The worst personal statements are boring to read, filled with clichés, or just downright untruthful. That may sound cynical, 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!
1. 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 really 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. Develop the ability to describe real experiences or events using selective details and well-ordered event sequences. Practice writing a real-life event that happened to you as if it were a short fictional story. A personal statement really isn’t much different!
2. Adjust the essay to each school.
Unless you’re using your statement for the common application only, 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, and believe me, it happens!
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
Remember to get feedback from your family, friends, teachers, and guidance counselors as you practice writing. Give feedback to your peers as well so you can start to sense 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! Good luck!
Vivian Kerr is a regular contributor to the Veritas Prep blog, providing advice to help students better prepare for the GMAT and the SAT.