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The Personal Statement, also known as the main essay or Common App essay, is an admissions requirement for most colleges and universities. An excellent way for the admissions team to get to know you and your background, your personal statement must best showcase your writing skills and personality. Most importantly, it should tell a story about you.

Whether you’ve been thinking about your personal statement for weeks or are just starting to get around to it, we understand this process can be intimidating! No matter how you slice it, this part of the application process is where students are given the most freedom, and this sense of non-direction can be very scary.

Here are some tips and tricks Admit U counselors want you to keep in mind as you begin to brainstorm your personal statement.

First and foremost, stop thinking about this like an essay…

Let’s stop calling it an essay; instead, let’s call it a story. We think the word “essay” makes writing feel like an assignment. Think of this task as the part of the college application process where you, the applicant, have the opportunity to answer the question, “Tell me about yourself.”

You want to tell a relatively short story about yourself. So, consider this a snapshot of your life. Don't think about, "What does the college want me to write?" and instead change it to, "What do I want them to know about me?" Now is the time to think about your characteristics, qualities, and the moments in the photo album of your life that reveal an aspect of you that will help add to a college community.

Select a topic that you’re excited about!

You’ll spend a fair amount of time working on this essay, so make sure you're passionate about what you’re writing about! When you think of the prompt, “Tell me about yourself,” what does that mean to you? Choose a topic that best suits your life, interests, and background. No topic is better than the other—it’s all about how you incorporate the tone, structure, voice, theme, and technicality within your story. Brainstorm a few ideas, then choose your favorite.

Get creative

A personal statement can follow the traditional essay format, but it doesn’t have to. This is a narrative, a piece where you get to show various aspects of yourself, so let it shine, no matter the format. We don’t suggest a poem or word find, and please avoid using big words from a thesaurus, but if your story has dialogue, short sentences, or longer paragraphs, it’s okay and actually encouraged!

Lead with a hook

True to its name, a hook grabs the reader’s attention and makes them want to keep reading. When telling your story, one suggestion is to start in the middle of the action. Make the reader want to read more to find out what’s going on.

Show, don’t tell…

The Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov, once stated, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Rather than listing or summarizing a sequence of events, build a descriptive story around them. Think about this concept like a commercial. For example, Nike commercials rarely mention the features of their products. Instead, Nike uses emotions and storytelling to show viewers how those products make people feel. Like a Nike commercial, the show, don’t tell technique is guaranteed to make any story entertaining and memorable. So, as Nike would say, “Just do it!”

Share a lesson learned

Make your story meaningful! We recommend you connect the theme of your piece to a compelling takeaway—something the college admissions officers will remember and use as they discuss your application. Personal statements are a fantastic way to showcase your growth and maturity to admissions. Leaving your readers with a takeaway will help admissions understand your ability to adapt and overcome various challenges similar to the ones you might encounter in college.

Read other examples

Sometimes you just need a little inspiration! Do your research and find examples of personal statements that worked for other students. Examples can be found in Google, books, YouTube, or by asking current college students in your network if you can read their personal essays. Reading top-notch examples helps to give you a better understanding of what admissions looks for. Check out some essays that worked at Johns Hopkins and Tufts.

The personal statement is frequently the most daunting part of the college application process for many students. Always remember that it’s okay to ask for help, feedback, or advice! Don’t be afraid to ask a college counselor or writing specialist for assistance if you are struggling. With these tips, you’ll be well on your way to crafting a well-written, engaging, and unique personal statement. To learn more or get writing assistance, contact us here.


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