High school seniors across the world are now embarking on the daunting yet exciting task of writing the all important college essays. For many, this is the first time that they have ever had to write a personal statement. But luckily the subject matter is one that you are completely familiar with. Below are some tips to help you find the best topic and the best format to convey who you are and what you will contribute to the college community.
1. Ask yourself this question, “If I could tell an admissions officer anything, what would that be?”
The personal statement is your opportunity to answer just that question. College essays are a place for you convey something about yourself that is not already evident in other parts of your application.
2. “Show” don’t “tell.”
This might seem obvious, but it can be harder to do than it seems. You may have an impressive list of extracurricular activities, but colleges want more than a reiteration of those activities in your essay. Your essay is the chance to show what you have gained from your different experiences. Did you learn about yourself or others? Did your perspective change? Or how has had your family background influenced your goals.
3. Stay true to your own voice.
As tempted as you might be to use your online Thesaurus, refrain from trying to pull in vocabulary that you do not normally use. Try not to be overly humorous. If you are naturally humorous, that will come through. Forcing humor can often backfire and an essay can feel contrived. It is important to have your essay read by one or two others that you trust, but the wording and style should always be yours.
4. Find the balance between confident and arrogant.
It is important to be proud of your accomplishments, but try not to cross the line and come across as too boastful. At the same time, you don’t want to appear insecure or unsure about your abilities. The best way to do this is to focus not on what you have done but rather on what you learned.
5. Balance your application.
Most applications will ask for 2-4 essays. Think about your application holistically before you dive into writing. Contemplate what you want to convey in each part of your application. And if an essay topic asks you about why you want to attend a given school, make sure that you research that school. This is not just about telling the school what it wants to hear, but rather conveying why you are a strong fit for the school. But you cannot do this if you don’t do the required work.
6. Follow directions and length recommendations.
If a college asks you for a 300 word essay, keep your essay to that length. And don’t feel compelled to write 300 words if adding words will cause your essay to be weaker. Remember that admissions officers are reading thousands of essays. Asking them to read your lengthy essay, especially when other applicants stayed within the limits, can suggest that you don’t follow directions well. And make sure your essay answers the question. Even if you have a beautifully worded essay from another application that you want to send in, if it does not answer the essay prompt, admissions officers will easily discern what happened.
7. Start early. (This means start now.)
It takes time to really think about what you want your application to say about you. Start brainstorming and drafting now. This will give you ample time to go back to the drawing board or revise until your essays are perfectly you.
More than anything remember that these essays and applications are yours. Your applications should show your strengths, vulnerabilities, and aspirations. Good Luck!
Purvi S. Mody is co-owner of Insight Education, an educational consulting firm that helps students throughout the country and internationally to achieve their educational goals. Get in touch with her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @InsightEduc.