Who are you? That’s what the admissions office wants to know. Your transcripts and volunteer work and accolades will tell them what you’ve done. It’s your essay that tells them who you are. Whether you know which school you want to go to yet or not (College Education Information can help with that decision), knocking your personal statement out of the park can be the difference between admittance and rejection. Needless to say, you want to get it right.
How to go about doing so is the tricky part. Sorry to say, there’s no magic bullet to get it right. Everyone is different. That doesn’t mean there isn’t advice to help you craft the best college essay YOU can.
Artificiality is your worst enemy. Imagine the admissions officer is asking you who you are? You may be tempted to say, “President of the chess club,” or “3.9 GPA student.”
This is not the time or place to list your accomplishments. You are not your grades. You are not your titles. All of that information is definitely listed elsewhere. Don’t be afraid to not look perfect. Talk about your interests, your fears, your aspirations. Don’t just talk about who you are, talk about who you were and who you want to be.
Find a Unique Angle
It may feel like trying to reinvent the wheel, but the first few topic ideas you have are likely the same ideas thousands of other applicants have had before you. Imagine how you’d feel reading variations of the same thing over and over, day in and day out. People win things all the time, people travel all the time. Write something that only you could write.
Don’t ‘One and Done’ It
Your first draft doesn’t necessarily even need to be a college essay. Just write something about yourself. Don’t be afraid to get weird. This first piece can inspire different avenues of thought and provide you with a few options from which you can choose the best/your favorite. For example, my “first draft” was titled “Why I Despise The Human Race: The Mitigated Version.” This led to a thoughtful personal statement on balancing misanthropy with being a successful member of a social society. It also led to a vaguely anarchist manifesto… Thankfully I went with the former.
Don’t throw discretion out the window entirely…
Write the Way You Speak
Don’t put on airs. Again, you have to remember, these people read these essays for a living. They can tell if your writing is unnatural. It’s okay to close the Thesaurus.com tab just this once. It’s not just about coming across phony, though. It’s difficult to let your voice shine through with someone else’s words.
More accurately, don’t be afraid to get personal. You know what’s riding on this personal statement; it’s reflexive to want to put your best foot forward. This is one of the few times in your life where vulnerability might actually be the smarter play. Write about failures, fears, struggles, and challenges (and not just as an excuse to mention eventual triumph either). Keep it clean; but if you don’t feel at least a little uncomfortable sharing what you wrote, you may want to consider a revision.
Your personal statement may be the only chance you have to communicate directly with an admissions officer outside of black and white test scores and grade point averages. This is your moment to make an impact. Take advantage of it!