How to Write a Good Personal Statement for College With Examples

Jul 24, 2021

What is a college personal statement?

A college personal statement is an essay or write-up about you that will convey your personal and education story and all your achievements. Your college personal statement must define why the college should accept you.

Who will read your college personal statement?

The Admissions Officer/Team will read your college personal statement.

How important is a college personal statement?

Your college personal statement can well be a game-changer when getting accepted is competitive. If most applicants have similar tests and high school GPA scores, then, the Admissions Officer will pay even more attention to your college personal statement.

Personal Statement Examples that Always Work 

After this point, people start questioning if the personal statement will be the same on all applications?  The particulars of personal statements can vary depending on the application.

For colleges and universities:

Keep your college application as a whole, your personal statement, application answers, and supporting documentation together must tell a story about who you are as a person. Also, make sure you are not repetitive with your personal statement.

For instance, if you have to answer three questions and submit a personal statement, they shouldn’t focus on playing football.

For scholarship:

It must specify why you deserve the scholarship. Here, make sure to write your essays according to the scholarship goals.

Essay 1 by Rachel. R - Cornell University

New York City, 7 pm. Friends are having fun in the next room around the dinner table as I try to lash something up. I keep the water to boil, adding salt. While waiting, something unusual happens, the steam starts to twist, twirl, wadding up the kitchen. I stopped to wipe the sweat from my brow.

In the morning, at seven o’clock, my shirt is already moist. Sweat comes down my face. A usual morning in Perugia. 

It starts, I sauté the garlic in olive oil on high flame. 

The grit in the driveway crunches and cracks, “E’ arrivato zio Mario!” I start running barefoot, about to trip down the stairs, all the way to his car, my arms outstretched. The first thing I notice, his hair, grayer this year. Four lost hair falls over his tanned face like they wanted out from other hair.

His hands are resting on his belt, minor injury on one finger above the joint. I wear my boots, and he climbs onto the tractor. He tugs me onto his lap, holding me tightly. The tractor roars, an olive branch lightly grazes my face, the grasshoppers go silent.

In the back of the field, long till your eyes can see, sunlight falling on every tree and plant, Mateo climbs up a ladder like a baboon and starts trimming the tips of the branches, the Polloni. While enjoying their smell, I gather them and pile them in heaps. It is a great year. The trees are brimming with olives this year.

Dice the blood-red tomatoes, put them with garlic to simmer, add salt, Indian masala, chili powder, and pepper. It is noon, the sun scorching, the wind has almost stopped; I walk back towards the pinkish house to find my Nonna in the garden, wearing a red-flowered apron. She speaks softly, saying Puoi portarmi il cestino un po’ più vicino? “Can you bring that bucket a little closer?” She fills the bucket with juicy red tomatoes, a different treat in themselves.

Put the pasta, stir fresh basil into the tomatoes with olive oil. Nonna says, vedi si devono prendere quelli pieni di fiori, così la pianta può crescere. “Check out we have to put the ones with the most flowers so that the plant can grow easily.” We climb a steep, small, beautiful hill with a full bucket of pomodori. It’s warm.

Chop the mozzarella, strain the pasta, pour the red sauce over them, and add the mozzarella.

While following Nonna into the kitchen, I try to avoid the gang of uncles and aunts. It is always tempting, I have to put some mozzarella in my mouth, and it melts in my mouth; a smooth, creamy flavor that makes me high. I thought I did it without anyone noticing, but as I turn around, “Rachel, can you set the table? And please stop eating all the mozzarella!” They caught me again. I take the hot pot with mittens and step outside. The neighbor’s dog wiggles his tail after seeing me. 

Serve right out of the pot. “Hey, ladies,” I call over their giggles, “help me set the table; dinner is hot and ready!”

Why this kind of Essay helps you in getting admission

The end goal of a college essay is simple, i.e., to unveil who you are as a person. Your everyday life with friends, like a spaghetti dinner, can say a lot about your nature and personality. Rachel takes us into two moments from different parts of her life, steps of a recipe and moments with friends.

Here comes the exciting part, while doing so, Rachel removes all interpretations and judgments from her analytical writing. She never mentions a lesson she learned or tells us about her characteristic. Remember, when you say to the reader what to think, they lose the ability to connect with you.

Instead, Rachel gives us small details, conversations, and descriptions, which helps the reader know her better. From stealthy eating of mozzarella to a discussion in Italian with her Grandma to the definition of her uncle with a finger injury above the joint, Rachel provides us with loads of details that distinguish her story from others and make it impossible to forget.

Essay 2 by Jackson. H- The University of Chicago Booth School of Business 

“Not how long, but how well you have lived is the main thing.”

As Priya always reminds me, how beautiful it is to travel, traveling allows us to explore who we really are deep inside. Travelling allows us to involve and awaken ourselves from visiting new places, meeting a whole different type of people, understanding their culture and community while trying different kinds of food. 

Here and there, I look for tools to help in my travel—strong ropes, candles, a compass, open-mindedness, modesty, drive, curiosity—and clarity; these all are crucial for me and my journey into the future.

At twilight, after a heavy day of traveling in the Himalayas, walking along with the picturesque market, and contemplating the spiritual significance of India’s glorious history in the blistering cold, my couple of my friends and I decided to end the day by celebrating our western culture at the nearest McDonald’s. 

The gloomy cold night had sent everyone like beggars and hawkers into the warm night restaurant. The meek look on employees’ faces clearly suggested that this was not the first time it was happening. People were sitting or sleeping on every chair and bench. Our only option left was the floor; we found a space in the middle of the room like a Bermuda triangle where no one wanted to go.

We ordered extra wraps and burgers, and just after a few, one by one, the street beggars got up and asked us to share. We all looked at each other with a blank face. We then decided that they would also join our circle. At first, they hesitated. As we revealed our broken Hindi, they started giggling, now they were relaxed and challenged us at a game like Kismat, where you throw dice around and score in high multiples.

Next, some young Western and Indian kids joined in. Evolved generation at languages and breaking social barriers, this kid took the game to a whole new level. We spent the nights on the floor sleeping in our sleeping bags and ended up under the scornful stare of the confused McDonald employees. In the end, our American wraps gave us an authentic taste of India.

Not how long, but how well you have lived is the main thing. Whether it was acting the part of a professional fund manager when interviewing the executive board of major corporations or tutoring Himalayan children in English, the Waldo within me improvises, adapts, challenges himself, and explores something new about the people around him.

I never know where life will take me next? My friends told me about a platform of intellectual and cultural exchange that brings fascinating minds worldwide. The establishment is praised for its ability to convey wisdom and experience through round tables of interaction. It is a place where, as my American family and friends would say, “finding passionate people is easier done than said.” In other words, it is a beautiful page to be on, wholly invisible and exceptional at the same time.

Why this kind of Essay helps you in getting admission

With an event like, “Where is Waldo?” It is easy to get lost in your ideas. The two major mistakes students make writing college essays are staying too specific and writing about thoughts rather than actions. Jackson avoids this by becoming Waldo. 

This story technique allows him to tell the narrative through his different perspective and in a creative tone.

Jackson uses a subtle moment to show who he is. The night spent at McDonald’s gives the reader reasons to believe in Romain as a person and community member. We see Jackson as a modest, wise, and curious person who brings people together and welcomes the opportunity to teach and learn. In the fourth paragraph, he gives the audience the scope of his experiences, and the fifth paragraph makes a connection to the University of Chicago. However, his essay’s heart is the third paragraph, which takes the reader into a moment and gives powerful details that reveal his character.

How to write a college personal statement to stand out in the crowd?

It may have been easy to write essays and compositions on various topics that your English teacher would have assigned in high school. But nothing ever prepares you to write about yourself – where do you begin?

The task of writing a personal statement for colleges seems even more daunting since you know that it can be a decider. So it can easily feel like the sword of Damocles hanging over your head.

But we’ve made writing a college personal statement fairly simple. Just follow our tips and you’ll most certainly be out of the woods.

Tips on how to write a college personal statement

1. Be the early bird

Start working on your college personal statement when you begin the admission application process. Do not defer it to the last minute. While preparing for TOEFL, SAT/ACT and scoring well is very important, you must begin jotting down points to help you get going subsequently when you are ready to put it together.

2. Set timelines

Although you will be aware for the deadline of submitting your application, you must set timelines/a timetable to prepare your personal statement so you are consciously aware of its significance and the effort involved in putting it together..

3. Understand the requisites of the college personal statement

‍Generally, the prerequisite of the personal statement for colleges differ.

The options will be:

  • To select from given topic options and write an essay 
  • Answer a set of questions
  • Discuss a topic

But all colleges will set a limit – either of characters or words. Or they may simply ask you to write a page. So it is very important that you are aware of how many words/characters you have available to present a winning case.

4. Organize all that you want to convey

Give coherence to your narrative so that it conveys your clarity of thought. You should do this as a preliminary task before getting down to writing your college personal statement.

5. Begin your college personal statement with a punch

Your college personal statement will be one in hundreds of applications so the Admissions Officer may easily lose interest if you don’t begin well. It’s similar to a story – if the opening line and paragraph don’t hold you, you will most probably toss it. 

6. Write spontaneously

When you are writing your personal statement for colleges, it’s best that you write like you are talking to someone. In doing so the reader will feel your voice even as he reads and the genuineness of your college personal statement will shine through.

7. Focus on your strengths

It is your strengths that you wish to hone when you pursue higher studies so it’s vital that you lay emphasis on your strengths – on how you’ve honed it this far and how studying at that college can further do so. Don’t try to portray yourself as a Jack of all trades and master of none. It’s pointless to put down a laundry list of things you accomplished through school to showcase your multi-talented persona.

8. Be truthful in your college personal statement

It’s best to state facts truthfully. There is no point in falsely claiming to know an extra foreign language for example to build your case. Deceit has a way of catching up with you sooner or later.

9. Write with vigor 

Your keenness should come through from the word go and keep the Admissions team engaged with your college personal statement. And be sure to write originally – using hackneyed words and phrases can make it dull.

10. Give proof of what you claim

Whenever possible, present examples of your abilities and strengths – if you are good in French, mention any awards or achievements you may have received.

Doing this will set you apart and make your college personal statement more believable.

11. Be upfront about any inconsistency in your statement

If your high school GPA is not consistent with your SAT/ACT scores, for e.g., be sure to explain why so that the Admissions team is aware of why it is so and aren’t left wondering about such contradictions.

12. Play by the rules – check the word count

After writing your personal statement for colleges, check if you are within the stipulated character/word count. If not, you must edit and ensure that you are within the stipulated limits. Most colleges put down guidelines to be followed while putting together your college personal statement. In following these instructions, you will project your ability to abide by the rules – something all colleges look for in prospective students.

13. Read it out loud

When you have completed your personal statement for colleges, read it out loud so you can hear how it sounds and also spot mistakes or inconsistencies in the narration. Then read it out to your family so they can give you their inputs too. 

14. Proofread and proofread and then proofread again

Be sure to read through your personal statement for colleges over and over again to be sure that it is error-free. And then hand it over to your family to do the same. A college personal statement with even a few errors can mar your chances of being accepted since it will convey that you aren’t attentive to detail.

15. Customize your college personal statement

Never send the same statement to all the colleges that you are applying to. While the basic content will remain the same, it is important that you modify it to meet the requirements of each institution so that it aptly conveys your keenness.

16. Take a break

Once you’ve completed editing, checking and re-checking your personal statement for colleges, it’s best to put it away for a bit. Give yourself a break and get your mind out of it. Then, look at it anew and see if you want to give it any final polishing touches.  After writing your personal statement for colleges, you can seek professional advice too. 

Watch this video on how to write a college personal statement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwXS51Od084

I’ve included more points for writing a statement which includes choosing a prompt that is about your identity, background, interest ,etc

Choose A Prompt

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.

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.

1. 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?

2. 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).

Personal Statement Topic Frequency

Personal Statement Topic Frequency

3. 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; admissions 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.

Structure

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.

Writing Strategies

Ask yourself these questions:

1. 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?

2. 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?

3. 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.
  • Finally, edit. 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!

You Might Also Like

Free College Essay Guide

  • Strategies required to write a stellar college essay
  • Exploration Worksheets to help you brainstorm
  • 3 Exemplar Personal Statements
  • Framework to help you Audit your College Essays
Download the College Essay Guide