A Personal Statement on Personal Statements

Writing is hard, especially when it feels like your future depends on it. I remember how intimidating writing a personal statement was during my college application process. Luckily for me, I received a few valuable pieces of advice that helped me navigate the process. Here are a few of them:

Picking a question! The first step—and perhaps the hardest—is deciding on your topic. Look through the lists of questions for the Common App and Coalition App, and start coming up with ideas about how to answer each one. You can probably come up with an answer for every question, but one or two will seem easier or more engaging than the others. I probably could have written about my background/identity, but I was more interested in writing about an accomplishment that sparked personal growth. Pick the question you actually want to answer.

Choosing your topic! You should also choose a topic that represents a key part of your life or personality. This is especially true if something on your application needs elaboration. If someone looked at the rest of your application, chances are that they might miss something you think is important. For example, I practice martial arts, but it may not be immediately clear to someone how that has impacted my personal growth. It may be something different for you (like an aspect of your identity), but there is something you can express.

What it feels like to write your essay at the last minute

Writing! Now that you’ve picked a topic, it’s time to start writing. Don’t try to match the word limit on your first try: just write as much as you need and see what you come up with. My first draft was about 800 words, and while it took a while to cut down words, I wrote a better essay because of it. Style is also important. If you’ve done it “right,” your essay should sound like you; a friend should be able to read your essay and immediately tell that it’s yours, even if your name isn’t on it. Part of this is about choosing the right topic, but the other piece of the puzzle is writing in a style that feels right to you.

Asking for help! It is always a good idea to get someone else to look at your essay, whether it’s a teacher, parent, or even one of your friends. But be careful to not let other people write your own story. If someone suggests a stylistic edit that you don’t like, then you shouldn’t feel obligated to change it. At the end of the day, you are submitting an essay written by just you.

Have fun! Finally, while this may sound counter-intuitive, writing the essay should feel easy. Start as early as you can, take lots of breaks, and most importantly be yourself. This is your chance to show your personality, so let it shine!

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