Your personal statement is the most difficult part of the college application – because it requires sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and personal meaning. An impossible task? Of course not. Millions of others have achieved their essay goals before you. “But how,” you ask, “do I stand out from the millions? What's best for me to keep in mind as I prepare my story?”
It’s not a complicated affair, really. Here are six pointers that will help you achieve results...
1. Prompts are…well, meant to prompt your writing.
We all love directions ― the more specific, the better. Some essay prompts are very specific, indeed, but keep in mind that the writing you do is always meant to convey your personality. So, don’t fret over precise interpretation of writing directions from a school. If you try too hard, you’ll lose your voice. You’ll write too generally. The starting point for the essay: those personal qualities that you can describe through images that bring your life to life.
2. Rummage through your mental filing cabinet.
Color, taste, smell, place. Get a few paper scraps or Post-It notes and jot down memorable personal events that elicit powerful feelings. An engaging personal memory serves as a vehicle for your personality. Don’t fret the details initially. What may seem innocuous to you at the outset may turn out to be the potent seed for a wonderfully rich, illustrative essay.
3. Writing as speaking.
Tell your story out loud – literally. You want your product to resonate with the reader as if you were sitting in the reader’s presence holding an enthusiastic conversation. What words do you choose? How can you elaborate? Dive down in detail. From your memory, retrieve as much complexity as you can. Name names! How well you use the simplest, but most arresting descriptions will have a direct bearing on the effectiveness of your essay. Let your reader see what you see, feel what you feel. Place the reader in your shoes.
4. Levels of Why.
When you write about your feelings, reactions, opinions, observations, ask yourself over and over again why you think as you do. Remember, you’re trying your level best to reveal yourself to the admissions reader as a sensitive applicant who can relate ideas and emotion in a mature and meaningful way.
5. Stretch the canvas, and then apply the paint.
Lay the groundwork for your personal voice. Generate a solid description, and then and only then paint the vivid picture. It’s the difference between writing, “My house is filled with books,” and “In our den, the colored spines of fiction and non-fiction books lie every which way on six shelves in our old walnut bookcase.”
6. Maturity, intellectual curiosity, and SELF-REFLECTION.
Somewhere along the line – often toward the end of the essay – explain how you view your thoughts in hindsight. Show that as a maturing youg adult “I was there, and now I am here.” You have learned a thing or two, but you also recognize that you are on the cusp of a great adventure as an undergraduate, entering into a vast, uncharted territory of experience. Your essay needs to have an “Aha!” moment letting the reader know how you were impacted by the story you’ve told.