I’m sure you’ve heard all about the Personal Statement by now, as it plays a huge role in your college application. But what exactly is a Personal Statement? It may help to remember that the Personal Statement is the same thing as a personal narrative essay, which you may have written in your earlier school years. The personal means that the content in the essay should be based on your own life experiences. The narrative means that the essay will be told in a story-like manner. Since Personal Statements are about your own life, they should be told in the first-person voice: I. Events in the story should be recounted in the past tense, and if you choose to add a reflective conclusion, this may be in the past or present tense depending on the content therein.
The most common structure for the Personal Statement is the 5-paragraph essay. This type of essay begins with a hook—something that pulls the reader in—as the first sentence of the introduction. The introduction is typically followed by a series of events, reactions, and thoughts that take up three body paragraphs. These paragraphs are separated by transitional phrases and paragraph breaks, just like in a regular story. It may be helpful to think of each paragraph as a scene, like in a movie. The fifth paragraph of this essay is usually a reflective conclusion. However, if you feel that the theme of your essay is clear from the story itself, feel free to omit the reflection from your concluding paragraph. In this case, the essay will simply conclude with the end of the story itself. For an example of an essay that omits a reflective conclusion and simply ends with the resolution, see this essay.
Depending on the content of your essay, you may choose to be more creative and use an alternative structure. For example, a diary format could work well for an essay about a life-changing vacation, or about an experience where your views or perspectives changed. The events in a diary format essay can span anywhere from a few days to at most, a summer. A manifesto structure works well for students who have firm convictions that define them: a faith or philosophy, a personal code of conduct, or lifestyle choices such as vegetarianism. A pivotal essay works well when the conflict is very intriguing, as in these essays the conflict serves as the essay’s opening hook. Remember to choose your structure based on the content of your essay itself!