Personal Essays: Writing your story, the best way possible!
Personal essays may sound like a lot of work to many, but in reality, a few simple tips are all it takes for you to compose a stellar essay that will impress the college admission officers.
Many students mistakenly perceive personal essays to be something that brings forth their artistic merits in literature. However, the truth is that a personal essay is meant to be a sneak peek into a student’s real personality. There’s nothing to be puzzled about it, and if you’re writing such an essay, you should focus on keeping things simple. Admission officers are just looking to connect with you when they read your personal essay. They’re not inspecting the creative writer in you; all they want to look at are your views on a particular topic and how you can provide your opinion on things.
So, the next time you sit down to write a personal essay for your college application, introspect a little and take a holistic approach to it. In this article, we’ll let you know all you need to about writing personal essays and also let you in on some of the tips and tricks to nail a prolific one. Let’s get started.
Preparing in advance
Before you get started, you must first think about who the audience is and what are the most important elements of your personality that you want them to know about. Think of the essay as a portal to yourself and how you can describe the best of your life with a story. It would be ideal to make a list of points that you’d like to include to make the story compelling and engaging.
You won’t want to brag about yourself, but instead, adopt an honest approach. Your essay can also include some of the information you haven’t included elsewhere in your college application. Next, you should create an outline for your essay so that it appears to be an organized piece rather than a scattered collection of your ideas.
Always look to divide the essay into short paragraphs so that it’s readable and has multiple sections in the body. You can also finalize the essay outline in the form of a story with a sequence of events following a direct path. This will keep things understandable from the reader’s point of view and keep them hooked in for the entire course of the essay.
Coming up with a compelling topic
The topic you select must closely relate to you as a person. You must understand that regardless of what you pick, the focus will ultimately have to be you. The essay will just be a medium to portray your experiences and opinions. It could be your account of some of your accomplishments or strengths. It can also be about something that has taught you a lot in your life or something that continues to inspire you towards your goals.
Remember, whatever topic you choose, your words should be unique and real; they shouldn’t sound superficial. Some of the best topics can be overcoming fear, tackling a tragedy, making difficult choices, or dealing with obstacles in life.
Adapting an honest and inspiring tone
Now that you’ve finalized your topic and drafted an essay outline, the next step is getting the tone right. You should aim to maintain a consistent tone throughout the essay. Remember, your tone determines a lot. You should look to inspire the reader through your story and experiences. Also, be honest about what you write and never include something that you aren’t. Admission officers are smart people who go through thousands of such essays every year. They can instantly tell apart the essays that are honest from the ones that convey artificial feelings.
If writing about your past experiences or obstacles that you faced in life, make sure to relate them to your present as well. If your essay is about an event of your life, it should also provide insights into how that event affects you till date.
The importance of talking about yourself
Let’s look at personal essays from the admission officer’s perspective. This will help you understand why it’s important for you to talk about yourself.
College admission committees typically screen numerous applications with stellar grades and extracurricular records. It’s only natural that they find it difficult to identify students who’ve genuinely worked hard to get in. Often, student applications hide a fake personality beneath all the good descriptions. This is where original mediums, such as personal essays can perfectly outline a student’s true personality. And mind you, admission officers can easily identify a fake composition from unique ones.
So the aspirants trying to impress the selectors with unoriginal facts can easily fail, and you can score higher with original content. Your goal should be to form a connection with the selection officer. They should be able to know and understand you through the essay. Think about sitting down with your friends and talking about your grades and future. Your essay can be a close resemblance of such a conversation.
There’s no harm in talking about the hardships that you faced in your life. In fact, you should never refrain from showing your emotions in the essay. Showcasing your vulnerabilities and shortcomings can often work to your advantage as college officers usually don’t look for the perfect candidate. You can highlight how your experiences have shaped the person you are in the present. Also, opening up with the reader on personal experiences will help you form a greater bond and connection with them.
When looking through samples for inspiration, don’t get overly influenced. You would want to keep the references just to get an idea of the essay’s outline and structure.
Keeping it structured and meaningful
Target to hook the reader in, right from the start. And this is where the introduction plays a major part. The very beginning of your essay should entice the reader into the main body. You can start with a question or touch a key pain point. Keep things interesting and try to leave the reader with a feeling of wanting more. Remember, if you’re not able to hook them in from the beginning, they might lose interest later and may not even complete the entire composition.
Once done with the introduction, your essay should have an organized structure to keep the reader interested. You can look to divide the main body into subsections for a logical flow of thoughts. Also, keep the paragraphs short as it increases the readability of the content. If you don’t continue on the hard work you did in the essay’s intro, it might very well go to vain. Always keep referring to the outline you finalized earlier and stick to your plans. It’s easy to get off course and you might have to rewrite some sections later.
Another important point to consider is keeping things precise and not compromising on the quality. Don’t drag the body for more words; always stick to the word limit. If your essay is too long and violates word-length requirements, it might not even make it past the first screening. Numerous applications are rejected each year because of this rule and you would not want your efforts to go to waste.
While you can include facts and numbers to captivate the audience, make sure the references are from credible sources and try to include accurate information. Admission officers usually cross-check facts that are included in essays and if they find a discrepancy, they might consider the entire composition fake. Even if you’re copying some sections from other articles, don’t include entire sections directly. Rather, try to rewrite things in your own words.
When including opinions in your essay, you would want to showcase only your thoughts. Make sure you’re true to your experiences and what you’ve learned in past. Writing down what others think is a mistake you don’t want to commit. You can also look to follow up on your opinion with some life events that influenced your thinking.
Finally, never lose logic and poise in your writing. Avoid writing too much in one sitting and read several times to keep things on track. When feeling out-of-touch, take a break and restart. A short nap can help you keep things fresh and avoid concentration lapses. You wouldn’t want to rush things. Still, to stay on track for the deadline, you can make a schedule and monitor everything through calendar remarks and reminders. Staying ahead of time is the key here as it will allow you to compensate for the time when you might not be able to work.
Avoid grammatical errors and spelling mistakes
Grammatical errors outline your casualness towards writing and they might give the impression that you’ve been careless for the entire admission process. Regardless of how exciting your topic and composition, it can make the admission officer falsely believe that the content is not original or lacks credibility. The same goes for spelling mistakes as they can tell a lot about a person. To make sure this doesn’t happen with you, run a spell check once completed and refer tools for grammar checks.
Avoid using slangs and always write in a formal tone to keep the essay conversational. You would want the reader to develop an impression that he is actually interacting with you. This way they will always be interested to read on. You can also use literary tools and elements such as metaphors to add a touch of finesse to your writing. They not only enrich your text but also project your technical prowess in writing essays.
A good conclusion should include a short preview of your thoughts and the main points that you covered in the essay. While it should reflect your opinion and analysis, you should refrain from relaying a personal message that is based on prejudice. You can also include a question in the end to leave your reader awestruck.
Proofread, Revise, Refine
Often, students don’t read their essays after finishing and thus, they fail to identify some of the most common mistakes they might have committed. Don’t make this error of judgment. Read your composition several times and check it with tools just to be sure that there aren’t any spelling errors or grammatical mistakes. You can also seek an extra set of eyes for proofreading as another person’s opinion might highlight errors that you might have missed. Remember to take all criticism in a positive sense and improve your writing. Also, consult people who are objective and are trustworthy for an honest opinion.
Once you’ve done several such revisions, keep the final draft aside for a few days and refresh. Then proofread it again for a final time and meticulously seek possible mistakes. Once done, you can look to check if the essay meets the requirements like word count to be sure. If you’re short of a few words, include a short paragraph to meet the word count. If you’re above the limits, look to chop off some length but do it wisely as you wouldn’t want to exclude some of the critical sections. Finally, read it one final time to check if it conveys the correct meaning precisely and positively.
And here are a few extra tips
- Examples of topics
The choice of topic forms the basis of what your entire essay is structured upon. While some colleges will have a list to choose from, some might completely leave it to you. Here are a few example topics for your reference:
- What lessons have shaped you as a person?
- Significant personality in your life that continues to inspire you.
- What is meaningful to you?
- What inspires you professionally?
- What are some of the obstacles that you have faced in past?
- What is your opinion on <current events="" and="" topics="">?</current>
- Be brave and casual
While adopting a formal tone does hold an advantage in highlighting your literary capabilities, if it’s not your thing, don’t stress and lose the confidence in your writing. Many advocate the pros of a formal tone over causal one, but it’s of no use if your essay lacks original content. It’s illogical to believe that the same can’t be achieved using braver informal writing.
Moreover, it can sometimes work to the advantage of some students that don’t have stellar grades. Sometimes officers may be able to relate to an informal tone better as they can see the student’s effort behind the writing. All that matters is that you enjoy while writing and should be able to convey the meaning in the best possible way. And if it’s informal, so be it. Admission officers have admitted in the past that some of the best-written essays were informal and conversational.
- Be original
When composing the essay, remember to include things from your point of view only. You might be tempted to reuse some of the samples you referred but that is of no use as admission officers read such essays day in and day out. You won’t be able to much difference and influence their opinion with your writing.
- Read your essay aloud
Reading your essay aloud can help you identify critical mistakes and weak points.
- Practice, Practice, and Practice
Haven’t you written essays earlier? That’s not a problem. There are tons of topics out there on which you can practice. Refer to the past year’s admission processes, talk to your seniors, and look into online resources for topics to practice on. There’s nothing you can’t learn from practice. Moreover, writing on a variety of topics will let you gain important insights into the process. Practice as if you were writing the final essay and refining your process to optimize your college admissions. The sooner you start the better.
- Narrow your focus
Sometimes students can lose context of the essay in an attempt to include more information and points. You should remember that everything has to be included with your point of view and you possibly can’t know everything when it comes to a topic. Yes you can research but refrain from having too much to include or you might as well mess the structure of the essay.
Writing essays can sure be stressful but if you can streamline the process you may not face challenges. There are some basic points you need to follow and practice to nail the perfect essay. Remember, your essay is just a medium to convey your personality and views. So select a compelling topic that brings forth your outlook and personality in the best possible way.
Always refer to samples but never copy from them or include someone else’s opinion to score better. Maintain a positive and inspirational tone throughout the essay and compose a good structure to include your learning points. The best way to include insights on your personality is to write about your past experiences and events that shaped you into the person you are today. Avoid spelling and grammatical errors, and write it in a way that works best for you. Proofread several times and refine into a final draft that you can seek others opinion on. When done, remember to meet the deadlines with the correct requirements, such as word limit.
All the very best!