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Meet 6-Your Personal Statement

Your Admissions Essay

>>Personal Statement Quick Tip Sheet<<

Test scores and grade point averages give schools a good idea of the kind of student they’re looking at, but in the end they’re just numbers on a page. They tell you nothing about who a student is and what their life is like. Many colleges will request an essay about who you are,

and this is the time to let your true self shine trough. It will showcase your beliefs, your talents, your struggles and triumphs. You don’t need to be some profound writer to accomplish this. Just ask yourself the question “Who am I?” and write what comes.

What is a Personal Statement?

The personal statement is a short essay (500-750words max) that on one hand tests your writing skills, but more importantly lets the admissions board get a sense for who an applicant is. This video from the University of California explains succinctly what they’re looking for in your personal statement.

Typical Questions

Every college that requires an essay will want something different, but they’re generally asking who you are and where you’re coming from. The University of California has two question that freshman must answer.

  1. Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.
  2. Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?

Here are some topics that Stanford asks for essays on:

  • Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.
  • 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.

Here are topics that Dominican University of California suggests:

  • Describe a family, cultural, or personal tradition that is meaningful to you. Explain why.
  • Have you had to struggle to overcome any specific adversities? How have these experiences made you stronger as a person?
You can see the the prevailing theme here: Who are you and what makes you who you are?

Examples from UCAN Mentos

Essay Example 1

Essay Example 2

Writing a Great Essay

This won’t be a rigid five paragraph essay like you’ve been learning to write (and no doubt you love to write them). This will be more personal and less academic. That’s not to say it should be overly casual or unpolished. Don’t have any grammar or spelling errors at all. They are nit-picky about that sort of things so make sure to proof-read, spell-check, and have someone else look over it before you submit a final draft.

Before we get to the nuts and bolts about writing the essay, take a look at short example. The UC essay prompt asks about a talent or accomplishment or whatever. The point of the essay is to show that you know how to critically examine yourself. Above everything else, college are looking to find people that are critical thinkers. Show them that you can look in the mirror and describe what you see.

“I am an excellent chess player. This makes me proud because that is a rare skill. When I play, I feel a connection to the old greats. Not many people take the time to learn this game, but I think it’s something worth learning. Other people are very impressed by being good at a rare thing. “

What do you know about this person? You know they’re good at chess and is very proud of it. This is superficial because doesn’t really get to who the student is other than he’s kind of pretentious. All it is is gloating. Compare it to this:

“I have worked hard to become a good chess player. I love the game for the way it forces you bridge the gap with your opponent and figure out what they’re thinking. If you don’t put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you won’t get anywhere. I’ve found that many other things in life work the same way. If you don’t bridge the gap, you can’t hope to move forward.”

See what we mean by reflection? This person shows that she knows there is a deeper lesson to be taken from a game. Moreover, she applies the lesson to the world around her and implies she always tries to empathize with others. The admissions people want to know if you have the capacity to look at the forces that shape you and see them for what they are.

So ask yourself: What do my talents/interests/accomplishments teach me? Are you good at athletics? Write about how they taught you about determination and sportsmanship, about grace in victory and how to deal with loss and failure. Do you read a lot?  Write about how literature has taught you to examine everything with a fresh perspective, suspending your own opinions to take things on their own terms. It’s all about looking at your talents and showing, in a non-superficial way, how they sculpt you.

Start Early

As with all things, the early you start the easier it will be. Someone once said that if you wait until the last minute, then you will be older and therefore wiser and will turn in a better product. I contend that you will be slower in the head because you let your brain atrophy by screwing around on reddit for 5 hours instead of getting things done.


If you don’t do this already, you should get in the habit. As the name implies, a brainstorm can zap you brain with knowledge lightning and blow out the cobwebs with high winds of inspiration, and um…wash away the crust of dirt (which represents writers block) with the rains of insight. Put ten minutes on the clock and just write anything that comes to mind. Write like crazy. Write any crazy thing that pops into your head. Inexplicably this leads to a lot of useable material. If you want something more structured, then sit down and write a list of your talents/interests/hobbies/goals then write down what theses things have taught you and how they might shape you as a person. Here are some questions to ask yourself to get you going

  • What’s special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
  • What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
  • When did you become interested in a favorite class and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
  •  How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
  • What are your career goals?
  • Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre SAT or ACT scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)?
  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?
  • What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in a field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
  • What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?
  • Why might you be a stronger candidate and effective in the profession or field than other applicants?
  • Do you find bacon delicious?
  • What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?