How to Write a Good Personal Statement for College
A Personal Statement is the same as an Essay that goes along with your college applications. A personal statement is one of the most important parts of your application. It is around 650 words, which is little over a page.
A personal statement can be described as a story about you that shows who you were, what happened and who you are now. Basically, it is a short summary of what the college should know about you.
There are a few steps that you should follow while writing a personal statement:
Choose a prompt
The first step for writing a statement should be choosing a prompt that is about your identity, background, interest, etc.
The common types of prompts that were released on the common app were –
- Lessons we can learn from obstacles.
- Describe an event that challenged your beliefs or ideas.
- Topic of your choice.
How to choose a prompt
Firstly, always pick a prompt that you understand. If you don’t understand the prompt, you cannot write an effective statement. Second, pick a prompt that highlights your character, experiences and accomplishments in a positive way. Our main objective is to let the college admission officer learn more about you; thus, the prompt should help us accomplish this objective.
How to choose a strong topic
This is the most important step for a good statement.
There are 3 major considerations before choosing a strong topic – Application persona, competition and audience.
- Application persona – An application persona is what you want the admission committee to remember you by. Your application will be first reviewed by 1 or 2 admission officer(s), who will decide whether he/she likes your application. If he/she likes your application, it will be taken to the admission committee. It is important to note that if the officer is not impressed by your application, the committee won’t get a chance to review it. Therefore, your aim is to make your application memorable so that the officer can remember your application in a short summary, which is called an application persona.
An application persona is the thing that unifies your application. This is the same as something that we have mentioned before, connecting the dots.
For example – just do it (a slogan by Nike) – is catchy and memorable. Application persona is something similar, something that you are creating, in a sense, like your own slogan. Your persona should be -
Unique – could anyone else have the same persona? What sets you apart from the competition?
Really you – Does it reflect what matters to you?
Catchy and memorable – How will you be remembered?
- Your Competition - Will your essay topic stand out as compared to your competition? The graph below shows Personal Statement Topic Frequencies, which shows us which topics are common (try to avoid these) and which topics are rare (target topics).
- Your audience - Your goal is to create a personal connection with your reader. Try not to offend them, and to not give them a reason to think you will not fit in the university. If you know your audience, you will be successful in choosing a topic that appeals to them, which will in turn help them in remembering you.
Topics not to pick – Social, political and religious beliefs. These three topics are very easy to offend someone. If the officer has a strong opinion on one of these topics, you probably have very few chances in making it through to the next step. Historical events or figures. These topics are not very interesting, the officer might find it hard to understand the relevance of these topics to your application.
In conclusion, you have little over a page to introduce yourself, connect with and impress the admissions officer, and tie your application together – all while demonstrating exceptional writing skills. Therefore, choosing the right prompt is extremely important.
Mistakes to avoid
Writing your resume twice – don’t talk about more than one thing, focus on one topic.
Trying to accomplish too much – narrow your focus – pick a topic or a moment that matters to you or has affected you the most.
Exaggerating adversity – don’t exaggerate an adversity that might seem petty.
Middle school achievements – don’t list anything before the 9th grade; officers are not interested in these achievements.
Writing about others – focus on yourself, unless people around you have shaped you and changed you significantly as a human being.
Sounding arrogant or privileged – steer clear from anything that makes it obvious that you are wealthy.
Hook – Start with something that was a moment in your life, something that changed who you were, or something that challenged a strong belief.
Tell your story – describe the story, what happened, how did it happen?
Moment of realization – how did that story change you? What were you and what are you now? How did it change you? How has it affected you? What is different now? How did this impact your plans?
You are talking about you, your change and evolution as a person.
Ask yourself these questions:
Academics – what is your main academic area of interest? Why does this area matter to you? When did this interest you? Was there a specific event that sparked your interest? Did you ever face a challenge in continuing to learn about or study this topic?
Activities – What is a rare activity that you do? What is an activity that changed you or shaped your character? Was there a specific event that got you interested in it? Why does it matter to you?
Life events – Significant events that shaped you. Is there something you have done or experienced that changed you in a positive way? How did this event make you more mature, compassionate, self – aware, determined? Did you face an adversity that changed you forever? What is something that is super meaningful to you that affects you in your daily life?
Look at your daily schedule – Are there any recurring events? Where do you spend most of your time? Is there something that you spend a lot of time on that is not necessarily a traditional extracurricular?
After you have asked the right questions –
Pick a small handful of questions to answer or stories to focus on. Which one will have the most impact and be the most interesting and unique?
Start by writing a few sketches – short, free-writing exercises that are meant to help the writer focus on showing rather than telling.
Write a few rough, 100 – 200-word sketches.
In the end, while editing, do not depend on grammar and spell checkers only, proofread for one type of an error at a time, do not overload your brain. Make sure the order of the essay makes sense and flows seamlessly. Review all the transitions, do they make sense?
Editing is the final most important step. Make sure you edit your statement several times. I cannot emphasize this enough -
EDIT EDIT EDIT!