Answers from the Experts

Writing About You: The Personal Statement
By Bem A., Undergraduate Ventures Scholar

In a few months, students across the nation will send application forms, complete with transcripts, recommendations, testing scores, and personal statements. Out of all of the quantitative data schools receive, the personal statement probes deeper into an applicant, revealing scholars, snobs, and partiers alike.

Although some schools ask specific questions, a number of applications follow the general norm: "Describe a significant experience in your life." Questions like these ask for personal discussion and reflection. The essay should be unique and thoughtful. Ask yourself if it is likely that anyone can duplicate your essay? If the answer is yes, you may want to be a bit more personal, but don't take this the wrong way. If you have any trouble thinking of an essay topic, take a random event in your life or some realization. Choose something small, but significant. If you really care about the topic, it will show.

Everyone (yes, everyone) has a unique talent or perspective. Explore it. Incorporate your personality into the essay so that the admissions office sees a person, not a number. Keep this in mind: unique is always valuable.

Some schools have less generic essay topics such as "How did you become interested in your intended major?" or "If you were alone in a city with only ten dollars, how would you spend your day?" These questions are a bit more creative, and produce creative essays. Like the generic topics, you should write from a personal perspective that is both unique and thoughtful.

To present a polished personal statement, seek out teachers, guidance counselors, and classmates (preferably in that order) for advice. A keen English or social science teacher can correct grammatical errors, while your guidance counselor's experience with past college applicants can provide helpful insight. Finally,- if you want- talk with a classmate about your essay. It doesn't have to be your best friend, but it shouldn't be a complete stranger. Make sure you share your essay with someone you trust. Above all, you should seek out those who will give you constructive advice.

This may sound contradictory, but you don't need to implement any suggestions. Consider a person's advice with a clear, objective mind. Is it valid? Is it constructive? Would it benefit my essay? In the end, if you can find no reason why the advice would help your essay, toss it. Make sure that the paper reflects your style and thought more so than your history teacher's or your classmate's.

While you may seek out advice for revision, you should constantly review your personal essay after your friends and teachers have had their say. Give yourself ample time to write, edit, and re-edit (i.e. a few months before the application is due). In your first draft, you may find that the essay is too long. Most schools don't want an essay over 500 words. Which parts are too descriptive? Is it a summary or a reflection? If your essay is still too long, consider making two separate essays. Constant revision will help reduce your essay's length.

After weeks (or months) of working on your essay, you should feel accomplished as you seal the envelope and mail the application. Just remember that it's a taxing, but worthwhile process.


courtesy of Saint Michael's College
© 2006 Ventures In Education, Inc.