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!


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!


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.


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.


“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.”

Leave a Reply