How to Write Strong Personal Statement for the College Application

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Essays and personal narratives hold immense significance in the application packets. They offer a unique opportunity for applicants to express themselves authentically, providing a voice amidst the myriad of GPA scores, test results, and other qualifications. Essentially, they function as a pseudo-interview, allowing the selection committee to grasp the essence of the applicant through their own words and presentation. A well-crafted essay or statement can often be the deciding factor in securing acceptance.

Moreover, these written pieces serve as a platform to convey compelling information to the selection committee. 

Suppose you are a college applicant applying to undergraduate or graduate school. In that case, this is your chance as an applicant to elucidate why the opportunity you are pursuing is vital to your aspirations and how closely it aligns with your long-term academic and professional goals. Crafting successful essays paints a clear picture of your journey, showcasing the origin and growth of your interest in the field and positioning the desired opportunity as the next logical step toward a specific goal.

Furthermore, as an applicant, essays might be the only option for you to address potential gaps or weaknesses in your application. You can turn setbacks into strengths by candidly discussing your challenges and the steps taken to overcome them. Whether overcoming academic struggles or navigating significant life events, demonstrating resilience and growth can significantly enhance any application.

There are numerous benefits of spending time and effort to write many drafts of the personal statement and carefully select the one that fits your personality and experiences best. 

Let's consider a hypothetical scenario where an applicant, despite having an exemplary academic record and relevant extracurricular activities, needs more substantial volunteer or community service experience. This gap in their application might raise questions about their commitment to serving others or their ability to work effectively in diverse settings. (See more here  Writing the Personal Statement and BONUS Personality Assessment Guide.)

To address this gap, the applicant could highlight any relevant experiences or transferable skills demonstrating their potential for community engagement. For instance, they could discuss how part-time employment involved interacting with diverse groups of people and developing communication skills and problem-solving abilities.

Additionally, if they participated in informal volunteering activities, such as helping neighbors or organizing events within their community, they could elaborate on these experiences to showcase their willingness to contribute to the greater good.

The personal statement is where an applicant could emphasize their eagerness to learn and grow through future volunteer opportunities. They could express a genuine interest in expanding their horizons, engaging with new communities, and making a positive impact through their actions. By demonstrating proactive steps towards addressing the identified gap, the applicant mitigates potential concerns and portrays themselves as adaptable and committed individuals capable of making meaningful contributions beyond academic achievements.

While not explicitly stated in the Common or Coalition application prompts, essays serve as writing samples, showcasing applicants' communication abilities. They should be well-organized, concise, and error-free, showcasing the applicant's attention to detail and communication skills. Of course, there is no doubt that crafting an engaging narrative requires thoughtful brainstorming, careful selection of experiences, and diligent editing to ensure coherence and authenticity, and often, to reach all of those, a student should spend time reflecting on what is truly their story. Oftentimes, when my students and I meet and begin brainstorming, I have to spend the first 30 min. or so discussing authenticity. What does that even mean? Is that a feeling? Is it something that is directly stated or subtly perceived? Should we let the reader guess and read between the lines? This is challenging for inexperienced writers. 

Authenticity in an essay comes from genuine self-reflection and honest storytelling. Here are some key elements that contribute to making a candidate sound authentic in their essay writing:

  1. Personal Voice: Authentic essays reflect the individuality of the writer. Candidates should use their voices, expressing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a way that feels true to them. Avoiding overly formal or artificial language helps maintain authenticity.
  2. Honesty and Transparency: Candidates should be honest about their experiences, achievements, and aspirations. Exaggerating or embellishing details can detract from authenticity. Admissions committees appreciate sincerity and are adept at detecting insincerity.
  3. Personal Connection: Authentic essays establish a personal connection with the reader. Sharing personal anecdotes, insights, and emotions allows readers to deeply relate to the candidate. It's vital to show vulnerability and humanity rather than presenting a perfect or idealized image.
  4. Self-Reflection: Authenticity involves genuine self-reflection and introspection. Candidates should take the time to explore their motivations, values, and goals and convey these insights in their essays. Reflecting on challenges, setbacks, and lessons learned can add depth and authenticity to the narrative.
  5. Specificity and Detail: Providing specific examples, anecdotes, and details enriches the essay and makes it more authentic. Instead of making broad statements, candidates should offer concrete evidence and examples to support their claims. This adds credibility to their narrative and helps the reader understand the context of their experiences.
  6. Consistency: Authenticity is reinforced when the candidate's essay aligns with the rest of their application materials. Consistency in tone, style, and content across different components of the application demonstrates sincerity and integrity.
  7. Genuine Passion and Enthusiasm: Authentic essays convey genuine passion and enthusiasm for the subject matter. Candidates should demonstrate sincere excitement and engagement when discussing academic interests, extracurricular activities, or future aspirations. Passion is infectious and can captivate the reader, making the essay more compelling and authentic.

Overall, authenticity in essay writing stems from the candidate's ability to be true to themselves, share their unique story, and connect with the reader personally. By focusing on personal voice, honesty, self-reflection, specificity, consistency, and genuine passion, candidates can create essays that resonate with authenticity and leave a lasting impression on admissions committees. 

Again, this long list can get even longer if we look into each detail and unpack it carefully. Of course, during my writing sessions with students, I do not focus on a list of steps; I rely on examples and guides with a series of questions to get my students to reflect and flow. 

The same process is accurate for striving to have clear communication. This is where knowledge of English grammar comes in, along with good editing skills. English Grammar and Academic Writing Classes

Let's consider an example to illustrate the difference between effective communication and unclear communication in a passage:

Example of Effective Communication: "In my role as a marketing intern, I spearheaded a social media campaign that resulted in a 30% increase in engagement within three months. By crafting compelling content tailored to our target audience and leveraging data analytics to optimize our strategy, we achieved measurable results and enhanced brand visibility. This experience reinforced my passion for digital marketing and my ability to drive impactful outcomes through strategic communication."

Example of Unclear Communication: "I did an internship in marketing where I worked on social media stuff. It was successful, I guess. I made posts and stuff, and then we got more likes and followers. So, yeah, I think I'm good at marketing and stuff."

In the first example, the applicant effectively communicates their experience, highlighting specific actions taken, outcomes achieved, and the skills utilized. The passage is clear and concise and provides concrete evidence of the applicant's abilities.

On the other hand, the second example lacks clarity and specificity. The language could be more specific, and the details could be more precise, making it easier for the reader to understand the applicant's contribution or level of proficiency. This kind of communication may fail to impress the selection committee and does not effectively showcase the applicant's ability to communicate their experiences and achievements.

"I am deeply committed to lifelong learning and believe in the transformative power of education. Throughout my academic journey, I have sought opportunities to expand my knowledge and skills, both inside and outside the classroom. From participating in workshops and seminars to engaging in online courses and independent research projects, I continuously strive to broaden my horizons and deepen my understanding of various subjects.

Furthermore, my passion for giving back to the community drives my eagerness to volunteer and make a positive impact. I firmly believe in the importance of service and actively seek out opportunities to contribute my time and skills to meaningful causes. Whether mentoring local students, assisting at a food bank, or participating in environmental clean-up initiatives, I am dedicated to making a difference and serving those in need.

Looking ahead, I am excited about furthering my education and expanding my volunteer work. I am eager to explore new avenues for learning, whether through advanced coursework, research opportunities, or immersive experiences. Additionally, I am committed to deepening my involvement in volunteer activities and leveraging my skills to address pressing social issues and create positive change in my community.

In summary, my enthusiasm for education and volunteering is driven by a genuine desire to learn, grow, and contribute to the betterment of society. I am eager to embrace new challenges, expand my horizons, and make a meaningful difference in the world."

In this example, the applicant expresses their eagerness for education and volunteering by highlighting their active pursuit of learning opportunities and dedication to community service. They convey a genuine passion for both aspects and emphasize their willingness to continue growing and contributing in these areas. There's no specific word count or number of hours mentioned; instead, the focus is on demonstrating genuine enthusiasm and commitment. 

In essence, essays and personal narratives are powerful tools for applicants to differentiate themselves and leave a lasting impression on the selection committee. By harnessing their unique voice and experiences, applicants can maximize their chances of success in the competitive application process. Suppose any of this resonates with you as a college applicant or a parent of a college applicant. In that case, you might want to consider joining the College Admissions Writing Sessions starting in June. These are genuinely transformative events, and the final product has led to many students gaining successful admissions to some of the top ten universities in the world. 

For those passionate about writing and seeking to enhance their portfolio, the English Grammar and Academic Writing Classes, held twice a week year-long, offer an ideal opportunity for skill development. You can register for those here ➡️ 

Either way, have fun writing, but if you get stuck, fear not; help is on the way, but in a meantime, you can get a head start with this writing guide Writing the Personal Statement and BONUS Personality Assessment Guide


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