Personal Statements

(or how to toot your own horn)

In my junior year of high school, our English teacher read to the class one of her favorite personal statements ever written by a student. This was around the time we were all beginning to seriously focus on college applications and this essay served as a poster child in my mind for how creative and beautiful I should make my personal statements to follow.

Now far beyond those days I am still constantly helping students with writing their own personal statements.

I want to make this very clear- you do NOT have to be a creative writer to write a compelling statement. You DO have to tell a story that is unique.

Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes made by students is just word vomiting a laundry list of achievements. Most schools will know that all of their applicants are accomplished, and restating all of the activities that you have already listed in your application is a waste of your time.

As follows is an abridged version of what I most often tell my students. If you want some more detail, send me an email! I am more than happy to consult students with their college application materials.

Basic Tips:

  • START EARLY. Think about this ahead of time. Give yourself 8-10 months to ponder what makes you unique. On a separate but related note, start thinking about who might be able to help proofread early besides your english teacher or family.
  • Read example essays. Think about what made them successful. Most likely they had a statement at the beginning that hooked you into the essay and used that to carry their statement.
  • Tell a story. Think of how the plot of this story should proceed. When finished, your essay might not follow the traditional intro, body, body, conclusion format, and this is okay!

Editing Tips:

  • Cut the fat. If your sentence says nothing of importance or does not speak to your individuality or character, cut it out!! For example “In student government I learned leadership skills by managing my peers and meeting constant deadlines” THIS SAYS NOTHING IMPORTANT. Say what you DID as a leader instead.
  • Find a trusted editor. Ideally NOT YOUR PARENTS. I have made this fatal mistake many times. You should be able to have no insecurity when they edit your work, and they should also know about your achievements.
  • Read it out loud. This is a tip I am sure you have heard many times, and there’s a reason why. Reading out loud always helps me eliminate run-on sentences. If you haven’t stopped for air in a couple of seconds, you should probably chop that sentence.
  • Put yourself in the perspective of the reader. Imagine you have read 50+ personal statements in a day, and then read yours. Can you easily extract what makes yours unique?? Say something BOLD.
  • This goes without saying, but just as a reminder, DO NOT make any cultural references. I have seen this used in an attempt to make a lighthearted and creative personal statement. I have never seen cultural references used successfully. Proceed with caution.

Personal statements, although they feel like pulling teeth at times, should not be neglected in the college application process. This is your only real opportunity to express your personal character or FLAVOR. You should EMBRACE it!! Remember, you are the prize, and any school is lucky to have you! Prove to the school WHY you are special.

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