Writing an A+ Personal Statement

Writing an A+ Personal Statement

h1Many colleges now require personal statements in lieu of essays.  But what is a personal statement anyway?  While college essays come with a focused prompt, personal statements are exactly what they sound like:  a statement about yourself.  However crafting such a statement can be tricky for several reasons.  First, they need to be short.  Second, they need to be interesting.  Third, they need to be about you without sounding self-absorbed.  Fourth, they need to demonstrate writing mastery.  In short, personal statement writing separates the cans from the cannons in approximately 250 words or less. Let’s take a look at how to accomplish these four tips for writing a college admissions personal statement.

Before beginning to write, place yourself into the seat of the college admission’s office personnel reader.  He or she reads 1,000s of personal statements every admission cycle.  The larger the freshmen class applicant pool, the more of these statements the admission officer must read.  So what does this mean?  First and foremost, they’re looking for statements that meet any outlined requirements.  This means that your personal statement needs to adhere to word count and deadline guidelines.  Any personal statements over the word count or that arrive after the deadline passes are likely tossed.  Respect your time and the reader’s time by meeting all guidelines.  This means you should plan out time to write a draft, revise it, gather feedback from trusted sources, revise it again, and send it in either electronically or through postal mail. 


One of the major guidelines of writing a stellar college personal statement is KISS: Keep It Short and Simple.  State your main idea, provide details to support it, and end with a strong conclusion.  However, these details should include literary devices; such devices provide a depth to your writing regular sentences struggle to provide.  Use those literary devices you’ve been learning about for the past four years in English class: throw in a metaphor, simile, allusion, symbol, hyperbole, and/or imagery to strengthen the descriptive aspects of your writing as appropriate.  You’ll need to decide which literary devices are most appropriate for the topic you’ve selected.

Topic Selection

h2Speaking of topics, while the topic revolves around you, it should focus on what an important experience, hobby, or person taught you about life.  What you choose to write about reveals as much as how your write.  Admission personnel seek mature students ready to handle the demands of college life; they want students who will show up to class and strengthen their school’s academic numbers.  Most colleges pride themselves on providing a safe, diverse campus; therefore your statement should speak to their core values.  Need help determining their core values?  Peruse their website or promotional material and create a list of key words the college or university uses consistently to describe itself.  After creating a list, select a topic that provides an honest, interesting snapshot into a key moment in your life.

Avoid the Spotlight

While a personal statement is about you, not every sentence should begin with “I” or “my”.  You need to convey ideas without putting yourself in the spotlight for each and every sentence.  In other words, avoid seeming conceited.  You’ll need to vary your vocabulary and eliminate repetition when spotted.  Now’s the time to demonstrate that amazing word usage you’ve been honing over the past four years of high school.  Speaking of varying vocabulary, be sure to include vocabulary appropriate to the topic.  Talking about being a captain of a sports team? Use vocabulary relevant to the sport.  Did you volunteer at a local zoo?  Wow the readers with your knowledge of zoological lingo.  Did you dedicate yourself to dance? Helping kids? Robotics? Videogames?  Incorporate specialised vocabulary to demonstrate the acquired knowledge.

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Demonstrate Writing Mastery

A short college personal statement may seem easy like an easy assignment, but here’s the truth: the shorter the piece, the harder it is to write.  With most personal statements hovering around 250 words, you don’t have many sentences to communicate who you are and what you’ll bring to campus.  What readers really want to know is why YOU.  What experience will you bring with you?  How will you benefit the campus?  Why do you deserve the spot in the freshmen dorms over someone else?  Personal statements provide an avenue for you to highlight your best self.  But how do you do that?  Good question!  And here’s the answer: through writing mastery.  Vary sentence length to engage the reader.  Use punctuation to communicate tone and emotion.  Employ writing conventions such as parallel structure to maintain interest.  Capture the reader through imagery.  Meet every guideline (because after all, this lets the reader know you can follow directions). 

On Form

h3And just a side note on form: personal statements can be one or two paragraphs.  They can also appear as a poem, conversation, or another creative writing form.  Risks are often rewarded.  However, before taking a writing form risk be sure that there’s function behind the form.  In other words, have a definitive reason for creative presentation. 

Personal statement writing strips a writer down to the bare essentials.  Introduce yourself, share a moment that shaped you into who you are today, and communicate how this young adult is relevant to a certain campus.  In the end, you want the finished piece to elicit a reaction from the reader; you want the piece to be memorable.  Craft a statement that will make others laugh, snort, smile, nod: anything that creates engagement.  Remember: of the thousands of students applying to college many of them will have good grades, volunteer hours, leadership positions, and awards.  Instead of falling into the trap of comparing yourself to others, focus on creating a statement that shares something that really matters.

The smallest moments can have great significance.  Share such a moment with the college reader.  Let him or her know that in the end, awards don’t matter as much as character.  And don’t forget about the title.  The title will be the first phrase the admission personnel reads; therefore, it should be witty or clever or otherwise brilliant.  Skip titling your piece “Personal Statement” and go with something more along the lines of “The Day I Met Abraham Lincoln” or “Hereboy: 3 Life Lessons Dogs Teach Their Humans”. You’ll be glad you did. 

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