The importance of the personal statement in the college application process cannot be understated. The personal statement is a chance for you to “sell” yourself to admissions officers. Why should they pick you over another equally qualified applicant? What makes you unique? What special quality can you contribute to their university?
The college application is a creative process- you are a painter, and you are painting a self-portrait of who you are, highlighting your strengths and qualities, portraying not only your academic ability, but also the multiple facets of your identity- personality, passions, purpose- that make you, you. So you’ve proven your ability to test well by maintaining a high GPA and earning decent standardized test scores. Then what? A person is NOT a set of numbers and letters, and quite frankly, a student’s intelligence cannot be measured by grades and SAT scores. This is one of the reasons why college applications are so controversial- universities’ quantification of everything to make the admission process simpler and more efficient does not accurately judge a student’s intellectual potential, inquisitiveness, or ability to learn. The system is flawed, and admissions officers know this, which is why they’ve so graciously given students the opportunity to submit a personal statement. You have a chance to show these guys what kind of PERSON you are, away from all the numbers. Don’t pass up this opportunity. This is why I urge all of you incoming seniors to really get started on those essays, right away. It is NEVER too early to get started on generating ideas for your college essay- I personally started brainstorming sophomore year of high school. That isn’t to say that if you start a little later, your chances of generating a great piece of writing are shot. All I’m saying is that it never hurts to get started on your essays early, for you will allow yourself sufficient time to create your best work, instead of jumbling together a last-minute, half-baked piece.
Here are some tips on how to get started on the essay:
- Ask yourself- what is my story? Did you overcome an adversity- illness, death of a loved one, injury? Was there an event in your life that had a significant impact on you or inspired you in any way? Then, think about how your story has shaped the person you are today. For example, I told the story of the injury that ended my ten-year gymnastics career. However, I made sure to not dwell too much on the injury itself, focusing instead on how the injury made me stronger, changed my worldview, and influenced my career path.
- Sometimes, people have multiple stories to tell. I knew I wanted to tell the story of my injury and its profound impact on me, but I had other ideas, like how growing up as a triplet influenced my worldview. When you have more than one story in mind, that’s great! Write down ALL of your ideas, create outlines for them, and see which one you feel best encapsulates your strengths and multi-dimensional character.
- Avoid telling other people’s stories. Your parents may have been immigrants from a foreign country, working their way up the social ladder from nothing. An inspiring story- but not your own. Now, you can most definitely mention in passing the strife your parents faced, and focus your essay on how their determination and endurance inspired you, but I’d be wary of devoting the bulk of your essay on their story. Rather, focus on how your parents served as a beacon of inspiration and shaped your personal, educational, or career goals. Admissions officers want to know about you, not your parents!
- Write, write, write! The first draft will be rough, but you just gotta plunge right into it, like jumping into cold water. Once you start swimming, your muscles will get warmed up, and the initial cold will subside. Likewise, the more your write, the smoother the process will get.
- Don’t think about word limit when writing your first draft- your essay can ALWAYS be trimmed down later.
- Turn off the judgement side of your brain when writing. During the beginning stages of any creative process, the nagging voice in the back of your head will tell you that your piece is crap. Try your best to tune this voice out! Almost always, the first draft will be pretty bad. I remember my first draft just went on and on and on about the injury, focusing too much on the pain of it and too little on what I learned in the process of overcoming it. Albeit poetic (a little too much so), there was very little substance in my first draft. Five drafts later, I was able to create a piece that got me into most of my top choice schools.
- Get other people to read your product, but I’d refrain from having more than one person at once read it. Also, you should choose the people who read your essay carefully. Many people show their essays to one close friend/family member who knows them well, and one individual who doesn’t know them as well.
- Reading sample essays online can be helpful, but be wary of allowing your own voice to be influenced too much by others’. Personally, I didn’t read ANY sample essays until after I had finished writing my essay. I didn’t want to have other people’s ideas/styles drown out my own voice or dampen my creative process.
So, that’s my two-cents on how to tackle that personal statement! You definitely have your work laid out for you, but the process of looking within to find your best qualities is incredibly fulfilling. You may very well likely emerge from the process more enlightened about yourself! Enjoy this creative project, and feel free to contact me if you have any questions whatsoever! I’d be glad to help 🙂