I think one of the most common fears among high school students is that they have nothing that makes them “special.” I’ve heard many times that because they haven’t started a non-profit, swam with sharks or overcome a significant personal hardship, applicants feel they have nothing to offer on their personal statement. Well, my friends, you do.
There are a couple of key points to writing an authentic and compelling personal statement:
- Write with perspective. This is a tough skill to teach and one of the many reasons it’s great to have a trusted friend, mentor, counselor etc. read over your essays. It’s hard to know how things will come across to someone who doesn’t know you (the person reading your application), and you want to make sure statements do not include an air of passiveness, entitlement or whatever the unintended sentiment might be. Admissions counselors are reading these essays to get to know you, so they have to read into every statement.
- Write what you know. This goes back to the importance of authenticity, but this also includes the actual words. Don’t use a thesaurus or google new words. The personal statement should be your most polished work, but it also should be your own words and voice. The essay should have the formality of a final paper you would write for school, but don’t use words that wouldn’t normally be in your vocabulary.
- Write the who/why, not the what/where/when. Another common mistake on personal statements is too much time spent on the details of the events or actions. What makes a great essay is never what happened, but how the student reflects on it. Be sure to spend the majority of the essay on who you are, how you’ve changed and what you’ve learned. One general guideline is to spend no more than the first third of the essay giving the necessary context, and the second two thirds on your reflections.
Everyone has a unique story to share, but it’s the professional and genuine delivery that you’ll have if you follow these tips that will make your essay truly special.