Start Your Personal Statement the Right Way

personal statement

 

Ready to write your personal statement essay?

It can be for your Common Application essay, or other university or college prompts, or transfers, or medical or law school, or even scholarship applications.

To start, always read the prompt.

If it asks you to write something fundamental about yourself (such as all seven of the Common App prompts), then they want a personal statement essay from you.

The next step is to start brainstorming.

You want to find a topic for your personal statement that will help the reader (college admissions officers) get a take on what you are all about, what makes you tick.

Before you start fishing around your past for topic ideas, it helps to know what you are looking for.

I’ve narrowed it down to two important, if not key, components of effective personal statements.

 

personal statement

 

Character and Personality.

There’s potential crossover in these two concepts, since each defines some part of your individuality.

At the same time, they are distinct and critical to helping convey who you are to your target schools.

The beauty of featuring both your character and personality in your essay is that it will help you balance the portrait you are painting of yourself through language.

Character tends to be more serious, deep and analytical while personality usually is lighter, creative and entertaining.

In both life and personal statement essays, balance is usually a good thing.

Here’s how I define character and personality, and why you need to find ways to convey and express them BOTH in your personal statement.

personal statement

 

Character in Personal Statements

Character is what helps you stand out in the world through your “mental and moral” qualities.

I call them your core values, or on a more personal level, your defining qualities and characteristics.

The best personal statements capture and convey the writer’s character because schools need to understand what you value, how you think and what you believe.

When you are brainstorming topic ideas for your personal statement, first identify a single core quality that captures or expresses something about your character.

For example, integrity, persistence, creativity, humility, empathy, wonder, etc. It should be something that you value above almost all else.

Pick one. Yes, just one. (This makes sure you don’t try to say too much in your essay, and end up on the dull side.)

These qualities are pretty universal, so writing about them can be tough to set yourself apart from other students, many of whom hold similar values.

So how do you showcase your all-important character in your personal statement and distinguish yourself from others at the same time?

personal statement

Personality in Personal Statements

That’s where personality comes into play.

Personality is not universal.

Only one person on the planet has your personality: YOU.

Personality is how you–and only you–express or demonstrate your character on a daily basis.

It’s your unique personal style of expression in the world.

If you can figure out a way (a topic!) to highlight BOTH your character and your personality in your personal statement, you will nail it. Hands down.

But how do you that, and still craft an essay that is interesting to read?

It’s actually pretty simple. And time to start that brainstorming process.

What you need is a real-life experience or incident that you can share in your personal statement that shows you–and your personality and character–in action.

I’ve written many super helpful posts on exactly how to find those moments or experiences and spin them into killer personal statements—and showcase BOTH your character and personality at the same time.

I share many writing tricks and tips on how to identify those magic moments, as well as how to make sure your essay is focused and engaging.

If this approach makes sense to you, I would advise you to spend a few more minutes and read these posts.

How to Write a College Application in 3 Easy Steps

Find Your Defining Qualities and Characteristics

The Secret to a Killer College Application Essay

If you want to keep going and learning more about how to write a personal statement, there are blue links to more posts in the ones you just checked out.

This may be all you need to get you well on your way.

If you want more help, in the form of more in-depth, step-by-step instruction, check out my writing guide, Escape Essay Hell!, and/or my online essay writing course.

I also highly encourage you to check out some sample essays to see the type of personal statement essay these resources will help you write. (Notice how they all showcase the student’s character and personality.)

 

personal statement

 

Character and Personality
Checklist for Your Personal Statement

Once you crank out a rough draft, here are some questions to ask about what you have written to check if you have captured and expressed both your character and your personality:

Do you feature a moment or experience that reveals one of your defining qualities or characteristics?

Do you share some type of problem (challenge, obstacle, failure, set-back, etc.) from your life that allows you to explain how you thought about it and what you learned in dealing with it?

Do you include how you felt during whatever moment or experience you shared, and explain the specific steps you took to handle it? (

Can you identify the main core quality, characteristic or value that you essay is about?

Can you write in one sentence or phrase what your unique style is in handling the problem you shared?

Did you include what you learned about yourself and the world from the experience/problem you shared?

Good luck with your personal statement essay!

personal statement

Find Your Defining Qualities

No matter what the prompt asks for, almost any effective college essay should showcase one or several of what I call your “defining qualities.”

If the prompt asks you to write a personal statement (for The Common App), tell about yourself or wants to know why you are a fit for their university, you will need a clear idea of the core qualities or characteristics that make you who you are—that “define” you.

Once you know those, you can write an essay that helps the reader understand how you are that way, and why it matters.

Of course, along the way, you will also mention your related interests, passions, idiosyncrasies, talents, experiences, accomplishments and even your endearing flaws.

(If you are confused at this point, you might want to check out my Quickie Jumpstart Guide to better understand the role these “defining qualities” play in a college admissions essay or personal statement.) (more…)

Where’s Waldo? and Creativity in College Essays

 

College Admissions Essays

It’s Official: Get Creative!

Colleges tell students that they want their essays to show them what sets them apart from the pack and what makes them unique. Yet most of the college application essay prompts do a poor job of helping students find topics that help them reveal their true personalities and character. The Los Angeles Times just wrote an article about how some colleges are finally crafting prompts that do a better job of encouraging students to feel comfortable taking a risk and showing their idiosyncrasies and quirks, rather than showcasing only their accomplishments and hardships. The main point of the article: Get creative!

This is an exciting trend, in my opinion, one I’ve encouraged for years now. My advice is to try to write about these more creative topics even when answering prompts that still aren’t creative. (Such as the list of Common App prompts, especially now that there will not be the Topic of Choice option.) I have lots of tips and advice all over my blog on how to find these types of topics.  The point is that college admissions folks are starting to change their prompts because they are sick of reading about the same topics where students recount mission trips and sports victories. Take a risk. Get creative. Tell a story. Write about something mundane, rather than impressive. (more…)

Personal Quality, Talent, Accomplishment…UC Prompt #2

UPDATE: as of March 23, 2016 The University of California announced NEW essay prompts for 2016-17. Read about how to answer them HERE.

This post is now outdated. The information is no longer relevant!!

  

College Admissions Essay:

How to Nail Prompt #2 for UC Essays

If you want to be a freshman or transfer student at one of the University of California schools, you will need to answer this question to write one of their two required personal statement essays, also known as Prompt #2:

“Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?”

In essence, they want you to write a personal statement.

A personal statement is an essay that shows the reader what makes you tick, what you care about, what sets you apart from the crowd.

Yes, it’s pretty wide open. Almost any topic can work—it’s all about what you have to say about it.

This entire blog has advice on how to write these.

But I’m going to map out a specific plan that should help you target this exact prompt. (more…)