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Writing, Thinking, & Winning

How to Write a Personal Statement for College

Are you wondering how to write a personal statement for college? Together we’ll transform your personal statement from a ghastly task into a lively declaration. I’ll show you how to approach your personal statement specifically and your writing generally. As a top college essay tutor, I’m offering this personal statement help absolutely free. If you then want personalized online writing tutoring, you can sign up on this page. This is the final major post in my three-part series on personal statement writing. Like the prior two posts, this final post contains a video and article that complement one another. Learn and enjoy!

12 TIPS FOR HOW TO WRITE A PERSONAL STATEMENT FOR COLLEGE

1. BREAK FREE FROM WRITING SEQUENTIALLY

You should generate a plethora of ideas about yourself and then organize those ideas before you ever start writing. How many descriptors can you come up with to describe yourself accurately? How many stories can you remember that capture your character or personality?

When you’re getting started, follow these practical steps: First, jot down an abundance of ideas about yourself. Next, determine which of those ideas you want to use in a particular essay. Then, devise a rough outline for your piece that charts the sequence in which each of those ideas will occur.

Now your preparation pays off. Since you’ve outlined your piece, you no longer need to write your piece in sequential order. You can leave that important, potentially daunting opening paragraph for later. Skip the intro and write the body of your piece. Once you finish the body, then swing back and grapple with the intro. This way, you can far more easily evaluate how the intro needs to lead into the body of your piece…because you’ll have the body already written! 🙂

2. WRITE ABOUT SOMETHING MEANINGFUL TO YOU.

Because you’ve trusted me to teach you how to write a personal statement for college, I need to tell you that it’s imperative that you write about topics that are actually meaningful to you. “I want to write about Topic W, but admissions counselors would probably prefer Topic Z,” is a recipe for rejection. Your essay will be dull for the admissions counselor to read because it was dull for you to write. Seriously, it truly shows in a piece. You can feel it in the very cadences of the sentences. Write about something you actually care about if you want an acceptance rather than a rejection.

Besides, even if a college did accept you based on a personally meaningless essay, you’re starting your adult life (or at least what should be your adult life) on the wrong foot. Do you want your first step into adulthood to be defined by your compromising your integrity of person to achieve some end? Do you really want that to be your first step?

Let me tell you something.

Once you start going down that road of compromise, there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from worse and worse compromises, because you’ve thrown out that which was absolute. If you compromise your sense of integrity for even one thing, it’s no longer integrity: it’s a self-delusion of integrity.

And it’s terribly difficult to win back your integrity.

I’ve watched the compromise of integrity swallow people whole right in front of me in my life. I know several people who likely can’t consider who they once were in terms of integrity, because the contrast between that person and whom they’ve become through compromise would devastate them if they sincerely confronted it.

Yet they still can’t escape: it haunts them under the surface. They drown it out with constant distractions and various addictions. And those distractions and addictions themselves worsen and worsen as time goes by, because guilt, when not atoned for, screams ever louder and louder.

The compromise of your integrity is a sickening and darkening road for you to take. Don’t start down that road now. Don’t start down that road later.

Never start down that road.

3. DIVE DEEP.

You should dive deep to dredge up who you are when you’re going to write a personal statement. This is worthwhile to do for the sake of not only your personal statement’s richness, but also your self-awareness. It is absolutely vital for you to know who you are in this life. Any lesser knowledge will lead to your steady annihilation, because you won’t have any idea what it is that you need to defend and to cultivate and to prune. Know the dimensions and contents and needs of your figurative garden, if you will. To fail to know those things is to invite the world to trample all over the bed of soil that the LORD has lent you.

4. AVOID PREDICTABLE NARRATIVES.

“I want to teach you writing because I love writing.”

Oh, okay. Here’s a quick question: why should I care?

5. WRITE AS IF YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT—IT DOES!

Write as if your life depends on it—because it does.

Your personal statement will earn you either an acceptance or a rejection from any given college. (The wait list really is just a temporary state of vacillation by the school.) Based on your acceptances and rejections, you’ll choose to attend one particular college or university. That particular school will boast a particular set and caliber of people. They’ll be the people who are also attending, working at, or partnering with your school.

You’ll befriend many of those people whose career trajectories or statuses align with your own ambitions in a particular field. As time passes, those people you’ve befriended will gain more connections and have more opportunities in your career field. Thus, through your connection to those people, you may be able to accelerate your career growth. You’ll potentially be able to leapfrog over the years of career stagnancy that awaits most new college graduates. Even if you don’t speed up your career, you’ll at least position yourself within the career field that matters to you.

If you lack connections in the workforce sector that focuses on your field of study, your first job likely will be only peripherally related to your field of study. That’s a lot of money to spend on college only to start off on the wrong foot directly after college… During college, if you fail to strategize and to follow your strategy, you’ll earn yourself a post-college pencil-pusher job.

There is nothing wrong with more menial jobs and the people who work in those jobs. There is everything wrong with your paying tens of thousands of dollars in order to land such a job.

Wise up and treat your personal statement like the huge catalyst that it is. Regardless of how you treat it, your personal statement will dramatically affect the trajectory of the rest of your life. Who you will meet, where you will be, and what opportunities you will have. Bend all your will on writing a vibrant personal statement.

6. REMEMBER: THIS IS CREATIVE WRITING.

This isn’t the formulaic essay that you write in school, where the first paragraph has a strong thesis, and the body paragraphs support that strong thesis, and the final paragraph restates that strong thesis. This is creative writing.

Structure is just as vital in creative writing, but here you make the structure fit the needs of your piece. In creative writing you have some sort of focus. You want to capture a particular aesthetic. Or you want to make the reader feel a particular feeling. Maybe you want to convey some insight to the reader. Whatever your objective is, you want to mold the entire piece around that objective. And it can be more than one objective: the best writers handle many different objectives in each of their pieces.

For instance, if you really want to draw your reader’s attention to a particular sentence in your piece, but that sentence is buried in the middle of a paragraph, it would likely be a good move to break that paragraph apart. The sentence in question could then be positioned at the end of the first new paragraph or the start of the second new paragraph. In either position, that sentence will then be given more punch, which is what you wanted!

That’s just one small example of how you should be thinking while you write a creative piece.

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Hey! We’re halfway into How to Write a Personal Statement for College. Are you learning a huge amount of helpful tips? I hope so! If so, please share this article with others! 🙂

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7. TELL. THE. TRUTH.

Be honest about who you are. For example, don’t make up stories about being a leader when you haven’t conducted yourself as a leader.

In other words, don’t lie.

“People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim. What I’ve learned is that a lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked…”

― Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged

You can’t hide who you really are forever. The more things you have to hide, the harder and harder it gets to keep hiding all of those things. And one lie naturally begets another.

I promise you: your lies will catch up to you.

So tell the truth.

8. SHOW THAT YOU’RE SOMEONE WHO CARES©.

If you’re writing about a challenge that you overcame, make sure that whoever is reading your story cares by following the CARES© writing method. The essence of this writing method is nothing new. However, I’ve framed the writing method in what I think is the best sequence for you to follow. And I made it into a memorable acronym at that!

  1. Describe the—C—circumstance. What was the difficulty that you faced? Give the context; set the stage; make sense of what you’re talking about.
  2. Convey what—A—action or actions you took. How did you respond to the difficulty? What were the particular choices that you made?
  3. Tell what the—R—result of your action was. What outcome did your chosen response lead to?
  4. Engage in an—E—evaluation of your action and its result. Why did you choose that response to the circumstance? Why did your action bring about the result that it did?
  5. Display any—S—shift in your personhood because of the story that you’ve thus far described. How have you changed for the better based on the experience? Would you choose the same response to the circumstance again, or would you do something differently? What aspects of the overall experience have changed the way or manner in which you’ll approach similar circumstances?

The whole purpose of using this methodology is to make sure that your story contains tension and that it results in some meaningful change that justifies its being told in the first place. Nobody CARES© about a story that lacks tension and that leads nowhere new.

9. START STRONG!—END STRONG!

Start and end your essay on the strongest notes! Start strong so your essay isn’t dead on arrival. A dull opening will rapidly land your essay in the pile of denials. End strong so your essay leaves no doubt in the admissions counselor’s mind that you are a perfect fit for the university. A fizzling ending will discredit all the writing that preceded it.

10. BE VULNERABLE STRATEGICALLY.

When you’re going to write with vulnerable honesty, show your faults strategically, not haphazardly. Vulnerable honesty is great, because it shows that you’re real. But you don’t want to come off as someone who lacks discretion. No one wants gossipy flagellants walking around the university wailing unseemly woes about themselves and others.

11. BEGINOW!

Start this process as soon as possible—like, right after you finish reading this article…or, better yet, before you even move on! Right now, take 5 minutes: write down as many self-descriptors and synopses of stories from your life that you can.

90% of you will make an excuse for that directive. The 10% of you who eschew excuses are the ones who are destining themselves to get ahead in life. It isn’t hard. If you were going to finish reading this article immediately, you have the time. Remember: your life depends on your personal statement—its ripple effect is massive! 5 minutes to write self-descriptors and synopses of personal stories: 3, 2, 1, go!

12. WRITE ELOQUENTLY YET GENUINELY.

Write with the most eloquent version of your genuine voice. How can you know if you’re doing this? You make sure to set the proper tone for how you’ll articulate yourself whenever you’re about to write. Do so by imagining the following scenario that I made up for you! 🙂

You appear—POP!—at an all-day event, some conference about something in which you’re really, really invested. It’s the midday luncheon. You’re seated at a round table of amiable strangers. You’re all dressed in business casual attire—not too uptight, but also not too loosey-goosey.

At your table, there’s a person who’s leading the conversation. You want to impress this person, because this person has a lot to teach you about the conference’s subject. Another occupant at the table is explaining something to the conversation leader in a muddled, timid, tactless, and stilted way. The conversation leader replies, “All right…I’m not too sure about that, but good luck.” Then the conversation leader turns toward you and asks, “So, what’s your story?”

Oh! Well now…we already knew that the conversation leader and you share a common interestthe subject of the conference. Now we’ve learned that the conversation leader is someone who likes organized, confident, appropriate, and relaxed stories.

You remember that the conversation leader can seriously advance you in the subject about which you both care.

You open your mouth.

What do you say?

If you imagine that scenario before you write, you’ll capture the simultaneously eloquent and genuine tone that you need.

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That, ladies and gentlemen, is how to write a personal statement for college! Check out my next post, which follows up with 8 tips for writing in general. Alternatively, those 8 tips are included in the above video. I put those general tips in a separate post so that I wouldn’t have to oversaturate this one, which is about how to write a personal statement for college, with a particular phrase that would maximize its search engine optimization… 😉

Categories
Writing, Thinking, & Winning

What Is a Personal Statement for College?

Are you asking yourself, “What is a personal statement for college?” As a top college essay tutor, I just might be able to answer that question for you. Personal statement writing is a big deal. In fact, it’s such a big deal that it can and will have dramatic effects on the rest of your life. In this first video in a three-part series I’ve created, we’ll discuss the basics about personal statements, and then we’ll delineate the process that you should follow to complete your personal statement and your supplemental essays effectively.

Here are the full notes for the entire series on personal statements: Personal Statements Guide. Additionally, if you’d prefer to read rather than to watch a video, below is an article that I wrote based on the notes that are pertinent to this video. However you choose to learn, enjoy!

WHAT IS A PERSONAL STATEMENT FOR COLLEGE?

A personal statement is a written response to an essay prompt…I’m sure you already knew that, but did you know that it’s the most important aspect of your application? It’s your one shot to be more than data that is neck and neck with other data. When you submit your application to college, your GPA and test scores are important, but, at that point, they’re presumably locked in to those numbers, if you will, and here’s your one shot to appear as a human. Here’s your one shot to show who you are. Here’s your only chance to show your character—your capacity for leadership, your resilience, your integrity, your vulnerable honesty, and your passion—or your personality, your quirks, and other traits that distinguish you. Seize the opportunity that your personal statement is!

SOME FACTS ABOUT PERSONAL STATEMENTS

The Common App requires your personal statement to be between 250 and 650 words, and the Coalition App recommends that your personal statement fall between 500 and 650 words: the best practice is to shoot for between 500 and 650 words. Don’t skimp out on your chance to stand out. 500 to 650 words will run you approximately 1 page single spaced or 2 pages double spaced in Times New Roman 12 point font, so this isn’t a huge assignment in terms of the quantity of words that you need to produce.

However, as we’ve said, your personal statement is beyond important—it’s critical!—so this will take a lot more time than the quick reflection paper you complete the night before it’s due in class the next day. You need to show who you are, and in a really compelling and articulate way; besides wanting to get to know who you are, Admissions Counselors also want to assess what your writing capabilities are and how cogently you can express your thoughts. Start working on your personal statement with a lot of buffer time before it’s due.

PERSONAL STATEMENT COMPLETION PROCESS

Here’s the process that you need to follow to complete your personal statement.

1.  Decide on Colleges

First, decide what colleges you’re applying to. It’s important to know where you’re applying in order to apply there…

2.  Assemble All Prompts

Next, assemble all the essays that you’ll have to write. Besides the standard Common App or Coalition App main personal statement, colleges will commonly require 1 to 3 supplemental essays. So gather together all of these different prompts that you need to complete. Why? Read on!

3.  Determine Overlap

You next want to look at your list of essay prompts and find where you have different prompts that overlap in terms of their type (Regarding prompt types, please see the next post in this series, which is titled “College Personal Statement Examples Aren’t What You Need…”). This will allow you to kill two or more birds with one stone if you strategically write an essay that can be used to answer multiple different essay prompts. Beware, though, of trying to shove a triangular block into a square hole.

4.  Brainstorm about You

Next, brainstorm about yourself. What stories do you have to tell? Ask people who care about you what they see in you that makes you unique. Search online for intriguing questions that make you dig deep and really analyze yourself in order to answer them. Let loose. Throw anything that comes to mind down on the paper (or whatever you’re using). Compile all these ideas creatively and excitedly.

5.  Decide on Your Best Qualities

After that, out of all the qualities you’ve compiled, decide which ones are the ones on which you want to focus, and determine which prompts will allow you to write about those qualities (or use the “write your own essay” option).

6.  Strategize Themes

Next, you want to strategize a theme to maintain in all your responses for any given university. For example, if you’re applying to a particular school because you have the intention of earning a major in journalism, you could showcase how in the past you’ve proven to be resilient, since journalists are supposed to be just that!

7.  Pick Which Stories to Use

Following that, you can then pick a distinct focus for each of your responses to that given university. In this response, I’ll focus on story x that demonstrates my resilience, and, for that response, I’ll focus on story y that demonstrates my resilience. That way, you end up with several essays that are all fresh, but that all shout, “I am resilient! Pick me!”

8.  Write a Zip Draft©

Next, you should frenziedly write a profuse zip draft©. “I’ve never heard of that…” you’re saying. I hope not, because I made it up! “Zip” as in done speedily, and “zip” as in zero, zilch, nada, a non-entity. Don’t even consider your “zip draft” to be an official draft of your paper: it’s nothing but a speedy profusion of all you have bottled up that you want to get out so you can sort it out afterwards. No pressure: your zip draft literally means nothing (0!).

9.  Select and Organize Your Best Zip Draft© Content

After you’ve completed your ugly, gnarly, but content-abundant zip draft, you want to select its best ideas and then organize those ideas in an outline that you want to follow when you’re writing your *wink* first draft.

10.  Write Your First Draft

Next, write your first draft rhythmically and methodically while following your outline. Here you’re falling into the essay-writing pace with which you’re probably more familiar. “Slow and steady wins the race!” (And don’t ever write that cliché in your own writing unless you do it self-consciously, as I just did…rather, just don’t.)

11.  Revise Your Personal Statement

Now that you have your first draft completed, revise your essay an absurd number of times. You can work with writing wizards (like me!) between drafts (note my spiffy use of alliteration with ws at the start of this sentence).

12.  Edit Your Personal Statement

Once you’ve reached the point where you have no more revisions to make, it’s just a matter of editing your final draft. This, just like your revising, is something you want to do an absurd number of times. Get it right!—he proclaims as he whips out this quick article to accompany the video that he intended for you to watch anyway, wondering if anyone will actually ever read this light synopsis…and if there are any errors in it due to the speed with which he typed it up…

Importantly, ask at least 2 other people to edit your final draft.

13.  Submit Your Personal Statement and Supplemental Essays

Finally, submit your personal statement and supplemental essays under a “Their Loss Policy.” You made sure that what you submitted is the absolute best you can do. Therefore, if admissions counselors can’t see your merits, or if they don’t like who you are, then it’s their loss! Maintaining a “Their Loss Policy” will provide you with so much ease of mind in your life—apply it everywhere, not just with your college apps. Obviously, don’t be a brash, arrogant fool who can’t accept any constructive criticism throughout your life, but, if indeed you do work humbly and always put forth your best effort, a “Their Loss Policy” is, I would argue, an absolute essential for you to live a healthy life.

MICRO-SUMMARY

“What is a personal statement for college?” Boom. Now you know!

Check out the next post in this series: “College Personal Statement Examples Aren’t What You Need.”