from the Experts
Writing About You: The Personal
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
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
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
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.