How to Write a Good Personal Statement

Sitting in front of you is a stack of lined paper and several pens. You knew this moment would come sooner or later; the moment where you have to buckle down and write the personal statement. You’ve finished filling the rest of your applications, but only one thing is missing: this. It’s no secret that college applicants get stumped when it comes to writing the essay that goes along with your beautifully crafted application to the admissions offices. In fact, it can easily be the most stressful part of the college application process. Here are some helpful tips to get your creative juices flowing if you’re feeling overwhelmed and hopeless when it comes to writing your personal statement.

1. Know what you should and shouldn’t write about.

Topics to stay away from include pet deaths, a “this experience taught me…” kind of essay, talking aimlessly about what you want to do with your life, controversial issues, etc. What you should try and write about is something that you want to talk about, not what you think the admissions committee wants you to say. Remember, the personal statement should be personal.

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2. Write for 5 minutes (without stopping) everyday.

This is a quick and easy exercise for those of you who are in need of a topic. Doing this once a day will not only give you ideas on what to write about, but it will also help enhance your writing skills. Try picking a random thought about anything or something that happened to you that day, and write about it descriptively in a notebook. This notebook will soon become filled with a bunch of ideas that you can use for the essay. Plus, you’ve already got a whole paragraph written!

3. Think about what admissions officers want to read about.

Of course you want to write about something you enjoy, but often times it’s not the same as what the admissions committee wants to hear about. Take into consideration the fact that they go through hundreds of applications a day, so your essay needs to be memorable. If they’re reading about something entertaining or something witty, they’re more likely to remember it (which will obviously boost your chances of getting in!). You’re trying to make them see why they should choose you, and not boring them is the best way to do that.

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4. Write in your speaking voice (but keep it classy).

The whole point of a personal statement is to let the admissions committee know more about who you are as a person, not an applicant. You want them to get a sense of your personality so they can ensure you will be a good fit and an excellent student at their school. Therefore, writing in the tone in which you speak can give admissions officers a better idea of who you are and will give your personal statement a more personal feel. However, avoid bad grammar, odd punctuation, and excessive slang; the admissions officers want to see that you can write well, too.

Don’t be surprised if you’re still perplexed about what to write this time next week. Coming up with an idea for the college application essay can be tedious, but with commitment and motivation you can get it done easily. Just remember that the point of the personal statement for the college application is to let admissions officers learn something about you that can’t be found on the application. One good tip for when you’re finished writing the personal statement is to have someone who doesn’t know you read it; if they can get a sense of who you are from this essay, you’ve done a great job.

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If you still need help with getting an idea or finding your voice, we highly recommend reading On Writing the College Application Essay: The Key to Acceptance at the College of Your Choice by Harry Bauld, a former Ivy League admissions officer.