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How to Write a Personal Statement That Wows Colleges
Most of the college application process is fairly cut and dry. You’ll submit information about your classes and grades, standardized test scores, and various other accomplishments and honors. On much of the application, your accomplishments must speak for themselves. The personal statement though, is your chance to let your voice be heard. To learn more about the personal statement, how to choose a topic, and how to write one that wows, don’t miss this post.
What Is the Purpose of the Personal Statement?
To really understand how to optimize your personal statement, you should first understand why it’s on the application in the first place. The personal statement is generally your opportunity to speak to your unique experiences, qualities, or beliefs that aren’t elsewhere represented on the application.
Though prompts might vary from the specific to the vastly broad, most give you the opportunity to put your own personal twist them. The personal statement is a chance to break away from the data that defines you on paper and provide a glimpse into who you really are. In short, it’s the admissions committee’s chance to get to know the real you.
So, what are colleges looking for in your personal statement? They are looking for something that sets you apart. They are asking themselves, do you write about something truly unique? Do you write about something common, in a new and interesting way? Do you write about an aspect of your application that needed further explanation? All of these are great ways to impress with your personal statement.
How To a Choose A Topic For Your Personal Statement
One of the questions that we hear most often about the personal statement is, “How do I choose what to write about?” For some students, the personal statement prompt triggers an immediate and strong idea. For many more, there is at least initially some uncertainty.
We often encourage students to think less about the exact prompt and more about what aspects of themselves they think are most worthy of highlighting here. For students with a unique voice or different perspective, simple topics written in a new way can be engaging and insightful.
For students with an interesting story or a defining background, these can serve as the perfect catalyst to shape your approach. Rather than getting stuck on the prompt, think about topic or approach you really want to highlight in your statement.
Finally, you need to consider the rest of your application when you choose a topic for your personal statement. If you are returning from a gap year, failed a single class during sophomore year, or participated extensively in something you’re passionate about that isn’t elsewhere on your application, you should attempt to address one of these topics in your statement. After all, the admissions committee wants to get to know you and understand who you really are, and these are all things that will give them a deeper understanding of that.
Still, tons of students have a decent amount of writer’s block when it comes to choosing a topic. This is understandable since the personal statement tends to be considered rather high stakes. To help you get the ball rolling, we recommend the post What If I Don’t Have Anything Interesting To Write About In My College Essay?
How to Write a Personal Statement That Wows
You might think the hardest part is still ahead of you after you’ve chosen your topic. In retrospect though, many students find that by choosing an engaging topic that they’re truly passionate about, the hardest part is over—the writing often flows from there. Still, there are a few pieces of advice to keep in mind as you put your pen to paper.
First, be you. For many students, the majority of their writing up until now has been rigidly structured, defined by narrow grammatical conventions, school assignments, and academic tones. In your personal statement though, the admissions committee should get some sense of your actual voice. In fact, many students find it’s helpful to use a talk-to-text dictation tool in the initial phases of writing. This way your tone is actually preserved.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should throw grammar to the wind and write entirely in colloquialisms. Instead, it just means that you need to write in a voice that flows for you. When you read your statement aloud, it should feel natural. While it will be more refined than a conversation with your best friend, it won’t feel stuffy or contrived when it comes off your tongue. This balance can be difficult to strike, but aiming for a tone that would feel natural when talking with an admired teacher or a longtime mentor is usually a good fit.
Next, be meticulous in your editing. There should not be a single spelling mistake or grammatical error. While your tone can be casual enough that some formal grammatical conventions seem over the top, you also shouldn’t be using adjectives as adverbs or starting every paragraph with a conjunction.
You should do an initial round of editing yourself, with a particular eye for these types of mistakes. Then, have someone else edit the statement for you, with an eye for tone and content. Once you revise your tone and content as needed, start again with spelling and grammar before turning it over to someone else for one last look.
Read your personal statement aloud as you edit to make sure that it sounds natural. Finally, ask someone else to read it back to you. Sometimes, hearing the personal statement in another voice can highlight parts that need clarity or feel awkward.
Writing a personal statement for your college application can definitely be a daunting task. It’s something that causes stress for many college applicants, but with the correct tools, it can be your perfect opportunity to shine.
If you’re still struggling with tackling your personal statement, consider the benefits of CollegeVine’s Applications Guidance service. Here, students are paired with a personal admissions specialist who can provide step-by-step guidance through the entire application process, including how to optimize your personal statement.