Personal Statement Tips Starting

By Alexis Reliford

When you apply to college, in addition to your grades and your activities, colleges want a glimpse into your life. Enter your personal statement, one of the most frustrating things about applying to college.

The personal statement is an important part of your application. Depending on the topic you choose, the essay you write can provide fun details about yourself. The essay is your opportunity to show admissions officers your personality and how academics, extracurriculars and your life experiences have molded you into who you are today.

The length of your essay depends on which school you’re applying to, but most personal statements are about 250-650 words long. An amazing essay can be what pushes an okay application into the acceptance pile, so use these four tips to think about what you’re going to say and how you want to say it.

1. Pick a topic you’re passionate about.

Your writing will be easier and more genuine if you write about what you want, instead of writing about what you think colleges want to hear. The best personal statements describe a moment of personal growth, difficulty, strength or confidence, all of which people experience in a wide range of ways.

“There is no ‘best topic’ out there,” says Judi Robinovitz, a certified educational planner specializing in educational counseling. “The best are statements that answer the questions, ‘Who is this student?’ and ‘What does this student say about himself or herself?’”

Remember that this is your personal statement -- your only chance to differentiate yourself as a unique individual apart from grades, test scores and resumes. Write about a topic that excites you, and you will excite your reader.

“Just make sure the focus stays on you,” Robinovitz says.

2. Engage your reader from the first sentence.

Regardless of the topic you choose, your reader’s interest must be captured in the first sentence. Out of thousands of essays, why should they read yours? A perfect introduction will leap out to the reader and capture their attention.

The best way to do this is through as many details as you can muster. If there’s a sport or activity you excel in, show readers through your words a split second of what it’s like. Write as if you are telling a story: What was the setting? What was the weather like? Were there other people there? What emotions were running through your mind at the moment?

“For example, ‘flying over the waves, with the wind whipping in my hair… ’ is a great way to start an essay about your summer of waterskiing,” Robinovitz says. “It’s not what you say, but instead how you say it.”

Many students will begin their essays with: “The most life-changing/important/difficult moment in my life has been___.” When everyone uses the same introduction, all the essays that begin as such will fail to make an impact on admissions officers.

Make it easier for your reader to remember you by writing a story as your introduction. The more specific details you add in, the more the reader will get into the story and the more sold they’ll be on you.

Click here to read the full story on HerCampus.com.

(Image: Polka Dot/Thinkstock)

Whether you’re applying for an undergraduate school or trying to get into graduate programs, many applications require a letter of intent or personal statement. Personal statements are one of the most important parts of the application and sometimes the deciding factor for admission.

Personal statements give a better understanding of who you are, beyond the rigid constraints of the “fill-in-the-blank” application.

Like many around this time of the year, I am finishing my graduate school applications. Looking for advice and guidance, I decided to compare different schools’ personal statement requirements and ask admissions offices for advice. Here’s what I found:

1. Be yourself

The Columbia Graduate School for Journalism encourages students to write about family, education, talents or passions. They want to hear about significant places or events in your life; about books you have read, people you have met or work you’ve done that has shaped the person you have become.

Schools want to know about you so don’t portray someone else in the essay. It’s almost like going on a first date. You want to display your best qualities but be yourself at the same time. You want the other person to like you, not someone you’re pretending to be.

2. Show diversity

Rayna Reid, a personal statement guru, received her undergraduate degree at Cornell, Masters at the University of Pennsylvania and is currently pursuing a Law degree at Columbia. Reid says a personal statement is really just a way to make the college fall in love with you.

“The essay is where you really get a chance to differentiate yourself from the other applicants,” she said. “Explain why they should accept you. What will you contribute?”

Sean Carpenter, University of Southern California Student Services Associate and undergraduate student, reiterates the importance of differentiating yourself from other applicants.

He works in the Annenberg School for Communication admissions office and deals with prospective students daily. Carpenter says USC or any major school want to see diversity.

“They want to see how you’re different from all other applicants, especially through diversity. What makes you unique out of all the other applicants?” Carpenter said, “Tell things that has helped you grow as a person and built your character.”

3. Do research and tailor each essay accordingly

Every college is different, so each personal statement should be different. Many students try to get away with having a universal essay but admissions departments will notice.

“Do research to give concrete reasons why you’re interested in particular program,” Carpenter said. “Speak with a faculty member that you’re interested in working with or doing research for and mention that in your statement. It would also be beneficial to say what classes you’ve taken that were relevant to the field of study.”

4. Be concise and follow directions

Make sure you read the directions carefully. One of the biggest red flags for an admissions office are students who don’t adhere to word limitations. Don’t give them a reason to throw out your application.

Believe it or not, there is a way to say everything you want in a page or less. If you need some help, ask several faculty members to read over your essay and give you feedback.

5. Go beyond your resume, GPA and test scores

Many students worry about how their GPA and test scores will affect the admissions process. The personal statement is an opportunity to explain any strengths or weaknesses in your application — such as changes in major, low GPA or lack of experience.

For instance, Reid was worried about not having a 4.0 GPA. Since Reid didn’t have the perfect GPA, she explained what she did with her time to make up for that fact. Being on the Varsity rowing team and a Teach for America Corp member are great examples of how devoting her time to other things made an impact on her GPA.

6. Tell a story

“Nothing makes someone fall in love like a good story. It does not have to be the next Pulitzer winner,” Reid said. “For college, one essay I wrote was about how I have often felt like my life was a movie and how Dirty Dancing (yes, the movie) changed my life. My sister who currently goes to Princeton even wrote about killing a fly!”

One of the worst things you can do is bore the admission officer. Make yourself memorable by telling a story about something distinctive from a creative or different angle.

With this advice, your personal statement will be the highlight of your application. Good luck!

Alexis Morgan is currently a senior at Penn State University. She has extensive experience in public relations, broadcast journalism, print journalism and production. Alexis truly believes if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life. Follow Alexis’s career on her website.

Alexis Morgan, Columbia University, Cornell University, grad school, Penn State University, the application, University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California, COLLEGE CHOICE, VOICES FROM CAMPUS 

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