1. Pick a topic you’re passionate about.
Your writing will be both easier and more genuine if you write about what you want to write about, instead of writing about what you think colleges want to hear. The most successful essays describe a moment of personal growth, difficulty, strength, or confidence, all of which people experience in vastly different ways.
If you are serious about your college essay, you will most likely be spending a fair amount of time brainstorming, writing, and editing until you make it as near perfect as possible. Understandably, this process will proceed quicker if you actually enjoy the topic you are writing about.
More importantly, if you love the topic you choose, your reader will see it in your writing: the more passion you feel for a subject, the easier it will be to express yourself. So if your greatest personal growth story occurred as you were picking out socks for the day, so be it. Perhaps you managed to find courage on a stage in front of two thousand, or maybe just two people.
Remember that this is your personal statement, your only chance to differentiate yourself as a unique individual to colleges apart from grades, test scores, and resumes. Write about a topic that excites you, and you will excite your reader.
2. Engage your reader from the first sentence.
Regardless of the topic you choose, your reader’s interest must be captured in the first sentence. Out of thousands of essays, why should yours stand out? A perfect introduction will leap out to the reader and grab their attention.
The best way to do this is through as much detail as you can muster. If you have chosen a sport or activity you excel in, show your reader through your words a split second of what participating in the activity is like. Write as if you are telling a story: what was the setting? What was the weather like? Were there other people there? What emotions were coursing through you at that exact moment?
Many students will begin their essays, “The most life-changing/important/difficult moment in my life has been___.” Over time, admissions officers will lose steam over the constant repetition, and all essays that begin as such will fail to make an impact.
Make it easier for your reader to remember you by writing a story as your introduction. The more specific detail you add in, the more the reader will get into the story and the more sold they’ll be on you.
3. Ask yourself “So What?”
As with any good essay, you should spend at least a paragraph explaining the “so what?” aspect of your essay. If you have chosen a specific activity to write about, in addition to writing about the activity itself, colleges want to know why this particular activity has made an impact on your life.
So you’ve been playing baseball for the last ten years, so what? Perhaps playing baseball taught you teamwork, or made you appreciate the value of practice and determination in achieving your goals. As this is a college essay with a point to make about your character, a substantial portion of your essay should answer the “so what?” question.
Colleges want to know how you have grown as a person through your own experiences and how they have changed you, and stating why such experiences were important to you aid in convincing admissions officers that their school could use more students like you.
If your detail and story-like aspect of your essay comes at the beginning, your “so what?” moment should wrap up your essay, connecting your activity in question with the purpose behind your choice of topic.
4. Read through your essay out loud.
It goes without saying that you should spell-check your essay before sending it off to colleges. As your personal statement is one you will presumably be using for the majority of your college applications (if your colleges use CollgeApp), there is no excuse for sending off an essay that is not completely free of mechanical and grammatical errors.
In addition to the automatic spellcheck on Microsoft Word, set time aside to read over your paper out loud. This will allow you to catch things your mind might otherwise overlook; because you are able to hear any wrong grammar or sentence structure, you are less likely to skip over it.
It is also wise to ask for a second opinion: let your parents read it, your English teacher or your friends. Ask them to read it and tell you what they thought the central message they got out of it was; if it is the same message you were hoping to send to admissions officers, your essay has succeeded.
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A personal statement is a special type of essay that you write usually when you are applying to school or applying for scholarship or grant programs. Personal statements are intended to tell a little bit about who you are and usually explain to the admissions committee why you might be a good fit for their academic program.
When You Write Personal Statements
There are many examples of personal statements that you might have to write. For example, some personal statements include:
- A personal statement for an application to a special gifted and talent program at your school
- A personal statement for an application for admission to college
- A personal statement for an application for admission to graduate school
- A personal statement for an application for admission to business school
- A personal statement for an application for admission to law school
- A personal statement for an application to teach ESL that shows your philosophy of education
Sometimes, you will be given a topic that your personal statement is supposed to discuss. In other cases, you'll just be asked to talk about yourself or why you would be a good fit.
Personal Statements About Why You Want to Attend
One type of personal statement that is commonly written is a statement explaining why you would be a good fit for a specific academic program or about why you would want to attend that program.
Some examples of personal statement ideas that you might use include:
- For admission to a graduate program in education: "When I was a child, I was always looking for role models and my fourth grade teacher stepped up to fill the role. My fourth grade teacher took a personal interest in me and her belief that I could be successful changed my life. I want to be able to give back and provide other children with the same inspiration that I received."
- For admission to a medical school program: "I believe that doctors can shape a society and help a society to grow. Healthcare is the most basic and fundamental of human rights and my goal is to become a doctor so I can work to make sure no one is denied access to the healthcare they need."
- For admission to a law school program: "My first encounter with the legal system was when my friend's parents were wrongfully evicted from their apartment. A lawyer helped them to get their money back and to get back into their home, and the lawyer gave them hope. I, too, want to be able to pursue a noble profession that allows me to give the average person a voice within the legal system."
- For admission to a particular college: "It has always been my dream to study journalism, and College X has the course program that will allow me to pursue my passions and to develop my skills."
Personal Statements About Who You Are
In some cases, your personal statement will be focused not on why you want to attend a school program but instead on who you are and why you would be the right fit. For example, some people might focus on the struggles they overcame in order to be in a position to attend the school. Others might discuss how their unique perspective would make them a valuable addition to the class.
Some examples include:
- As the first person in my family to have the opportunity to attend college, I will value the opportunity to attend your school because I know how important education is in opening doors."
- As an immigrant who came to the United States when I was 15, I believe I have a unique perspective on social issues that will allow me to make valuable contributions in my law school classes.
These types of personal statements are focused on showing that you would be a valuable addition to the class so the admissions committee will be eager to have you attend.