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College Applications: Writing the Best Personal Statement

When it comes to applying to the college or university of your choice you don’t want to leave anything to chance.  You want to check and re-check your grades and your GPA to make sure all is right.  You want to go over your list of high school activities and memberships you will include on your college application.  Finally, you want to make sure that your personal essay is original, grammatically correct and thoughtful.  More than a formality, these essays help convey to college admissions people a sense of who you are, the depth of your creativity and insight and your vision of the future as it relates to your contribution to it.  This is why it is critical to choose the right topic one that you can make a good and accurate impression of who you are to college admissions people.  Here are some tips for choosing a personal essay topic when applying to the school of your choice.

  • Brainstorm:  Although brainstorming may seem like a slap-dash method of priming the creative pump, it is actually quite useful and is frequently used in all types of writing.  Chose a general topic such as what you would like to accomplish in life, setbacks you have had to overcome, what accomplishments you are most proud of, what people have made a significant impact on you, etc.  Next, write down your thoughts on each and include examples that illustrate your main point(s).  Finally, start to gather together all the cogent thoughts in the essay to form the basis of an outline for your personal statement.
  • Acknowledge your constraints:  If you are working with a 500 word limit, for example, try to make sure that your essay is concise and economical.  Don’t go into stories that will take excessive exposition when space is limited.
  • Think about your childhood experiences:  Writing about your childhood ensures that your essay will be truly unique.  A personal statement based on your childhood will also inevitably include your interests, tendencies, and passions.  This will give admission officers a complete picture of who you are which is, after all, what they are looking for.
  • Ask yourself questions:  The challenge of writing an essay is an excellent opportunity for self exploration.  During the brainstorming process ask yourself questions such as what interest you the most, what challenges you’ve had to face in life and how you overcame them, etc.  Write these questions and answers down as the basis for a personal essay topic.
  • Avoid the pitfalls:  Avoid the typical essay pitfalls such as receptiveness, negativity or one-sidedness.  Any of these features can kill what might otherwise be an exemplary statement of your goals, achievements and interests.  Remember to keep your essay positive.  However, you can talk about difficult life situations especially if they demonstrate your ability to overcome adversity.
  • Be Unique:  Try to think about experiences that are unique to you as an individual.  In doing so, even topics that are commonly covered by other applicants such as what diversity means to you or influences in your life will seem different to college admissions people.

Of course some schools select personal essay topics for their applicants.  If this is the case, some of the same rules still apply.  The most important things to remember are (a) be genuine and sincere, (b) watch spelling and punctuation, (c) try to be original even if writing about a common subject.  Finally, remember that a well written personal statement can not only help you get into the college or university of your choice, it can also serve as an excellent tool of self-discovery.

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