A personal statement or essay for a college application is a unique genre—a kind of autobiographical essay many students have not written before. I define it as a kind of “story plus” with the “plus” being a reflection or self-evaluation of a pivotal experience in one’s life.
Here are some important considerations for students as they begin drafting their personal statements this college application season:
1) AUDIENCE---Who will read your personal statement?
Well, the admissions committee of every school you apply to, of course. Generally there are two kinds of admissions officers—the recent grad and the seasoned director. The recent grad is in touch with the current student body—and he/she can easily project how a candidate might you fit in. The veteran admission officer has no doubt seen or read it all. It’s hard to impress him/her with an original or crazy story—so that should free you to write your own story without trying to find something extraordinary to write about.
2) VOICE---Consider the importance of writing in your own “voice.”
--Each writer’s sentence style and structure, choice of adjectives, and imagery is unique. Writers communicate about themselves through content and style. Both reveal personality. Be authentic as you write. Don’t try to imitate anyone else’s style or use sophisticated vocabulary if it’s not natural to you.
--Do be careful with a humorous tone or approach (in consideration of your dual audience, especially).
3) STRUCTURE—Narrow your focus to write about on ONE incident or experience, not several.
--At least as important as the story you tell is how you evaluate it. It’s not necessary to have sky-dived or invented a new video game—how you reflect on, or what you learned from the experience is more important.
--You are answering the prompt and “proving” an implicit thesis using specific examples from your own life to illustrate. Avoid generalizations, quotations, narratives about other people. Instead use details, action, dialogue. Admissions officers want to know about YOU.
General tips for writing an effective personal statement:
1) Narrow and focus your topic to one incident or example.
2) Answer the prompt.
3) Be conscious of your audience.
4) Use SPECIFIC examples and details throughout the essay.
5) Save space for reflection.
6) Be concise.
7) Begin and end memorably.
8) Edit carefully.
Finally, it’s a good idea to find someone who can be a trusted proofreader to catch the errors and typos you might overlook being too familiar with the draft.