How to Write a Personal Statement

You’re finally a senior! (or will be one soon!) While everyone will tell you this is the time of your life, you’re also probably too overwhelmed with the dreaded college application process to enjoy your newly minted status as big man on campus.

The pressure is on to craft a memorable, concise, knock-your-socks-off personal statement to go along with your college application. Depending on the requirements of the college you’re applying to, you’ll probably have to keep your college essay somewhere between 200 to 650 words. You’ll be tasked with using this short assignment to convey so much about you–all the information that your test scores and transcripts can’t convey. How are you different from the sea of other applicants?

Sound daunting? It should. But fear not! We’ve got your back. With a few tips from us and some mental elbow grease from you, your mailbox should be filling up with acceptance letters in no time. Here are some tips:

Stay on topic

Maybe your prompt is open-ended: “Tell us about yourself.” But it’s probably more narrow: “Why Stanford?” The Common Application or “Common App” (its more popular moniker) which is used by over 600 independent colleges nationwide, has five different prompts to choose from, but maybe your school of choice has only given you one essay prompt. Or maybe you’re faced with a doozy like one of these from the University of Chicago–known for provocative/kooky essay prompts. Whatever topic you’ve been given: be sure to specifically answer the prompt or question.

Think hard

No, really. That sounds silly, but do it. Listen, we know you worked hard, got good grades, and did all the right extracurricular activities–but frankly so did all the other applicants. You need to think long and hard about what sets you apart from the crowd. (This is the dreaded prewriting stage of course, which can often be more than half the battle when tackling any writing project.)

Start strong

Your personal statement will land on the desk of an admissions officer that will be sifting through stacks and stacks of essays, and you’ll want to grab his attention right away with a strong introduction. Here’s where you’ll dig back into all the great writing craft lessons your English teachers have shared with you throughout your high school career. Share an anecdote, moment, or memory that will grab your reader’s attention right off the bat.

Be yourself

Don’t go through mental gymnastics trying to decide what you think they want to read or want you to say. It may sound trite, but honesty really is the best policy. If you take the time to really dig deep and soul search for a personal topic that reflects who you really are, your essay should start to fall into place.

Keep it simple

This is a tough one. You have to inspire the reader of your essay to want to meet you with just a few hundred words–that’s not easy. Remember that admissions officer with stacks and stacks of college essays to read? You don’t want to stretch his patience with a rambling story about your childhood.

Proofread, proofread, proofread

And then proofread again. And finally, ask a family member or a teacher to proofread for you.

And finally, don’t do this.

Go on, write an amazing college essay!

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