Writing your personal statement for a college application can be challenging, but it’s crucial to do it well. While it’s true that colleges are most interested in your grades and test scores, selective schools are going to receive applications from thousands of students with outstanding grades and high test scores. The personal statement is your chance to make yourself stand out from the rest of the applicants.
Fortunately, that’s not as difficult as it sounds; most personal statements simply aren’t very good. The following is our best advice for writing a personal statement that will get you noticed by the admissions officers reading it.
Don’t repeat what you’ve already written.
College applications tend to be thorough, and you’re including a lot of information about yourself in each one. Your personal statement should include brand-new information that doesn’t appear elsewhere in the application. Extracurricular activities are a good example. You’ve already told them if you were in the marching band, played on the football team or joined the debate club. Don’t write about how important those activities were to you or how they influenced your education.
Instead, write something substantive that adds another dimension to your application. Pick an event (unrelated to school) that affected you deeply or write about how something in your personal or family life shaped your education. Give them new information that tells them more about you than what they already know from reading your application.
A lot of students will load their personal essay with unnecessary vocabulary. Some of these essays read as if the student used a thesaurus for every single word. Big words and advanced vocabulary are not impressive. Writing in your own voice is, however. It demonstrates a rare level of writing skill, and it makes your essay much more enjoyable to read.
Remember, this is a personal statement. It’s about you, so it should sound like it’s coming from you. The whole point of writing it is to give the admissions officer an idea of who you are. This doesn’t mean that you should use slang words, foul language, or anything like that. Be yourself, but remember who is reading this essay.
Don’t just tell a story.
Anybody can tell a story. It’s as easy as recounting the events that took place. That’s not a compelling essay, though. You need to reflect on what happened, how it made you feel, what you learned from the experience, etc. Give the reader an idea of how you learn and grow.
Write multiple drafts and find editors.
Stephen King is famous for never writing drafts. He writes his novels in one try, sends them to a proofreader to check for spelling mistakes and other typos, and then it’s published. You are not Stephen King. None of us are. You will need to write several drafts before your essay is ready. Find someone to read and edit your drafts who is not a friend or parent. One of your teachers might be willing to do it, or if your school has college counselors, they would be the best choice.
Starting early helps, too. You want to give yourself plenty of time to write multiple drafts, and you want your editors to have plenty of time to carefully review your work.
Pay attention to the prompt.
You can write a flawless essay, one with brilliant prose, perfect spelling and a riveting story, but if it doesn’t provide a response to the prompt, it’s useless. This sounds simple, but you’d be surprised at how often this can be a problem.
For instance, this probably means that you can’t simply write one essay and use it on all of your applications. Many schools choose not to use the Common Application, or they add to it. Scholarship applications will have different prompts from admissions applications. You’re almost certainly going to need to write multiple essays.
It’s also very easy to get caught up in writing your essay and telling the story you want to tell without answering the prompt. It’s always good to write about something that inspires you or that you’re passionate about, but that does make it easy to get carried away.