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How to write a powerful personal statement for college applications

The personal statement is a key part of many university applications. We'll help you write the one that gets you into your top choice college.

Written by

Sigrid Kenmuir

As a high school student preparing to apply for colleges and universities, you're likely aware that a personal statement is an essential part of the process. This essay is your chance to showcase your personality, experiences, and ambitions to admissions officers and convince them that you're a good fit for their school. But how do you write a personal statement that stands out from the thousands of other applicants? In this article, we'll offer tips and strategies for crafting a powerful, impactful personal statement that will help you achieve your college goals.

1. Know your audience

Before you start writing your personal statement, it's important to understand who you're writing for. Admissions officers read hundreds or even thousands of personal statements every year, so it's essential to grab their attention and make a memorable impression. 

To do this, you'll need to research the school you're applying to and tailor your essay to their specific mission, values, and culture. What makes this school unique? What are their priorities and goals? How can you contribute to their community? By answering these questions, you'll be able to craft a personal statement that speaks directly to the admissions officers and demonstrates your fit with their school. Yes, that means you’ll have to write – or at least edit – a new personal statement for each application. It’s more work, but trust us, it’s worth it!

2. Start with a strong hook

Your personal statement should begin with a strong, attention-grabbing introduction that sets the tone for the rest of your essay. This could be a personal anecdote, a provocative question, a surprising statistic, or a bold statement. The goal is to capture the reader's interest and make them want to keep reading. Avoid cliches, generic statements, or platitudes that don't reveal anything about you or your personality. Instead, try to show your unique voice and perspective from the very first sentence.

Think of this first line as your first impression, your elevator pitch. You want to make sure you capture attention before the reader loses interest. Watch TED talks to get an idea of what makes a good opening statement or hook.

3. Show, don't tell

One of the most common mistakes students make when writing personal statements is relying too much on abstract or general statements about their character or achievements. For example, instead of saying "I'm a hard worker," try to provide concrete examples of times when you demonstrated this quality. Did you take on a challenging project at school or work? Did you volunteer for a cause you cared about and put in extra effort to make a difference? By showing specific instances where you've displayed a particular trait, you'll make a stronger impression on the reader and demonstrate your credibility.

This is a great place to talk about any real-world experience you have. Micro-internships, internships, and casual jobs are a great way to show your reader that you mean business and actually possess the skills and characteristics you say you have.


4. Use specific, vivid details

To make your personal statement come alive, it's important to use specific, vivid details that engage the reader's senses and imagination. Instead of saying "I love music," describe a particular song or artist that inspires you and explain why. Instead of saying "I'm interested in science," describe a particular experiment or research project that you found fascinating and explain what you learned from it. By using concrete, sensory details, you'll help the reader visualise your experiences and see things from your perspective.

5. Be authentic and genuine

One of the most important things to remember when writing a personal statement is to be yourself. Admissions officers want to get to know the real you, not a sanitised or idealised version of yourself. Don't try to imitate someone else's writing style or use big words that you don't normally use. Instead, write in your own voice and use language that feels natural to you – while being grammatically correct, of course. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and don't be afraid to show vulnerability or admit to making mistakes. By being authentic and genuine, you'll earn the reader's trust and make a more meaningful connection.

6. Connect your experiences to your future goals

Another key element of a strong personal statement is demonstrating how your past experiences and achievements have prepared you for your future goals. Admissions officers want to see that you have a clear sense of direction and purpose and that you have a plan for how to make the most of your college education. To do this, you'll need to explain why you're interested in your chosen field of study, what you hope to achieve in college and beyond, and how the school you're applying to can help you reach those goals. You might also discuss any challenges or obstacles you've faced in pursuing your goals, and how you've learned from those experiences.

7. Edit, revise, and get feedback

Once you've drafted your personal statement, it's important to spend time editing, revising, and getting feedback from others. This will help you catch any errors or inconsistencies, refine your language and structure, and make sure your essay is as strong as it can be. Here are some tips for editing and revising your personal statement:

  • Read your essay out loud to yourself. This will help you catch awkward phrasing, typos, and other errors.
  • Check your essay for consistency in tone, style, and formatting.
  • Make sure your essay is well-organised and flows logically from one paragraph to the next.
  • Ask someone else to read your essay and provide feedback. This could be a teacher, counsellor, parent, or friend. Be open to constructive criticism and use it to improve your essay.
  • Don't wait until the last minute to start writing your personal statement. Give yourself plenty of time to draft, revise, and edit your essay, and make sure to meet any deadlines set by the school you're applying to.

Writing a personal statement for college applications can be a challenging but rewarding experience. By following these tips and strategies, you can craft a powerful, impactful essay that showcases your personality, experiences, and ambitions and helps you stand out from the crowd. Remember to be authentic, specific, and focused, and to tailor your essay to the specific school you're applying to. With careful planning and attention to detail, you can write a personal statement that helps you achieve your college goals and sets you on a path to success.

Image source: Header, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

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