Many colleges and universities require an essay as part of the admissions process.
While high school students are no strangers to writing essays, the vast majority have not been taught to write the type of unique essay colleges want to see—a personal statement.
Thus, you may find yourself faced with two issues before beginning the writing process.
Dilemma #1: Not Knowing What a Personal Statement Is
Clearly, college admissions officers already know your grades, GPA, extracurricular activities, and letters of recommendation. What they want to know in your personal statement is what cannot be communicated in the other parts of your application.
That is why a personal statement—commonly 500-600 words long—should be a specific and simple story that is unique to you and represents your personality and values.
What do I mean by “personality and values”?
For example, think of a specific time when you were faced with a challenge or experienced a trying circumstance. Perhaps a value you hold dear was called into question, such as having to maintain honesty.
Writing a personal statement that has weight requires being vulnerable and discussing what you learned from your challenge. Though, far from being a scathing self-critique of your flaws and failures, the essay should show that you are human and how you solved a problem when you were presented with it.
Dilemma #2: Thinking a Personal Statement Must be Out-of-This-World Amazing
When you believe that everything hinges on a single thing, it often makes you more nervous than you need to be. Granted, the essay for your college application is very important, but overthinking it will only keep you from writing it.
Honestly, a personal statement does not have to be an over-the-top tearjerker, a dazzling tale of heroics and world-changing discoveries, or a Greek tragedy. Leave the award-winning novels to the literary “gods.”
Stick with being a mere mortal. Simply focus on what you know best—your personality and your life.
To write a solid essay, you do not need to have a drama-filled past nor be able to exhibit monumental achievements. All you have to do is tell a good personal story that is relevant, interesting to the reader, and well-written.
First and foremost, your essay needs a clear outline and structure. If the ideas do not smoothly flow one into the other, you will lose the reader’s—the admission officers’—interest.
Therefore, the challenge is to take a series of ideas, connect them in four or five paragraphs, and explain your story in 600 words. While it is alright to stray from the formal 5-paragraph essay writing format, you must be able to explain yourself clearly.
Is the language you use important?
Yes, it is. This personal statement has to sound like it personally came from a 17-18-year-old, not an adult. Thus, you cannot have an adult write your essay for you. Even if an adult changes a small section of your essay just a little, it is not worth it. It has to be your writing. If not, the admissions officers will see right through it.
Also, grammar is important. Not everybody writes a first or even second draft that is great. I actually recommend 3-5 drafts before you determine you are satisfied with your personal statement. There is no excuse for having an essay that has poor grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
Common mistakes you may want to watch out for include:
- Too much punctuation (periods, commas, semi-colons)
- Sentences that are too long
- Use of passive voice
The Hardest Part About Essay Writing
Often, writing the admissions essay is one of the most difficult assignments students will ever have to do. The reason? It is not a standardized test or a class assignment. This is a completely personal statement left wide open for exploring ideas.
Generally, the hardest part is starting the essay. Just getting words and ideas out on the page is sometimes daunting. Still, for many students, the words flow more easily than they imagine once they prepare and get started.
Depending on your writing ability, you may benefit from having an Independent Educational Consultant. Though I will never do anything you should or can do for yourself, I can help you work through the essay process so that you can create an authentic personal statement.