The Personal Statement Essay – Yes, It Really is all about You
That pesky personal statement essay. You have put it off as long as you can, and now you may even be wondering how to write a college personal statement essay – after all, it’s not like you do this every day. The other thing you may be asking is how important is it really. After all, that admissions committee will have your great transcripts, a listing of all those clubs and activities and that community service you’ve done. What’s not to love about you? While that may be true, there are many other applicants who are saying the same thing right about now. They’re saying that because their credentials are every bit as good as yours. The final decision, then could rest rather heavily on the personal statement essay or two that you write. So, yes, it really is time to get down to business, and here’s your help.
What is a College Personal Statement?
The personal statement used to be what they called essays written for admission into graduate and professional programs. College admissions essays were what high school kids write to get into college. Both terms are interchangeable today, because students will be asked to do the same thing – write an essay, sometimes two, in response to a prompt that has been provided. These prompts will all ask you to reveal something about yourself, and that is why they are called personal statements. So if you are asking what to include in a personal statement for college, the answer is whatever about you and your life that relates to the prompt you are given.
Choosing a Topic
The prompts will limit your topic selection, but not completely. Usually you have choices, so you need to read those carefully and make sure you understand what you are being asked. You may be all poised to talk about your future goals, but the prompt may be asking you to describe a personal event or situation that contributed to the values you have today. Very different.
Colleges and universities publish the essay prompts on their websites, so there is no reason to put off getting the prompt options plenty early and thinking them through. And if you are completing the “Common Application” for undergraduate admissions, those are published online. Get going!
The Process – Here’s Your Guide
If you do not know how to write a personal statement for college, then this will be your guide. Keep it handy.
- Begin as soon as you have those prompts. Study each one carefully and make your topic selection(s).
- Get an app on your phone that lets you just make notes to yourself – Dropbox is pretty good. Each time a thought hits you about your prompt, make a note of it.
- About 3 months before you plan to send in your application, you need to start. Download and print out all of those notes you made to yourself. Look carefully at your prompt again, and your list and think about what to include in a personal statement on your topic. Eliminate anything that doesn’t relate. If you have selected a prompt that asks you to think about a time you failed at something and explain how you responded and how that failure help you in some way. Anything that does not relate to that experience goes.
- Organize your information. Events and experiences are easy to organize because they will be chronological – you are telling a story.
- Organize your information for a non-story. If you have selected a prompt that asks you to identify your career goals, then your structure will be different. You may have 2-3 goals. Begin with the most important one first, list the details that should go in that paragraph, and then move on to goal #2. It’s not that tough.
- Develop your thesis statement. Ask yourself why this experience was so important to you. Ask yourself how you came to have the goals you have. When you answer these questions, you have your thesis statement.
- Time to write the body paragraphs. Typically, a personal statement essay should have no more that 5-7 paragraphs and should never be more than two pages. This means you will have 3-5 body paragraphs.
- Write your introduction after the body paragraphs, making sure you introduce both your topic and your thesis statement. Write your conclusion and tie it back to your thesis statement in some way.
- This is only the beginning. You have much to refine and polish.
Polishing that Essay
Now that you understand what to write in a personal statement for college, and now that you have written your rough draft, you are ready for the following:
- Read each body paragraph and make sure you haven’t left anything our or included anything that doesn’t make sense.
- Read the introduction – how excited are you about it? Maybe not so much. Part of learning how to write a personal statement for college admissions is learning how to hook your reader with the first sentence. “Shock and awe” it is called. You must start with some startling or inspiring statement that is short and sweet. “I lost my dad at age 7,” “I come from a family of 8 boys,” “When I was three, I got rheumatic fever.” Now, make sure it is true, but you get the idea.
- Ready to Edit. Your rough draft has to be edited, corrected and polished. You can do the first run-through and fix anything you see. But then you hand it off to a real expert – an English teacher, a relative who is an English whiz, or, if all else fails, send it over to a professional writing service and as for an edit.
Personal statement essays are far more important than you can imagine – don’t mess around!