I was wondering if I can use expressions such as "I was flooded with ideas", "It would get me closer towards my desired career" or "it worked like a charm" in my personal statement as it is considered to be formal.

Should I avoid using these kind of expressions and how could I change them to suit the style?

Thank you for your time.

P.S. The personal statement is for a university.

  • Hi Saras, when you say "expression with not-straightforward meaning," do you mean an idiom?
    – Standback
    Sep 23, 2013 at 8:18
  • @Standback Yes, idiom is what I was trying to say by that.
    – Saras
    Sep 23, 2013 at 16:16
  • @ Saras : In formal communication, idioms are avoided ,,
    – Sweet72
    Sep 23, 2013 at 19:37

2 Answers 2


The number one rule of writing is know your audience.

In this case, you have a very specific audience - perhaps one or two people initially. So why not put on your "investigator's hat" and call them up and find out exactly what they want? First get some practice calling some other universities, and get a little more experience in the kinds of questions you want answered and how to get information - learn the landscape. Then call your target university. Universities usually have all kinds of student services that are happy to help. If a person says "I don't know" you can ask, "is there someone who would know or who could point me in the right direction?"

Also, find some students that were recently accepted to your university of choice and ask if they could "help you" with your personal statement. They might even share their own personal statement with you and you'll get a better idea of the kinds of things that pass the admission process mustard (cheesy idiom intended). Other than getting some general ideas, I would take their advice "with a grain of salt". Ultimately, you'll want to use your own voice.

BTW - "It worked like a charm" sounds cheesy to me. Some idioms are so trite or cliche you'll want to "avoid them like the plague".


The first question that you need to ask yourself is where is your personal statement going to be sent to. Is it a native English speaking place or not?

Now, using certain phrases like "it would get me closer towards my desired career" should not be a problem. However, when you explicitly talk about idioms, in general sense, they should be avoided. However, this does not end there. The usage of idioms in writing a personal statement has also got to do with the exact idiom that you are using. A personal statement is, in a way, a reflection of yourself. You may use an idiom or two over the statement but be careful not to use any idiom or phrase that may be difficult to be understood by the reader.

Avoid over usage of phrases or expressions. That conveys the idea that you do not really have a clear idea of what you want to say. At the same time you do not need to sit down with a book on idioms to decide which one goes in and which one does not. Try and keep it free flowing. That, in general, should be the way to decide if the idiom/phrase you are using should be there or not. Avoid euphemism.

At the same time, keep in mind, in formal English idioms are usually (not always) avoided. At the end of the day, it also depends on the examiner who reads your statement. Some people are too picky about it and have a strict 'NO' policy for idioms while other people are more liberal about it.

Hope this helps.

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