Writing the Personal Statement
Transcript and test scores are a necessary but boring part of the application—your essay is your chance to truly introduce yourself to an admissions officer. After reading a good essay, an admissions officer may feel that she has met you; after reading a great essay, that officer may be convinced that her institution absolutely needs you and must admit you. Some tips:
• Follow Directions: Answer the question(s) the application asks of you, and stay within the word or character limit.
• Opening Line & Introduction: Grab your reader’s attention with a strong opening line and a compelling introduction. Consider starting with an anecdote; you might use brief dialogue to create a narrative an a sense of immediacy. You might also try using humor to introduce a serious topic. Try to include sensory details to engage the reader. After you write the rest of your essay, review your introduction—does it lead into the body of your essay?
• Put the Thesaurus Down: Big words should only be used in the appropriate context, when they suit the tone and purpose of your essay. Your writing should still sound like you. If you trip over a word when reading the essay aloud to yourself, reconsider using that word in your essay.
• Conclusion: Avoid summary, since your essay will be brief anyway. Also avoid clichés such as “in conclusion” or “in summary.” In your conclusion, you might expand upon the broader implications of your discussion—why is your topic important? Consider linking your conclusion to your introduction to establish a sense of balance. If you frame your discussion within a larger context, you stand a better chance of convincing an admissions counselor that your essay is significant.
• Feedback: Have multiple people (parents, teachers, friends, tutors, guidance counselors, etc.) read your essay and give you feedback. This will help you find mechanical errors and also give you an idea of the overall effectiveness of your piece.
• Revise: Go back through your essay and write a single sentence to summarize each paragraph. Use this reverse outline to see if each paragraph is focused on a single idea; if each paragraph accomplishes a different goal from every other paragraph; and if the order of the paragraphs makes sense. Delete anything in the essay that does not relate to your main idea. Allow for the evolution of your essay; the focus of your essay may change (often for the better) as you work on it.