvy person to proofread your essay as well.

Final thoughts 

With those in hand, we hope you now have a better sense of how to write your personal statement. While your grades and test scores are important when it comes to college admissions, it’s really your essays that can “make” or “break” your application. 

Although this may make it seem like a daunting task, writing an amazing personal statement essay is all about effort. Thus, so long as you start early, follow the advice listed above, and dedicate your time and effort to it, it’s entirely possible to write an essay that perfectly encapsulates you. Good luck, and happy writing!

Also see:  Scholarships360’s free scholarships search tool

Key Takeaways

  • It may take some people longer than others to know what they want to write about, but remember that everyone, including you, has something unique to write about!
  • Personal statements should be personal, which means you should avoid being too general and really strive to show off what makes you “you”
  • Time and effort are two of the most important things you can put into your personal statement to ensure that it is the best representation of yourself
  • Don’t forget to ask people who know you to read your work before you submit; they should be able to tell you better than anyone if you are truly shining through!

Frequently asked questions about writing personal statements 

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Your chance of acceptance, your chancing factors, extracurriculars, the personal statement: what is it.

Hi everyone! I'm a junior and I've heard a lot about the personal statement in the college application process. Can someone give me an overview of what it is and what I should include in it?

Hello! The personal statement is a crucial component of your college application, as it gives admission officers a glimpse into who you are beyond your grades and test scores. It's an opportunity to showcase your personality, experiences, perspectives, and what you can bring to the college community. The personal statement is typically around 500-650 words and is part of the Common Application, Coalition Application, or a school-specific application system.

While there's no one-size-fits-all approach to writing a personal statement, the main focus should be on telling a compelling story that highlights your personal growth, character, and experiences. Here are some guidelines to help structure your essay:

1. Choose a meaningful topic: Pick a subject that genuinely sparks your passion or has had a significant impact on your life. This might be a personal challenge, an accomplishment, or a unique aspect of your background, but make sure it's something that has shaped your personal journey and demonstrates introspection and maturity.

2. Be authentic: Write in your own voice, using your own words. Avoid cliches and overused topics. Instead, focus on being yourself and letting your true personality shine through.

3. Show, don't tell: Use specific examples and anecdotes to illustrate your points. Rather than simply stating that you're passionate about something, provide a story or experience that demonstrates that passion in action.

4. Reflection and personal growth: Explain how your chosen topic has contributed to your development as a person. Colleges want to see that you can learn from your experiences and grow as an individual.

5. Plan and revise: Set aside ample time to write multiple drafts of your personal statement before settling on your final version. Take feedback from trusted teachers, mentors, or peers, and be open to making adjustments based on their input.

Remember that your personal statement is only one part of your application, but it's an essential opportunity to showcase your unique qualities and to make a strong impression on admissions officers. Take your time, choose a topic that genuinely speaks to your experiences, and strive to craft an engaging, reflective essay that leaves a lasting impression. Good luck!

About CollegeVine’s Expert FAQ

CollegeVine’s Q&A seeks to offer informed perspectives on commonly asked admissions questions. Every answer is refined and validated by our team of admissions experts to ensure it resonates with trusted knowledge in the field.

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Writing the Personal Statement

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The personal statement, your opportunity to sell yourself in the application process, generally falls into one of two categories:

1. The general, comprehensive personal statement:

This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms.

2. The response to very specific questions:

Often, business and graduate school applications ask specific questions, and your statement should respond specifically to the question being asked. Some business school applications favor multiple essays, typically asking for responses to three or more questions.

Questions to ask yourself before you write:

  • What's special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
  • What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
  • When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
  • How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
  • If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has that work contributed to your growth?
  • What are your career goals?
  • Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre LSAT or GRE scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)?
  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?
  • What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
  • What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?
  • Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school—and more successful and effective in the profession or field than other applicants?
  • What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?

General advice

Answer the questions that are asked

  • If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar.
  • Don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the question being asked.

Tell a story

  • Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.

Be specific

  • Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.

Find an angle

  • If you're like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or a "hook" is vital.

Concentrate on your opening paragraph

  • The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader's attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.

Tell what you know

  • The middle section of your essay might detail your interest and experience in your particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the field. Too many people graduate with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they hope to enter. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it. Since you will have to select what you include in your statement, the choices you make are often an indication of your judgment.

Don't include some subjects

  • There are certain things best left out of personal statements. For example, references to experiences or accomplishments in high school or earlier are generally not a good idea. Don't mention potentially controversial subjects (for example, controversial religious or political issues).

Do some research, if needed

  • If a school wants to know why you're applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. If the school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this might be a factor to mention.

Write well and correctly

  • Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.

Avoid clichés

  • A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements.

For more information on writing a personal statement, see the personal statement vidcast .

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Do you struggle with formatting your personal statement? Many students face challenges when it comes to formatting their personal statements.

It's common for students to feel unsure about how to structure their personal statements. Questions like, "How do I organize it? What tone should I use? Am I including the right information?" can be really stressful and confusing, adding more pressure to an already stressful application process.

But don't worry! This blog is here to help. We'll make it easy for you to understand personal statement formatting, so you can create a strong and impressive personal statement. 

So, let’s begin!

Arrow Down

  • 1. What is a Correct Personal Statement Format?
  • 2. How to Format A Personal Statement
  • 3. Personal Statement Format Examples

What is a Correct Personal Statement Format?

Like other academic papers, personal statements should also be formatted and structured according to a standard set of guidelines. In this way, you can make sure all the information in your personal statement is in an organized manner.

Usually the guidelines for formatting are provided by institutions where you are applying. Different institutions can have varying requirements so it's important to be mindful of their requirements.

However, here are the basic guidelines that you can follow if you don’t know how to format a personal statement.

  • Word Limit: Aim for around 500 words, staying within 495-505 words.
  • Spacing: Use single-spacing within paragraphs and add an extra line of space between each paragraph.
  • Font Style: Opt for a universally accepted font style, such as Times New Roman.
  • Font Size: Maintain a 12-point font size throughout your personal statement.
  • Header: Include your name and the page number in the header of each page for easy organization.

A standard formatting convention should be used to make your personal statement readable. Keep in mind that review committees go through hundreds of personal statements so it is important to make sure your personal statement stands out. 

Here is a sample personal statement format template you can use to write a personal statement:

How to Format A Personal Statement

The requirements for writing a personal statement vary, but generally, a personal statement includes certain information in the following format.

Step 1 - Determining Word Limit and Line-Spacing

Knowing the word limit is crucial. Ensure your personal statement aligns with the specified range, that is typically around 500 words. 

Implement double-spacing within paragraphs, adding an extra line of space between each paragraph. This technique creates a visually clear and structured layout for easy reading.

Step 2 - Font Style and Size

Consistency in font style is important for readability. Choose a widely accepted and easily readable font like Times New Roman or Arial. 

Maintain a font size of 12 points throughout your personal statement. This standard size aids in presenting a professional appearance and facilitates smooth reading.

Step 3 - Header Inclusion for Organization

To keep your document organized, consider including the title and page number in the header of each page. 

This simple addition aids in document management and ensures easy navigation, particularly if your personal statement extends across multiple pages.

Step 4 - Structuring the Content

Your personal statement's structure plays a pivotal role in its impact. Here's a breakdown of how to organize your narrative effectively:

  • Opening Paragraph - Begin with an introduction that clearly states the purpose of your personal statement. Engage the reader with an attention-grabbing opening statement and specify the program or position you're applying for.
  • Body Paragraphs - Detail your academic background, relevant experiences, and accomplishments. Showcase your skills and attributes as a strong candidate, write about any extra activities you took part in high school. Explain why the program or position you're applying for interests you and how it aligns with your ambitions.
  • Transition to Goals - Smoothly transition from your experiences to your goals, setting the stage for discussing your academic and career aspirations. Express gratitude for considering your application and end with a memorable statement or closing remark.

Step 5 - Finalizing Your Personal Statement

Ensure your personal statement is signed off with your full name. If submitting a printed copy, include your signature for authenticity. Proofread your document for clarity, coherence, and accuracy before submission.

Remember, each organization may have its own set of rules, so always double-check and follow their specific guidelines for the final touches on your personal statement.

Personal Statement Format Examples

If you are looking for helpful personal statement format examples, you are at the right place. Going through examples is one of the best practices to get an idea of how to write a perfect personal statement.

That’s why we have provided you with some good personal statement format examples to help you know what specific details should be included. 

Personal Statement Format For Grad School

Personal Statement Format For University

Personal Statement Format Law School

Personal Statement Format For College

Personal Statement Format For Masters

Personal Statement Format For Job

Personal Statement Format For Scholarship

Check out more flawlessly formatted personal statement examples to learn more!

Facing formatting hurdles with your personal statement? Even after this guide, if you're still feeling adrift, our writing service is here for you.

Our dedicated team excels at crafting standout personal statements. Our team is skilled at delivering perfectly formatted personal statements. Our essay writing service for students has helped thousands like you by providing winning personal statements.

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Computing and IT Personal Statement Examples

personal statements what is it

What is a computing and IT personal statement?

Writing a personal statement for computing and IT is a chance to sell yourself to the admissions tutors and show them why you would make a great candidate on their course.

It’s a place to describe your skills and strengths, as well as your career plans.

You are allowed up to 4,000 characters to explain why you are applying for a computing and IT degree, so you need to make sure your statement is as polished as possible to stand out from the crowd.

How do I write a good computing and IT personal statement?

Good computing and IT personal statements always use evidence to support their claims.

You need to convince admissions tutors that you’re a good match for the programme, so if you claim to be committed or inquisitive, then use examples from your life experience to back it up.

To write a successful computing and IT personal statement you need to start early, brainstorm some ideas, and then begin your first draft during the summer break.

This will then need to be carefully revised and edited before asking family and friends for feedback. Incorporate their comments and suggestions, and see how it is improved before asking them to look at it again.

Read through our computing and IT personal statement examples to give you an idea of what a good computing statement looks like.

Make sure you proofread your statement for grammar and spelling before sending it off, and if you feel you need a little extra help, please see our personal statement editing services .

What should I include in my computing and IT personal statement?

Many students choose to start their statement by picking a specific aspect of the subject and explaining why they enjoy it.

Admissions tutors want candidates that are as passionate about computing and IT as they are.

As well as your motivations for studying computing, think about your hobbies and extracurricular activities too. What skills have you learned from these and how will these help you in your computing and IT degree?

Talk about any work experience placements you have completed, e.g. shadowing an IT technician or someone in a related profession. What did you take away from this experience? Do you feel you have all the necessary personal traits and qualities that make a good sociology student?

Your wider reading is also important, so it's worth mentioning anything you've read recently that you found interesting and why. Generally, admissions tutors like students who express their views and opinions, and can back them up with evidence.

For more help and advice on what to write in your computing personal statement, please see:

  • Personal Statement Editing Services
  • Personal Statement Tips From A Teacher
  • Analysis Of A Personal Statement
  • The 15th January UCAS Deadline: 4 Ways To Avoid Missing It
  • Personal Statement FAQs
  • Personal Statement Timeline
  • 10 Top Personal Statement Writing Tips
  • What To Do If You Miss The 15th January UCAS Deadline.

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Trump tried to ‘corrupt’ the 2016 election, prosecutor alleges as hush money trial gets underway

The start of opening statements in Donald Trump’s hush money trial set the stage for weeks of testimony about the former president’s personal life and places his legal troubles at the center of his closely contested campaign against President Joe Biden.

personal statements what is it

Opening statements in Donald Trump’s hush money trial set the stage for weeks of testimony about the former president’s personal life and places his legal troubles at the center of his closely contested campaign against President Joe Biden.

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at his criminal trial at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at his criminal trial at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

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Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump’s historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

This artist depiction shows defense attorney Todd Blanche pointing at former President Donald Trump while giving his opening statement to the jury in Manhattan criminal court Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Donald Trump, right, sits at defense table during Judge Merchan’s reading of his ruling and instructions to the jury in Manhattan criminal court Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Former President Donald Trump, left, listens as assistant district attorney Matthew Coalangelo, right, gives opening statement to jury with Judge Juan Merchan presiding in Manhattan criminal court Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump walks next to his attorney Todd Blanche, at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Former president Donald Trump speaks upon arriving at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump’s historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump speaks to the media after the first day of opening arguments in his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court for falsifying documents related to hush money payments, in New York, NY, on Monday, April 22, 2024. (Victor J. Blue/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump tried to illegally influence the 2016 presidential election by preventing damaging stories about his personal life from becoming public, a prosecutor told jurors Monday at the start of the former president’s historic hush money trial.

“This was a planned, coordinated, long-running conspiracy to influence the 2016 election — to help Donald Trump get elected through illegal expenditures to silence people who had something bad to say about his behavior, using doctored corporate records and bank forms to conceal those payments along the way,” prosecutor Matthew Colangelo said. “It was election fraud, pure and simple.”

What to know about Trump’s hush money trial:

  • Trump will be first ex-president on criminal trial. Here’s what to know about the hush money case.
  • A jury of his peers: A look at how jury selection will work in Donald Trump’s first criminal trial .
  • Trump is facing four criminal indictments, and a civil lawsuit. You can track all of the cases here.
  • Trump trial day 6 highlights: David Pecker testifies on “catch-and-kill” scheme .

A defense lawyer countered by assailing the case as baseless and attacking the integrity of the onetime Trump confidant who’s now the government’s star witness.

“President Trump is innocent. President Trump did not commit any crimes. The Manhattan district attorney’s office should never have brought this case,” attorney Todd Blanche said.

The opening statements offered the 12-person jury — and the voting public — radically divergent roadmaps for a case that will unfold against the backdrop of a closely contested White House race in which Trump is not only the presumptive Republican nominee but also a criminal defendant facing the prospect of a felony conviction and prison.

Former President Donald Trump attends jury selection at Manhattan criminal court in New York, April 15, 2024. (Jeenah Moon/Pool Photo via AP, File)

It is the first criminal trial of a former American president and the first of four prosecutions of Trump to reach a jury. Befitting that history, prosecutors sought from the outset to elevate the gravity of the case, which they said was chiefly about election interference as reflected by the hush money payments to a porn actor who said she had a sexual encounter with Trump.

“The defendant, Donald Trump, orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election. Then he covered up that criminal conspiracy by lying in his New York business records over and over and over again,” Colangelo said.

The trial, which could last up to two months, will require Trump to spend his days in a courtroom rather than on the campaign trail, a reality he complained about Monday when he lamented to reporters after leaving the courtroom: “I’m the leading candidate ... and this is what they’re trying to take me off the trail for. Checks being paid to a lawyer.”

Trump has nonetheless sought to turn his criminal defendant status into an asset for his campaign, fundraising off his legal jeopardy and repeatedly railing against a justice system that he has for years claimed is weaponized against him. In the weeks ahead, the case will test the jury’s ability to judge him impartially but also Trump’s ability to comply with courtroom protocol, including a gag order barring him from attacking witnesses, jurors, trial prosecutors and some others.

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records — a charge punishable by up to four years in prison — though it’s not clear if the judge would seek to put him behind bars. A conviction would not preclude Trump from becoming president again, but because it is a state case, he would not be able to pardon himself if found guilty. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

The case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg revisits a years-old chapter from Trump’s biography when his celebrity past collided with his political ambitions and, prosecutors say, he scrambled to stifle stories that he feared could torpedo his campaign.

Former President Donald Trump, followed by his attorney Todd Blanche, left, exits the courtroom following proceedings in his trial, Friday, April 19, 2024, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York. (Mark Peterson/Pool Photo via AP)

Former President Donald Trump, followed by his attorney Todd Blanche, left, exits the courtroom following proceedings in his trial, Friday, April 19, 2024, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York. (Mark Peterson/Pool Photo via AP)

The opening statements served as an introduction to the colorful cast of characters that feature prominently in that tawdry saga, including Stormy Daniels, the porn actor who says she received the hush money ; Michael Cohen, the lawyer who prosecutors say paid her; and David Pecker, the tabloid publisher who agreed to function as the campaign’s “eyes and ears” and who served as the prosecution’s first witness on Monday.

AP AUDIO: Trump tried to ‘corrupt’ the 2016 election, prosecutor alleges as hush money trial gets underway.

AP correspondent Julie Walker reports on opening statements in Donald Trump’s hush money criminal trial.

Pecker is due back on the stand Tuesday, when the court will also hear arguments on whether Trump violated Judge Juan Merchan’s gag order with a series of Truth Social posts about witnesses over the last week.

In his opening statement, Colangelo outlined a comprehensive effort by Trump and his allies to prevent three separate stories — two from women alleging prior sexual encounters — from surfacing during the 2016 presidential campaign. That undertaking was especially urgent following the emergence late in the race of a 2005 “Access Hollywood” recording in which Trump could be heard boasting about grabbing women sexually without their permission.

Colangelo recited Trump’s now-infamous remarks as Trump looked on, stone-faced.

“The impact of that tape on the campaign was immediate and explosive,” Colangelo said.

Within days of the “Access Hollywood” tape becoming public, Colangelo told jurors that the National Enquirer alerted Cohen that Stormy Daniels was agitating to go public with her claims of a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.

“At Trump’s direction, Cohen negotiated a deal to buy Ms. Daniels’ story in order to prevent American voters from learning that information before Election Day,” Colangelo told jurors.

But, the prosecutor noted, “neither Trump nor the Trump Organization could just write a check to Cohen for $130,000 with a memo line that said ‘reimbursement for porn star payoff.’” So, he added, “they agreed to cook the books and make it look like the payment was actually income, payment for services rendered.”

Those alleged falsified records form the backbone of the 34-count indictment against Trump. Trump has denied a sexual encounter with Daniels.

Blanche, the defense lawyer, sought to preemptively undermine the credibility of Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal charges related to his role in the hush money scheme, as someone with an “obsession” with Trump who cannot be trusted. He said Trump had done nothing illegal when his company recorded the checks to Cohen as legal expenses.

“There’s nothing wrong with trying to influence an election. It is called democracy,” not a crime, Blanche said.

Blanche challenged the notion that Trump agreed to the Daniels payout to safeguard his campaign. Instead, he characterized the transaction as an attempt to squelch a “sinister” effort to embarrass Trump and his loved ones.

“President Trump fought back, like he always does, and like he’s entitled to do, to protect his family, his reputation and his brand, and that is not a crime,” Blanche told jurors.

The efforts to suppress the stories are what’s known in the tabloid industry as “catch-and-kill” — catching a potentially damaging story by buying the rights to it and then killing it through agreements that prevent the paid person from telling the story to anyone else.

Besides the payment to Daniels, Colangelo also described other arrangements, including one that paid a former Playboy model $150,000 to suppress claims of a nearly yearlong affair with the married Trump. Colangelo said Trump “desperately did not want this information about Karen McDougal to become public because he was worried about its effect on the election.”

He said jurors would hear a recording Cohen made in September 2016 of himself briefing Trump on the plan to buy McDougal’s story. The recording was made public in July 2018. Colangelo told jurors they will hear Trump in his own voice saying: “What do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?”

Trump denies McDougal’s claims of an affair.

The first and only witness Monday was Pecker, the then-publisher of the National Enquirer and a longtime Trump friend who prosecutors say met with Trump and Cohen at Trump Tower in August 2015 and agreed to help Trump’s campaign identify negative stories about him.

Pecker described the tabloid’s use of “checkbook journalism,” a practice that entails paying a source for a story.

“I gave a number to the editors that they could not spend more than $10,000” on a story without getting his approval, Pecker said Tuesday.

The New York case has taken on added importance because it may be the only one of the four against Trump to reach trial before the November election. Appeals and legal wrangling have delayed the other three cases.

Tucker reported from Washington.

Follow the AP’s coverage of former President Donald Trump at .


Keep these 10 financial documents forever. Scan and shred the rest.

Always hold onto birth certificates and social security cards, but it’s okay to cast off those old bank statements.

personal statements what is it

No matter how digital we’ve become, we’re still a paper nation.

Are your financial documents stuffed in a closet, files, shopping bags or stacked up on the floor?

Get Michelle’s advice free in your inbox

personal statements what is it

You may prefer to view it as organized chaos. But isn’t it really just a manifestation of your inability to discern what you need and what you should let go?

When I look at the piles of paper in my office accumulated throughout the past year, I know it’s time for another document dump. It’s part of my spring cleaning ritual .

Sometimes we hold onto all that paper because we aren’t sure what to keep and what to toss. Here’s a rundown of what should be retained.

Forever documents

Certain papers should be kept in a safe location where they are protected from damage, loss and theft. Such original documents, which may be hard or costly to replace, include:

  • Birth certificates and adoption papers
  • Death certificates
  • Marriage and divorce records
  • Social Security cards. Yes, you know the number, but there may be an occasion where you have to produce the actual card.
  • Military service records, including discharge documents. An honorably discharged service member is eligible to receive funeral and burial benefits.
  • Loan payoff statements. Here’s something important: If you negotiated to pay less than what you owed on a debt, keep the original agreement in perpetuity. Often when debt is sold to debt collectors for pennies on the dollar, the sale doesn’t include a lot of information, including documentation proving a payoff.
  • Year-end pay stubs. If a company goes out of business you may not be able to track down the information should you need it later.
  • Retirement or pension records. Be sure to keep the records from previous jobs.
  • Estate documents
  • Funeral programs. Although many funeral homes will post an obituary online, they are often shortened versions of the program you might receive at the service. I have a folder of programs because they contain a wealth of information that can be helpful in estate planning, including maiden names and other family history you might need. (In this case, I like keeping the originals rather than a scanned version.)

Loan documents: Keep original loan documents and statements until you have paid off the loan. Then, save the paperwork verifying the balance was paid in full. My husband and I are coming up on one year of paying off our home . I may be a little paranoid, but I’m keeping the original documentation.

Vehicle title: Keep the original as long as you own the vehicle.

Receipts for big-ticket items: For insurance purposes, in case of fire or theft, save receipts for big-screen TVs, computers and other major purchases. Hold on to each receipt as long as you own the item. Personally, I like to keep the original, but a scanned copy should be fine.

Home improvement purchase orders, receipts, canceled checks: Keep proof of any upgrades until you sell the home. If you have a capital gain from selling your primary home, you may qualify to exclude as much as $250,000 from your income or as much as $500,000 if you file a joint return with your spouse.

If you exceed these limits, here’s where having proof of the capital improvements helps your tax situation: “When you make a home improvement, such as installing central air conditioning or replacing the roof, you can’t deduct the cost in the year you spend the money,” according to TurboTax. “But, if you keep track of those expenses, they may help you reduce your taxes in the year you sell your house.”

Investment statements: If they are available online, you do not need paper copies. The most important reason to maintain these records would be to establish your cost basis when selling an asset to make sure you claim the proper capital gain or loss on your tax return.

3 to 7 years

Tax records: Record-keeping guidelines are tied to statutes of limitations. That’s generally three years, but it’s seven years for worthless securities and bad debts, according to IRS spokesman Eric Smith.

“For most people, the tax-related statute of limitations is pretty straightforward,” he said.

But there are special circumstances that extend that time. For example, getting a tax-filing extension, serving in a combat zone, qualifying for a disaster-area deadline postponement or a financial disability.

You must keep records, such as receipts, canceled checks and other documents that support an item of income, a deduction or a credit appearing on a return, according to the IRS.

But it doesn’t have to be an original. Scan and shred. The agency will accept a legible digital copy of a document.

“Electronic storage is also fine, as long as they can be retrieved, if needed,” Smith said.

Why keep even a scanned version after several years?

Your past returns contain your financial history — employment, investments and charitable giving choices.

But you won’t have to worry about having a scanned copy if you have an IRS online account. With an account, you can access a transcript of your return.

Maintaining years of tax returns can help if you ever need to research payments made into Social Security .

Medical bills: If you paid a medical expense with your health savings or flexible spending account, keep the receipt for three years. Consider it a tax-related document.

If you want more personal finance advice that's timeless, order your copy of Michelle Singletary's Money Milestones.

Credit card statements: Companies will provide you with a year-end statement that categorizes all expenses. If that works for you, shred the monthly statements you may have been getting in the mail.

And if you’re still getting paper statements, stop. Get them e-delivered. I still scan and save statements in case I close an account and no longer have online access.

Less than a year

There is no need to keep all those ATM or retail receipts. Once you get your statements, you can shred and toss.

Word of caution

I’ve mentioned this before, but be sure to research online services that will backup your scanned documents. By the way, an external hard drive attached to your computer is still vulnerable to hackers.

Make sure you also regularly update your computer software. The Washington Post’s Help Desk is a great source to help secure information.

B.O.M. — The best of Michelle Singletary on personal finance

If you have a personal finance question for Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary, please call 1-855-ASK-POST (1-855-275-7678).

My mortgage payoff story: My husband and I paid off the house in the spring of 2023 thanks to making extra payments and taking advantage of a mortgage recast . Even though it lowered my perfect 850 credit score and my column about it sparked some serious debate with readers, it was one of the best financial decisions I’ve made.

Credit card debt: If you’re in the habit of carrying credit card debt, stop. It’s just a myth that it will boost your credit score. For those looking to get out of credit card debt, see if a balance transfer is right for you.

Money moves for life: For a more sweeping overview of my timeless money advice, see Michelle Singletary’s Money Milestones . The interactive package offers guidance for every life stage, whether you’re just starting out in your career or planning for retirement. You can also purchase a copy for yourself or as a gift.

Test yourself: Not rich and wondering what it’ll take to build your wealth? Take this quiz for my wealth-building tips.

personal statements what is it

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Trump criminal trial wraps for the day after opening statements and first witness

From CNN's Jeremy Herb, Lauren del Valle and Kara Scannell in the courthouse

Key takeaways from opening statements and the first witness in Trump's hush money trial

From CNN's Jeremy Herb, Lauren del Valle and Kara Scannell

Prosecutors and Trump’s attorneys delivered opening statements and the first witness — a former National Enquirer publisher — was called Monday in the historic and unprecedented criminal trial of a former president.

Each side got their first chance to lay out a theory of the case for jurors. Prosecutors told jurors that the reimbursement of hush money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels was part of a larger conspiracy to influence the 2016 presidential election.

The former president’s attorneys responded by telling the jury that Trump was innocent and not involved in the creation of the 34 business records he’s charged with falsifying. They also pointedly added that there’s “nothing wrong with trying to influence an election.”

Here are key takeaways from Monday:

  • Prosecutors say Trump schemed "to corrupt the 2016 presidential election": The district attorney’s office framed the case for jurors as illegal payments to try to influence illicitly influence the 2016 election that Trump then tried to illegally cover up by falsifying business records. Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo walked the jury through Trump’s efforts, along with Michael Cohen and former American Media Inc., chief David Pecker, to keep damaging information from coming to light during the 2016 election.
  • Defense says Donald Trump is innocent: Defense attorney Todd Blanche began his opening statement with a simple assertion: “Donald Trump is innocent.” Blanche told the jury that the story isn’t as simple as prosecutors laid out and argued that Trump was not involved with any of the business records he’s accused of falsifying beyond signing the checks. Blanche didn’t dispute the paper trail existed, but he argued to the jury there was nothing illegal about signing non-disclosure agreements — or trying to influence an election.
  • Tabloid publisher testifies first: Prosecutors called former AMI CEO David Pecker as the first witness in their case against Trump. He testified for less than 30 minutes Monday morning before the trial adjourned for the day. He’s expected to continue testifying Tuesday. Colangelo teed up the former tabloid publisher as a key player in Trump’s “catch and kill” scheme to control the public narrative about him ahead of the 2016 election.
  • Gag order hearing will lead off court on Tuesday: Before the trial resumes Tuesday, Judge Juan Merchan is holding a hearing on allegations that Trump violated the judge’s gag order barring discussion of witnesses. The district attorney’s office asked the judge to fine Trump $1,000 for each of several gag order violations leading up to and since the trial started. In addition to the fines, prosecutors want the judge to remind Trump he could be imprisoned if he continues to disobey the order.
  • Trump was thinking about the $175 million bond hearing down the street: Meanwhile, other lawyers for Trump were in a courtroom a block away arguing over the legitimacy of the $175 million bond Trump posted to appeal the judgment in his civil fraud trial. Trump, who could not attend the civil hearing because he’s required to attend each day of the criminal trial, railed against Attorney General Letitia James.

Fact check: Trump falsely claims Michael Cohen’s crimes "had nothing to do with me"

From CNN’s Daniel Dale

Speaking to reporters Monday after opening statements in his criminal trial in Manhattan, former President Donald Trump declared that the crimes committed by his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen “had nothing to do with me.” 

Cohen is expected to be a key  witness for the prosecution . Trump said: “The things he got in trouble for were things that had nothing to do with me. He got in trouble; he went to jail. This has nothing to do with me. This had to do with the taxicab company that he owned, which is just something he owned – and medallions and borrowing money and a lot of things – but it had nothing to do with me.” 

Facts First:  Trump’s claim that Cohen’s prison sentence “had nothing to do with me” is false. Cohen’s three-year sentence in 2018 was for  multiple crimes , some of which were directly related to Trump. Most notably, Cohen was sentenced for  campaign finance offenses   connected to a hush money scheme  during the 2016 presidential campaign to conceal Trump’s alleged extramarital relationships -- the same hush money scheme that is central to this prosecution against Trump. Cohen was  also sentenced to two months in prison , to run concurrently with the three-year sentence, for  lying to Congress in 2017 in relation to previous talks about the possibility of building a Trump Tower in Moscow, Russia , including about the  extent of Trump’s involvement in the aborted Moscow initiative  and about when in 2016 the discussions ended. (The discussions continued into June 2016, the month after Trump  became the presumptive Republican nominee , and did not conclude in January 2016 before the first votes were cast, as Cohen had claimed.)

Referring to Trump as “Individual-1,” Cohen  said  at the time of his 2018 guilty plea for making false statements to the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: “I made these statements to be consistent with Individual-1’s political messaging and out of loyalty to Individual-1.” When Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to the campaign finance violations, he  said  he broke the law “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” Trump. 

David Pecker is an important witness in prosecutor's quest to prove criminal intent, legal analyst says

From CNN's Elise Hammond

This court sketch shows David Pecker testifying during former President Donald Trump's criminal hush money trial.

David Pecker will be back on the stand on Tuesday to continue testimony in the hush money trial against former President Donald Trump. Not only is he the first witness to answer questions from the prosecution, but he is also a critical piece of how the state is trying to prove criminal intent, one former federal prosecutor said.

Criminal intent means that “not just an act happened, but an act happened for a purpose,” said Elliot Williams, a CNN legal analyst. “The defendant did something wrong to carry out some criminal purpose.”

As the then-chairman of American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer, Pecker was involved in numerous “catch-and-kill” schemes he orchestrated on behalf of Trump, and he allegedly helped broker the deal with adult film star Stormy Daniels which is at the center of  the case.

“It’s not just the catch-and-kill payments, but catch-and-kill payments for the purpose of concealing information from voters in the context of an election,” Williams explained, referring to the 2016 presidential election. 

Williams said it’s likely that prosecutors will focus much of their questioning trying to uncover what was discussed in meetings between Pecker and Trump.

The question at the heart of the argument, Williams said, is if the payments were intended to conceal information from voters, “or was it just Donald Trump saying, ‘Well, you know, this is embarrassing to my wife and my kids, I really want to keep this hidden.’”

Read about the stages of Trump's criminal trial — and what they mean 

From CNN's Lauren del Valle, Jhasua Razo and Gillian Roberts

Former President Donald Trump’s first criminal trial is expected to take six to eight weeks from start to finish.

This trial, related to a  hush money payment  to adult film star Stormy Daniels in 2016, is the first of  four ongoing criminal cases  that are expected to head to trial for the presumptive 2024 GOP presidential nominee.

Now that opening statements are done, prosecutors are presenting trial evidence through witness testimony and exhibits. David Pecker, the ex-publisher of the National Enquirer, will resume testimony Tuesday.

Defense attorneys can cross examine the prosecution’s witnesses and typically aim to discredit their testimony. Witnesses’ responses are considered evidence, but not the questions posed by an attorney.

Read more about the stages of the trial, and what they mean here.

Michael Cohen jabs back at Trump's claim that Cohen's crimes have nothing to do with him

From CNN's Laura Dolan

In this October 2023 photo, Michael Cohen leaves for a break during the civil business fraud trial of former President Donald Trump at New York Supreme Court in New York.

Michael Cohen, who is expected to be a key witness in Donald Trump’s criminal trial, jabbed back at his former boss in response to comments Trump made about him outside the courtroom Monday.

Speaking to reporters in the courtroom hallway after court concluded, Trump said Cohen’s crimes have “nothing to do with me."

“He got in trouble, he went to jail. This has nothing to do with me,” said Trump. “This had to do with the taxicab company that he owned, which is just something he owned — and medallions and borrowing money.”

Shortly after those comments. Cohen posted on social media, “Hey Von ShitzInPantz … your attacks of me stink of desperation. We are all hoping that you take the stand in your defense. 

Cohen, who is Trump’s former attorney, served time in federal prison after pleading guilty to breaking federal campaign laws when he facilitated the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, which is directly linked to the charges against Trump.  As for the taxi medallions that Trump referenced, Cohen was also sentenced for tax evasion related to a taxi medallion enterprise and lying to a bank in relation to a home loan. 

Trump is under a gag order and was ordered by Judge Juan Merchan not to comment about any witnesses in the trial.

CNN's Daniel Dale contributed to this post.

See courtroom sketches from today's Trump trial

No cameras are allowed inside the Manhattan courtroom where Donald Trump's hush money trial is underway, but a sketch artist captured the scene as opening statements unfolded and the first witness took the stand.

Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo speaks at the lectern Monday morning in opening statements in Day 5 of former President Donald Trump's criminal hush money trial taking place in Manhattan, New York, on April 22.

Biden builds early advertising edge as Trump spends millions on legal fees

From CNN's David Wright

President Joe Biden and his allies have nearly tripled Donald Trump’s network in ad spending over the last month and a half while the former president has had to devote millions of campaign funds to legal expenses — and sit in a New York courthouse for his hush money trial.

Since March 6, after Super Tuesday when Trump effectively secured the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, through April 21, Biden’s campaign and other Democratic advertisers spent $27.2 million on advertising for the presidential race, while the Trump campaign and GOP advertisers spent about $9.3 million, according to AdImpact data.

Ad spending data (presidential race, March 6 to April 21)

  • Democrats: $27,153,293
  • Republicans: $9,344,948

During that time, Biden's campaign has spent millions in key battleground states, including $4.1 million in Michigan, $3.9 million in Pennsylvania, and at least $2 million in Arizona, Wisconsin, and Georgia. And the Biden network has used its plentiful airtime to promote the administration’s first-term record and slam Trump, focusing on key issues such as the  cost of living  and  abortion rights .

Meanwhile, Trump’s network has failed to match that effort since he became the presumptive nominee, though a pro-Trump super PAC, MAGA Inc., recently ramped up its advertising, booking over $1 million worth of airtime in Pennsylvania to coincide with Biden’s recent campaign swing through the state last week.

Trump has also benefited over that stretch from a nearly $3 million anti-Biden campaign from outside groups aligned with the oil and gas industries, which have been  running ads  in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, criticizing California fuel standards  defended  by the Biden administration. But despite some recent signs of activity, Trump’s network has been significantly outspent on the airwaves since his general election matchup with Biden came into focus. And  the latest round of FEC filings  shows how Biden’s fundraising edge is enabling that advertising advantage, as Trump’s ongoing legal battles drain millions from his campaign coffers.  

How we got here: A timeline of the Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels hush money case

From CNN’s Lauren del Valle, Kara Scannell, Annette Choi and Gillian Roberts 

The first criminal trial of a US ex-president is underway in New York, where former President Donald Trump faces charges from the Manhattan District attorney related to a hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels in 2016. 

This is the first of four criminal cases expected to go to trial for Trump, also the presumptive 2024 GOP presidential nominee. CNN compiled a timeline of the key events leading up to the historic trial. 

Here’s how we got here: 

  • September 2016: Donald Trump discusses a $150,000 hush money payment understood to be for former Playboy model Karen McDougal with Michael Cohen who secretly records the conversation . McDougal has alleged she had an extramarital affair with Trump beginning in 2006, which he has denied. 
  • October 7, 2016: The Washington Post releases an "Access Hollywood" video from 2005 in which Trump uses vulgar language to describe his sexual approach to women with then show host Billy Bush. 
  • October 27, 2016: According to prosecutors, Cohen pays Daniels $130,000 to her attorney through a shell company in exchange for her silence about an affair she allegedly had with Trump in 2006. This $130,000 sum is separate from the $150,000 paid to McDougal. Trump has publicly denied having any affairs and has denied making the payments. 
  • November 8, 2016: Trump secures the election to become the 45th president of the United States. 
  • February 2017: Prosecutors say Cohen meets with Trump in the Oval Office to confirm how he would be reimbursed for the hush money payment Cohen fronted to Daniels. Under the plan, Cohen would send a series of false invoices requesting payment for legal services he performed pursuant to a retainer agreement and receive monthly checks for $35,000 for a total of $420,000 to cover the payment, his taxes and a bonus, prosecutors alleged. Prosecutors also allege there was never a retainer agreement. 
  • January 2018: The Wall Street Journal breaks news about the hush money payment Cohen made to Daniels in 2016. 

See the full timeline.  

Trump is also facing charges in 3 other criminal cases

From CNN’s Devan Cole, Amy O'Kruk and Curt Merrill 

Former President Donald Trump's motorcade outside of the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, Georgia, on Thursday, August 24.

The hush money criminal trial against former President Donald Trump is just one of  four criminal cases  he faces while juggling his presidential campaign.

The former president is facing at least  88 charges  over the four criminal indictments in Georgia, New York, Washington, DC, and Florida. Trump has pleaded not guilty to every charge in these cases. 

Here's a recap of each case: 

  • Hush money:  Trump was first indicted in March 2023 by the Manhattan district attorney on state charges related to a hush-money payment to an adult film star in 2016. Prosecutors allege Trump was part of an illegal conspiracy to  undermine  the integrity of the 2016 election. Further, they allege he was part of an unlawful plan to suppress negative information, including the $130,000 payment. 
  • Classified documents:  Trump was indicted in June 2023 by a federal grand jury in Miami for taking classified national defense documents from the White House after he left office and resisting the government’s attempts to retrieve the materials. The National Archives said in early 2022 that at least 15 boxes of White House records were recovered from the estate, including   some that were classified . The charges were brought by special counsel Jack Smith. 
  • Federal election interference:  Smith separately charged the former president last August with four crimes over his efforts to reverse the 2020 election results. The indictment alleges Trump and a co-conspirator "attempted to exploit the violence and chaos at the Capitol by calling lawmakers to convince them ... to delay the certification" of the election. That case is currently on hold as the Supreme Court weighs Trump’s claims of presidential immunity in the matter. 
  • Fulton County:  State prosecutors in Georgia brought a similar election subversion case against Trump and others. An Atlanta-based grand jury on August 14, 2023, indicted Trump and 18 others on state charges stemming from their alleged efforts to overturn the former president’s 2020 electoral defeat. A trial date has not yet been set in that case. 

Read more about  the four criminal cases  Trump faces.  

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‘Criminal Conspiracy’ Alleged as Jury Starts Hearing Trump Trial

Court adjourned for the day after opening statements from both sides and the start of testimony from the longtime publisher of The National Enquirer. A lawyer for Donald Trump told jurors the former president did nothing illegal.

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Former President Donald J. Trump sitting at a table in a dark suit.

Follow our live coverage of Trump’s hush money trial in Manhattan.

Jesse McKinley

Jesse McKinley and Kate Christobek

Five takeaways from the fifth day of Trump’s criminal trial.

Monday marked another key moment in the criminal trial of Donald J. Trump: opening statements, during which the former president listened quietly to the prosecution’s allegations of crimes, and the defense’s counterargument that he was a simple man, wrongly accused.

The jury that will decide Mr. Trump’s case concentrated intently on the statements, which began the presentation of what will be weeks of testimony and other evidence, all in a tense courtroom in Lower Manhattan.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee once more, Mr. Trump, 77, is charged with falsifying 34 business records in an attempt to cover up a payment to a porn star, Stormy Daniels, in the days before the 2016 election. Ms. Daniels, who may testify, says that she and Mr. Trump had a sexual encounter in 2006, a claim the former president denies.

Mr. Trump has also denied the 34 felony charges, calling them orchestrated by Democrats; if convicted, the former president could face probation or up to four years in prison.

Here are five takeaways from Mr. Trump’s fifth day on trial:

The prosecution has a big story to tell.

The charges faced by Mr. Trump may sound bland — “falsifying business records” doesn’t really set the heart racing — but the prosecution made clear on Monday that it plans on painting a much broader picture.

Matthew Colangelo, a prosecutor, laid out in his opening statement a tale that touched on tabloid journalism , tawdry affairs and covertly recorded phone calls . Jurors will likely be told about events inside fancy hotel rooms, Trump Tower and even the Oval Office. And the stakes? The presidency.

All that suggests that the case will keep jurors wide-awake during the six or so weeks it is projected to take. Indeed, when asked if they wanted paper and pens to take notes, more than half of the people in the jury box (12 jurors and six alternates) raised their hands.

personal statements what is it

Who Are Key Players in the Trump Manhattan Criminal Trial?

The first criminal trial of former President Donald J. Trump is underway. Take a closer look at central figures related to the case.

The defense wants to destroy prosecution witnesses.

Mr. Trump’s lead lawyer, Todd Blanche, used his opening statement to cast Mr. Trump’s actions leading to this case as run-of-the-mill business, and said that Mr. Trump is defending himself at trial, just as “any of us would do.”

He argued that the use of a nondisclosure agreement — the document Ms. Daniels signed after receiving the payment — was typical among the wealthy and the famous and “nothing illegal.” He continued that there was nothing wrong with trying to influence an election, adding: “It’s called democracy.”

Mr. Blanche also attacked Mr. Cohen, a former lawyer and fixer for Mr. Trump. He said Mr. Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance crimes in 2018, was a “criminal” who “can’t be trusted.” He added that Ms. Daniels was “biased” against Mr. Trump and made a living off her story about the sexual encounter.

He called the heart of the prosecution case just “34 pieces of paper” that don’t involve Mr. Trump.

Trump was muted during the abbreviated day in court.

On Mr. Trump’s way into the courtroom on Monday, he addressed reporters for about three minutes and blasted a range of perceived enemies, including New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, and the judge in a recent civil fraud case that resulted in a $454 million judgment against him.

But Mr. Trump’s behavior during opening statements reflected that he understood the gravity of the moment.

Mr. Trump made no outbursts during the prosecution’s opening statement, although he occasionally showed displeasure: He shook his head slightly at arguments that he orchestrated a scheme to corrupt the presidential election and then more strenuously when prosecutors said he was guilty of felonies.

During his own side’s opening statement, Mr. Trump sat largely motionless and expressionless watching his lawyer Mr. Blanche. Mr. Trump’s behavior was muted compared with his volatility during past Manhattan court appearances.

But at the conclusion of the trial day, Mr. Trump took his preferred spot in front of a television camera in the hallway, and spoke for more than nine minutes, attacking the prosecutor’s case — once again — as unfair.

David Pecker used to live on celebrity news. Now, he is the news.

Prosecutors’ first witness was David Pecker, the longtime publisher of The National Enquirer . He ambled to the stand and promptly gave a lesson in the ways of tabloid journalism, including the purchasing of articles — anything more than $10,000, he had to approve — and the significance of putting a famous face right out front.

“The only thing that was important is the cover of a magazine,” Mr. Pecker testified.

In about 30 minutes of testimony, Mr. Pecker also laid out trade secrets on sourcing, saying hotel workers and limo drivers could be a font of information on the rich and famous.

He seemed at ease: laughing at a prosecutor’s jokes, and sometimes directly addressing the jury just a few feet away.

We’re moving right along.

Over the past five trial days, the judge overseeing the case, Juan M. Merchan, has shown that he is eager to keep this trial on schedule. He seems serious about keeping his word to the jurors that the trial will last six weeks.

On Monday, truncated by a juror’s dental emergency and the Passover holiday, he decided to start with the first witness — Mr. Pecker — despite having only half an hour left on his schedule.

On Tuesday, the court will first consider a prosecution motion to hold Mr. Trump in contempt over recent comments that they say violated a gag order meant to keep him from attacking participants in the trial and their families.

Then, Mr. Pecker will continue on the stand, probably diving deeper into the “catch-and-kill” scheme used to buy up — and cover up — unflattering stories, a central element of the prosecution’s narrative.

Court will end early again, at 2 p.m., for further observance of Passover and then will have its weekly Wednesday break.

But there is little indication that as the weeks pass, Justice Merchan will let the pace slacken.

Jonah E. Bromwich

Jonah E. Bromwich and Kate Christobek

The opening statements gave a preview of how the two sides will present the case.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office and lawyers for Donald J. Trump presented opening statements to jurors on Monday, with prosecutors accusing the former president of entering a criminal conspiracy while the defense sought to discredit two key witnesses.

A prosecutor, Matthew Colangelo, began by telling jurors that Mr. Trump had conspired with his former fixer, Michael D. Cohen, and the publisher of The National Enquirer, David Pecker, to conceal damaging stories during his 2016 campaign.

“This case is about a criminal conspiracy and a cover-up,” Mr. Colangelo said, telling a story about a hush-money payment to a porn star and insisting that the former president was ultimately responsible.

In the end, Mr. Colangelo said, there would be “only one conclusion: Donald Trump is guilty of 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree.”

Immediately after Mr. Colangelo’s presentation, Mr. Trump’s lead lawyer, Todd Blanche, directly disagreed, insisting that the jury acquit the former president. Mr. Trump, he said, had engaged in actions that were legal and normal.

“President Trump did not commit any crimes,” Mr. Blanche told the jury, using the former president’s preferred form of address. The lawyer told jurors that Mr. Trump had earned the right to be referred to as “president” and reminded them that he was the presumptive Republican nominee.

Mr. Blanche argued that there was nothing illegal about nondisclosure agreements, which he said companies, the wealthy and the famous all use frequently. And, he said, prosecutors were wrong to suggest something criminal about Mr. Trump’s efforts to win the White House.

“I have a spoiler alert: There’s nothing wrong with trying to influence an election,” Mr. Blanche said. “It’s called democracy.”

Mr. Blanche asserted that Mr. Cohen, a key prosecution witness, was paid for legal services, and he attempted to undermine Mr. Cohen’s credibility. Mr. Blanche called Mr. Cohen a “criminal” who “can’t be trusted” and suggested that he was testifying only because he didn’t get a job in the Trump administration.

He also took aim at Stormy Daniels, the former porn star who claimed she had sex with Mr. Trump, characterizing her as an opportunist who had used a brief encounter with Mr. Trump related to his reality show, “The Apprentice,” to make huge sums of money.

He added that Ms. Daniels was “biased” against the former president and made a living off her story about the sexual encounter.

Mr. Blanche also sought to minimize the charges, saying the records at the heart of the case were just “34 pieces of paper” that the former president had nothing to do with.

Mr. Trump is accused of falsifying business records — which is a felony if prosecutors can show the records were altered with an intent to commit or conceal a second crime.

A year ago, when the former president was formally charged with 34 felonies, the district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, told reporters that he did not have to specify what the second crime was, and listed three options. During opening statements, Mr. Colangelo made it clear he believed that the strongest case relied on one of those options: convincing jurors that Mr. Trump concealed the violation of a state law that forbids “conspiracy to promote or prevent an election.”

Justice Juan M. Merchan

Justice Juan M. Merchan

Presiding Judge

Joshua Steinglass

Joshua Steinglass

Todd Blanche

Todd Blanche

Trump Lawyer

David Pecker

David Pecker

Former Publisher of The National Enquirer

Michael Cohen

Michael Cohen

Former Trump Lawyer and “Fixer”

Stormy Daniels

Stormy Daniels

Porn Director, Producer and Actress


Alan Feuer

There’s some good news for people who want to follow the Trump trial in detail, but can’t make it to the courthouse. The New York state court system has just agreed to publish a transcript of each day’s proceeding by the end of the following day on its website. You can find the daily transcripts here .

Olivia Bensimon

Olivia Bensimon

Trump’s motorcade left the courthouse just after 1:05 p.m., wrapping up the trial’s first day of testimony. The view was blocked by an N.Y.P.D. dump truck, to many reporters’ great frustration. Inside Collect Pond Park, across from the courthouse, a lone pro-Trump protester’s “Trump for President ’24” banner flaps meekly in the light breeze.

Jonah Bromwich

Jonah Bromwich

The charges against Trump, which accuse him of falsifying records, are felonies because prosecutors say he sought to conceal another crime. Prosecutors had said before the trial that they had a menu of three crimes to choose from. The one they emphasized most strongly today is a violation of state election law: “conspiracy to promote election.” It’s not one of the actual charges, but they say it was baked into the overall crime.

And its worth emphasizing that when the district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, was first asked about this, at a news conference directly after Trump was formally charged, he said that prosecutors did not have to specify which crime they were alleging Trump concealed. But today, Colangelo took the opposite tack: hitting the word “conspiracy” again and again.

William Rashbaum

William Rashbaum

With the trial now underway, here’s the People of the State of New York v. Donald J. Trump by the numbers: The case was born as “Investigation No. 2018-00403803 – Investigation Into the Business Affairs of John Doe.” That’s how the Manhattan district attorney’s office identified the six-year inquiry that led to today’s proceedings, with the number and name appearing on subpoenas and the correspondence case. Arrest No. M23613757 was given to Mr. Trump when he surrendered last year on April 4. And when the former president was arraigned later that day, his indictment was given a Docket Number, IND-71543-23, which the court system uses to track the case.

Nate Schweber

Nate Schweber

A courthouse park becomes a stage, and a sideshow, outside Trump’s trial.

Andrew Giuliani, the son of Donald J. Trump’s former lawyer and a regular strutting presence on the periphery of the courthouse where the former president is on trial, posed for photos inside Collect Pond Park.

Grinning and wearing a campaign jacket, Mr. Giuliani, who has made a career as a right-wing media figure, hugged supporters of Mr. Trump on Monday. From one, he borrowed a flag with Mr. Trump’s face that promotes him for president in 2024.

“Two-thousand twenty-four years in prison!” taunted Ricky Caballero, 56, from Brooklyn. “He owes your dad money. Why you out here supporting him?”

Mr. Caballero wore a tank top with a Puerto Rican flag. He said that was his heritage, and that he remembers watching Mr. Trump lob paper towels at survivors of Hurricane Maria in 2017. Mr. Caballero said he was still furious.

Mr. Giuliani circulated like a celebrity among Mr. Trump’s supporters and ignored Mr. Caballero.

It was one of a number of loud exchanges between supporters and detractors of Mr. Trump that were noticeably monitored by the police. There were no police in the park on Friday, when a man amid a mental health crisis burned himself to death in an anti-government protest.

On Monday, there were six community affairs officers and six regular uniformed officers watching closely for trouble.

At one point, the sound of the national anthem wafted through the park, courtesy of the flute-playing activist Marc Crawford Leavitt.

“I’m just playing and no one can argue with my playing patriotic songs,” he said, a sign decrying Trump as a liar hanging around his neck.

Anusha Bayya contributed reporting.

The judge leaves the stand. We are done with the jurors’ first day of trial.

Trump looks angry as he leaves the courtroom, again patting the bench behind him on the way out. His eyes scan over the reporters seated in the gallery as he goes.

The defense just told us that they did not learn who would be testifying first for the prosecution until about 3 p.m. yesterday. Prosecutors had declined to tell them earlier, given that Trump has made something of a habit of attacking witnesses.

I’m again struck at just how quickly we went today. We started late, and by the end of a very short day had finished both opening statements and started in on our first witness. This trial was expected to last six weeks. It may end even more quickly.

Jesse McKinley

A short day, but we got a sense of the details that the prosecution intends to offer in its case, and the contours of the defense. David Pecker was just starting, and will continue tomorrow at 11 a.m. There’s a hearing on possible gag order violations by Trump tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m.

Maggie Haberman

Maggie Haberman

Pecker is dismissed from the stand. We expect him back tomorrow.

Justice Merchan tells the jurors about the schedule and asks them, as he will before they leave the courtroom each time, not to discuss the case with anyone and not to read about it. He asks them to put it out of their minds.

Pecker greets someone at the defense table politely as he leaves the room. It’s not clear who.

As he answers Steinglass's questions, Pecker sometimes speaks directly to him, but other times he directs his comments to the jurors. Right now he's describing the types of people tabloids typically use as sources: hotel workers, limo drivers, lawyers.

Trump’s lawyers have sought to cast the tabloid that Pecker presided over as a media company like any other. But Pecker’s comment that they practiced “checkbook journalism,” and his description of their editorial practices, may undermine that argument, as we continue to hear about how the publication operated.

Checkbook journalism is one of the things that sets supermarket tabloids apart from more traditional news outlets.

Kate Christobek

Trump is leaning on the defense table as he listens to Pecker’s testimony. As Pecker talks about the editor meetings, Trump passes notes to two of his lawyers before glaring up at Pecker on the witness stand.

Steinglass has a banter going with Pecker as he asks Pecker to recount his work cell phone number at the time.

That may seem small but it’s important — it’s a good bet that those numbers will come up when evidence is presented.

Steinglass gets a loud cackle from Pecker while asking him his phone numbers. “This isn’t a quiz,” Steinglass says.

As Pecker begins to describe The National Enquirer's editor meetings, it again strikes me that these jurors have a really entertaining case before them. They will be taken into a lot of different environments — these editorial meetings, the Trump campaign and the Trump White House, and small meetings of New York operators in which, prosecutors will argue, the history of the country was shaped.

Jurors appear to be taking copious notes.

“We used checkbook journalism, and we paid for stories,” Pecker says of his time at The National Enquirer. Steinglass, the prosecutor, asks him whether he had "final say" over editorial decisions. Anything over $10,000 for a story, Pecker says, had to be approved by him.

Pecker says in his experience, the only thing that’s important “is the cover” of a magazine.

Michael Rothfeld

Michael Rothfeld

A look at how tabloids used ‘catch-and-kill’ to trade on the secrets of celebrities.

“Catch-and-kill” is a term coined by old-time tabloid editors for buying the exclusive rights to stories, or “catching” them, for the specific purpose of ensuring the information never becomes public. That’s the “killing” part.

Why would anyone want to spend money on a story that it never intends to publish? In the world of tabloid journalism, where ethical lines are blurry, deciding what to publish and why is often a calculus that covers favors doled out and chits called in.

David Pecker, the former publisher of The National Enquirer, who also oversaw other tabloids such as Star and lifestyle publications such as Men’s Fitness, was a master of the technique , according to people who have worked for him.

In 2003, Mr. Pecker’s company, American Media Inc., bought several muscle magazines founded by a mentor of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the bodybuilding legend and movie star. When Mr. Schwarzenegger, who was often featured in those magazines, jumped into the recall election to replace California’s governor, Mr. Pecker ordered his staff to buy up negative stories about him in order to protect his investment, former employees said.

Staff members called it “the David Pecker Project.” American Media paid $20,000 to a former mistress of Mr. Schwarzenegger so that she would not speak about their affair — though news of it had previously been published. The company paid another $1,000 to her friend and $2,000 to a man who had a video of Mr. Schwarzenegger dancing lewdly in Rio de Janeiro 20 years earlier. Mr. Schwarzenegger was elected governor.

Mr. Pecker’s publications made deals with other celebrities as well, though not always for money. He traded away dirt about the golfer Tiger Woods in exchange for an exclusive interview in Men’s Fitness in 2007, according to people with knowledge of that episode.

And, according to the prosecutors in the Manhattan trial of Donald J. Trump, Mr. Pecker employed “catch-and-kill” tactics in the 2016 presidential election, paying a doorman and a Playboy model to suppress negative stories about Mr. Trump and boost the candidacy of his longtime associate.

Justice Merchan has shown so far that he is eager to keep this trial on schedule. Court will be adjourned for the day in less than a half an hour, but yet the judge has chosen to start the first witness. He seems serious about keeping his word to the jurors that the trial will last six weeks.

What will be interesting about Pecker’s testimony, if it goes as opening statements suggested it would, is that he won’t really be describing Trump’s involvement in any actual criminal activity. Rather, he will serve as a tour guide to the seamy way in which Trump used The National Enquirer to his political advantage — a storytelling point on the way to alleged criminal activity.

And yet, prosecutors have framed Pecker’s involvement here as part of a “conspiracy.” This could be a risk for them — conspiracy is not one of the charged crimes. And this jury has at least two lawyers.

Who is David Pecker, the trial’s first witness?

The first witness in Donald J. Trump’s criminal trial is David Pecker, who was the publisher of The National Enquirer, and had traded favors with Mr. Trump since the 1990s.

Mr. Pecker, who was sometimes referred to as the “tabloid king,” had long used his publications to curry favor with Mr. Trump and other celebrities, in exchange for tips or for business reasons. Staff members called Mr. Trump, like other favored stars who were off limits, an “F.O.P.” — “Friend of Pecker.”

Mr. Trump and Mr. Pecker, along with Mr. Trump’s former fixer Michael D. Cohen, hatched a plan in August 2015 to boost his upstart presidential campaign, prosecutors say. The former Trump allies are each expected to take a turn on the witness stand, giving testimony that could help make him the first president convicted of a felony.

Prosecutors for Alvin L. Bragg , the Manhattan district attorney, will try to show that the hush money payment to a porn star at the center of the trial was part of a larger effort to suppress negative news about Mr. Trump to sway the election. That scheme, they will contend, includes two other deals, both involving Mr. Pecker.

Mr. Trump had announced his presidential campaign in June 2015. The plan the men laid out two months later was simple, according to court documents, interviews with people involved in the events or familiar with them, private communications and other records.

Mr. Pecker would use The Enquirer to publish positive stories about Mr. Trump’s campaign and negative stories about his rivals. He would alert Mr. Trump, through Mr. Cohen, when The Enquirer learned of stories that might threaten Mr. Trump. The Enquirer could buy the rights to those stories in order to suppress them, a practice known in the tabloid world as “catch and kill.”

In late 2015, Mr. Pecker’s company paid $30,000 to suppress a claim by a former doorman at a Trump building who said he had heard Mr. Trump fathered a child out of wedlock — a rumor that was apparently untrue.

Then in August 2016, The Enquirer’s parent company paid $150,000 to a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, to keep her account of an affair with Mr. Trump quiet. Two months later, Mr. Pecker and The Enquirer’s editor helped Mr. Cohen negotiate a $130,000 hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels, the former porn star who also said she had sex with Mr. Trump. He has denied both women’s claims.

Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance crimes in 2018.

The Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., made a deal that year to avoid federal prosecution, acknowledging that it had illegally tried to influence the election .

Merchan stops testimony, says he realizes jurors weren’t given writing materials to take notes. At least 10 raise their hands when asked if they’d like some.

This jury is an attentive crew, if the number of note-takers is any indication.

Joshua Steinglass, a prosecutor, will question Pecker. He begins by asking him how old he is, apologizing for asking the question. Pecker is 72, married for 36 years. He begins to talk about his biography, starting with his educational background.

David Pecker is the first witness for the prosecution, and their choice looks to be a good one for them. The National Enquirer’s master of “Catch and Kill,” he was part of the conspiracy that Colangelo described in his opening statement, working with Trump and Cohen to bury negative stories about Trump and publish negative ones about his rivals. He’s expected to tell the jury about his conversations with Trump and Cohen about killing the bad stories, including the one about Stormy Daniels. And he’ll provide much of the broad arc of the case – and the motive — corroborating elements of Cohen’s expected testimony along the way.

The judge instructs the people to call their first witness and as expected, they call David Pecker.

With opening statements and a witness, we are squeezing a full day into this half day. Pecker enters. He’s got a trim white mustache and is wearing a grey suit. His grey hair hits his collar. He heads to the witness stand and is sworn in with his hand raised.

Pecker has aged considerably over the last several years. He spells his name and gives his place of residence.

Trump has some support from a group of his lawyers — Alan Garten, the Trump Organization general counsel is here, and the pool reporters saw Alina Habba and Chris Kise in the hallway.

Meet the team defending Donald J. Trump in his criminal trial.

Donald J. Trump has assembled a team of defense lawyers with extensive experience representing people charged with white-collar crimes to defend him against the charges filed by the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Some have worked for Mr. Trump for years. Others are more recent additions, but are involved in the former president’s broader legal defense, also representing him in other criminal cases.

Here’s a look at Mr. Trump’s defense team:

Mr. Blanche started representing Mr. Trump last year, leaving a prestigious position as a partner at Wall Street’s oldest law firm to take him on as a client. He is also representing Mr. Trump in his federal classified documents case in Florida and his federal election interference case in Washington.

Mr. Blanche has also represented Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, as well as Boris Epshteyn, an adviser to Mr. Trump. Before turning to private practice, Mr. Blanche was a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, where he supervised violent-crime cases.

Susan Necheles

Ms. Necheles has been a lawyer for Mr. Trump since 2021 and represented the Trump Organization during its criminal tax fraud trial in Manhattan. The business was convicted of 17 felonies and ordered by Justice Juan M. Merchan to pay the maximum penalty of $1.6 million.

Ms. Necheles previously represented defendants in major organized-crime and public-corruption cases, including Venero Mangano, the Genovese crime family underboss who was known as Benny Eggs.

Mr. Bove, the newest addition to Mr. Trump’s legal team, is a legal partner to Mr. Blanche. He is a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York who turned to private practice and now represents defendants charged with white-collar crimes.

Gedalia Stern

Mr. Stern is a law partner to Ms. Necheles and also defended the Trump Organization in its criminal tax-fraud trial. He has previous experience representing clients charged with bribery, fraud and conspiracy.

If Trump testifies, he can be grilled about cases he lost and gag order violations.

The judge in Donald J. Trump’s criminal trial ruled on Monday morning that prosecutors could ask the former president about a range of previous cases that he has lost, as well as past violations of gag orders, in the event that he decides to testify in his defense.

Among other cases, the ruling by the judge, Juan M. Merchan, would allow prosecutors to question Mr. Trump about the civil fraud case brought by the New York attorney general, Letitia James, in which the former president was found to have inflated his net worth to obtain favorable loans. That case resulted in a $454 million judgment against Mr. Trump .

Justice Merchan will also allow the Manhattan district attorney’s office — which brought the case against Mr. Trump — to question him about civil cases brought by the writer E. Jean Carroll. Those cases found that Mr. Trump was liable for sexually abusing and defaming Ms. Carroll in the first instance and for defamation in the second. (Justice Merchan did not mention the sexual abuse finding, only the defamation, in his ruling regarding the Carroll cases on Monday.)

Justice Merchan will also let prosecutors ask about Mr. Trump’s attack on a law clerk in a civil fraud case , in violation of a gag order, as well as a 2018 decision that led to the dissolution of the Donald J. Trump Foundation to resolve a case brought by the New York attorney general at the time , Barbara Underwood, over financial irregularities.

The former president suggested in early April that he would testify in the criminal trial , saying that prosecutors “have no case.” That said, Mr. Trump has promised to testify in previous cases only to back out, and Justice Merchan’s decision could change his thinking on such a maneuver.

Justice Merchan said that, in the event that Mr. Trump did testify, he would give jurors “careful and specific” instructions about the scope of prosecutors’ queries, adding that he had “greatly curtailed” what specifics could be the target of questions.

However, Justice Merchan warned Mr. Trump that his ruling was “a shield and not a sword” and that the former president’s testimony could open “the door to questioning that has otherwise been excluded.”

Mr. Trump is being tried on charges that he falsified business records to cover up a hush-money payment to a porn star ahead of the 2016 election. He has denied the charges.

Meet the team prosecuting Donald J. Trump.

The Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, has assembled an accomplished team to take on perhaps the most high-profile case in his office’s history: the first criminal trial against former President Donald J. Trump. The group includes veteran prosecutors and former white-collar criminal defense lawyers who have extensive experience going up against Mr. Trump.

Here’s a look at the prosecution team:

Joshua Steinglass, Senior Trial Counsel

Mr. Steinglass, who has served as an assistant district attorney since 1998, is a recent addition to this case; in 2022 he helped lead the team that secured a conviction against the Trump Organization for conspiracy, criminal tax fraud and falsifying business records. He typically prosecutes significant violent crimes, such as a violent brawl on the Upper East Side that led to the conviction of two Proud Boy extremists in 2019.

Susan Hoffinger, Chief of the Investigations Division

After starting her career at the Manhattan district attorney’s office, Ms. Hoffinger founded her own firm and spent 20 years as a defense lawyer focusing on white-collar criminal defense. She rejoined the district attorney’s office in 2022 and worked with Mr. Steinglass to obtain the conviction of the Trump Organization in its criminal tax fraud trial.

Christopher Conroy, Senior Adviser to Investigations Division

A prosecutor for 28 years, Mr. Conroy previously led the Manhattan district attorney’s office’s major economic crimes unit, where he was involved in the prosecution of the bankrupt law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf and supervised investigations into multinational financial institutions for falsification of business records. Mr. Conroy is the longest serving member of this trial team.

Matthew Colangelo, Senior Counsel to the District Attorney

Mr. Colangelo joined the district attorney’s office in 2022 after serving for two years as a senior official at the U.S. Department of Justice. He previously worked for the New York attorney general’s office, where he oversaw the investigation into the Trump Foundation, which led to its dissolution . He was also, for a time, one of the lead lawyers on the civil fraud inquiry into Mr. Trump.

Rebecca Mangold, Assistant District Attorney

Before joining Mr. Bragg’s major economic crimes unit in 2022, Ms. Mangold clerked for a U.S. District Court judge in New Jersey and worked in private practice for over 10 years. As a partner at the law firm Kobre & Kim, Ms. Mangold focused on criminal and regulatory investigations related to financial misconduct.

Katherine Ellis, Assistant District Attorney

Ms. Ellis joined the Manhattan district attorney’s office in 2018 after working as an associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. Before becoming a lawyer, Ms. Ellis worked as a legal analyst at Goldman Sachs, the investment bank.

Ben Protess

Ben Protess and Alan Feuer

The landmark case won’t play out in front of TV cameras.

The Manhattan criminal trial of Donald J. Trump will be closely followed around the world. But you will not be able to watch the proceedings on TV.

There will be no video feed aired live from the courtroom. Nor will there be an audio feed, as some federal courts allow.

New York courts generally do not permit video to be broadcast from courtrooms, although a feed is being transmitted into an overflow room for the reporters covering the trial. And cameras will be stationed in the hallway outside the courtroom to capture Mr. Trump’s remarks as he enters and leaves.

Shortly after court adjourned on Monday, the state’s chief administrative judge, Joseph A. Zayas, issued a statement saying that transcripts of each day of the trial would be published online by the end of the following day on the court system’s website .

Judge Zayas was responding to a request for public transcripts filed last week by a New York lawyer, Jim Walden, on behalf of a civic group and the news website New York Focus.

“With current law restricting the broadcasting of trial proceedings and courtroom space for public spectators very limited, the release of the daily transcripts on the court system’s website is the best way to provide the public a direct view of the proceedings in this historic trial,” Judge Zayas wrote in his statement.

Court will be in session, for the most part, every weekday except Wednesdays, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., until the trial ends.

Jonah E. Bromwich and Ben Protess

Here’s the latest in the trial.

Prosecutors in the first criminal trial of an American president began laying out their case for a jury of 12 New Yorkers on Monday, saying Donald J. Trump engaged in a conspiracy to cover up a sex scandal in order to get elected president in 2016.

The first witness called was the tabloid publisher David Pecker, whom prosecutors described as one member of a three-man plot to conceal damaging stories — including a porn star’s account of a sexual tryst — as Mr. Trump mounted his bid for the presidency.

Mr. Pecker was on the stand for only a few minutes in the afternoon before court adjourned for the day. He described how his publication, The National Enquirer, paid for stories, a practice he called “checkbook journalism.” He is expected to return to the stand on Tuesday.

Matthew Colangelo, one of the prosecutors for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, told the jury in his opening statement that the case was about “a criminal conspiracy and a coverup,” describing how Mr. Trump, his longtime counsel Michael D. Cohen, and Mr. Pecker engaged in a strategy to “catch and kill” negative stories.

The lead lawyer for Mr. Trump, Todd Blanche, insisted in his opening statement that the former president had done nothing wrong. “President Trump is innocent,” he told the jury. “President Trump did not commit any crimes.”

The case centers on a $130,000 hush-money payment that Mr. Cohen made to a porn star, Stormy Daniels, to buy her silence as the 2016 campaign was winding down. Prosecutors say he was reimbursed by Mr. Trump, and Mr. Trump falsified business records to conceal his conduct.

Mr. Colangelo said the payment to Ms. Daniels came on the heels of another scandal — the “Access Hollywood” tape, on which Mr. Trump bragged about groping women. Ms. Daniels’s account, he said, “could have been devastating to his campaign.”

He added, “With pressure mounting and Election Day fast approaching, Donald Trump agreed to the payoff and directed Cohen to proceed.”

Mr. Cohen, who was an executive vice president at the Trump Organization and counsel to Mr. Trump, and Mr. Pecker are expected to be central witnesses.

Mr. Blanche attacked Mr. Cohen’s credibility, saying that his livelihood hinges on attacking the former president, and insisted that prosecutors were attempting to present perfectly legal activities, such as entering into nondisclosure agreements, in a negative light.

He continued: “They put something sinister on this idea as if it were a crime. You’ll learn it’s not.”

Here’s what else to know about the trial:

The Manhattan criminal case against Mr. Trump was unveiled a year ago by the district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg. Mr. Trump was charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records and if convicted could face up to four years in prison . Those are felonies because prosecutors say Mr. Trump sought to conceal another crime. On Monday, they strongly emphasized a violation of state election law — conspiracy to promote election — that is not one of the actual charges, but they say is baked into the overall crime.

The case is the former president’s first criminal trial, although he has been indicted three other times in three other cities. With those other cases tied up in appeals and other delays, the Manhattan case may be the only one he faces before the 2024 presidential election. The trial is expected to last six weeks.

Before opening statements, the judge overseeing the case delivered a crucial ruling that determined what prosecutors can question Mr. Trump about should he decide to take the stand in his own defense. The ruling, a significant victory for prosecutors that might prompt Mr. Trump to decide not to testify, allows them to question him about several recent losses he suffered in unrelated civil trials, including a fraud case this year in which the former president was found liable for conspiring to manipulate his net worth and was penalized $454 million.

The jury was drawn from a pool of residents of Manhattan, where Mr. Trump is deeply unpopular; during jury selection, dozens of prospective jurors were excused because they said they could not be impartial. But the jurors who were selected each pledged to decide the case based only on the facts. Read more about them.

The case will receive vast media attention, but the proceedings won’t be shown on television .

Dismissed prospective jurors describe intense days in a glaring spotlight.

The two Manhattan residents were led into the courtroom to fulfill a foundational civic duty: to be interviewed as prospective jurors.

But in the room when they arrived was a defendant, Donald J. Trump, unlike any in American history.

Both would-be jurors, a man and a woman, were eventually excused. But the experience thrust them into the spotlight in a way they never had imagined.

One was challenged by Mr. Trump’s lawyers over his past social media posts relating to the former president. The other has a medical practice that she could not shut for six weeks while serving on the jury.

While they were not chosen as jurors, their experiences illustrate the intensity of the attention focused on Mr. Trump’s trial — and on the first jury to ever weigh the fate of a former United States president in a criminal proceeding.

Both contacted The New York Times only after they were excused from serving. Though the court’s rules protecting prospective jurors’ identities end when they are dismissed from serving, The Times is withholding their names and most identifying characteristics about them.

Like the other prospective jurors who were considered, both included detailed personal information on the juror questionnaires they filled out, including where they work.

They were made to answer those questions by speaking into a microphone in open court; soon, both were blindsided as details of their lives ricocheted around the internet. They said they were frustrated that so much attention was devoted to prospective jurors and ascertaining information about them.

While they later learned that the judge in the case, Justice Juan M. Merchan, had ordered the redaction of some of the information jurors were ordered to reveal publicly, they felt that he had acted too late. As with many things connected to the trial, the rhythms and even some of the parameters are being written in real time.

Their experiences mirrored some that other prospective jurors who were dismissed have described. One, a man who gave his name as Mark to NBC News, said he had “satirized Mr. Trump often in my artwork,” and because of that, he had expected not to be chosen.

A woman who gave her name as Kara, who said the nature of her job made serving extremely difficult, told NBC News that she realized the gravity of serving on any criminal jury, but particularly this one.

Seeing Mr. Trump in person, she said, was “very jarring.” He was, she realized, just “another guy.”

One of the prospective jurors who spoke with The Times, the man, did not immediately realize what case he was involved in when he was led into the courtroom on the 15th floor of the Manhattan criminal courthouse. The woman had a sense a week earlier, having read a news story about the trial beginning the week she was supposed to respond to a juror summons.

The man, sitting a few rows behind the prosecutors’ table when the two were part of the first panel of 96 prospective jurors brought into the courtroom Monday afternoon, felt a sense of calm about five minutes into being there. Trump was simply a defendant, he thought. It was a business-records trial. Prosecutors were on one side, the defense lawyers on the other.

The woman was struck by the fact that Mr. Trump stood and waved to prospective jurors, she said, as he and his lawyers were introduced to the group. It felt more to her like the behavior of a campaigning candidate than of a criminal defendant. (Mr. Trump, of course, is both.)

Both were put off by efforts by Mr. Trump’s lead lawyer, Todd Blanche, to assess prospective jurors’ views of Mr. Trump. The man said Mr. Blanche seemed “folksy” in a way he found disingenuous, while the woman was sharper, describing a “witch hunt” to root out people sympathetic to Democrats on the panel — a phrase Mr. Trump uses often to criticize the various prosecutors investigating his conduct.

The man in particular was frustrated that he was asked about past social media posts in which he had been critical of Mr. Trump, which Mr. Blanche’s team raised and which Justice Merchan ultimately agreed meant the man should be excused.

The man believed he could have been fair and resented the implication that he could not have been. Both he and the woman, who said they believed in the system of jury service, noted that they had begun the day taking sworn oaths vowing to render a fair and impartial judgment on the evidence. The man believed his own views — especially views from years ago — had no bearing on his ability to judge the evidence. If anything, he said, he would have been hyper-conscious in doing so.

Both had realized the magnitude of what serving on that jury would mean.

But they were also conscious of the threats and blowback that could come with weighing evidence against Mr. Trump — particularly with their personal details traceable in public. And both had concerns about being chosen because of that; the man in particular said his spouse had been worried.

Both would have valued being part of the historic trial. But both also had a sense of relief that they were not picked.


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