Tips On How to Write A Good Personal Statement

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A woman sitting by the window, smiling while writing.

Tips On How to Write A Good Personal Statement

In many ways, college applications are pretty straightforward. You’ll be asked to submit information regarding the classes you took in high school, the grades you received, standardized test scores, and a host of other academic and extracurricular achievements. Learn how to write a good personal statement.

These cut and dry components are easier for applicants to handle than more open-ended parts of the application. One of the most notoriously difficult application requirements is how to write a good personal statement. Here, we’ll take a look at the purpose behind this essay along with some effective tips for writing an excellent personal statement.

What’s the point of a personal statement?

Now that you understand what a personal statement is, you might be wondering why do colleges require a personal statement? In general, admissions officers use personal statements to get to know each applicant on a deeper level.

As you can imagine, other parts of your application aren’t very revealing about who you are, what your goals are, or what your interests are. To gain a better understanding of the students requesting admission to their school, admissions committees look closely at these personal statements.

A man writing a letter on a desk.

At first, it might seem like just another to do on your long list of application-related tasks. In reality, it’s one of the best opportunities you have to explain and demonstrate why you deserve a spot in the college to which you’re applying.

It’s a chance to reveal qualities, experiences, and characteristics about yourself that aren’t knowable by reading other parts of your application. Overall, it’s the best opportunity you have to show admissions officers the most complete and authentic version of yourself.

What are colleges looking for in personal statements?

Often, it’s helpful to figure out what admissions officers are looking for by putting yourself in their shoes. Imagine having to read hundreds if not thousands of different applications all with the same content. Sounds pretty difficult, right?

A person holding a pen, starting to write on a paper.

Now, imagine the relief you would feel when you get to the one part of the application intended to be the most personal and unique to the applicant. You would probably be expecting something exciting, revealing, different, unexpected, and fresh.

In short, when reading your personal statement, admissions officers are looking for something that will set you apart from the thousands of other applicants. When reading your essay, admissions officers will be asking themselves a series of questions:

  • What’s unique about this applicant?
  • Does this personal statement make me want to learn more about the applicant?
  • Have I already read something like this before?
  • What more did I learn about this applicant that I didn’t get from other parts of the application?

When boiling down the purpose of a personal statement to its core function, it can be said that admissions officers are looking for you when reading the personal statement.

The genuine, authentic, real you are easy to distort through the more analytical and data-driven parts of your application. Here is your chance to put the best version of yourself on display.

How to make your personal statement stand out

Now that you understand the purpose of a personal statement and what colleges are looking for it’s time to answer the most important question of all: “What should you include in a personal statement?” In other words, how can you make your personal statement stand out from the crowd?

A bearded man seriously looking at the laptop screen.

Depending on where you’re applying, college admissions officers might be sifting through tens of thousands of applications in addition to yours. That’s a lot of competition! Not only do you need to make sure that your application is good enough to catch the attention of admissions officers, but it also needs to be unique, captivating, and entertaining.

Here are some proven tips for writing an awesome personal statement:

Approach it as a creative writing project.

The vast majority of writing you do in high school is academic in nature. While this will help you excel in college courses, it’s not the same style of writing you should be using on college personal statements. Unless you want to put admissions officers to sleep, you need to approach your personal statement like a creative writing assignment.

Think of it like you’re writing a story. In a way, that’s exactly what you’re doing. You’re telling admissions officers the story of you and why you want to attend the university to which you are applying. Unlike academic writing, creative writing is meant to be open-ended, enjoyable, and even fun.

Make sure to choose a subject that you’re motivated by and that you’ll enjoy writing about. This will take a lot of stress and anxiety off your shoulders.

Your personal statement doesn’t have to be intellectually rigorous or academically focused. instead, it should be a reflection of yourself. The writing should come naturally. So have fun with it!

Describe it, don’t say it!

A common mistake students make when writing their personal statements is to explain things instead of describing them. Think about your favorite book. Did the other simply list events as they happened? Or did they go into detail describing how the characters felt, thought, and behaved?

Unless you enjoy reading the dictionary, your favorite book is probably overflowing with details and descriptions. As mentioned before, you should approach your personal statement like a story. Instead of simply saying things, you should describe them.

This makes your response much more engaging to the admissions officer who will read it and, ultimately, determine whether or not you were getting accepted into the university. If you get stuck when writing your personal statement, here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • How was I feeling at this moment? Physically, emotionally, and mentally?
  • What was so meaningful about this particular moment?
  • What were you hearing or seeing at the time?
  • What was going through your mind?

Obviously, these questions are only effective when recounting an event or experience in your personal statements.

Use dialogue when possible.

Another effective way to keep readers engaged and to put them into your story is to use dialogue. Again, thinking about your favorite story, there’s a most likely rich dialogue that puts you in the middle of what’s happening. In addition to being more entertaining, dialogue also works great for breaking up long blocks of text.

It brings a sense of immediacy and action to the story. However, you should only use this in moderation as it’s easy to overdo dialogue. Do you want to strike a nice balance between description and direct dialogue?

It’s also important to keep in mind but not every personal statement will naturally accommodate dialogue. You’ll have to assess your personal statement and determine whether or not that addition is a good idea.

Stay focused.

When writing a personal statement for college, it’s easy to get off track. After all, you want to convey a lot of things to admissions officers. You want to let them know who you are, what your strengths are, what your interests are, and what your long-term goals are.

However, you have a limited word count that’s impossible to extend. That’s why it’s crucial for students to stay focused when writing their personal statements.

A woman with a laptop in front is writing on a notebook.

If you’re writing about an experience or event, make sure to stick with just one. Jumping around to different topics isn’t just confusing, it also prevents you from going into sufficient detail as the word limit would force you to only go into each experience on a superficial level.

If you have to include an additional event to complete your story, only mention it to the extent necessary. In addition, make sure it’s relevant.

Avoid cliche language.

Admissions officers have to read hundreds if not thousands of personal statements. Since your ultimate goal is to secure a spot in the incoming class, you need to do everything possible to stand out from the crowd.

Since the personal statement is one of the best opportunities you have to distinguish yourself from the crowd, you wouldn’t want to keep your essay down by using cliché language.

You should avoid generalities like the plague. Common phrases that are used by most people will likely show up in the personal statements of many applicants. Using this cliché language increases the likelihood that your application will simply blend in with the rest. In order to make yourself stand out, it’s important to use unique, well-thought-out, and unexpected language.

Awesome personal statement examples that worked!

Poop, Animals, and the Environment

“I have been pooped on many times. I mean this in the most literal sense possible. I have been pooped on by pigeons and possums, house finches and hawks, egrets, and eastern grays.

I don’t mind it, either.

For that matter, I also don’t mind being pecked at, hissed at, scratched, and bitten—and believe me, I have experienced them all.

I don’t mind having to skin dead mice, feeding the remaining red embryonic mass to baby owls. (Actually, that I do mind a little.)

I don’t mind all this because when I’m working with animals, I know that even though they probably hate me as I patch them up, their health and welfare is completely in my hands. Their chances of going back to the wild, going back to their homes, rely on my attention to their needs and behaviors.

My enduring interest in animals and habitat loss led me to intern at the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley over the summer, and it was there that I was lucky enough to meet those opossum joeys that defecated on my shoes whenever

I picked them up (forcing me to designate my favorite pair of shoes as animal hospital shoes, never to be worn elsewhere again). It was there that a juvenile squirrel decided my finger looked fit to suckle, and that many an angry pigeon tried to peck off my hands.

And yet, when the internship ended, I found myself hesitant to leave. That hesitation didn’t simply stem from my inherent love of animals. It was from the sense of responsibility that I developed while working with orphaned and injured wildlife.

After all, most of the animals are there because of us—the baby opossums and squirrels are there because we hit their mothers with our cars, raptors and coyotes end up there due to secondary rodenticide poisoning and illegal traps.

We are responsible for the damage, so I believe we are responsible for doing what we can to help. And of course, there is empathy—empathy for the animals who lost their mothers, their homes, their sight and smell, their ability to fly or swim. I couldn’t just abandon them.

I couldn’t just abandon them the same way I couldn’t let big oil companies completely devastate the Arctic, earth’s air conditioner. In the same way I couldn’t ignore the oceans, where destructive fishing practices have been wiping out ocean life.

These are not jobs that can be avoided or left half-finished. For some, the Arctic is simply too far away, and the oceans will always teem with life, while for others these problems seem too great to ever conquer.

And while I have had these same feelings many times over, I organized letter-writing campaigns, protested, and petitioned the oil companies to withdraw. I campaigned in local parks to educate people on sustaining the seas. I hold on to the hope that persistent efforts will prevent further damage.

I sometimes wonder if my preoccupation with social and environmental causes just makes me feel less guilty. Maybe I do it just to ease my own conscience, so I can tell people “At least I did something.” I hope that it’s not just that.

I hope it’s because my mother always told me to treat others as I want to be treated, even if I sometimes took this to its logical extreme, moving roadkill to the bushes along the side of the road because “Ma, if I was hit by a car I would want someone to move me off the road, too.”

The upshot is that I simply cannot walk away from injustice, however uncomfortable it is to confront it. I choose to act, taking a stand and exposing the truth in the most effective manner that I think is possible. And while I’m sure I will be dumped on many times, both literally and metaphorically, I won’t do the same to others.”

Secure a spot in the college of your dreams

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