Where Thoughts Meet Words: Guiding Questions & Statements to Make the Brainstorming Part of the Personal Statement (Much) Easier

Brainstorming for the Personal Statement

One of the most challenging things about writing is sitting down to a “new” Word document or to a lined piece of paper. If the white page were to have eyes, chances are it would stare blankly at you, waiting for you to make the first move. It may even snicker at your inability to come up with an idea. Thankfully, this horrifying scene is 0% likely since a piece of paper or a Word document is simply a surface that allows us to transform our thoughts in a concrete matter when recording them into written words.

Although the process of starting something from scratch can be exciting, it can also be quite overwhelming. Luckily, writing is an expressive and creative medium that allows for one to engage in a process of stream of thought (the process of writing down the first things that come to mind) or brainstorming (literally partaking in the process of thinking in order to come up with ideas and solutions) in a way that feels safe. This sense of safety exists because you, the writer, have the freedom to think about and write down whatever you’d like without fear of being judged.

Insider Tip: The first step in any good writing practice is to brainstorm—whether it be to address a research question, write a personal narrative, or develop an expository essay.

When faced with the task of starting the Personal Statement, you may be caught up with self-doubt as to whether your story is worth telling. For this reason, jotting down life events and experiences that are important and/or memorable to you is the perfect place to begin. By engaging in this type of activity, you give form to your thoughts, which can give way to a really great personal narrative that can later be transformed into your final Personal Statement!

Here are some key questions/guiding statements that you can use to help you when faced with the initial step of getting some ideas down on paper – feel free to write shorthand notes or an extensive paragraph. Remember that this process is about you and you only. So, have fun with it! 

  1. What is my favorite academic subject and why? What was one of the key memories that sparked my interest in this subject area?
  2. What has been my greatest success to date? What were the steps I took to achieve success? How did I feel when I accomplished what I set out to do?
  3. What has been my greatest challenge to date? How did I overcome it, or what steps I am taking to overcome it?
  4. What is one of my most unique and special talents? How did I discover that I have this talent?
  5. The extracurricular activity that I pursue with passion is….I do this because….
  6. What are my best three character traits and why?
  7. How would I describe my family life? How has my family life shaped who I am?
  8. How has my background/religion/culture/country of origin shaped who I am?
  9. The three things (can be: people/places/things/animals) in my life that are most impacting to me are….because….
  10. One of the biggest life lessons that I have learned thus far has been….I learned this lesson by.…it has made me more….

When you’re done with this activity, check out our tips on topic selection.

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