It’s that time of year again: college essay time. And while we’re all in the midst of our busy summers, rising seniors are beginning to feel the daunting dread of their looming applications.
Summing yourself up in a concise essay? Striking the balance between confidence and humility, humor and seriousness, engaging and insightful? The personal statement can be an intimidating prospect, to be sure, but it doesn’t have to be stressful or unmanageable. Here, the ESM Essay Coaching Team breaks down our best tips and tricks for tackling the personal statement.
1) Keep it all in one place.
Make a folder in your Google Drive, and keep all of your brainstorms and drafts in there. This ensures that your work is safe and easily accessible throughout your writing process. You’ll have to write supplemental essays, too, and your personal statement brainstorms can help you come up with ideas for various elements of your application.
2) Quality takes time. Map out a timeline, and make sure it’s a realistic one.
When our students have stuck to firm (but realistic!) schedules, they’re pleasantly surprised by how painless the process is. If you know you procrastinate, have someone (a friend, parent, mentor) hold you accountable with reminders or check-ins.
With this in mind, plan to have your personal statement done well before school starts—ideally you’ll be working on your supplemental essays come August. That way, once your classes are up-and-running, you have the bulk of your stressful application work behind you.
3) Brainstorm with the “inside-out” mentality.
There are many ways to write a personal statement, but great ones usually balance anecdote and analysis: you’re conveying an essential quality about yourself through your reflections on experience.
Rather than writing a piece that you think admissions wants to read, start by brainstorming about the qualities you love about yourself. Are you resilient? Adaptable? Compassionate? Write those qualities down. From there, think of situations in which you’ve discovered, developed, or utilized those qualities.
4) Ask for help.
Ask someone who really knows you, like a trusted mentor or teacher, to help you when you get stuck. It’s also crucial that you seek feedback on your drafts. Since a stranger will be reading your essay, you want to make sure your voice shines through—it should sound and feel like “you.”
This same stranger won’t know your quirks, humor, or nuances, so it’s equally important to have a stranger read your essay before you submit it: get a reaction from someone who doesn’t know you well, someone who won’t apply all the things they love about you to your writing.
Most importantly, remember authenticity is the key to a successful personal statement: it should showcase your voice, thoughts, qualities, goals, or ideas and—ideally—help the reader understand how you’ll use these elements to contribute on a campus and in the world-at-large.