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How to Find the Perfect Personal Statement Topic

Before you begin cultivating your personal statement, imagine this: a massive team of admissions professionals grinding through numerous essays, most of which sound too similar to differentiate from one another.


For these exhausted professionals, it’s easy to categorize the best and the weakest of the bunch. Instead, after spending hours narrowing down the long lists of candidates, the ones that fall in between the two categories end up warranting discussion. The reality is, many of these essays are not only similar, but they are also often boring and much too basic. This makes total sense, given that not every student enjoys writing or can do it with ease. Regardless, your goal is to produce a personal narrative that hooks the reader, while your mentor’s goal is to guide you through that process. 

 

Once you manage to muster up enough energy to begin, your next task and possibly most challenging task is to figure out your hook. The purpose of the hook is to draw admissions officers to you and it can stem from your passions, interests, achievements, and/or a pivotal life experience. In addition to your hook, your personal statement should aim to express more refined thinking by illustrating your exploration of your own unique emotions. My biggest piece of advice is to write about what you actually want to write about. If the story doesn’t emotionally stimulate you, it especially won’t stimulate the reader. Whether it’s about something as simple as your love of cats to something as complex as rocket science, write about whatever lives in your head rent-free. Then, use that topic as a tool to help you explain to the reader who you are and what you have to say. 

 

Here are a few tips on how to get started:


  1. Start journaling! Not only is this a good way to practice being introspective, but it can also have a positive impact on your mental health. Not to mention, it can help you remember specific emotions associated with your experiences which will come in handy later. 
  2. Read powerful personal writing. If you happen to come across an autobiography that truly interests you and sparks your curiosity, it can inspire you as you begin your writing process.
  3. Explore the prompts. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the Common App prompts and the UC prompts as soon as they are available. This will give you a head start in the process in terms of establishing your topic. 
  4. Complete the following two exercises.
  • Characteristics exercise: Write down the positive characteristics that define you and represent your character. To help you form a list, consider what the people who know you best would say. 
  • Experiences exercise: Once you’ve generated a list of characteristics, take each one and think about which activities, experiences, events, or other aspects of your life you immediately associate with that word. 

 

Finally, try to avoid bragging about your achievements. Better yet, consider times of failure or obstacles you’ve transformed into catalysts. Moreover, think about what you have learned from these events and write about it. Last, but not least, being genuine and vulnerable is key to producing an essay that will give those exhausted admissions officers a jolt of energy.