There are many tips for how to write a good personal statement, including how to understand the prompt, draft your outline and receive adequate feedback. Take a look.
The college application process can feel overwhelming, and that’s because it typically involves a lot of requests, plus the pressure of hoping you get accepted to the school. Along with submitting your grades and extracurricular experiences, you may be asked to write a personal statement, which is the most subjective of all items. Here’s how to write a good personal statement.
What is a personal statement and why does it matter?
A personal statement is an essay you submit to the college admissions board that shares why you should be accepted to their school. These may be requested at the undergraduate or graduate level, and even more than showing a school why you should be accepted, it also is an introduction to who you are.
Moreover, a personal statement serves to showcase your writing skills, can be the place where you get to explain extenuating circumstances, and is where you can tell the admissions committee why you want to attend their institution in particular.
When writing your personal statement, it’s first and foremost important to understand the requirements. While not all schools require a personal statement, for example University of the People does not, those that do ask for them will provide a specific prompt.
Common Prompts: Questions to Ask Yourself
There are a variety of prompts that colleges may give for a personal statement. Some may even ask for more than one essay to be completed. To get a feel for what may be asked, here are a few examples of prompts:
1. Personal Experience:
These prompts will ask questions about an event that changed your life or a relationship that helped to shape who you are. It can also incorporate an academic experience or subject that has caused you to take action outside of the classroom.
2. Overcoming Challenge:
To understand how you face problems and grow from them, a prompt may ask about an obstacle you faced that later contributed to your success or outlook on life. This can be anything from failing a course to being a refugee. Whatever your challenge may be, it is valid and worth sharing honestly because it helps to make you who you are.
Colleges are a melting pot. For example, at University of the People, students from over 200 countries and regions come together to learn with one another. To understand how you may interact with students from different life circumstances, colleges may directly ask you to share such experiences.
4. Future Goals:
Such prompts will ask you about your future career or life goals and how what you study can help you get there.
5. Why This School:
You have countless options for where to apply for college. From studying abroad to online universities and all the traditional insitutitions, this prompt is much like a job interview. For these questions, be sure you research the school and their differentiating factors and make it personal to what you’re looking for and the kind of student you are.
6. Creative and Open-Ended:
Some schools will allow you to answer a very open-ended and seemingly strange prompt to get a feel for your creative side. They may feel totally random, but they are a good way to get to know how you think and express your ideas.
Top Tips to Write Your Personal Statement
Everyone has a different writing style and writing ritual, but here are some key tips to help you write the best personal statement you can create:
1. Understand and Outline:
Make sure you understand the prompt. You should not only understand what it’s asking you, but also try to get a feel for what kind of information the school is requesting by seeing where the prompt fits in categorically based on the question. For example, is it a prompt questioning your character, how you interact with others, what you want to become, etc. Then, begin brainstorming and outlining the story you will tell to answer the question.
2. Write First:
Before editing or considering the character count, just start writing. Have your ideas out on the page and edit later. Most prompts will provide you with a limit for the character count, but it’s best practice to write everything first before cutting it down so you can see what information may be removed without leaving gaps in the understanding of the story you are telling.
In terms of structure, most essays require the same common ordering, namely: an introduction, supporting body paragraphs and a conclusion. The introduction paragraph should express your thesis statement, or the main point you’re getting across, along with the menu of supporting ideas you will present in the following body paragraphs. For the conclusion, be sure to restate the introduction in different words and wrap up how everything you’ve written comes together to explain your thesis.
Make sure you answer the prompt. Along with the subject, the essay should display well-roundedness, be positive in tone (even if it’s about a hardship), and may even connect to the relevance of your future goals and major.
5. Overall Tips:
Once you’ve written your first draft, read it aloud to yourself to catch any typos and mistakes. Make sure you ask someone you trust to proofread it as well. When you write for yourself, it may make sense to you, but you want to make sure that the story is understandable for a third party, especially in terms of flow and any missing information. It pays to start early so that you can take your time, edit more than once, and remain honest throughout the entire process. After you’ve written a clear and specific essay and hit submit, try not to reread it again since you’ve already turned it in.
Dos and Don’ts
When you get the prompt, you’re ready to get going. Keep in mind the following:
- Get started right away
- Outline your essay
- Proofread and share with those close to you for feedback
- Be honest
- Write a clear and captivating hook statement to open and grab the reader’s attention
- Use a collaborative tool to draft (such as Google Docs where edits can be tracked and accepted or rejected)
- Lie or make up a response
- Mention anything that isn’t relevant to the prompt
- Submit the exact same essay for different schools
The Bottom Line
As the most subjective aspect of your college application, the personal statement holds a lot of weight, but it is also a great opportunity to showcase your personality and share your own story. Regardless of the prompt you are given, you’ll want to get started early and create an outline that helps you to answer the question at hand.
Be sure to leverage people you trust to help you edit and revise your personal statement before pressing submit. And, once you do submit, let it go and patiently await the university’s decision! No matter where you end up, you’ll be meant to be at that college.
And, if a traditional university is not something you’re interested in because you prefer to study flexibly on your own time, be sure to check out the various tuition-free degree-granting programs at University of the People — no personal statement required!