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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.)
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!
3 HOT TIPS
Common App Prompt 6
In a previous post, I warned about the possible pitfalls of writing about the new Common Application prompt 6.
My main concern was that in writing about one of your passions — a “topic, idea or concept — you will need to make sure to craft a personal essay that is mainly about YOU!
As opposed to one that is only about the “topic, idea or concept” that you pick to write about.
Read about how to write an essay about the new Common Application prompt 6 that is engaging and personal, instead of academic and dull, in this post: Common Application Prompt 6: Be Warned.
Then come back to learn three other hot tips on how to write about this tricky prompt. read more…
Big Red Flag on this New
Common Application Prompt 6!
The Common Application added two new prompts for 2017-18.
Now students can choose from seven prompts (instead of five) to inspire their personal statement “Common App” essay.
The seventh new Common Application prompt basically allows you to write about anything you want, and you can learn more about it and the new prompts in New Common Application Prompts for 2017-18.
The other prompt, the new Common Application Prompt 6, essentially asks you to write about one of your intellectual passions. read more…
GET IT FOR FREE FOR LIMITED TIME!
I’m introducing my hot-off-the-press writing guide, “Essay Hell’s 50 Most Commonly Asked Questions about College Application Essays” by giving it away for the next 5 days on Amazon.
I designed this guide for students, parents, teachers and counselors who want quick and easy answers to the questions I have fielded the most during my decade working with these dreaded college application essays.
Not only do I include simple answers for each of the 50 questions, I also include clickable links to related posts from this blog to provide even more in depth explanations, advice and tips. read more…
New Common Application Prompts for 2017-18:
TOPIC OF CHOICE IS BACK!!
Great news for you college-bound juniors who are just starting to think about your college application essays.
If you need to write your personal statement essay for The Common Application, they just made it a lot easier.
Instead of having to pick one topic from their list of suggested 5 prompts, you can now write about ANYTHING YOU WANT.
As you probably know, the University of California changed its required essay prompts for 2016-17.
Instead of writing two longer personal statement essays, you now chose from eight prompts (which they call Personal Insight Questions) and write four short essays, each under 350 words. (For incoming freshmen; transfer students have similar, yet slightly different requirement.)
The University of California recently shared several videos intended to help students understand what is expected from these new Personal Insight Questions prompts. read more…
I’m always trying to find ways to help students quickly come up with topic ideas and a path to cranking out their college application essays.
Typically, I advise them to start with their defining qualities or characteristics, and then find real-life stories or moments to illustrate one of these, and go from there.
(Use How to Write Your Common Application Essay in 3 Steps for that approach. It’s also spelled out in greater detail in my popular writing guide, Escape Essay Hell!, available on Amazon.) read more…
Most of you landed here in Essay Hell looking for advice on how to write your college application essays.
And you are definitely at the right place!
This post, however, I’m skipping the essay talk and offering something equally valuable:
As I’ve been watching the Democratic national convention this past week, I realized how much election speeches are like college application essays.
Both are sales pitches. Both candidates and college applicants want something—badly!
Candidates want votes. You want to get admitted. read more…
Want to Go To College In California?
Get Your Application in ASAP!!
This year marks my 30th year living in California.
I love this state! I moved here from across the country to join my future husband in 1986, and never looked back.
The people are welcoming and forward-minded (for the most part), the dramatic natural beauty of ocean, mountains and dessert is everywhere, and the weather is near-perfect.
Also, California’s public educational system is unsurpassed, from the network of community colleges to the Cal States to its world-class research and learning universities, like Berkeley and UCLA.
Some of my tutoring students skim through a college application essay prompt (such as the five options for The Common Application essay requirement), and in a flash, find one that speaks to them.
Others come armed with a long list of topic ideas they have been toying with for weeks.
But most, I would say more than 80 percent, have no clue where to start.
And it’s a terrible feeling. read more…
No doubt about it.
Supplemental essays are the nasty little vexation of the college application process. (And you thought the Common App essay was a pain!)
I suggest students first tackle writing their core essay for The Common Application, or other applications that require a longer, personal-statement type of essay.
Get that out of the way first. It’s the hardest and most important.
But it’s never too early to start knocking off those pesky shorter essays, known as supplemental essays. read more…
Got a Burning Question
About Your College Application Essay?
(Leave it in the Comments!)
After working with students like you for nearly a decade now, I’ve heard a lot of questions about these cursed essays.
And you are so smart to ask them.
How else can you figure out what is expected of you and how to write them?
Here’s a list of some of the most common ones I’ve heard over the years, and my answers. read more…
It’s been a big year for changes in the college admissions scene.
About the same time this was published, yet another college application system entered the admissions picture. It’s call the Cappex Application, and you can learn about it in this article. It’s supposed to “launch” in September. read more…
Students Must Write Four, All-New Short Transfer Essays
to Apply to University of California
If you want to transfer to any of the University of California schools, you need to write four short essays.
The UC changed the required essays this year (2016-17), and calls the new prompts “Personal Insight Questions.”
All but one of the four short essay prompts are almost the same as required for incoming freshmen: You have seven prompts to choose from to write three of your essays.
The fourth essay is a required prompt and specifically addresses your reasons for transferring. read more…
The first step to writing a winning college application essay is to find that perfect topic.
This is the most important step, and often the hardest.
Once you land on one, you are ready to roll.
Things fall in place. read more…
Learn How to Avoid Black-and-White Thinking
to Add Depth to Your Essays
It’s exciting to see that word is getting out to collegebound students, and those who support their admissions quests, that real-life stories power the most effective college application essays.
If you are new to this concept, read up on the narrative (storytelling) writing method that I promote all over this blog.
(If you are just starting learning about college application essays, I recommend first reading How to Write a College Application Essay in 3 Steps. This post you are reading here is intended for students who have a topic and have started writing their first draft.)
Here’s the essence of my writing approach: You use your real-life stories to illustrate or demonstrate one of your defining qualities, characteristics or core values in your college application essay or personal statement. read more…
I arrived home to California yesterday from St. Louis, Missouri, after attending my son’s graduation from Washington University in chemical engineering. (Woot Woot!)
As part of graduating from college (as well as high school), my son and other students are bombarded with life advice.
For college graduates, the idea is that you are now moving out of the structured, sheltered world of academia and into the “real world.” read more…
A Q&A With The Author of the Viral Costco Essay
Last month, Brittany Stinson learned she got into five Ivy League colleges, as well as Stanford and many other top schools.
When a newspaper reporter asked her to share her college application essay, Brittany didn’t think twice.
Within hours, her essay went viral. read more…