Personal Statement

Tips on Writing a Personal Statement

1. Be yourself
The personal statement is just that personal. It’s an opportunity for you to share your life experience, achievements, or struggles. Schools want to hear about significant places or events in your life; about books you have read, people you have met or work you’ve done that has shaped the person you have become.Schools want to know about you so don’t portray someone else in the essay. It’s almost like going on a first date. You want to display your best qualities but be yourself at the same time. You want the other person to like you, not someone you’re pretending to be.2. Show diversity
Rayna Reid, a personal statement guru, received her undergraduate degree at Cornell, Masters at the University of Pennsylvania and is currently pursuing a Law degree at Columbia. Reid says a personal statement is really just a way to make the college fall in love with you.

“The essay is where you really get a chance to differentiate yourself from the other applicants,” she said. “Explain why they should accept you. What will you contribute?”

Sean Carpenter, University of Southern California Student Services Associate and undergraduate student, reiterates the importance of differentiating yourself from other applicants.

He works in the Annenberg School for Communication admissions office and deals with prospective students daily. Carpenter says USC or any major school want to see diversity. “They want to see how you’re different from all other applicants, especially through diversity. What makes you unique out of all the other applicants?” Carpenter said, “Tell things that has helped you grow as a person and built your character.”

3. Do research and tailor each essay accordingly
Every college is different, so each personal statement should be different. Many students try to get away with having a universal essay but admissions departments will notice.

“Do research to give concrete reasons why you’re interested in particular program,” Carpenter said. “Speak with a faculty member that you’re interested in working with or doing research for and mention that in your statement. It would also be beneficial to say what classes you’ve taken that were relevant to the field of study.”

4. Be concise and follow directions
Make sure you read the directions carefully. One of the biggest red flags for an admissions office are students who don’t adhere to word limitations. For the Common Application essay, it needs to be 500 words or less. Don’t give them a reason to throw out your application. Believe it or not, there is a way to say everything you want in a page or less. If you need some help, ask several faculty members to read over your essay and give you feedback.

5. Go beyond your resume, GPA and test scores
Many students worry about how their GPA and test scores will affect the admissions process. The personal statement is an opportunity to explain any strengths or weaknesses in your application — such as changes in major, low GPA or lack of experience.

For instance, Reid was worried about not having a 4.0 GPA. Since Reid didn’t have the perfect GPA, she explained what she did with her time to make up for that fact. Being on the Varsity rowing team and a Teach for America Corp member are great examples of how devoting her time to other things made an impact on her GPA.

6. Tell a story
“Nothing makes someone fall in love like a good story. It does not have to be the next Pulitzer winner,” Reid said. “For college, one essay I wrote was about how I have often felt like my life was a movie and how Dirty Dancing (yes, the movie) changed my life. My sister who currently goes to Princeton even wrote about killing a fly!”

One of the worst things you can do is bore the admission officer. Make yourself memorable by telling a story about something distinctive from a creative or different angle.

With this advice, your personal statement will be the highlight of your application. Good luck!

Reposted from USA Today



Why do I have write an essay?

Several colleges will ask you to include an essay or a personal statement with the application.  It may sound like a lot of work (and it is definitely a lot of work!), BUT it is an opportunity for your individuality to shine!  Admissions officers do place the majority of their decision based on your high school academics. However, many colleges receive an overwhelming number of applicants from worthy students with similar scores and grades and  they aren’t able to admit every eligible student. They use your essay as a way to find out more about you and identify what sets you apart from the other candidates.

What’s Your Story

  • What is it that makes you unique and sets you apart from others?  Do you have a unique background, interests and personality. This is your chance to tell colleges what makes you tick!
  • In order for your essay to be meaningful it’s best to write a personal, thoughtful essay about something that is meaningful to you.
  • Remember that honesty and genuine writing will highlight your uniqueness and your best attributes will stand out.

Common Mistakes

  • Don’t try to be funny in your essay.  It could easily be interpreted the wrong way and the adult reading your application might not have the same sense of humor as a teenager.
  • Don’t try to sound intelligent by using words you don’t use on a daily basis. Admissions officers can tell if the word fits the situation or if was picked using a thesaurus.
  • Don’t write about a subject that you don’t care about it’s easily identifiable that you aren’t passionate about the subject.
  • DO be yourself and let you brightest qualities shine!

Remember that you don’t need to write your essay about something that an admissions officer has never read.  Mostly likely the person reading your essay has seen many essays with similar topics,  BUT they haven’t read yours.  So write a thoughtful essay that explains your motivation for attending college and express what you plan to contribute to the college you are applying to.

The Structure of the Essay

Write about something important to you, whether it’s a person, a job, an experience, or a passion!

Many students give the specific details of an event or experience and it doesn’t add value to your essay.  You NEED to reflect on that event or experience, by describing what you learned about yourself, how and if it changed you as a person.

Start EARLY and plan to write several drafts of your essay. Put it aside for a couple of days and then reread it. Think like an admissions officer:

  • Is your essay interesting?
  • Do the ideas flow in a logical format?
  • Does it tell the admissions officer something about you?
  • Does it sound like it’s the applicant’s own voice?
  • Your essay should not be a list of your achievements or a timeline of an event…BORING, give the admissions officer new information about you, don’t repeat other parts of your application.
  • Don’t list grades, test scores, or awards.

The admissions reader should be able to get a good idea of who you are as a person and what you’re passionate about.


Editing your own essay can be a difficult task.  Many times you can’t distinguish information that may have been missed or information that may be repeated in your application somewhere else.  Ask at least one other individual read and edit your essay (a teacher or counselor is the best bet).  Before you submit your essay check for spelling and grammar, but your editor should be checking for flow, theme and purpose, not grammar and spelling.