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Essay/personal statement.

ohio state university personal essay

Not all programs will require this.  However, if your intended program requests a personal statement or essay, you need to devote serious time and thought to how you present yourself.  You may have outstanding test scores and grades, but if you cannot express yourself clearly in writing, you may be disqualified.  Some programs require a very general essay, and others require responses to very specific questions. It is never a good idea to develop a "generic" statement that is sent to all programs you are applying for.   

Here are some questions to help you develop a personalized statement.

  • What triggered your interest in this area?
  • What have you done to nurture your interests in X field?
  • What have you learned from these experiences?
  • What are your career goals?
  • What makes this school so appealing to you? Based on your interests how do your goals fit with the school mission?

This web page provides an in-depth discussion of the essay/personal statement process .

  • Recommendations
  • Additional Materials
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Managing Your Stress by Managing Your Time
  • 4 Overview of Application Timeline
  • 5 Deadlines
  • 6 What You Need to Apply
  • 7 Funds to Pay Application and Testing Fees
  • 8 Test Scores
  • 9 Transcripts
  • 10 Recommendations
  • 11 Essay/Personal Statement
  • 12 Additional Materials
  • 13 Overview of the Interviewing Process
  • 14 Interview Timing
  • 15 Interview Location for In-Person Interviews
  • 16 Who Will Be Interviewing You
  • 17 Getting Ready for the Interview
  • 18 Lesson Summary

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ohio state university personal essay

How to Write the Ohio State University Essay 2021-2022

ohio state university personal essay

If you’re interested in The Ohio State University, there are luckily no supplemental essays that apply to all applicants. There is an additional essay for the Morrill Scholarship Program, however. This is a competitive program for students who excel academically, have strong leadership skills, and are interested in fostering diversity and inclusion within their communities. 

Each year, only 300 students are named Morrill Scholars, which provides both in-state and out-of-state students free tuition scholarships. In this post, we’ll discuss this year’s essay prompt for the program, and how you can maximize your chances of acceptance by writing a great essay.

Want to know your chances at OSU? Calculate your chances for free right now.

The Ohio State University Morrill Scholarship Essay Prompt

Below is information about the Morrill Scholarship, as well as the essay prompt. Each applicant must respond to the prompt in 350-500 words. 

The Morrill Scholarship Program (MSP) is one of Ohio State’s premier scholarship opportunities offered through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI). MSP seeks academically talented student leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to advancing diversity, inclusion, service and social justice.

MSP scholarships are awarded on a competitive basis to students admitted to the Columbus campus for the autumn semester following high school graduation. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents of the United States.

Morrill Scholarship Program Prompt

How have your life experiences and/or endeavors prepared you to be a morrill scholar please answer fully, and when possible, provide specific examples. (350–500 words), understanding the prompt .

In a way, this prompt is asking you two distinct questions. First, the prompt is asking you to pick a life experience that you want to discuss. Next, you’ll have to discuss why this experience would make you a good candidate for a Morrill Scholarship. To help you brainstorm some ideas, below are some questions you’ll want to think about before you start writing.

  • What is one of your life experiences that has fundamentally questioned the way that you view life? 
  • Are there any social justice issues that you are particularly passionate about? Why?
  • Leadership takes many forms. How have you showed leadership in the past?
  • What type of traits do you think a Morrill Scholar has?

Once you have answers to these questions, be sure to do some research on the Morrill Scholarship and what it entails, as well as what types of students typically receive the scholarship. Try and determine why these students were good applicants, and look for any similarities or things you have in common with them.

Cliché Topics to Avoid

While you have the freedom to discuss an important life experience, there are still some topics that you’ll want to avoid. These include: 

  • Picking a topic such as sports injury, tragedy, or bad grade
  • Picking a topic that isn’t significant enough and not explaining how the experience impacted you
  • Using a privileged tone when discussing your perspective
  • Having a cliché ending, such as  “ I learned that people can be happy with so little, ” or “ I learned the importance of giving back. ”

Writing the Essay 

Once you have an understanding of what the prompt and the program is looking for, you can start writing. Although there is no one perfect way to structure this essay, it might be helpful to follow this general format:

  • Describe a memorable life experience that relates to a topic of diversity, inclusion, or social justice
  • Demonstrate how this experience made you grow or highlighted an aspect of your personality
  • Explain what you will bring to the program after going through this experience

Let’s look at each section in more detail now.

1.  Describe a memorable life experience

The admissions officers want to know what you have been through. They know about issues like racial injustice or mass incarceration—what they don’t know about is you. Starting your essay off with an anecdote that clearly expresses what you have been through is a great way to show the admissions officers reading your essay that topics like diversity and social justice are important and relevant to you.

Maybe you grew up as a minority in a community and you talk about the time you were racially profiled at the mall with your friends. Or maybe you started a program at your school for kids who normally sat at lunch to sign up and get a buddy so they always had someone to eat with. Perhaps after researching a refugee crisis for your history class, you went to the local shelter in your town and spoke to the refugees about their experiences to understand them more.

Your experience with diversity and inclusion doesn’t necessarily have to be a traditional topic of diversity like racial, religious, or socioeconomic. You could also discuss your diversity of interests: you love collecting stamps even though most of your friends think it’s old fashioned. Or maybe you want to discuss your diversity of perspective: you are really liberal among your conservative family.

The most important thing is that you choose a single experience to focus your anecdote on. So, a student who wants to write about her ethnicity shouldn’t give a general overview of how she feels discriminated against because of where her family is from. Instead, she should focus on a specific instance of discrimination that strongly affected her or gave her a chance to stand up and defend herself.

2. Demonstrate how this experience made you grow

This next part of your essay is super important to show why this experience is so impactful and has prepared you to be a Morrill Scholar.

After you have set up the anecdote, now you should give insight as to what your state of mind or emotions were in this situation. Answering questions like these could be helpful:

  • What did you feel in the moment?
  • What was your perspective before this experience? After?
  • Did a certain personality trait shine through? Were you brave, resilient, creative, determined?

However, be careful while you are writing. You want to convey the growth or traits that you expressed during or after this experience, but you don’t want to tell the admissions officers that planning a school walkout to protest the lack of diversity in the administration made you a more confident leader—they should learn that without ever being explicitly told so. By interjecting emotions or including your inner thoughts in the moment, you will be able to show your readers the impact this experience had on you.

3. Explain what you will bring to the program

The best way to conclude your essay is to bring it back to OSU and the Morrill Program. At the end of the day, there are hundreds of other students who likely have had similar experiences or takeaways as you. You need to show how what you have been through and learned will prepare you to contribute to the diverse and inclusive community on campus.

When talking about what you will bring—or what you hope to get out of—the Morrill Scholarship Program, you should mention both implicit and explicit aspects. 

Some implicit things you might contribute to the community are teaching your new friends your culture’s traditions, discussing difficult topics with peers who have different perspectives, or approaching new and intimidating situations with confidence and clarity. 

So an example of an implicit aspect of the community might be a student who talked about his experience volunteering with an immigration lawyer, where he learned how important it is for lawyers to be billingual to communicate with their clients, might write about how he wants to practice speaking Spanish with his friends. Whether they are having a debate in his Spanish class or just hanging out and eating dinner in the dining hall, he’s looking forward to surrounding himself with others who are dedicated to becoming billingual, and hopefully encouraging others to learn Spanish. 

For explicit things you hope to contribute or gain from the Morrill Scholars community you should research the opportunities afforded to you through the program. You might mention a club that aligns with your interests that you want to join, an event you started at your high school that you hope to bring to the OSU community, or a certain professor you are looking forward to working with.

An example of a student writing about an explicit aspect could be someone who had a tutor in high school that helped her feel better about herself since she struggled in her history class. Her tutor made her feel welcomed and included, and now she wants to give back to other students by becoming a Supplemental Instruction leader through the Morrill Scholarship Program. She feels she has learned a lot about what it takes to be an effective and encouraging tutor, and now she wants to give back to her future OSU students.

The best essays will combine implicit and explicit things you want to contribute or get out of the program, but as long as you can make the admissions officers feel like you belong in this program and on OSU’s campus, you will have done your job.

Where to Get Your OSU Morrill Scholarship Essay Edited for Free

Do you want feedback on your OSU Morrill Scholarship essay?If so, consider using our Peer Essay Review Tool , where you can input your essay and other students can provide constructive feedback on your writing. It can be hard to evaluate your own writing, which is why we created this helpful tool. You can even evaluate other student’s essays as well. Best of all, this tool is completely free! 

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ohio state university personal essay

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Application information


First-year applicants to the Columbus campus should follow these basic steps to apply to Ohio State.

If your immigration status has been deferred under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, read our admission information for DACA students .

STEP 1 – Test early

How do i submit scores.

Ohio State has adopted a test-optional policy for 2024 and 2025 applicants.

Tips for sending scores to Ohio State

Scores must come directly from the testing agency. When you register for the ACT or SAT , indicate that you want your scores sent to Ohio State. Ohio State only considers composite scores. If you already took the test but didn't send your scores to Ohio State, you can order them for a fee.

We must receive scores by your application deadline (see STEP 2 for deadlines).

October 7 (SAT) and October 28 (ACT) are your last 2023 test dates if you want your scores to be considered for autumn term early action or spring term (both have a November 1 deadline).

  • If you plan to test on either of those dates, you must request that Ohio State receive scores when you register for the test.

You're not required to submit scores if you will have been out of high school for two or more years by your term of enrollment.

Is the essay required?

The essay is not required for either the ACT or SAT.

Should I take a standardized test more than once?

Ohio State looks at the highest composite score from a single test date. Taking the test (and having scores sent to us) more than once, while not required, may work to your advantage.

Do I qualify for a test fee waiver?

If your family has economic need, talk to your school counselor to determine your eligibility for a fee waiver.

How does Ohio State look at scores?

When considering students for admission, scholarships, or Honors and Scholars selection, we consider the best official composite / combined score from a single test administration. Ohio State does not mix sub-scores from multiple tests or adjust scholarship values for higher test scores submitted after the scholarship’s published deadline.

STEP 2 – Know the deadlines

( Looking for summer semester? Ohio State doesn't accept first-year applications for the summer term.)

November 1: Early action (autumn term only)

We must receive your complete application (the Common Application and all required materials ) by 11:59 p.m. ET on November 1 if you wish to be considered for most university merit scholarships (larger awards require additional steps).

And while not required, we strongly recommend meeting the November 1 deadline if you wish to be considered for majors in the College of Engineering , the Morrill Scholarship Program , Honors and Scholars Programs and the Stamps Eminence Scholarship Program.

By meeting the early action deadline, you’ll get an admission decision no later than the end of January.

February 1: Regular decision

For autumn term applicants, February 1 by 11:59 p.m. ET is the final deadline by which we must receive your complete application. You’ll get an admission decision by the end of March.

STEP 3 – Apply

Ohio State accepts the Common Application for admission to the Columbus campus.

Common Application : opens August 1 for autumn and spring term applicants

The Common Application, the application fee or fee waiver , plus all required materials (STEP 4) make up a complete application . We must receive all items by the application deadline.

STEP 4 – Submit required materials

These items, plus the Common Application and the application fee or fee waiver , make up a complete application . We must receive all items by the application deadline.

Official transcripts

Learn how Ohio State considers pass/fail courses in our FAQs .

High school transcripts

Request that your high school counselor send your high school transcript, including your senior year course schedule, to Ohio State (electronically, if possible).

If this course work was completed at a school outside of the United States, note that foreign language documents must be translated into English by the issuing institution, an authorized translator or a teacher of the language. Any additional requirements will be posted to your Applicant Center, so be sure to check your application status regularly after you've applied.

Official ACT or SAT scores

We must receive your official ACT or SAT score sent directly from the testing agency. Scores from transcripts will not be considered. Read more about score requirements in STEP 1.

Verification, if home schooled

Home-schooled applicants must submit an approved “excuse from attendance” verification (or equivalent) provided by a local school district or state official. Alternatively, Columbus campus applicants may submit ACT or SAT scores instead.

Optional: Recommendation from a teacher or counselor

While not required, your counselor may send a maximum of two letters of recommendation electronically through the Common Application or through an electronic system such as Naviance.

If an electronic option isn’t available, your counselor may email your letter(s) to [email protected] . The letter must include your first and last name and OSU ID number, found on the email we send acknowledging receipt of your application. Letters sent via email are subject to sender verification.

Additional test scores

If English is not your native language, submit one of the following scores:

TOEFL (internet-based test or internet-based test Home Edition): 79 or higher

IELTS or IELTS Indicator: 6.5 or higher

ACT: 21 or higher on the English section

SAT: 27 or higher on the Reading Test

Duolingo: 120 or higher

You are exempt from this requirement if you have completed three full years of school at a U.S. regionally accredited high school or if you are a citizen of, or have received a bachelor’s degree from, Australia, Belize, British Caribbean, British West Indies, Canada (except Quebec), England, Ghana, Guyana, Ireland, Liberia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Scotland, Singapore, the United States or Wales.

Ohio State has an intensive English program for students who wish to improve their language skills called the American Language Program . A separate application is required for this program. Ohio State does not offer conditional admission to students who enroll in the American Language Program.

Don't forget financial aid

The FAFSA will open in December this year, and filing by Ohio State’s priority date of February 15 will provide you maximum aid consideration. Every student is highly encouraged to file the FAFSA to be considered for the most financial aid, including scholarships, grants, loans and Federal Work-Study. Get important dates and simple steps for applying for aid.

ACT and SAT policy

Ohio State is test-optional for 2024 and 2025 applicants.

​How much does Ohio State cost? Click for tuition and fees.


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  • Organizing the scholarship process:  It is important to  get organized  before jumping into the scholarship process. You should start out by doing your homework and making a list of scholarships for which you plan to apply. It is also critical that you allow yourself plenty of preparation time to ensure you will be able to gather all application materials.
  • Writing an effective personal statement:  The personal statement is a very important part of your application. A good personal statement can mean the difference between a successful application and an unsuccessful application. Before beginning to draft your essay, use these  questions  as a guide to help get you started. You also can view  how to write a competitive essay  for tips on the content and mechanics of your personal statement. Ohio State’s Center for the Study and Teaching of Writing also offers  resources  that you can use.
  • Organizing the scholarship process
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  • How to write a competitive essay
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Conquering Ohio State University Supplemental Essays for 2023-2024

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Hello, aspiring Buckeyes! If you’re preparing your application for the Ohio State University (OSU), the supplemental essays can seem like a daunting task. However, these prompts provide an excellent opportunity to showcase your personality, experiences, and commitment to your academic journey. Let's break down the prompts and discuss how you can create impactful responses.

1. The "Why Ohio State" Essay (350 words)

This essay is your chance to demonstrate why OSU is the ideal fit for your academic goals and personal growth. To nail this essay, research specific programs, clubs, or initiatives that align with your interests and aspirations. Show OSU how you will contribute to the community, and also how it will nurture your growth.

As a young child visiting Ohio State University’s Mirror Lake with my family, I was immediately drawn to the vibrant student community and the spirit of innovation that pervaded the campus. As I grew older, my interest in bioengineering emerged and I realized that OSU, with its top-ranked bioengineering program, was my ideal choice.

OSU’s unique Bioengineering Honors program, which combines hands-on research with industrial exposure, aligns with my aspirations to design medical devices that enhance patient care. Moreover, the opportunity to work in the Biomedical Optics Lab would allow me to combine my fascination with physics and medicine. I am particularly excited about Professor Smith's research on non-invasive glucose monitoring, an innovation that can revolutionize diabetes care.

Beyond academics, I am drawn to the Buckeye spirit that embodies unity, resilience, and ambition. I aim to actively participate in the Engineers for Community Service club, merging my love for engineering and community service.

2. Leadership and Involvement Essay (350 words)

Here, OSU wants to understand your capability to take on responsibilities and make a positive impact. This prompt does not limit you to school-related activities. You can discuss leadership in various contexts, such as part-time jobs, volunteering, family responsibilities, or personal projects.

Last year, as the President of our school’s Science Club, I spearheaded a school-wide recycling initiative. I noticed that our school was generating significant amounts of paper waste, and I believed we could make a difference.

Organizing a team, we initiated paper collection drives and collaborated with a local recycling plant. However, the project wasn't immediately successful; many students were indifferent to our efforts. To overcome this, I introduced an inter-class competition and arranged awareness talks about the environmental impact of waste.

The campaign became a hit, and our school reduced paper waste by 40% in six months. This experience taught me the power of perseverance, collaboration, and the impact one can make with the right efforts.

3. Community Service Essay (Optional, 350 words)

Although this essay is optional, consider it an opportunity to show your dedication to service, a value OSU deeply cares about. Share specific experiences where you've made a tangible impact and reflect on how these experiences shaped your perspectives.

For the past two years, I have been tutoring underprivileged children in my community. Meeting twice a week, we cover various subjects, but my main focus has been improving their English literacy.

One of my students, Lily, struggled with basic reading. Using phonics games and interactive storytelling, I managed to spark her interest in reading. Slowly, Lily started making progress. The day she read a full sentence without my help was one of the proudest moments of my life.

Through this experience, I've learned the value of patience and the joy of empowering others. It's a service I hope to continue at OSU, contributing to literacy initiatives on and off-campus.

4. Major Specific Essays

Some colleges or programs at OSU may require additional essays. Make sure to answer these thoughtfully and demonstrate your passion and understanding of the chosen field.

Short Answer Questions (100 words)

These short responses are a chance for the admissions committee to get to know you on a more personal level. Be genuine and sincere in your responses, showcasing your character and personal experiences.

Q: What's your favorite book and why?

A: My favorite book is "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. The narrative, seen from Scout’s innocent perspective, contrasted with the harsh realities of racism and prejudice, deeply moved me. The character of Atticus Finch, with his unwavering moral compass, inspires me to stand up for what is right, despite the challenges.

When writing your OSU supplemental essays, remember to:

  • Be specific: Vague statements can make your essay feel generic. Tailor your essay with details unique to your experiences and aspirations.
  • Show your personality: Let your character shine through your writing. OSU is not just interested in your academic achievements but also who you are as a person.
  • Reflect: Don't just recount experiences. Reflect on what you learned from them and how they have shaped you.

Best of luck, future Buckeyes, as you embark on this exciting journey!

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Demystifying Georgetown University's Supplemental 2023-2024 Essays

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Mastering the Tufts University Supplemental Essays 2023-2024

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Writing Your Personal Statement for Graduate School

Structure and organization.

Why do you need structure? Many students write personal statements for graduate school applications that are fascinating but incomprehensible to the reader and as a result, they may be rejected. Thus, the structure and organization of your essay is a crucial component to your personal statement. With a well-structured essay, the reader will not only be interested in the content of your essay but also will know that you have the capacity to create a legible essay.


  • The introduction is the most important part of the essay, especially the first sentence. The first sentence can say a lot about the content and format of your essay.
  • Keep the reader interested by making them continue to read your essay after reading the first paragraph.
  • The first sentence should be unique and compelling, possibly thought provoking or attention-grabbing.
  • First sentences may explain your desire to study the subject of interest or discuss the motivation that influenced your desire to study the subject of interest. State it in a creative manner.
  • The sentences following the first sentence should provide a brief explanation that supports the claim stated in the first sentence.
  • The body should include several paragraphs (usually about three) that provides detailed evidence to support the statement made in the introductory paragraph. The paragraphs should flow by using transitions and resolutions.
  • Each paragraph should have a transition, which starts each paragraph with a topic statement that will be the theme of that paragraph (See more on transitions and resolutions below).
  • Each paragraph should have a resolution, which ends each paragraph with a meaningful sentence that provides a transition to the next paragraph (See more on transitions and resolutions below).
  • Experiences, accomplishments, or any other evidence that can support your claims should be included in the body. Future Goals should also be mentioned in the body.
  • A short summary of your educational background can be discussed in the first paragraph.
  • Personal experiences and the reasons for wanting to attend the school can be discussed in the second paragraph.
  • Do not repeat what was stated in the application.
  • The last paragraph should explain why you should be accepted.
  • The conclusion is the last paragraph of the personal statement.
  • State why you are interested in studying the subject of interest.
  • State the key points mentioned in the body, such as your experiences or accomplishments that explain your interest in the subject. State it in a conclusive and brief manner.
  • End on a positive note with one or two attention-grabbing sentences.

It is crucial that your paragraphs have transitions and resolutions. Transitions start a paragraph by providing a statement that suggests the theme for that paragraph. This allows the reader to be aware of the direction the essay is heading in. Transitions connect paragraphs to other paragraphs (usually preceding paragraphs), which causes the essay to flow smoothly. Resolutions, on the other hand, are statements that end paragraphs and allow for transition to the next paragraph. The resolution should not be a general statement but rather a meaningful one that connects facts included in the current paragraph. Both transitions and resolutions are beneficial in terms of making your essay clear and understandable.

Your essay should include enough detail, be personal, and specific. The purpose of a personal statement is to show the admission committee what makes you unique and different from other applicants. Your job is to display your distinct personality and provide evidence that confirms your passion and desire for the subject and the school. However, even if you can write an interesting and compelling essay, the structure and organization may not be appropriate. Therefore, it is necessary that you follow the proper structure of an essay and allow all your paragraphs to flow smoothly. The structure and organization of your personal statement will not only make your essay more comprehensible and fascinating but it will also increase your chances of being accepted

Source: Tara Kuther, Ph.D.

Adapted from: " Your guide the graduate school "

Ohio State University Undergraduate College Application Essays

These Ohio State University college application essays were written by students accepted at Ohio State University. All of our sample college essays include the question prompt and the year written. Please use these sample admission essays responsibly.

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College Application Essays accepted by Ohio State University

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ohio state university personal essay

ohio state university personal essay

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Ohio University’s 2023-24 Essay Prompts

Overcoming challenges short response.

This essay is optional. You may use this space to describe any academic challenges you have faced, your preparation for success in your academic and career objectives or any additional information that you would like to have associated with your application. You may also use this space to explain any discrepancies in your academic history that you believe are not representative of your potential for academic success.

Role Models/Personal History Short Response

We expect that one reason you seek a tutorial education is for the one-on-one interaction with faculty, but other than that, what interests you about pursuing a tutorial-based undergraduate education? What aspects of your education and life experience have prepared you for a tutorial education with its emphasis on research and creative activity?

Special Program Essay

Applicants are encouraged, but not required, to submit an essay detailing how they want to help shape the future of journalism

Submit a writing sample of at least 10 pages in length (up to 30 pages in total maximum). Though dramatic writing samples are typically preferred, writing samples can be any creative writing or academic/scholarly writing that you believe best represents your voice as an artist.

Select-A-Prompt Essay

College of Fine Arts Film and Honors Tutorial College Film applicants are required to submit at least one of the following items

Short essay

Original screenplay

Personal statement - should include the following: Personal story - Describe an event in your life and how it changed you or someone close to you. This event can be dramatic and/or comedic and can be major or minor. Ultimately, we are looking for evidence of your potential as a storyteller. Please do not write about why or what led you to pursue a degree in film and television production. Creative influences - How has a film, play, book, television series, painting, music, or other significant work of art inspired or influenced your own work or the way you look at the world? Artistic statement - Describe your artistic goals and aspirations.

Link to your relevant work(s) - should include one or more of the following items: Short film(s) or clips of your work shot on film or video Still photos Written work (fiction, screenplay, essay) Hand-drawn sketches, paintings, or computer-aided drawings Photos of models, sculpture, or other 3-D work Elements of theatrical production

Creative resume Should highlight your creative work, activities, and/or relevant employment. This resume is distinct from your academic resume and should focus on your artistic and creative endeavors. We also welcome information about any community service you‘ve done or part-time jobs you‘ve held. These do not have to be strictly creative if they illustrate and engagement with your community and/or a significant time commitment from you.

Honors College Essay

Please explain why you have chosen your particular program of study.

Common App Personal Essay

The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don‘t feel obligated to do so.

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.

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?

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

Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

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

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?

Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you‘ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

What will first-time readers think of your college essay?


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Gre prep online guides and tips, how to write a stand-out personal statement for grad school.

ohio state university personal essay

If you’re applying to graduate school, you’ll likely need to write a personal statement. But what exactly is a graduate school personal statement? And what should you write about to give yourself your best shot at admission?

In this guide, we teach you how to write a personal statement for grad school, step by step. But first, let’s go over how the personal statement differs from the statement of purpose as well as what schools look for in a great graduate school essay.

What Is a Graduate School Personal Statement?

A graduate school personal statement is an admission essay that typically focuses on your personal reasons for wanting to enter a grad program and particular field of study. Essentially, you must tell the story of who you are and how you developed your current research interests.

So is a personal statement for graduate school the same thing as a statement of purpose? Well, not always (though it can be). Here are the general distinctions between the two essay types:

  • Statement of purpose:  A formal essay that summarizes your academic and professional background, research interests, and career goals. In this essay, you’ll usually explain your reasons for applying to grad school and why you believe the program is a good fit for you (as well as why you’re a good fit for it!).
  • Personal statement: A less formal essay that focuses on your passion and motivation for wanting to enter your chosen field and program. This statement is typically more flexible than the statement of purpose, with a bigger emphasis on storytelling. Schools often encourage applicants to discuss (relevant) challenges in their lives and how they’ve overcome them.

Both the graduate school personal statement and statement of purpose are usually anywhere from one to three double-spaced pages long, depending on the program you’re applying to.

Below is a chart comparing the personal statement and statement of purpose:

Usually, the personal statement and statement of purpose are considered two different graduate school essay types.

But this isn’t always the case. While some schools consider the personal statement and statement of purpose two distinct essays, others use the names interchangeably.

For example, Michigan State University’s College of Engineering  considers them two distinct essays, while The Ohio State University uses “personal statement” to describe what is essentially a statement of purpose.

Many schools require just one essay  (and it’ll usually be the statement of purpose, as it’s the more academic one). But some, such as the University of Michigan , ask for both a personal statement and statement of purpose, while others, such as  Notre Dame’s Creative Writing MFA program , want an essay that combines the features of both!

Ultimately, the type of graduate school essay you  submit will depend entirely on where you’re applying.


What Do Schools Look For in a Personal Statement?

Many grad schools require a personal statement in order to learn more about you, your interests, your struggles, and your motivations for wanting to enter a field of study. Through this essay, schools can get to know you on a deeper, more intimate level and learn about you in ways they can’t through transcripts and letters of recommendation alone.

But what specifically do universities look for in a great personal statement for graduate school? Here are some of the most important elements to include in your essay.

A Compelling Story

First off, your personal statement must tell a story. After all, this essay is basically your autobiography: it introduces who you are, your interests and motivations, and why you’ve decided to apply to grad school.

Unlike the statement of purpose, the personal statement should focus mostly on your personal history, from your failures to your triumphs. All experiences should tie back to your field or research area, emphasizing what you’ve learned and what this means in terms of your potential as a grad student.

Since you’re talking about yourself, be conversational in your storytelling: use an authentic voice, open up about your experiences, and maybe even throw in a joke or two. Though you’re still writing an essay for school, it’s generally OK to be a little more informal here than you would in a statement of purpose.

That said, there are a couple of things you absolutely shouldn’t do in your personal statement.

  • Open your essay with a quotation. Professors have heard the quotation before and don’t need (or want) to hear it again. Plus, quotations often take up too much space in an already short essay!
  • Use clichés. Think of unique ways to tell your story and grab readers’ attention. Schools want to see you can be creative yet honest about yourself, so avoid clichés like the plague (see what I did there?).
  • Get too creative. Your goal is to look like a serious, committed applicant—not a wacky risk taker—so write clearly and avoid any unnecessary distractions such as images, colors, and unprofessional fonts.

Most importantly, remember that your graduate school personal statement should focus on your successes. Try to use strong, encouraging words and put positive twists on difficult experiences whenever possible. It’s OK to mention your setbacks, too—just as long as you’re discussing how you ultimately overcame (or plan to overcome) them.

Inspirations for Your Research Interests

Schools don’t only want to see clearly defined research interests but also  why you have these particular interests.   While the statement of purpose elaborates on your professional goals, the personal statement explains what personally motivated you to explore your interests.

For example, in my personal statement for a Japanese Studies MA program, I wrote about my hot-and-cold relationship with the Japanese language and how a literature class and a stint abroad ultimately inspired me to keep learning.

Don’t make the mistake of going way back to the beginning to start your essay. Many applicants open their statements with something along the lines of “I fell in love with psychology when I was ten years old” or “It all started when I was in high school.” But these broad statements lack the creativity and zest needed to secure an acceptance, so avoid them at all costs.


Your Motivation for Applying to Grad School

Your statement of purpose should explain why grad school is a practical next step in your professional life—but your personal statement should focus on what personally motivates you to take this step.

Generally, schools want answers to the following questions:

  • Why is grad school an appropriate step for you now?
  • How will a graduate degree help you achieve your goals?
  • Why didn’t you apply to grad school earlier (if you took time off after undergrad)?
  • Were there any struggles or problems you faced that prevented you from applying to grad school before?

Be honest about why you’re applying, both to grad school and the program in particular. In my graduate school essay, I discussed how my passion for Japanese literature and desire to translate it inspired me to seek advanced language training at the graduate level.

Strong Writing Skills

A great personal statement shows that you can write cogently and coherently. After all, strong writing skills are imperative for success as a grad student!

So in addition to telling a good story, make sure you use correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Use paragraphs to break up your thoughts, too. Because the personal statement is slightly less formal than the statement of purpose, feel free to play around a little with paragraph form and length.

Also, remember that  good writing doesn’t necessarily equal big words.  You’re writing about yourself, so use words that come naturally to you. Don’t grab a thesaurus and start throwing in a bunch of high-level vocabulary wherever you can; this will make your essay sound less authentic, not to mention stiff.

On the other hand, don’t get too colloquial. You’ll lose respect if you start inserting conversational words such as “gonna” and “gotta.” Therefore, look for the middle ground and write from there.

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Explanations for Any Hiccups in Your Academic Career

Lastly, the personal statement  gives applicants a chance to explain any problems or changes in their academic histories, such as low grades or gaps in education.

Because transcripts and resumes are severely limited in what information they give, schools often use the personal statement to understand your reasons for abrupt changes in your resume and/or transcripts, and to see how you’ve overcome these barriers in your education (and life).

Essentially, a personal statement equalizes the playing field by giving you full rein to explain yourself and emphasize your success over any struggles you’ve had.


How to Write a Personal Statement for Grad School: 9-Step Guide

The personal statement is a fiercely important part of your grad school application. In this section, we teach you how to write a memorable personal statement for grad school so that you’ll have a better shot at getting accepted.

Step 1: Start Early

Personal statements (actually, grad school applications in general!) take a lot of work, so don’t put off writing your essay until the week before your deadline. Rather, try to start working on your essay at least two or three months before your application is due.

You might want to give yourself more time to write it if you’re currently in school or working a demanding job. Setting aside more time lets you work on your graduate school essay routinely without having to squeeze in too many hours each week.

If you only have a month or less until your application deadline, get started on your essay pronto! Though it’s possible to write a personal statement quickly, I recommend carving out more time so that you can put more thought and effort into what you write and how you present yourself. (Doing this also gives others more time to edit your essay for you! We’ll cover this more in later steps.)

Step 2: Read the Instructions

Perhaps the most important step is to read your program’s instructions for the personal statement. Not following these instructions could very well result in a rejection, so always read these first before you start writing! Most programs put their personal statement instructions on their application materials pages.

Your program should give you the following information:

  • What type of content your personal statement should include or generally focus on (you might even get an actual prompt to answer!)
  • How long your statement should be
  • What type of heading, if any, you must include on your statement
  • How to save and submit your statement (e.g., .docx, PDF, etc.)

For example, let’s say you’re applying to the History PhD program at UC Berkeley . In this case, your personal statement can’t exceed 1,000 words (three double-spaced pages). You must also answer this prompt :

Please describe how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Please include information on how you have overcome barriers to access in higher education, evidence of how you have come to understand the barriers faced by others, evidence of your academic service to advance equitable access to higher education for women, racial minorities, and individuals from other groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education, evidence of your research focusing on underserved populations or related issues of inequality, or evidence of your leadership among such groups.

On the other hand, if you were to apply for an MS in Mining, Geological, and Geophysical Engineering at the University of Arizona , your personal statement would follow these parameters:

Your personal statement is an opportunity to sell yourself, in terms of your research interests, research experience and research goals. Unless you have extensive research experience, most personal statements should be about two single-spaced pages. Your writing should be clear, concise, grammatically correct and professional in tone. You may convey some personal experiences that have led to your current interests or that make you a particularly promising candidate.

Clearly, grad programs can approach personal statements quite differently. Some schools consider them the same as statements of purpose and want a formal focus on academic and research interests, while others want applicants to explain more informally the challenges they’ve overcome to get to this point.

Simply put,  follow your program’s directions exactly in order to give yourself your best shot at admission.  And if any part of the instructions is unclear, don’t hesitate to contact your program!


Step 3: Figure Out Your Angle

Your “angle,” or focus, in your graduate school personal statement will depend on a few key factors:

  • What your grad program wants you to write about
  • Your field of study and research interests
  • How much experience you have in your field

As I mentioned in step 2, it’s extremely important to  read the personal statement instructions for your program. Many times these guidelines will tell you what to include in your essay, thereby clarifying what your overall angle needs to be.

Let’s look back at the example we used above for UC Berkeley’s doctoral program in history. If you were applying here and came from a low-income family, you could discuss how you’ve overcome these financial challenges in your life to get to where you are today.

No matter the prompt, you’ll need to discuss your research interests (to some degree) in your personal statement.  How much you talk about your interests, however, will depend on whether you have to submit a separate statement of purpose. If so, you can focus less on your research plans and more on your passions and motivations for applying.

On the other hand, if your personal statement is essentially a statement of purpose, dive deep into your research interests—that is,  be specific! For example, those applying to English lit programs should think about the works, eras, and writers they want to study, and why.

More broadly, though, try to answer the question of  what you hope to accomplish, either during or after the program. Is there any particular project you want to do? Skills you want to improve? Field you want to break into?

Finally, always choose a positive angle.  Use affirmative words and phrases to highlight both your successes and overall enthusiasm for the program.

Step 4: Ask Yourself, “Why This Program? Why This Field?”

Although the statement of purpose usually answers this question directly, you’ll likely need to address this in your personal statement as well—ideally, with a less academic and more conversational tone.

As you brainstorm, try to come up with answers to the following questions:

  • What goals or experiences led you to apply to this program?
  • How will this program help you grow on a personal level?
  • What made you interested in this field? Why do you want to study it more?
  • What are your research interests? How did you develop these interests?
  • Are there any particular professors you wish to work with?

Step 5: Make an Outline

Now that you’ve brainstormed some ideas, it’s time to start outlining your essay.

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How you choose to outline your statement is up to you. Some people like drawing bubble charts for organizing their thoughts, whereas others (like myself) prefer to write a list of rough ideas in the general order they want to present them.

Even if you’re not sure whether you want to include something, just add it to your outline anyway. You can always cut it out later as you draft and edit.

Step 6: Draft Your Essay

It’s now time to start writing! Once you’ve got your outline ready, work on expanding what you’ve written into full-fledged paragraphs.

In the beginning, it’s OK to write down anything you feel is relevant, but as you continue to draft, try to look for any extraneous information you can chop.

Remember, most personal statements will be short— usually one to two double-spaced pages—so you don’t want to risk exceeding your program’s word limit. Schools want to see that you can tell a story concisely yet effectively.

If you’re having trouble coming up with a way to open your statement, try skipping around as you draft. Go ahead and jump to a paragraph you have more ideas for—it’s perfectly OK! Just make sure you start to tie all of your ideas together the closer you get to finishing your draft.

On a related note, be careful not to copy any material from your statement of purpose (if you’re required to submit two separate essays). These statements may share a little overlap but should still focus on different aspects of your (academic) life, accomplishments, and goals.


Step 7: Get Feedback

Once you finish drafting, give your essay to people you trust for feedback. This could be a parent, friend, sibling, or mentor (such as a former or current professor).

Ask your editors to give you  specific feedback  on what you can change, both stylistically and technically, to make it more impactful. Ideally, they’ll also note any unclear, awkward, or redundant ideas/phrases and will offer you helpful suggestions for improvement.

If you’ve written a separate statement of purpose, see whether your editors are willing to check that essay over as well so that you can ensure there isn’t too much overlap between the two.

Step 8: Revise & Edit Your Essay

Once you get feedback, revise and edit your personal statement using your editors’ comments as a guide.

For example, if your editors told you your essay lacked detail, look for places in your writing where you can be more specific and that are likely to have a strong impact on the admission committee.

As you revise, keep an eye out for any awkward sentences or extraneous information. Personal statements are usually pretty brief and you don’t want to accidentally exceed the word limit. So when in doubt, take it out!

Step 9: Proofread

The final step is to proofread your draft. Start by using your computer’s spell check function to quickly find any glaring typos and grammatical errors.

Then, proofread your essay one sentence at a time. Since it’s easy to miss errors in your own writing, I recommend editing your essay from back to front (i.e., from the last sentence to the first sentence). Doing this prevents you from glossing over words and lets you pinpoint punctuation, spelling, and grammatical errors more easily.

In addition, check that you have page numbers on each page (if required—though I suggest adding them regardless) and a proper heading (again, if required) that meets the requirements of your program.

Before you submit it, see if you can get someone else (preferably one or all of your editors from step 7) to look over your final draft as well.  If anyone spots a problem with your essay, go back to step 8. If you get all thumbs ups, read over your statement one last time and then turn it in without looking back! (Seriously, don’t read it again or you’re going to want to change something.)


The Key to a Great Graduate School Personal Statement

The personal statement is an essential part of your grad school application. Like the statement of purpose, it highlights your research interests, experiences, and goals.

But more importantly, the personal statement showcases  your unbridled passion for your field, lets you reflect on challenges you’ve faced (and subsequently overcome), and answers the overarching question of why you want to attend grad school.

A great graduate school personal statement will normally include most or all of the following elements:

  • A compelling story
  • Inspirations for your research interests
  • Your motivation for applying to grad school
  • Strong writing skills
  • Explanations for any changes or problems in your academic career

Above, we walked you through how to write a personal statement for grad school. To recap, here are the nine steps to follow:

  • Start early—at least two or three months before your application is due
  • Read your program’s instructions for the personal statement
  • Figure out your angle by brainstorming ideas
  • Ask yourself, “Why this program/field?”
  • Make an outline using charts, a list, etc.
  • Draft your essay
  • Get specific feedback from multiple editors
  • Revise and edit your essay
  • Proofread (and get other people to proofread it, too!)

What’s Next?

Need to write a statement of purpose, too? Waste no time!  Our expert guide offers tons of tips to help you come up with a statement of purpose that’s certain to impress admission committees.

Do your schools require a CV or resume?  If you’re totally lost on where to begin, read our guides to learn how to put together a great CV or resume for grad school. And for extra help, check out our four original CV and resume templates !

What do you need to submit for your grad school application?  Get the scoop on what kinds of materials you’ll need to prepare when applying to grad school .

Ready to improve your GRE score by 7 points?

ohio state university personal essay

Author: Hannah Muniz

Hannah graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in English and East Asian languages and cultures. After graduation, she taught English in Japan for two years via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel. View all posts by Hannah Muniz

ohio state university personal essay

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ohio state university personal essay

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personal statement

Ohio state spotlight: the application for special scholarships.

Recently I had the chance to talk with Ellen S. who works in Student Financial Aid, specifically with Special Scholarships. She was able to provide me with answers to my questions as well as give me some advice on certain things that they like to see on the application.

What is it?

The Special Scholarships application enables Ohio State students to be considered for several thousands of special-eligibility scholarships that encompass a wide variety of eligibility criteria. The application is also free, just like the FAFSA  (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

How many scholarships are offered?

Thousands upon hundreds of scholarships.

What do I need to do to apply?

First, access the application through the Student Financial Aid website . Students are encouraged to fill out both their FAFSA and the Application for Special Scholarships by the priority date of February 15.

The application asks basic questions regarding a student’s activities and affiliations, family information, and diversity. It also asks for a personal statement . [ Cue dramatic music ]

I’m only a freshman–How could I ever have enough to write a personal statement?

Don’t panic: the Financial Aid office understands that by the time this application is due, first-year students have been in college for less than a year. While it’s okay to highlight personal accomplishments from high school, take some time to reflect back on your first year and the things that make you proud. Maybe you can write about a professor that you’ve gotten a chance to know better, or about some affiliations–student organizations, religious groups, residence hall, etc.–that you have on campus.

The personal statement prompt has no structure or format but does require that you stick to the 900-word limit. The application gives students some prompts to get your started, but you are not required to stick to those. Make sure to talk about some things that you can bring to the Ohio State community, as well as some of the struggles that you’ve had to overcome. It is recommended that you complete your personal statement in a Word document or similar software that can be copied and pasted into the application text box; if the application timer (found at the bottom of the application page) runs out, your response will not be saved.

Common mistakes to avoid?


In a world where everyone is more text-savvy, it’s easy to forget how to properly use certain words and punctuation. Make sure to have someone proofread your work before submitting any of your essays. You can check the Writing Center’s walk-in hours in Thompson Library to get some quick feedback on your writing.

Having an “okay” personal statement

The personal statement is where you need to shine. When talking about how a scholarship can help you, an “alright” answer would be “College is expensive.” A better way to answer this question is to take some time to reflect on how a scholarship can help to alleviate some of the stresses in your life , or how it can help you accomplish some of your long-term goals.

I hope this has inspired you to get started on your Special Scholarships application! Financial Aid wants to award as many of its scholarships to as many students as possible, so take some time–winter break is a terrific option–to complete your application by February 15!

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Paul Landis standing in front of his house in Cleveland, with an American flag in the background.

J.F.K. Assassination Witness Breaks His Silence and Raises New Questions

The account of Paul Landis, one of the Secret Service agents just feet away from John F. Kennedy when he was struck down, could change the understanding of what happened in Dallas in 1963.

The account of Paul Landis, a former Secret Service agent, differs from the official version in at least one key respect. Credit... Amir Hamja/The New York Times

Supported by

Peter Baker

By Peter Baker

Peter Baker, who has covered the past five presidents, reported from Cleveland, where he interviewed Paul Landis.

  • Sept. 9, 2023

He still remembers the first gunshot. For an instant, standing on the running board of the motorcade car, he entertained the vain hope that maybe it was just a firecracker or a blown tire. But he knew guns and he knew better. Then came another shot. And another. And the president slumped down.

For so many nights afterward, he relived that grisly moment in his dreams. Now, 60 years later, Paul Landis, one of the Secret Service agents just feet away from President John F. Kennedy on that fateful day in Dallas, is telling his story in full for the first time. And in at least one key respect, his account differs from the official version in a way that may change the understanding of what happened in Dealey Plaza .

Mr. Landis has spent most of the intervening years fleeing history, trying to forget that unforgettable moment etched in the consciousness of a grieving nation. The memory of the explosion of violence and the desperate race to the hospital and the devastating flight home and the wrenching funeral with John Jr. saluting his fallen father — it was all too much, too torturous, so much so that Mr. Landis left the service and Washington behind.

Until finally, after the nightmares had passed at last, he could think about it again. And he could read about it. And he realized that what he read was not quite right, not as he remembered it. As it turns out, if his recollections are correct, the much-discussed “magic bullet” may not have been so magic after all.

His memory challenges the theory advanced by the Warren Commission that has been the subject of so much speculation and debate over the years — that one of the bullets fired at the president’s limousine hit not only Kennedy but Gov. John B. Connally Jr. of Texas, who was riding with him, in multiple places.

Mr. Landis’s account, included in a forthcoming memoir, would rewrite the narrative of one of modern American history’s most earth-shattering days in an important way. It may not mean any more than that. But it could also encourage those who have long suspected that there was more than one gunman in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, adding new grist to one of the nation’s enduring mysteries .

As with all things related to the assassination, of course, his account raises questions of its own. Mr. Landis remained silent for 60 years, which has fueled doubts even for his former Secret Service partner, and memories are tricky even for those sincerely certain of their recollections. A couple elements of his account contradict the official statements he filed with authorities immediately after the shooting, and some of the implications of his version cannot be easily reconciled to the existing record.

But he was there, a firsthand witness, and it is rare for new testimony to emerge six decades after the fact. He has never subscribed to the conspiracy theories and stresses that he is not promoting one now. At age 88, he said, all he wants is to tell what he saw and what he did. He will leave it to everyone else to draw conclusions.

“There’s no goal at this point,” he said in an interview last month in Cleveland, the first time he has talked about this with a reporter in advance of his book, “The Final Witness,” which will be published by Chicago Review Press on Oct. 10. “I just think it had been long enough that I needed to tell my story.”

President John F. Kennedy, in a dark suit, shaking hands with a throng of supporters with outstretched hands.

What it comes down to is a copper-jacketed 6.5-millimeter projectile. The Warren Commission decided that one of the bullets fired that day struck the president from behind, exited from the front of his throat and continued on to hit Mr. Connally, somehow managing to injure his back, chest, wrist and thigh. It seemed incredible that a single bullet could do all that, so skeptics called it the magic bullet theory.

Investigators came to that conclusion partly because the bullet was found on a stretcher believed to have held Mr. Connally at Parkland Memorial Hospital, so they assumed it had exited his body during efforts to save his life. But Mr. Landis, who was never interviewed by the Warren Commission, said that is not what happened.

In fact, he said, he was the one who found the bullet — and he found it not in the hospital near Mr. Connally but in the presidential limousine lodged in the back of the seat behind where Kennedy was sitting.

When he spotted the bullet after the motorcade arrived at the hospital, he said he grabbed it to thwart souvenir hunters. Then, for reasons that still seem fuzzy even to him, he said he entered the hospital and placed it next to Kennedy on the president’s stretcher, assuming it could somehow help doctors figure out what happened. At some point, he now guesses, the stretchers must have been pushed together and the bullet was shaken from one to another.

“There was nobody there to secure the scene, and that was a big, big bother to me,” Mr. Landis said. “All the agents that were there were focused on the president.” A crowd was gathering. “This was all going on so quickly. And I was just afraid that — it was a piece of evidence, that I realized right away. Very important. And I didn’t want it to disappear or get lost. So it was, ‘Paul, you’ve got to make a decision,’ and I grabbed it.’”

Mr. Landis theorizes that the bullet struck Kennedy in the back but for some reason was undercharged and did not penetrate deeply, therefore popping back out before the president’s body was removed from the limousine.

Mr. Landis has been reluctant to speculate on the larger implications. He always believed that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman.

But now? “At this point, I’m beginning to doubt myself,” he said. “Now I begin to wonder.” That is as far as he is willing to go.

A native of Ohio and son of a college sports coach, Mr. Landis does not come across as a swaggering security agent. He had to stretch to meet the 5-foot-8 height requirement when he joined the service, and could no longer do so. “I’m too little now,” he said, to make it in today’s agency. He is quiet and unassuming, dressed in a coat and tie for an interview, his gray hair neatly trimmed. He has a little trouble hearing and speaks softly, but his mind is clear and his recollections steady.

In recent years, he confided his story with several key figures, including Lewis C. Merletti, a former director of the Secret Service. James Robenalt, a Cleveland lawyer and author of several books of history, has deeply researched the assassination and helped Mr. Landis process his memories.

“If what he says is true, which I tend to believe, it is likely to reopen the question of a second shooter, if not even more,” Mr. Robenalt said. “If the bullet we know as the magic or pristine bullet stopped in President Kennedy’s back, it means that the central thesis of the Warren Report, the single-bullet theory, is wrong.” And if Mr. Connally was hit by a separate bullet, he added, then it seemed possible it was not from Oswald, who he argued could not have reloaded that fast.

Mr. Merletti, who has been friendly with Mr. Landis for a decade, was not sure what to think about his account. “I don’t know if that story’s true or not, but I do know that the agents that were there that day, they were tormented for years by what happened,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Merletti referred Mr. Landis to Ken Gormley, the president of Duquesne University and a prominent presidential historian, who helped him find an agent for his book. In an interview, Mr. Gormley said he was not surprised that a traumatized agent would come forward all these years later, comparing it to a dying declaration in legal cases.

“It’s very common as people get to the end of their lives,” Mr. Gormley said. “They want to make peace with things. They want to get on the table things they’ve been holding back, especially if it’s a piece of history and they want the record corrected. This does not look like a play by someone trying to get attention for himself or money. I don’t read it that way at all. I think he firmly believes this. Whether it fits together, I don’t know. But people can eventually figure that out.”

Mr. Landis’s account varies in a couple of respects from two written statements he filed in the week after the shooting. Aside from not mentioning finding the bullet, he reported hearing only two shots. “I do not recall hearing a third shot,” he wrote. Likewise, he did not mention going into the trauma room where Kennedy was taken, writing that he “remained outside by the door” when the first lady went in.

Gerald Posner, author of “Case Closed,” a 1993 book that concluded that Oswald indeed killed Kennedy on his own, said he was dubious. While he did not question Mr. Landis’s sincerity, Mr. Posner said the story did not add up.

“People’s memories generally do not improve over time, and it is a flashing warning sign to me, about skepticism I have over his story, that on some very important details of the assassination, including the number of shots, his memory has gotten better instead of worse,” he said.

“Even assuming that he is accurately describing what happened with the bullet,” Mr. Posner added, “it might mean nothing more than we now know that the bullet that came out of Governor Connally did so in the limousine, not on a stretcher in Parkland where it was found.”

Mr. Landis said the reports he filed after the assassination included mistakes; he was in shock and had barely slept for five days as he focused on helping the first lady through the ordeal, he said, and not paying enough attention to what he submitted. He did not think to mention the bullet, he said.

It was not until 2014 that he realized that the official account of the bullet differed from his memory, he said, but he did not come forward then out of a feeling that he had made a mistake in putting it on the stretcher without telling anyone in that pre-C.S.I., secure-the-crime-scene era.

“I didn’t want to talk about it,” Mr. Landis said. “I was afraid. I started to think, did I do something wrong? There was a fear that I might have done something wrong and I shouldn’t talk about it.”

Indeed, his partner, Clint Hill, the legendary Secret Service agent who clambered onto the back of the speeding limousine in a futile effort to save Kennedy, discouraged Mr. Landis from speaking out. “Many ramifications,” Mr. Hill warned in a 2014 email that Mr. Landis saved and shared last month.

Mr. Hill, who has set out his own account of what happened in multiple books and interviews, cast doubt on Mr. Landis’s version on Friday. “I believe it raises concerns when the story he is telling now, 60 years after the fact, is different than the statements he wrote in the days following the tragedy” and told in subsequent years, Mr. Hill said in an email. “In my mind, there are serious inconsistencies in his various statements/stories.”

Mr. Landis’s rendezvous with history began in the small town of Worthington, Ohio, north of Columbus. After college and a stint in the Ohio Air National Guard, he was working in a clothing store when a family friend described his job in the Secret Service. Intrigued, Mr. Landis joined in 1959 in the Cincinnati office, where he chased thieves who swiped Social Security checks out of mailboxes.

A year later, he was sent to Washington where he joined the protective detail for President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s grandchildren. After Kennedy was elected, Mr. Landis, code named Debut because of his youth, was assigned to guard the new president’s children and later the first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, alongside Mr. Hill. Because the first lady accompanied her husband to Dallas that fall day in 1963, Mr. Landis, then 28, was part of the motorcade, riding the rear of the right running board on the black Cadillac convertible, code named Halfback, just feet behind the presidential limousine.

At the first shot, Mr. Landis turned to look over his right shoulder in the direction of the sound but spotted nothing. Then he turned to the limousine and saw Kennedy raising his arms, evidently hit. Suddenly, Mr. Landis noticed that Mr. Hill had leapt off their follow-up car and was sprinting toward the limousine. Mr. Landis thought about doing the same but did not have an angle.

He said he heard a second shot that sounded louder and finally the fatal third shot that hit Kennedy in the head. Mr. Landis had to duck to avoid being splattered by flesh and brain matter. He knew instantly that the president was dead. Mr. Hill, now on the back of the limousine, turned back and confirmed it with a thumbs down.

Once they reached the hospital, Mr. Hill and Mr. Landis coaxed the distraught first lady to let go of her husband so he could be taken inside. After they exited the car, Mr. Landis noticed two bullet fragments in a pool of bright red blood. He fingered one of them but put it back.

That’s when he said he noticed the intact bullet in the seam of the tufted dark leather cushioning. He said he slipped it into his coat pocket and headed into the hospital, where he planned to give it to a supervisor, but in the confusion instinctively put it on Kennedy’s stretcher instead.

The hospital’s senior engineer later found it when he was moving Mr. Connally’s stretcher, by then empty, and bumped it against another stretcher in the hall, resulting in the bullet falling out.

The Warren Commission report said that it “eliminated President Kennedy’s stretcher as a source of the bullet” because the president remained on his stretcher while doctors tried to save his life and was not removed until his body was placed in a coffin.

Investigators determined that the bullet, designated Commission Exhibit 399, was fired by the same C2766 Mannlicher-Carcano rifle found in the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. They concluded that the bullet passed through Kennedy, then entered Mr. Connally’s right shoulder, struck his rib, exited under his right nipple, continued through his right wrist and into his left thigh.

Doctors concurred that the single bullet could have caused all the damage. But the bullet was described as nearly pristine and had lost only one or two grains of its original 160 or 161 grains in weight, causing skeptics to doubt that it could have done all that the commission said it had. Still, ballistic experts using modern forensic techniques concluded at the 50th anniversary of the assassination that the single-bullet theory was perfectly plausible.

Mr. Landis said he was surprised that the Warren Commission never interviewed him, but assumed that his supervisors were protecting the agents, who had been out late the night before socializing (Mr. Landis until 5 a.m., although he insisted they were not drunk). “Nobody really asked me,” he said.

Many pictures of those days of mourning show Mr. Landis at Jacqueline Kennedy’s side as she endured the rituals of a presidential farewell. Night after night, those seconds of violence in Dallas kept replaying in his head, his own personal Zapruder film on an endless loop. “The president’s head exploding — I could not shake that vision,” he said. “Whatever I was doing, that’s all I was thinking about.”

With Mr. Landis and Mr. Hill still protecting her, the former first lady was in constant motion in the months afterward. “She’d be in the back seat sobbing and you’d want to say something but it wasn’t really our place to say anything,” Mr. Landis recalled.

After six months, he could not take it anymore and left the Secret Service. Haunted, he moved to Cape Cod in Massachusetts, then New York, then Ohio near Cleveland. For decades, he made a living in real estate and machine products and house painting, anything as long as it had nothing to do with protecting presidents.

He was generally aware of the conspiracy theories, yet never read a book about them, or the Warren Commission report for that matter. “I just paid no attention to that,” he said. “I just removed myself. I just felt I had been there. I had seen it, and I knew what I saw and what I did. And that’s all.”

He did a few interviews in 2010 and thereafter, but never mentioned finding the bullet. Then, in 2014, a local police chief he knew gave him a copy of “Six Seconds in Dallas,” a 1967 book by Josiah Thompson arguing that there were multiple shooters. Mr. Landis read it and believed the official account of the bullet was wrong.

That led to conversations with Mr. Merletti and Mr. Gormley and eventually, after many years, to his book.

It was not easy. As he finished the manuscript, he stared at the computer screen, broke down and cried uncontrollably. “I didn’t realize that I had so many suppressed emotions and feelings,” he said. “I just couldn’t stop. And that was just a huge emotional relief.”

Peter Baker is the chief White House correspondent and has covered the last five presidents for The Times and The Washington Post. He is the author of seven books, most recently “The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021,” with Susan Glasser. More about Peter Baker



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