Key Tips for Writing Your Personal Statement Essay

Ivy & Quill - Key Tips for Writing Your Personal Statement Essay
  • Start as early in the process as possible. The more time you have to write, the more revising you can do and thus, the better your essay will be. Also, procrastination leads to unnecessary stress.
  • Brainstorm and outline before you begin. It’s amazing how many ideas you can come up with through effective brainstorming. Jot down strengths, interests, talents, or aspects of your personality that you really want the admissions officers to know about. Creating an outline will allow you to view the entire skeleton of your essay, making flaws in flow and organization of ideas visible.
  • Make your essay your own. Think about what you care about, what sparks your interest, or what motivates you, and then write about it. Don’t write about what you think admissions officers want to hear.
  • Don’t be common. Take a risk! Don’t write what everyone else is writing about. Read essays online, ask your friends what they are writing about, and then choose something completely different.
  • Allow your personality to shine. This is the only part of the application that allows admissions officers to see you from your own perspective. If you are generally a funny person, feel free to sprinkle a few witticisms or silly metaphors in your essay, but don’t attempt to write an entire satire or comical piece. Remember: the essay’s purpose is to convey your intelligence, passions, and strengths—not your sense of humor.
  • Stay focused. This is your chance to tell the admissions officers why they should accept you. They already have your activity sheet, so avoid making your essay read like a stale grocery list of awards and accomplishments. Rather, choose one topic that really interests you and write about it. Stick to one main theme throughout the entire essay. Even if the essay prompt is rather broad, your answer should be narrow. Through specific details and real examples, your writing will reveal your passions and personality.
  • Have fun! College admissions essays tend to lean more toward personal narrative and free-form writing and are therefore more loosely structured than academic essays. It is still important to have your ideas flow logically within and between paragraphs, but this essay is not a test in creative writing. Content trumps form—once you figure out what to write about (arguably the most difficult part), just let the words flow with sincerity during your first draft.
  • Be specific, clear, and to-the-point.
  • Do not exceed the word limit.
  • Don’t plagiarize. This should go without saying, but don’t ever copy or tweak someone else’s essay. Even if you found it buried hundreds of clicks away from an initial Google search, admissions officers have literally read thousands (if not tens of thousands) of college application essays in their lives and more than likely will be able to spot plagiarism. Plagiarizing is simply unacceptable in America, and a plagiarized essay will be tossed in the trash.
  • Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite! Don’t expect a flawless (or even good) essay on your first try. The pressure will stress you out and probably contribute to a frustrating case of writer’s block. Don’t worry about trivial things you can clean up later, such as grammar or spelling. First, simply get your ideas off your head and onto paper. Then, a few hours or even a few days later, look at your work with fresh eyes.
  • Edit. Go through your entire essay a few times and Spell Check (once on the computer, and once or twice manually for homonymic mistakes that a word processor may not catch such as “they’re” vs. “their”). Remove frivolous or nondescript words such as “very,” “many,” and “interesting,” which weaken your writing. Check for grammatical and punctuation errors. You may want to ask someone who hasn’t yet read your essay to proofread it for you, as they are more likely to catch mistakes. Even minor mistakes show a lack of care for quality in your work.
  • Ask a friend or teacher for an opinion. When you think you’re finally done with this grueling process, find someone whose opinion you trust (e.g., a scholarly friend, an English teacher, a parent). Ask them what you can do to improve your writing, and accept their feedback gracefully. Listen carefully and consider their suggestions. In the end, it is your essay, so do not implement any changes you disagree with and ensure that your narrative remains in your writing voice.
  • Read your essay aloud. Yes, aloud. Not in your head. By reading an essay aloud, you will be able to pick up any phrases that sound awkward or wordy while noticing which areas don’t flow smoothly.
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