Written By Guest Author Vivian Kerr
Most personal statements are either boring, cliché, or just downright untruthful. Sounds cynical? It is, but so are many admissions counselors. Imagine reading essay after essay that all sound the same or start with, “Here’s why you should accept me.” It’s not easy to write personal statements OR to read them. Make your essay personal, and more compelling, with these few quick tips.
Tell a story about something that matters to you. You’ve probably heard the phrase “show, don’t tell” a hundred times, but what that means is you want to paint a picture for your reader. It’s easier to engage them if you treat your personal statement like a traditional narrative. Check out the resources on the Writing Narative Texts Learnist board. It will teach you techniques to develop the telling of real experiences or events using selective details and well-ordered event sequences.
Adjust the essay to each school. Unless you’re using your statement for the common application, you’ll need to make adjustments for each prompt. Make sure if you include the name of the school within the body of the essay you change it before submitting it. There’s nothing worse than an application to NYU being sent off with USC mentioned in it!
Don’t repeat information. The application committee will have your transcripts from high school, so don’t repeat facts that can be found elsewhere. The personal statement is a place to address a part of you that can’t be found anywhere else in your package.
Relate your story to the school itself. Reveal part of your personal story that led you to choose this school. Why are you a great fit? Why is now the perfect time for you to go off to college? This is a great way to wind up your story. Tell the story, but then explain why you’ve told it! Don’t be afraid to use the first-person “I” and be emotionally revealing. Aim for depth over breadth. It’s always better to be sincere and honest than pedantic, or overly academic.
Don’t send your first (or second) draft! Accept that you’ll need to revise your essay a lot! The pre-writing will be a big step, and you might need to attempt four or five personal stories before you find one that thematically connects to what you’re trying to say to the admissions committee. Try writing a few different outlines before you begin. Get feedback from your family, friends, teachers, and guidance counselors. Give feedback to your peers so you can start to learn what a good statement “feels” like. Once you’ve finished your essay, go back and read the specific language of each prompt. Make sure your essay is appropriately on-task.
Looking to become an even better personal storyteller? Get inspired with this series of TED talks lectures on writing and the writing process!
About the Author:
Vivian Kerr: Vivian Kerr has been teaching and tutoring in the Los Angeles area since 2005. She graduated from the University of Southern California, studied abroad in London, and has worked for several test-prep companies including Grockit & Kaplan for whom she taught ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT, and did admissions counseling.