Why Is Your Personal Statement So Important to Colleges?
This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Christopher Kilner in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.
- Where You Belong at College
- How to Choose Between Prompts
- Addressing Controversial Topics
- Picking the Right Passions
When applying to a college or university, your transcript and standardized test scores show how well you’ve performed academically, but it is your personal statement essay that shows who you are and what you value. In this post, we discuss how college admissions officers view personal statements, what they want to see, and how you can use yours to reflect on what you want to get out of your college experience.
Where You Belong at College
Your personal statement is how colleges find out more about who you are as a person. They’re looking to learn a few specific things about you, such as how you think, approach problems, and network with others.
A simple anecdote or description of a passion can say quite a bit about how you approach and view the world. Since the personal statement provides you with an opportunity to share your individual voice, it can show college admissions committees what drives you and how you’re going to grow at their school.
Every college is different and values different things. The personal statement gives a college greater insight into whether you will fit into their classrooms and community.
If you write about volunteering at your local temple, for example, an admissions committee would see that you’re strong in your faith and want to give back to your community. If you write about working to progress your spot in the school orchestra, they’ll see that you contribute to the arts and work to improve yourself. These short narratives can help colleges understand where you would fit in on their campus.
A personal statement should also be treated as an opportunity to assess your own worldview. Asking these questions of yourself can help you reflect and figure out where you belong and which colleges you think would help you develop your passions.
How to Choose Between Prompts
The personal statement on the Common App has a 650-word limit. Generally, there are seven or eight prompts each year, and it can be difficult to figure out exactly which one will help you best say what you want to say.
If you’ve thought critically about what you want to bring to your college community and which colleges seem like they will be the best fit and why, you should have an idea of the narrative you want to present in your personal statement. Some students think that they should try to find the best prompt and then tailor their essay to it. Instead, you should be thinking about what you want to write about, and then look for the prompt that will enable you to do this.
Sometimes, you can tell right away which prompt will enable you to tell the best story. When you have this gut reaction, don’t be afraid to act on it.
However, if choosing the right prompt is more difficult for you, don’t worry about it too much. It’s okay to step back and think more about what you’re most passionate about, what experiences have shaped you, and what you think that you bring to the table. When you have more of an idea about what you think would be an interesting story to tell, you can go back and find the prompt that will enable you to write that story.
It’s important to be genuine in writing your personal statement. True passion and excitement are easy to spot in writing—look for what drives you and go from there.
Addressing Controversial Topics
You may be very passionate about a controversial topic. The personal statement isn’t a debate essay, but it is a chance to show a college who you are and what you believe in. If you care a great deal about a hotly contested subject, you should feel free to write about it, as long as the way that you address it shows who you are as a person.
You’re not trying to win an argument—you don’t need to prove that your position is correct. You should, however, try to display your character and how you came to have a particular viewpoint. An anecdote about your past or a story about what you hope to accomplish is perfectly appropriate, even if you’re addressing something controversial.
Rather than try to convince someone of your point of view on a particular issue, you need to keep the focus of the essay on yourself and your journey. Keep your personal statement personal; if you stick to thinking about how a certain highly disputed issue has shaped you, you’ll be successful.
Picking the Right Passions
At 650 words, the personal statement is short, but it’s not so short that you only have to choose one passion to write about. If you have one particular thing in mind, you’re welcome to explore that alone. But if you’d prefer to incorporate different passions into one cohesive narrative, you shouldn’t worry that you’re taking on too many subjects.
You can write a good essay about one specific topic, and you can write a good essay about a few different things you are passionate about. Even in attempting to write about just one passion, you may find that you mention other areas of interest for you.
A student could start out writing about their childhood love of LEGOs and tell a sweet story about everything they created with them. They could then use this as an opportunity to go into how they’ve always felt the desire to create things, and this has led to a passion for engineering. They would be using one passion as an introduction to detailing their other passions and ambitions.
You don’t want to overwhelm your reader with an exposition dump of everything you care about, but it’s normal to write a narrative that includes a few different personal interests. You should work to tie them all together to present the clearest picture of yourself and why you would be a good fit for that particular school.
When you think about everything that’s important to you, it should help you gain more insight into who you are and what you want to do. The personal statement helps colleges understand you better, but you should come away from writing it feeling more confident in yourself and your plans too.