Asia Bradlee 9 min read 12th Grade, Essay Tips

10 Personal Statement Essay Examples That Worked

Your personal statement is any essay that you must write for your main application, such as the Common App Essay, University of California Essays, or Coalition Application Essay. This type of essay focuses on your unique experiences, ideas, or beliefs that may not be discussed throughout the rest of your application. This essay should be an opportunity for the admissions officers to get to know you better and give them a glimpse into who you really are.

 

These personal statement essay examples were all written by real students. For each example, we provide a first draft, what the writer can improve, and the revised version. View the complete list of personal statement examples towards the bottom of the post.

 

Personal Statement Prompt 

 

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

 

Personal Statement Essay Example, First Draft

 

When I was very young my parents pressured me to succeed academically, play sports, make hobbies, etc. like many parents do. I was constantly at the demand of my mom and dad’s wishes. This of course wasn’t a negative thing. However, I feel like the battle between my wants and my parents desires’ led me to be quite dependent. For a large part of my younger years I was missing the independence and sense of self I would develop later in life, because I was always under pressure to succeed in the form of success my parents had defined. I don’t believe this is uncommon for young children, or all children even. As a child I was set up to follow my parents idea of the path to success. However, when I was ten years old, this path was interrupted. 

 

My parents divorced when I was about three years old, and when I was ten years old my dad moved away from my home in Illinois. Most people who hear this think It was hard for me, or sad… but in reality I see it as a blessing. To say it was without consequences and hardship would be false, but ultimately the place my family is in now has ultimately benefited from this physical separation. Once my dad moved away I was no longer pressured by him. The influence my parents had on me while they were raising me together imbedded a drive in me that I will always be thankful for. However, their separation allowed me to grow independent and develop the relationship I currently have with myself. 

 

As I grew up in a single parent household, my mom had less time and ability to parent me as strictly and closely as she had once done when my father was living in Illinois as well. This odd form of freedom forced me to become independent. As soon as middle school I was riding the light rail train by myself, reading maps to get myself home, applying to special school programs with no pressure to do so. I rapidly developed a sense of independence. My father of course had a limited understanding of my lifestyle and who I was becoming, and my mom only wished she could be more attentive. Because of this my parents both had a limited understanding of how independent and self motivated I had become. 

 

The event that brought my independence and self motivation, and the idea that I had reached adulthood to light, was my exchange trip to Morocco in the summer of 2016. I discovered the program after searching online and asking my teachers if there were any language/culture based summer exchange programs. I found multiple programs I knew I couldn’t afford. I kept looking, and eventually found the SNYI-L program, a program with a full paying scholarship opportunity. The application in itself was a huge process, one I had to do on my own. Applying for a passport, organizing how my parents would both sign for my passport while living in separate states, keeping track of countless forms, finding my immunization records, etc. were all small acts of independence that went unnoticed until I was notified of my position as a semi-finalist. At this point my parents finally somewhat recognized how self motivated and independent I had become. Being accepted as a finalist was icing on the cake. However, nothing could more effectively enforce the idea that I had reached adulthood than the reality that hit my parents when I left my dad’s car and entered the airport alone, not to be seen for two months. The idea that I could live in a foreign country, with a family I had never met, for two months, and the effort that it took for me to reach that point, drove home the idea that I was independent, I truly was an adult.

Thoughts on the Essay and How It Can Be Improved

 

The author has drafted a thoughtful coming-of-age story by exploring their relationship with their parents and how it influenced their own ability to independently make decisions about their interests and goals. As they imply in their essay, self-determination is a process which all children must undergo at some point—they must find who they are, what they like and believe, and what they hope to accomplish free from the influence of the pillars in their life who have largely determined that for them up until the point of realization. Consequently, the topic isn’t inherently unique, however their interpretation and execution of this process could help their essay to stand out from the pile.

 

First of all, they need to identify who is the spectator/the learner in the essay. It’s important for the author to understand why they care so much that their parents recognize their independence. Ultimately, they’ve made clear to the reader that they had to become independent as a result of circumstance, hence they were walking in their independence long before either of their parents truly acknowledged it. Did they feel that they could only truly accept themselves as independent once their parents accepted it? This feels a bit contrary to the whole theme of independence and self-motivation, so the author should take a step back and reflect on who should be doing the “realizing” here, both because of the question the prompt is asking, as well as the nature of the topic. They should also spend more time reflecting on their own realization about their adulthood and how they came to take the reigns of their own future. What did this feel like? Was there a particular moment when they realized that the work would no longer be done for them? How did they grapple with this sudden burden of responsibility? The essay needs to focus on their own realization here, and less so on the process of proving their maturity to their parents.

 

Secondly, the author should take a step back and think about what true independence and adulthood means to them. Though the essay focuses on this coming-of-age period in their life, they never talk specifically about what this peak achievement would mean for them personally. Was it that they could get on a plane and go to Morocco and be alright without their parents, or was it that they had the ability to decide that they were interested in an immersive experience and that they took the necessary steps to achieve this interest? Adulthood and independence mean different things to different people and look a little bit different to each of us depending on our different situations. It’s important that they identify what it is that was most significant to them when it comes to their own journey to independence and adulthood. 

 

Lastly, the essay could benefit from a deeper exploration of their relationship with their parents. The author talks in very broad terms about how they were raised and how their separation led to growth. Early in the essay, they mention a battle between their wishes and those of their parents. What did these conversations, either internal or external, look like? Did they constantly find themselves questioning their own actions or did they outward question their parents’ and their decisions regarding them? Did the author’s relationship with their father change once he moved? They should show this in their writing, rather than telling it.

 

Remember that the success of the essay depends on the ability to deeply personalize it and explore the relevant emotions and reflections associated with each step in the journey to adulthood. While their journey to adulthood may include their parents, this essay should center around the author and their own recognition of their personal milestones and accomplishments.

 

The Revised Essay, Final Draft

The twisting roads, ornate mosaics, and fragrant scent of freshly ground spices had been so foreign at first. Now in my fifth week of the SNYI-L summer exchange program in Morocco, I felt more comfortable in the city. With a bag full of pastries from the market, I navigated to a bus stop, paid the fare, and began the trip back to my host family’s house. It was hard to believe that only a few years earlier my mom was worried about letting me travel around my home city on my own, let alone a place that I had only lived in for a few weeks. While I had been on a journey towards self-sufficiency and independence for a few years now, it was Morocco that pushed me to become the confident, self-reflective person that I am today.

 

As a child, my parents pressured me to achieve perfect grades, master my swim strokes, and discover interesting hobbies like playing the oboe and learning to pick locks. I felt compelled to live my life according to their wishes. Of course, this pressure was not a wholly negative factor in my life –– you might even call it support. However, the constant presence of my parents’ hopes for me overcame my own sense of desire and led me to become quite dependent on them. I pushed myself to get straight A’s, complied with years of oboe lessons, and dutifully attended hours of swim practice after school. Despite all these achievements, I felt like I had no sense of self beyond my drive for success. I had always been expected to succeed on the path they had defined. However, this path was interrupted seven years after my parents’ divorce when my dad moved across the country to Oregon.

 

I missed my dad’s close presence, but I loved my new sense of freedom. My parents’ separation allowed me the space to explore my own strengths and interests as each of them became individually busier. As early as middle school, I was riding the light rail train by myself, reading maps to get myself home, and applying to special academic programs without urging from my parents. Even as I took more initiatives on my own, my parents both continued to see me as somewhat immature. All of that changed three years ago, when I applied and was accepted to the SNYI-L summer exchange program in Morocco. I would be studying Arabic and learning my way around the city of Marrakesh. Although I think my parents were a little surprised when I told them my news, the addition of a fully-funded scholarship convinced them to let me go.

 

I lived with a host family in Marrakesh and learned that they, too, had high expectations for me. I didn’t know a word of Arabic, and although my host parents and one brother spoke good English, they knew I was there to learn. If I messed up, they patiently corrected me but refused to let me fall into the easy pattern of speaking English just as I did at home. Just as I had when I was younger, I felt pressured and stressed about meeting their expectations. However, one day, as I strolled through the bustling market square after successfully bargaining with one of the street vendors, I realized my mistake. My host family wasn’t being unfair by making me fumble through Arabic. I had applied for this trip, and I had committed to the intensive language study. My host family’s rules about speaking Arabic at home had not been to fulfill their expectations for me, but to help me fulfill my expectations for myself. Similarly, the pressure my parents had put on me as a child had come out of love and their hopes for me, not out of a desire to crush my individuality.

 

As my bus drove through the still-bustling market square and past the medieval Ben-Youssef madrasa, I realized that becoming independent was a process, not an event. I thought that my parents’ separation when I was ten had been the one experience that would transform me into a self-motivated and autonomous person. It did, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t still have room to grow. Now, although I am even more self-sufficient than I was three years ago, I try to approach every experience with the expectation that it will change me. It’s still difficult, but I understand that just because growth can be uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not important.

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Asia Bradlee
Content Marketer at CollegeVine
Short bio
Asia is a graduate of Tulane University where she studied English and Public Health. She's held multiple writing positions and has experience writing about everything from furniture to higher education to nutrition and exercise.