Call to All Juniors: Get a Jump Start on the Personal Statement

In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “You may delay, but time will not, and lost time is never found again.”

School is almost out and the idea of taking in some sun, traveling, hanging out with friends, reading a great book, going to concerts, seeing an awesome summer flick at the movie theater, or even earning some money by doing a summer job or taking on an internship are all valid thoughts that should rightfully be on the forefront of your mind. Yet for better or for worse, there is something else to add to this list…and that is plan for the personal statement.

For those of you who don’t know what the personal statement is or you have kind of heard about it but don’t really fully grasp why it is important, this essay is considered to be your true moment to shine when applying to college. Of course schools will highly consider your grades, SAT/ACT scores, honors and achievements, and extracurricular participation. In theory, admissions officers will see you in terms of stats rather than as the individual that you truly are. Yet, once they read your personal statement, they start to get a sense of how you live your life, perceive the world, and how you have been shaped into the person you are. (Helpful reference: a personal statement is a personal narrative essay that is about 650 words which tells your unique story that nicely matches up with one of the given Common App or Coalition App prompts.)

The personal statement essay (along with the supplemental essays required by some schools) may seem challenging at first and quite frankly, it could come off as being intimidating. Yet once you digest the fact that this essay is about YOU, you should start to feel more confident since you actually know yourself/your story best. At this point, this is when you can start to do some “soul searching” and inner reflection through the form of brainstorming. Once you start to reflect on various life events and experiences that could be worth telling, you can then go into developing an outline that could help you organize your thoughts written down on paper (or of course typed out).

From there, you can flow into the drafting process once you have settled upon your idea. After you have roughly written down your story, you will go back to clarify the essay’s content. This self-revision process will take multiple rounds of review and making changes. Once you feel good about how your essay has developed, it is a wise idea to ask a trusted friend and/or family member to look over your personal statement so that they can give you feedback. Or even better, you can always reach out to a professional admission essay consultant, who is truly a valuable resource (we’re here to help you, just reach out and ask how to learn more).

Once the content and structure of the essay are set, you have arrived at the final step, which is the editing and proofreading process. This entails carefully evaluating language/word choices, the stylistic tone, ensuring that you have spelled all words correctly, and that you have used English grammar and punctuation correctly.

As expressed above, the process of developing an outstanding personal statement takes time. Therefore, give yourself the summer before senior year to go through these steps without feeling the immense pressure that the start of school brings.

By: Marisa De Marco-Costanzo

Real College Stories & Advice for College-bound Students

Read through posts that provide great tips, strategies, and advice about once you get accepted into college and what to expect once you begin your undergraduate journey on campus and perhaps even abroad! For any inquires, please contact us and feel free to comment!

Tackling the Common App – Prompt #2: The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

This essay prompt seems to defy most applicants’ inclinations to brag. It is far easier to bask in success than to tell strangers about a failure. It takes confidence to acknowledge and examine your shortcomings. The description of the failure should be clear and concise. Spend the majority of the essay discussing how you responded to the failure and learned from that experience.

Be honest in describing your reaction to the failure. Were you angry at yourself? Surprised? Did the failure motivate you to act? The lessons learned from the failure is the most important part of this essay. Include a thorough self-analysis and introspection which shows that you are self-aware.

The point of this essay is to show that you can evaluate, learn from, and move on from your failures.

By: Andrea Schiralli

Tackling the Common App – Prompt # 5: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

It is rare that one event will instantaneously transform you from adult to child, but if you have one in mind, by all means write about it. Be sure not to come off as a braggart—rather than boast about the accomplishment, mention it humbly while focusing more on an analysis of your personal growth.

There are so many types of accomplishments you can write about here. Did you reach a personal goal, whether academic, musical, or sports-related? Did you do something alone for the first time, such as travel to a new country or take care of your baby sister the whole day? Did you start your own organization or charity? Did you grow from a moment of failure (see Prompt 2)?

In 1-2 sentences of your conclusion, briefly mention why your accomplishment or event made those within your culture, community, or family start viewing you as an adult. What does it mean to be an adult in these contexts? For example, in the Jewish faith one is considered an adult after his Bat Mitzvah. In many Western families, a child is considered an adult the day he or she turns eighteen.

By: Andrea Schiralli

Supplemental Essay Example #3: Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.

Don’t spend too much time describing. Rather, focus on analyzing a character, person, or work and its influence on you. When did you come across the essay’s subject? What attracted you to it? How and why has it influenced you? The explanation is the core of this type of essay, as it will reveal your personality and passions.

Remember that a “creative work” doesn’t necessarily have to apply to the studio arts or literature. Every field, from engineering and math to psychology and medicine, requires creative thinking for progress.Focus a bit more on the subject’s “influence on you.” After all, admissions officers are reading your essay to learn about you and no one else.

By: Andrea Schiralli

Supplemental Essay Example #2: Discuss an important local, national, or international issue and its importance to you.

Again, this is not the place to superficially summarize. To discuss means to think critically about a topic and to analyze it in depth. When faced with this question, most students write about major, complex, and global issues such as the detrimental effects of global warming on the environment. Such broad topics are unoriginal and impersonal. Choose a smaller issue or one that you can actually affect with your “one person” actions. The point of this, as with any essay, is to reveal something about yourself. Maybe there were too many homeless people in your local community so you started organizing students to volunteer at the soup kitchen after school. Maybe religious intolerance bothers you, so you started reading various religions’ core texts in order to have a more unbiased point of view on such an important aspect of people’s lives. Whatever you choose to write about, be sure to make it as much about you as possible.

By: Andrea Schiralli

Why Embracing Writing Makes High School and College Life Infinitely Easier

After receiving a C+ on “How to Write an Effective High School Paper,” a 10th grade writing assignment that was given to my classmates and me in September, I couldn’t help but think that the year ahead was going to be a complete struggle and bore. Ugh! I thought when seeing my carefully handwritten three-page paper all marked up with red lines, symbols, and illegible comments by my English teacher. In my defense, the other students received from the C to F range, with the exception of one girl who got a B-.

Mrs. Brown (*name change to protect the innocent) positioned herself as the type of teacher who would never even dream of giving out an easy A; it would only be earned if merited. The sight of Mrs. Brown each afternoon could turn your stomach after lunch. Oh, the demands she had on us to become highly effective writers and readers with a strong command of the English language!

One day when another classmate began to zone out during her lecture, she called him out—however, through use of empathy instead of wrath. She opened up and for the first time shared a little bit of her own experience as a high school student with us. She talked about her struggles with writing and how with diligence, she transformed her weaknesses into her strength. She admitted that she too would find herself zoning out as a student only to find that she missed out “on all the learning” that she could have benefited from.

In that moment, Mrs. Brown seemed different; she crossed the line from teacher to one of us: a human. She explained how learning in general can be so much more interesting if one actually pays attention. She added that when one continuously looks at the clock or out the window, time will never pass, and learning feels like a chore, whereas when one is engaged, time passes quickly, and one even wants more of it.

The next day, when I took my seat, I determined to listen intently and perform to the best of my ability so that I too wouldn’t miss out on all of the important things I needed to learn. It worked like magic! The class period flew by, and I finally understood some key writing elements that I was previously fuzzy on.

Mrs. Brown’s class surprisingly ended up becoming my favorite that year, and I ultimately earned my A. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.  If it wasn’t for her hard but meaningful lectures, writing activities, and numerous requests of essay revisions, I don’t believe I would have developed my writing skills and passion for literary expression.

For the remainder of my high school and college career, my confidence as a writer helped me achieve better results and assisted me to reach heights never imagined. It also made my studies that much easier. Other teachers and professors would even compliment me on my abilities and command of my language expression.

So what’s the point of all of this? Writing not only becomes one of the fundamental skills that we need to use as students, but it is used in our everyday lives; both personally and professionally in all types of forms. It’s a type of communication that gives us freedom—the freedom to share our innermost thoughts and convictions with our readers.

By Marisa De Marco-Costanzo

Stylistic Tips: What to Avoid

Wordiness and repetition. More often than not, students can cut at least a quarter of their essays and lose no meaningful content. Avoid repetition, fluff, and verbal fillers—there is no place for excess in a piece which is meant to be as engaging and effective as possible.

Making your essays dramatic, boring, or impenetrable.

Vague language. Never use words like “stuff” or “things;” they are far too imprecise. Even writing “this aspect of society bothers me…” is too unclear. What “aspect” are you specifically talking about? Do you really mean society as a whole, or just one specific group? Be clear and remember that admissions officers are not mind readers.

Clichéd metaphors, similes, phrases, or expressions. For example, avoid: “He is one in a million,” and terms such as “my global perspective” or “my potential as a future leader.” Clichés make essays sound uninspired and unoriginal—could you really not come up with a way to say something that hasn’t already been overused to the point of exhaustion? Clichés only show a writer’s lack of creativity.

Overusing the first-person. Most college admissions essays ask you to write about yourself anyway, so they are obviously going to be written as first-person narrative. Overusing “I” is an easy mistake to make. More than once per sentence is generally too much. Instead of using “I” all the time, use different pronouns or simply omit them.

Example: I love eating desserts so I started baking classes on the weekends. In particular, I focused on chocolates, cupcakes, and tortes. I really enjoyed these courses, and they’ve added a lot to my life. → An obsession with desserts drove me to attend weekend baking classes, focusing on chocolates, cupcakes, and tortes. These courses were very enjoyable and added a lot to my life.

Going off on tangents. Not all information about a certain experience, event, etc. needs to be mentioned. If content is not related to your main point or serves a purpose, exclude it.

Excess expletive constructions. Expletive constructions usually begin with “there” or “it.” “There is/there are,” “it is,” “it seems,” and the like are usually unnecessary. In an expletive construction, the “there,” or “it” do not serve as pronouns (aka they have no antecedents, meaning that they do not refer to anything); rather, they are merely empty subjects followed by a conjugation of the trite verb “to be.” To keep sentences engaging, use meaningful subjects and verbs.

Example: There were two girls in class who had problems with math. → Two girls in class had problems with math.

Example: It is Monday that I get to see my teacher again. →  On Monday I get to see my teacher again.

Don’t overuse flowery language. Too many adjectives, adverbs, and pompous words can ruin the reading experience by creating a suffocating feeling. Rather, use strong verbs to breathe some life into your essay.

Example: He lovingly gazed into her eyes and paused for a brief moment. Then, he took her soft, delicate hand in his, and whispered, “Will you marry me?” → He gazed into her eyes and paused for a moment. Then, he took her hand in his and whispered, “Will you marry me?”

Weak verbs. Just as strong verbs can make an essay, weak ones will ruin them. It’s inevitable that you will often use the verb “to be,” but do not overuse it. When another verb is possible or preferable, opt for it. The example below, though grammatically correct, is stylistically lacking. Notice how the bland verb “is” is replaced by “deserves” and “trace.”

Example: My mother is responsible for shaping me into the person I am today. She is not aware of her influence on me, however. →  My mother deserves credit for shaping me into the person I am today. Though unaware of her influence on me, I can trace my success back to her.

Unnecessary use of the passive voice. Using the passive voice—in other words, creating a sentence in which the object takes the position of the subject—is not grammatically incorrect, but over or unnecessary use makes essays wordy and confusing.

Example: The window was left open by Joe. (passive) →  Joe left the window open.(active)

Example: The ball was thrown into the goal by Sally. (passive) → Sally threw the ball into the goal as hard as she could. (active)

Note that the aforementioned passive examples are awkward. While reading the sentence, the reader wonders who is performing the action and is left guessing until the sentence’s end. To avoid confusion, place the subject in the typical subject position, at the front.

However, sometimes you would actually prefer to use the passive voice. If the focus of the sentence is the object, rather than the action, you should use the passive voice.

Example: As it was hit by a baseball bat, the precious Faberge egg shattered. (active) →  The precious Faberge egg shattered as it was hit by a baseball bat. (passive)

By: Andrea Schiralli

Essay Topics to Avoid

Your heroism. If you saved someone in a swimming pool and that experience really changed you, okay, write about it. Just make sure the essay does not come off as arrogant. Be humble when describing your heroic (a word to avoid in the essay, by the way) efforts.

Pity me! Topics that call upon self-pity may even raise a red-flag as to how ready you are to handle college at this point. Save these topics for a psychology class or your diary.

Excuses. Related to “Pity me!” excuses (divorce or death in the family, moving to a new school, etc.) for bad grades should be explained in a supplemental attachment. Most applications provide an area where you can explain extenuating circumstances which may have affected your academic record. Keep these short and sweet, and most importantly, far away from your main essays.

The travel itinerary. So many students write about traveling that it is no longer a unique topic. If one excursion changed you for the better or opened your eyes in some way, focus on it. Just make sure to explore the important aspects of the journey in-depth and introspectively, rather than providing an itinerary of places you’ve been to.

Touchy religious or political issues. Major issues such as abortion, the legalization of marijuana, and overseas wars are extremely divisive. Though you may be convinced your arguments are solid and that your point of view is “right,” no one likes being lectured to. The risks of offending the admissions officers are too high, so save these types of essays for history, political science, or sociology courses once/if you’re accepted.

Dating/sex life. Writing about a steamy or controversial topic may be an easy way to grab attention, but it will likely just embarrass your reader. Avoid topics you would not feel comfortable speaking to a stranger with. Some aspects of life are best kept private.

Drug use. Every college has to deal with on-campus substance abuse. Even if you’ve overcome the hardest of addictions, your admissions essay is no place to mention it.

By: Andrea Schiralli

College Admission: Essays

Read through posts that provide great tips, strategies, and advice to calm “essay anxiety” when affronting the admission essay process! For any inquires, please contact us and feel free to comment!