Eight Essential Tips for Writing Your Personal Statement

by Marlene and Helene, GAMECHANGER essay specialists

  • Start early– Good writing takes time. Don’t wait until the week before your applications are due to start writing your essays. No matter how terrific a writer you are, the earlier you start the better the end product will be. That’s a guarantee.
  • Put words on a page– Everyone has stories to tell. Look at the prompts and brainstorm ideas. Once you have decided what prompt you want to respond to and you have some broad idea of what your narrative will be, just start writing. It doesn’t have to be beautiful writing. The first draft won’t be. Your primary objective for the first draft is merely to put words on a page. I often end up throwing away most of my initial draft and I frequently use my second paragraph as my opener because I realize that the first paragraph doesn’t get to the point quickly enough. Just tell your story and back it up with specific examples.
  • Don’t force a round peg into a square hole– Now that you have your thoughts down, read them over carefully and decide whether or not your answer is responsive to the question. If it is, now is the time to start rewriting and If it’s not, start over. Be prepared to discard several first drafts until you find the one that really speaks to you.
  • Don’t be dramatic– Don’t try to make forgetting to eat lunch last Monday sound like a life changing, dramatic or harrowing experience. You need not have cured cancer or have had a life full of adversity to have a narrative that reads well. You don’t even need a “wow” moment; you just need to reveal something about yourself and allow your personality to shine through. The best personal statement I ever read was by and about a young man who had that “aha” moment as a counselor at summer camp when he realized that his campers viewed him as an adult.
  • Be yourself-If you’re not funny, this is not the time to start writing comedy. If you’re not Shakespeare, now is not the time to start writing in iambic pentameter. This is YOUR story and YOUR writing so be authentically YOU.
  • Get help editing– Get help editing but not too much help, which means that having twenty people look at your essay and edit it will produce a discordant symphony of different voices. Your personal statement needs to be in your voice. If you ask all of your cousins who majored in English to read it, you will get dozens of revision suggestions, resulting in an amalgamation of different styles that do not go well together. Pick a few people you trust to help you with the editing process and stay with them.
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread-You’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing and you’ve crafted a solid essay. It would be nothing short of tragic to submit a personal statement with careless grammatical errors and typos. Spend a few dollars to send your essay to an online copy editing service. In addition, stick to the word count; it’s there for a reason.
  • Put a fork in it– You are done. If you’ve done all of the above, it’s time to declare your personal statement finished. I’ve seen people hold on to an essay and change a word here and a word there until the bitter end. At some point that will only serve to make you crazy. It’s now time to tackle those supplemental essays.

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