After helping students with college applications for twenty years, I have put together my top 5 list of tips to create an unforgettable personal statement. Remember your college essay is what both showcases your writing skills and gives the admissions officers a sense of who you are. Follow these tips to make the writing process less daunting and more enjoyable.
tip 1: Pretend you’re an admissions officer
Consider that you’ve created <insert your name> University. What would you look for in a student? Do you want someone who’s a know-it-all or someone eager to learn? Do you want someone fixed in his views or someone open to new perspectives? Do you want someone who didn’t invest much time into your application or someone who put considerable effort into understanding your university’s values and defining how he sees himself supporting your mission? Remember that admissions officers are people. They’re going to care more when you care more.
tip 2: Share your essay with someone who’s never met you
Remember that your parents, your teachers, and your friends already know you. So if they read your essay, they might know how to fill in gaps of your story because they already know your story. For that reason, you should ask a total stranger to read your essay. Make sure the person doesn’t have lingering questions; is there something you left out that makes your essay confusing? Ask the stranger what he or she thinks of you after reading it. Is the person’s impression of you how you want to be perceived?
tip 3: Stay true to yourself
The ultimate goal of your essay is honor your voice and your story. When you pick something about which you genuinely care, your unique voice will come through and your essay will be more engaging and memorable. Tell a story only you can tell, so you give the reader the feeling that he met you. Consider how you want to be remembered. Telling a story just because you think it’s impressive will backfire. You have to dig into what matters to you and share a story that you’ll be proud to put your name on. Having a genuine tone and allowing yourself to be vulnerable are powerful ways to share your story – something that requires a deep examination of your own perspective. That process can be challenging, so allow yourself the reflection needed to honor your voice in the process.
tip 4: Maintain a genuine tone
Trust yourself and choose a topic that you’ll be comfortable writing about. Anything forced or artificial will be quite obvious to the reader. At the same time, embrace difficult or controversial topics as long as you treat them with respect and maturity. Include humor as long as it’s tasteful, respectful, and not forced. And even though it might feel “genuine” or “authentic” to complain or offer ingratitude about your school or your teachers, the essay is not the section to come off as unappreciative, lazy, cynical, rude, spoiled, self-interested, or materialistic. Be true to yourself and your genuine perspectives but maintain maturity and respect while doing so.
tip 5: Emphasize the positive
Yes, your goal is to shine a positive light on yourself, but doing so with humility goes a long way. Do not put others down or brag excessively to make yourself appear greater (by the way, this is good advice for everyday life, not just for a college essay). Focus on the story you’re telling – your story – and remember no one else can dictate your story because it’s unique to you. The story you tell should be the most meaningful one for you, one that shows (not tells) your positive qualities. Remember you’re not explaining what you’ve done but sharing who you are.
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