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College essay don’ts: 37 Things to Avoid In a college essay

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Knowing what not to write about in a college essay is just as important as knowing what to write about!

This post is all about college essay don’ts , including college essay topics to avoid and how not to write your college application essays. 

It’s so important to know what NOT to write about in your college application essay. Whether you’re crafting your essay for the Common App or writing shorter college-specific essays, you need to know how not to write a college essay. 

Choosing the wrong topic for your college application essays could mean that you don’t get admitted to your dream school or you miss out on scholarship money. 

Since you really only have one chance to get it right, you need to know what topics to avoid in your college admissions essays, general college essay don’ts, and what other pitfalls to avoid when writing your college essays.

Essay writing may feel overwhelming and stressful, but knowing what not to do will help you write a great college essay!

What not to write in your college application essay

So you know exactly what not do in college admissions essays, here are 37 college essay tips about college essay don’ts. Follow this advice to know what not to write about in your college essay!

1. Don’t restate the Essay prompt

Start your essay with a hook. Start with dialogue. Start by setting the scene.

Don’t start by restating the essay topic! The reader knows the essay prompts, so just start telling your story. 

A great story will immediately grab the attention of the admission officers and make them want to keep reading!

2. Don’t try to be funny in your college admissions essay

There’s a good chance that what you think is funny may not be funny to the admissions officer. And even if your admissions officer thinks it’s funny, the dean of admissions may not agree.

Clever writing that naturally tells a funny story will get you further than trying too hard to make everyone laugh. 

things a personal essay should not include

3. Don’t swear

You might not mind vulgar language, but many people do. It will come off as tasteless and crass. Simply put, curse words should not be part of your college admissions essay. 

4. Don’t just tell the reader what you think

Tell the reader what you did, how you felt, how you changed—not just what you think. Admissions officers don’t want to read about what you think in the abstract.

They want to know what has happened to you in life, how that’s affected you, and what you did as a result. 

Write an engaging, interesting story that shows the reader how you’ve grown and what you’ve learned.

5. Don’t try to Appear perfect

It’s okay that your life is messy and you don’t have it all together. It’s okay that you’re not super organized and you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up.

Your college essay doesn’t need to be about how awesome you are (really, it shouldn’t be!). It just needs to be about the real you. Remember, your personal essay for college should be just that—personal! 

6. Don’t brag

Your achievements are all listed on your resume.

Writing about how great you are, how you saved the day, or how you’re a hero to others is not going to make a positive impression on the reader.

Leave the bragging to the people who wrote your letters of reference. 

7. Don’t emphasize status

Avoid topics that emphasize your financial privilege. Voluntourism trips to aid people living in poverty in far-flung areas of the world is a key example of this.

Don’t write about going on a mission trip to a third world country to volunteer to help the less fortunate and how you learned how privileged you are. Just don’t. 

things a personal essay should not include

8. Don’t lie

Don’t inflate your accomplishments. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.

If you write something dishonest in your essay, it won’t match the other parts of your application. If you were found to have been dishonest when writing your essay, you will not be offered admission at that college. 

9. Don’t reveal too much

If you have faced personal challenges, like addiction, mental health struggles, or learning disabilities, those struggles are part of you. You should feel proud of overcoming them.

But your college admissions essay is not the place to share your most deeply personal experiences. 

Some college admissions officers may read about your challenges and want to welcome someone with your tenacity and spirit to their campus.

Unfortunately, most admissions officers will read about your challenges and worry that you will face similar issues at their university. 

Many colleges choose not accept applicants who have demonstrated past mental health issues. This might not seem fair, but it is reality. Don’t hide your true self or be dishonest, but carefully consider how much you want to reveal in your admissions essay about your private struggles. 

10. Don’t write about illegal activities

It’s a safe bet that most colleges do not want to admit students who have a history of participating in illegal activities.

Even if you plan to talk about drug use, alcohol use, jail time, or committing crimes as a way to show growth and discuss lessons learned, illegal activities show a lack of maturity and questionable judgement.

Writing about criminal behavior will not reflect well on you as a candidate for admission. Illegal activities make bad topics for college essays.

11. Don’t summarize your resume

This is one of the biggest college essay don’ts! Your college essay is your opportunity to tell the college admissions office who you really are and what really matters to you.

Your resume already lists your activities, and your transcript details your grades. Your college essay isn’t the place to review these facts; it’s your chance to stand out by telling your story. 

12. Don’t tell a general story

Be specific. In fact, be very specific. Focusing on the details of your story will help make your college essay unique so that it stands out.

A good college essay will tell a story that could only have been written by you—no one else. 

Instead of telling a biopic story of your life, focus on one aspect of your life—your beliefs, a meaningful experience, a key event—that explains who you are and what matters to you. 

things a personal essay should not include

13. Don’t write about cliché topics

Avoid writing about the sports victories and defeats. Winning a big game or losing a championship game might mean a lot to you, but sports are common topic and best avoided.

Don’t write about overcoming an academic setback or a romantic breakup.  

14. Don’t write about something controversial

You don’t know who will be reading your college admissions essay, and they might not agree with your views on controversial topics.

Moreover, your reader might not appreciate how you approach a sensitive topic. You might appear close-minded and unempathetic. 

The last thing you want to do is make the admissions officers reading your essay think you would bring discord to the campus community.

15. Don’t undervalue the small stuff

Great essays can be crafted from the small, personal details of daily life.

Don’t underestimate what interesting essays can be written about your morning routine, your favorite family recipe, your relationship with your sibling, or what you do on a snow day. 

In fact, some of the most memorable, best essays have been about a random item, food, or daily routine.

16. Don’t go negative

Criticizing other people, your current school, or anything else will probably just make a bad impression on your readers.

Don’t whine about your life. Negativity says more about you and how you perceive the world around you than it does about anything else. Certainly don’t criticize the college you’re applying to!

If you do want to write about negative experiences you’ve had, quickly move on to discussing what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown as a result of those experiences.

17. Don’t be pompous

Never assume that you know better than your readers or that your approach is the only way.

Don’t tell your reader what they should think. Avoid making generalized value judgements. 

18. Don’t go completely off topic

Don’t try to stand out by submitting a poem or creative writing sample.

Write a thoughtful, well-crafted essay about yourself, just like they asked for.

Show that you respect the school admissions committee’s request and can follow directions. 

19. Don’t ignore the prompt

College admission essay topics are designed to allow you a lot of freedom in how you answer. Craft a story that tells something about you, within the framework of the prompt. 

Just double check that your essay answers the prompt, to make sure you didn’t veer off topic as you wrote and edited the essay. 

Also know that you can write about whatever you’d like to . In your essay writing process, if you find that the first prompt you chose isn’t working out, choose a different one and start again.

20. Don’t get the tone wrong

Your college admissions essay is not an expository essay, formulaic and devoid of warmth. Nor is it the right time for you to use all the fancy words you’ve been studying for the SAT.  

Your college admissions essay should be engaging, show your personality, and sound like you—a teenager reflecting on your life thus far. 

21. Don’t write a trite conclusion

If your essay has done its job, you shouldn’t need to sum it all up for the reader in a neat little final sentence.  

If you have shown your reader what you’ve learned, how you’ve grown, or who you are, you don’t need to say it explicitly at the end of your essay. 

The conclusion is often the hardest part of the essay to get just right, so don’t worry if it’s hard to find the perfect words. Take a break from writing it and come back in a few days to get a fresh perspective on what you’re trying to say.

22. Don’t wait until the last minute to Write

Start writing your college admissions essay weeks, if not months, before its due. Senior year is an incredibly busy time, so it’s a great idea to get started on your college admission essays as early as possible.

Leave plenty of time to think about what you want to say, revise and edit, and finalize the essay. You’ll be amazed at how your essay can improve if you allow ample time to work on it.

If you’re going to apply early decision or early action, consider starting to work on your main essay the summer after junior year, before your senior year even starts, or early in the fall of senior year.

23. Don’t ignore the word count

You don’t want to write too much or too little. Aim to be within a few words of the word limit. Express yourself clearly and concisely.

things a personal essay should not include

24. Don’t repeat your resume

When you’re writing your personal statement essay, don’t just repeat your high school resume.

Your personal essay is your chance to talk about an aspect of your personality or life experiences that can’t be found anywhere else in your college application. 

The list of courses you’ve taken (and your grades) tell about your academic interests. So there’s no need to turn your essay into a list of your academic achievements!

Your extracurricular activities show what you’re interested in and how you use your time. If you want to discuss how your extracurricular activities have been formative experiences for you, focus on one particular example. Don’t re-list all your volunteer experiences!

Your personal statement essay should reveal something about you that doesn’t show up in the rest of your application. 

25. Don’t write about an “example” topic

If you have read some amazing examples of college essays, and you’re thinking that you could write on that same topic, don’t.

Chances are, if your English teacher pointed out those examples, or you found them via a Google search, every other high school senior (and every school admission officer) has seen those essays too! 

Instead, dig deep and write your own amazing personal statement !

26. Don’t copy and paste

It’s completely fine to use the Common App to submit your personal essay to every school on your list (as long as they accept the Common App, of course). 

But for each college’s specific essays, tailor your essay to each school. Include specific details about each college that make you want to go there. And make sure your responses are appropriate to the culture of each college. 

If you do copy and paste your essays, be sure the essay doesn’t refer to the wrong school!

27. Don’t overuse the thesaurus

Everyone gets stuck using the same words over and over again, and it’s fine to check a thesaurus when you’re writing. 

But don’t use big words just in an attempt to impress the college admissions officers. Don’t use words you don’t really understand to try to sound smart.

For a great college application essay, write naturally in your own voice and let your true personality show. 

28. Don’t plagiarize

If you’re submitting someone else’s college essay as your own, you’re giving up the chance to share your unique story with the admissions office.

You’re also risking an automatic rejection if you’re caught!

29. Don’t be fake

Use your essay to tell the admissions officers what you want them to know about you.

Don’t try to guess what the admissions officers would like for you to say or try to be someone you’re not. 

Don’t invent a tragic event in your past, claim to have done hours and hours of community service you haven’t done, or exaggerate any aspect of your life.

Be authentic, write with your own voice, and craft an essay that stands out from the other applicants.

Simply take your time to craft a thoughtful essay that tells your personal story. Talk about your unique perspective on one specific experience in your life, using your authentic voice.

30. Don’t write a school essay

Your college admissions essay is not a five-paragraph expository essay that you would write for English class.

A winning college essay should have a beginning and an end, but the part in the middle should tell a good story, not make an argument in three points. 

The expository essay style of writing might be what your English teacher wants, but it makes for bad college essays.

For a college application, a well-written essay will examine your personal growth, your unique experience in life, and the different perspectives through which you see the world. And you should do this by crafting an intriguing story about a specific moment or experience that was significant to you.

things a personal essay should not include

31. Don’t Avoid feedback 

If you’re feeling stuck, feel free to ask someone else—a teacher, parent, family member, or friend—to read your essay. Getting feedback on your entire essay is the best way to get a sense of how admissions officers will respond to reading it.

Feedback does not mean that they tell you what to write or how to write it.

Feedback should mean getting input from someone else can help you learn where your essay veers off point or where you need to dig deeper to tell a better story. 

32. Don’t skip editing

Please allow enough time to write AND edit your essay. Ideally, you will write a first draft of your essay, then edit it, then get feedback, then edit it again, then write a final draft (then proofread it—see below). 

Expect to write at least three or four, and maybe many more, drafts of your college application essay. Your essay will improve with each round of editing.

The essay writing process can be time consuming, but in the end you’ll have a strong essay to share with college admissions offices, so it will be worth it!

33. Don’t overedit

What? Didn’t I just tell you to edit?

Yes, absolutely. Just be sure that after you’ve shown your essay to trusted readers and you’ve made your edits, your story still remains.

The essay should still have your voice and should tell the story you want to tell. 

34. Don’t skip proofreading

After you make your edits and write a “final draft,” you might want to click send and submit your essay. But not so fast! 

Take time to do a final proofread of your essay.

Better yet, ask a teacher, college counselor, or someone with excellent grammar and spelling skills to proofread your essay. Having a fresh set of eyes on your essay will help ensure it is error-free. 

35. Don’t just rely on Spellcheck

It’s really important to have an actual person proofread your essay.

Spellcheck and other editing software won’t necessarily catch grammar errors, typos, or poorly structured arguments.

It’s always a good idea to trust the final proofread of your essay to a person, rather than technology. 

36. Don’t submit your essay at the last minute

You never know when a website will get glitchy!

Don’t take a chance that the Common Application or an individual university’s website won’t act up at a crucial moment. Do your best to upload your college essay at least a day before it’s due!

The admissions process is stressful enough without adding in technical errors. Don’t risk missing the deadline by procrastinating!

37. Don’t submit an incomplete essay

When you’re in the Common App website or a specific college’s application portal, and you attach your admission essay, scan it quickly before hitting the submit button.

Be sure you attached the correct file or that the complete essay transferred when you copied and pasted it into the online form.  

It won’t matter if you write a great essay if you don’t submit it correctly!

Final thoughts on college essay don’ts and what not to write in your college essay

Personal essays are a key part of the college application process. College admissions counselors, especially at smaller colleges, use college essays to learn more about the applicants applying for admission at their school. 

An amazing college essay might not make up for bad grades or a lack of extracurriculars, but a poorly written essay may push your application into the reject pile. This is especially true now that test scores are usually optional.

Successful essays allow admissions officers to learn about your personal qualities, your take on global issues, and how you might contribute to campus life.

Writing a great college admission essay is the most important thing you can do to make a great impression on the admissions team.

After looking at so many college applicants, test scores, GPAs, and awards all blend together. It’s the personal essays that stand out when admission counselors are deciding which high school seniors will be accepted.

So, it’s worth taking your time to write the best college admissions essays you can.

By avoiding all these college essay don’ts, you’ll know what not to write in your college essay. 

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College Essay Don’ts: 20 Things to Avoid to Stand Out

  • August 19, 2023

things a personal essay should not include

College admissions officers have their own preferences when it comes to essays, but they all tend to agree on what they dislike. It can be disheartening to think that you can’t guarantee a perfect essay, but avoiding certain mistakes will increase your chances of success. A blunder in your college essay could potentially cost you admission to your dream school. The good news is that many of these mistakes can be easily avoided if you understand what they are and why they matter. If you’re looking for guidance, here’s a closer look at what you should avoid writing in your college application essay.

#1 No need to show off your Academic Superhero Cape!

(aka – avoid repeating information) Your grades and awards already speak volumes. Let’s focus on the real YOU! Think about what the application already says about you and avoid repeating the information already present in your academic record, such as your grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities. Instead, focus on unique aspects of your personality and experiences.

# 2 Don’t Be a Topic Troublemaker:

(aka – avoid controversial topics) Stay away from controversial subjects that’ll make the admissions officer do a double take! No political hot buttons, please! Examples: Avoid writing about gun control, abortion, or immigration policies.

#3 Say No to Essay Monotony:

(aka – avoid a general topic) It’s not a robotic analysis; it’s a character-revealing adventure! Share specific moments that highlight your amazing self in action! For instance, write about a particular challenge you faced and how you overcame it, revealing your determination and resilience.

#4 Famous Quotes, Really?

( aka – avoid opening with a famous quotation) Unless it’s your life motto, let’s save the inspirational stuff for Pinterest boards. Your own words rock, buddy!

#5 Avoid Making Someone Else the Star:

(aka – avoid writing about someone else) Though it might be tempting to write extensively about a role model or someone else’s accomplishments, it’s a bad idea. Making them standout is not the goal. The essay should primarily focus on your own experiences, growth, and achievements.

#6 Don’t Dribble Away Your Essay on Sports:

(aka – avoid sports) Sports enthusiasts, listen up! Even if you’re the next LeBron or Serena, don’t dribble away your essay on sports. Show them your versatility! Everyone writes about sports. Even if sports are your strong suit, it’s advisable to avoid writing solely about them. Instead, explore other aspects of your life or personal interests to provide a well-rounded portrayal of yourself.

#7 Tragic Topics Need a Twist:

( aka – avoid tragic topics) Tragic tales need a twist! Only focus on personal growth through tough times. No tearjerker drama without redemption, please!. Here are some examples: Loss of a loved one: While it can be tempting to write about the profound impact of losing a family member or close friend, it’s important to shift the focus towards personal growth, strength, or lessons learned from the experience. Avoid dwelling solely on the sadness and grief associated with the loss. Serious illnesses or medical conditions: Writing about personal health struggles can be challenging, as it’s important to strike a balance between sharing the experience and highlighting one’s ability to overcome adversity. Focus on resilience, determination, or the insights gained from facing the challenge rather than just recounting the medical details. Natural disasters or tragic events: Discussing traumatic events like earthquakes, hurricanes, or acts of violence can be sensitive. If you choose to write about such events, it’s crucial to emphasize personal growth, community resilience, or efforts made to contribute positively towards recovery or prevention. Avoid sensationalizing or dwelling excessively on the tragedy itself. Personal accidents or injuries: If you’ve experienced a serious accident or injury, be cautious when writing about it. Instead of focusing solely on the negative aspects, highlight your determination, perseverance, or the lessons learned during the recovery process

#8 Start With a Bang, Not a Yawn!

(aka – avoid preludes) This is an essay about…” Snoozeville! Starting your essay with a generic introduction lacks creativity and engagement. Grab the reader’s attention with a compelling opening that sets the tone for your unique story.

#9 No Fairy Tale Ending:

(aka – avoid cliché endings) No happily ever afters, my friend! Show them your learning, don’t tell them. Leave ’em wanting more! Conclude your essay without resorting to a cliché ending. If you have effectively conveyed your growth and lessons learned throughout the essay, there’s no need to explicitly state it again in the conclusion.

#11 Don’t Play Professor Know-It-All:

( aka – avoid campaigning) Avoid pleading your case. Let your story speak for itself! Refrain from telling readers what they should think or advocating for a particular viewpoint. Instead, focus on expressing your own thoughts and experiences without trying to persuade or convince the reader.

#11 No Black Holes:

(aka – avoid being flawless) Don’t get lost in your own thoughts. Embrace your complexities, including your mistakes and imperfections, rather than presenting an idealized version of yourself. It’s more effective to embrace vulnerability and showcase personal growth. Admissions officers value authenticity and want to understand the real person behind the achievements. Sharing genuine experiences, including setbacks and lessons learned, allows the reader to connect with the applicant on a deeper level and fosters a more meaningful understanding of their character and potential contributions.

#12 Too Much Info Alert!

(aka – avoid oversharing) Be cautious about sharing too much information in your essay. While no stories are off-limits, present them in a way that captivates the reader and invites them into your experience, rather than traumatizing the reader and pushing them into a black-hole. Example: In an essay, one of our students delved into a traumatic event from his childhood where he witnessed a violent crime. Rather than approaching the topic with sensitivity and focusing on personal growth, he described every gruesome detail of the incident. He vividly recounted the blood-soaked scene, the screams echoing in his ears, and the fear that consumed Him. The essay became a graphic and unsettling account that could potentially disturb or traumatize the reader.While it’s important to share personal experiences authentically, it’s equally crucial to consider the emotional impact on the reader. Oversharing in this context involves providing excessive and distressing details without proper consideration for the potential impact on the audience. Instead, it would be more appropriate to focus on the emotional journey, resilience, and personal growth that stemmed from that traumatic event, while omitting explicit and potentially traumatizing elements.

#13 Leave the Fiction To the Novels:

(aka – avoid lying) No made-up stories about yourself, okay? Keep it real, authentic, and genuine! Never fabricate stories or exaggerate your experiences in your essay. Admissions officers value honesty and integrity, and it’s important to present genuine narratives that reflect your true character.

#14 Avoid The Ego Extravaganza!

(aka – avoid overconfidence) No need to shower yourself with endless praise. Instead, embrace humility and share a moment of doubt or setback. It’s all about growth, baby! Consider discussing a setback or moment of doubt that highlights your resilience and personal growth. Student Example:In my college essay, I proudly proclaimed, “I am simply exceptional in everything I do. From acing every exam to effortlessly leading multiple clubs and winning countless awards, my accomplishments speak for themselves. It’s clear that I am the epitome of greatness and a force to be reckoned with.”This example exudes an overconfident tone by emphasizing the author’s achievements without any humility or self-reflection. It lacks depth and fails to provide insight into the person behind the accomplishments. The essay solely focuses on accolades and fails to highlight personal growth, setbacks overcome, or lessons learned from challenges.

#15 Don’t Diss The Reader:

(aka – avoid belittling) Refrain from talking down to or demeaning the reader in your essay. They are not minions. Keep the tone respectful and inclusive!

#16 Dump Being Robotic-Like:

( aka – avoid being cold) Let your emotions flow like a river. Show them the real you, with heart and soul! Infuse the essay with your emotions, allowing your genuine feelings to shine through in your storytelling. Unlike the essays you’ve written for class, this essay provides an opportunity to showcase your unique voice and personality. Student Example: “Instead of writing a bland and emotionless account of my volunteering experience at a local animal shelter, I poured my heart into the essay. I vividly described the overwhelming joy I felt when I first met the abandoned puppy, with his timid eyes and wagging tail. I shared the genuine empathy and compassion that welled up inside me as I nurtured him back to health. Through my words, the admissions officers could feel the sense of purpose and fulfillment that I experienced, and they could connect with my passion for animal welfare. By infusing my essay with emotions and letting my genuine feelings guide my storytelling, I was able to showcase my authentic self and create a memorable and impactful essay.”

#17 Don’t Be a Broken Record:

(aka – avoid repeating the same words and sentences) Break the repetition cycle! Spice up your writing with varied words and sentence structures. Keep it fresh and exciting! Repetition can make your writing monotonous and dull.

#18 Look For Grammar Gremlins and Wonky Formatting:

(aka – avoid errors) Pay attention to typos, grammatical mistakes, punctuation errors, and formatting issues. These errors can distract the reader and undermine the overall quality of your essay. Proofread your work carefully and consider seeking feedback from others to ensure your writing is error-free.

#19 Chill Out On the Negativity!

(aka – avoid being negative about the college you’re applying to) Keep any negative thoughts about the college to yourself. Focus on why you’re excited to be part of their community. Positive vibes only! Focus on highlighting your fit with the institution, its values, and what you can contribute to the campus community.

#20 Don’t Waste Time:

(aka – avoid procrastinating) Get those admission officers smiling, not cringing. Make sure to give yourself enough time to write your essay. It’s best to start early and take your time to create a great piece of writing. If you’re struggling to come up with ideas, try brainstorming with friends or making a list of potential topics. Don’t worry if your first attempt isn’t perfect, as the more time you have to work on it, the better it will become. Remember, good writing takes time, so start early and give yourself the time needed to produce a high-quality essay.

Ready to impress the college of your dreams with a standout essay?

Don’t stress! We got you covered. Our essay writing coach, Mrs. Miller, is here to guide you through the process and help you present the best version of yourself on paper. Don’t hesitate to reach out for the support you need to succeed. Contact us today.

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Navigating the FAFSA Maze: What’s Changing in 2024-25?

  • November 13, 2023

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How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

things a personal essay should not include

What does it take to land in the “accept” (instead of “reject”) pile?

How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Start early.  Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay.
  • Keep the focus narrow.  Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
  • Be yourself.  Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, use the narrative to be vulnerable and honest about who you are. Use words you would normally use. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
  • Be creative.  “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece.
  • Make a point. As you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had.

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We’ve all heard about the dreaded “college essay,” the bane of every high school senior’s existence. This daunting element of the college application is something that can create angst for even the most accomplished students.

  • AA Amy Allen is a writer, educator, and lifelong learner. Her freelance writing business,  All of the Write Words , focuses on providing high school students with one-on-one feedback to guide them through the college application process and with crafting a thoughtful personal essay. A dedicated poet, Amy’s work has also been published in several journals including  Pine Row Press ,  Months to Years,  and  Atlanta Review .

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Humanities LibreTexts

4.13: Writing a Personal Essay

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  • Lumen Learning

Learning Objectives

  • Describe techniques for writing an effective personal essay

How to Write a Personal Essay

One particular and common kind of narrative essay is the personal narrative essay. Many of you have already written at least one of these – in order to get to college. The personal essay is a narrative essay focused on you. Typically, you write about events or people in your life that taught you important life lessons. These events should have changed you somehow. From this choice will emerge the theme (the main point) of your story. Then you can follow these steps:

Someone writing on sticky notes and in a notebook.

  • Once you identify the event, you will write down what happened. Just brainstorm (also called freewriting). Focus on the actual event. You do not need to provide a complete build-up to it. For example, if you are telling a story about an experience at camp, you do not need to provide readers with a history of my camp experiences, nor do you need to explain how you got there, what we ate each day, how long it lasted, etc. Readers need enough information to understand the event. So, you do not need to provide information about my entire summer if the event only lasts a couple of days.
  • Use descriptions/vivid details.
  • “Nothing moved but a pair of squirrels chasing each other back and forth on the telephone wires. I followed one in my sight. Finally, it stopped for a moment and I fired.”
  • The verbs are all in active voice creating a sense of immediacy: moved, followed, stopped, fired.
  • Passive voice uses the verb “to be” along with an action verb: had been aiming, was exhausted.
  • Develop your characters. Even though the “characters” in your story are real people, your readers won’t get to know them unless you describe them, present their personalities, and give them physical presence.
  • Use dialogue. Dialogue helps readers get to know the characters in your story, infuses the story with life, and offers a variation from description and explanation. When writing dialogue, you may not remember exactly what was said in the past, so be true to the person being represented and come as close to the actual language the person uses as possible. Dialogue is indented with each person speaking as its own paragraph. The paragraph ends when that person is done speaking and any following explanation or continuing action ends. (If your characters speak a language other than English, feel free to include that in your narrative, but provide a translation for your English-speaking readers.)
  • Be consistent in your point of view. Remember, if it is a personal narrative, you are telling the story, so it should be in first person. Students often worry about whether or not they are allowed to use “I.” It is impossible to write a personal essay without using “I”!
  • Write the story in a consistent verb tense (almost always past tense). It doesn’t work to try to write it in the present tense since it already happened. Make sure you stay in the past tense.

Sample Personal Statement

One type of narrative essay you may have reason to write is a Personal Statement.

Many colleges and universities ask for a Personal Statement Essay for students who are applying for admission, to transfer, or for scholarships.

Generally, a Personal Statement asks you to respond to a specific prompt, most often asking you to describe a significant life event, a personality trait, or a goal or principle that motivates or inspires you. Personal Statements are essentially narrative essays with a particular focus on the writer’s personal life.

The following essay was responding to the prompt: “Write about an experience that made you aware of a skill or strength you possess.” As you read, pay attention to the way the writer gets your attention with a strong opening, how he uses vivid details and a chronological narrative to tell his story, and how he links back to the prompt in the conclusion.

Sample Student Essay

Alen Abramyan Professor X English 1101-209 2/5/2013

In the Middle of Nowhere Fighting Adversity

A three-punch combination had me seeing stars. Blood started to rush down my nose. The Russian trainers quietly whispered to one another. I knew right away that my nose was broken. Was this the end of my journey; or was I about to face adversity?

Ever since I was seven years old, I trained myself in, “The Art of Boxing.” While most of the kids were out playing fun games and hanging out with their friends, I was in a damp, sweat-filled gym. My path was set to be a difficult one. Blood, sweat, and, tears were going to be an everyday occurrence.

At a very young age I learned the meaning of hard work and dedication. Most kids jumped from one activity to the next. Some quit because it was too hard; others quit because they were too bored. My father pointed this out to me on many occasions. Adults would ask my father, ” why do you let your son box? It’s such a dangerous sport, he could get hurt. My father always replied, “Everyone is going to get hurt in their lives, physically, mentally and emotionally. I’m making sure he’s ready for the challenges he’s going to face as a man. I always felt strong after hearing my father speak that way about me. I was a boy being shaped into a man, what a great feeling it was.

Year after year, I participated in boxing tournaments across the U.S. As the years went by, the work ethic and strength of character my father and coaches instilled in me, were starting to take shape. I began applying the hard work and dedication I learned in boxing, to my everyday life. I realized that when times were tough and challenges presented themselves, I wouldn’t back down, I would become stronger. This confidence I had in myself, gave me the strength to pursue my boxing career in Russia.

I traveled to Russia to compete in Amateur Boxing. Tournament after tournament I came closer to my goal of making the Russian Olympic Boxing team. After successfully winning the Kaliningrad regional tournament, I began training for the Northwest Championships. This would include boxers from St. Petersburg, Pskov, Kursk and many other powerful boxing cities.

We had to prepare for a tough tournament, and that’s what we did. While sparring one week before the tournament, I was caught by a strong punch combination to the nose. I knew right away it was serious. Blood began rushing down my face, as I noticed the coaches whispering to each other. They walked into my corner and examined my nose,” yeah, it’s broken,” Yuri Ivonovich yelled out. I was asked to clean up and to meet them in their office. I walked into the Boxing Federation office after a quick shower. I knew right away, they wanted to replace me for the upcoming tournament. “We’re investing a lot of money on you boxers and we expect good results. Why should we risk taking you with a broken nose?” Yuri Ivonovich asked me. I replied, “I traveled half-way around the world to be here, this injury isn’t a problem for me.” And by the look on my face they were convinced, they handed me my train ticket and wished me luck.

The train came to a screeching halt, shaking all the passengers awake. I glanced out my window, “Welcome to Cherepovets,” the sign read. In the background I saw a horrific skyline of smokestacks, coughing out thick black smoke. Arriving in the city, we went straight to the weigh ins. Hundreds of boxers, all from many cities were there. The brackets were set up shortly after the weigh ins. In the Super Heavyweight division, I found out I had 4 fights to compete in, each increasing in difficulty. My first match, I made sure not a punch would land; this was true for the next two fights. Winning all three 6-0, 8-0 and 7-0 respectively. It looked like I was close to winning the whole tournament. For the finals I was to fight the National Olympic Hope Champion.

The night before the finals was coincidentally the 200th anniversary of the city. All night by my hotel, I heard screams of laughter and partying. I couldn’t sleep a wink. The morning of the fight I was exhausted but anxious. I stepped into the ring knowing that I was tired. I fell behind in points quickly in the first round. I felt as if I were dreaming, with no control of the situation. I was going along for the ride and it wasn’t pleasant. At the end of the second round, the coach informed me that I was far behind. “?You’re asleep in there,” he yelled out to me, confirming how I felt. I knew this was my last chance; I had to give it my all. I mustered up enough strength to have an amazing round. It was as if I stepped out and a fresh boxer stepped in. I glanced at my coaches and see a look of approval. No matter the outcome, I felt that I had defeated adversity. My opponent’s hand was raised , he won a close decision, 6-5. After I got back to my hotel, I remembered Yuri Ivonovich telling me they expected good results. “How were my results,” I asked myself. In my mind, the results were great, with a broken nose and with no sleep, I came one point shy of defeating the National Olympic Hope Champion.

Even from a very young age, I knew that when my back was against the wall and adversity was knocking on my door, I would never back down. I became a stronger person, a trait my family made sure I would carry into my adult years. No matter what I’m striving for; getting into a University; receiving a scholarship; or applying for a job, I can proudly say to myself, I am Alen Abramyan and adversity is no match for me.

Link to Learning

Sandra Cisneros offers an example of a narrative essay in “Only Daughter” that captures her sense of her Chicana-Mexican heritage as the only daughter in a family of seven children.

Do Personal Essays have Thesis Statements?

While many personal essays include a direct statement of the thesis, in some personal essays the thesis may be implied rather than stated outright.

Imagine, for example, that in your personal essay you decide to write about the way someone influenced you. The influential individual could be a relative, a friend or classmate, an employer or a teacher. As you shape your essay, you would not simply assemble a collection of miscellaneous observations about the person; instead, you would be selective and focus on details about this person that show his or her impact upon you.

Let us say that the person who influenced you is a grandparent. You may know a lot about this individual: personality traits, family and marital history, medical history, educational background, work experience, military experience, political and religious beliefs, hobbies, tastes in music, etc. But as you shape your essay about how this individual affected you, you wouldn’t try to catalog all that you know. Instead, you would try to create a dominant impression by including details that guide your reader toward the idea that is central to the essay.

For example, if you developed certain habits and attitudes as you and your grandparent worked together on a project, that experience might provide the focus for the essay. If you chose details consistent with that focus, then you wouldn’t need to state that this was the point of the essay. Your readers would understand that that was the governing idea based on the details you had so carefully chosen.

Whether the thesis is stated outright or implied, then, the personal essay will have a governing idea—an idea that is “in charge” of what you decide to include in the essay in terms of content, vocabulary, sentence structure, and tone. In short, the personal essay may not have a thesis statement, but it will have a thesis.

Consider a personal essay in which a student was asked to write about a person she admired, and she wrote about her cousin. She wrote:

  • I admired my cousin’s decision to enlist because she had to withstand criticism from people who thought women shouldn’t be in the army and because in basic training she had to stand up to physical and mental challenges that I don’t think I could face.

The thesis statement provides quite a lot of guidance for both writing and reading the essay. Writer and reader are equally able to see what the subject of the essay is and what is being stated about the subject, and both writer and reader can see how the essay should be organized. No matter how many body paragraphs there are, this thesis implies that the paper will be divided into two sections. One section will group together the paragraphs on this topic: cousin “had to withstand criticism from people who thought women shouldn’t be in the army.” Another section will group together the paragraphs on this second topic: “in basic training she had to stand up to physical and mental challenges.”

Are Narratives Persuasive?

In a personal essay, you may not think of your thesis as “arguable” in the same way as a claim in a persuasive essay would be arguable, but in fact, you can think of it as something that should need to be demonstrated—backed up through explanations and illustrations. Usually, the idea that should be demonstrated is that you are a thoughtful, reflective person who has learned from the events and people in your life.

If the thesis does not need to be demonstrated, then there may not be much purpose in writing the essay. For, example, a statement that “George W. Bush was the forty-third president” or the statement that “Senior proms are exciting” would not be considered arguable by most people and likely would not spark a reader’s interest and make them want to keep reading.

On the other hand, the thesis statements below would need to be explained and illustrated. In that sense, these personal essay thesis statements are equivalent to claims that are “arguable.”

  • The evening was nearly ruined because parents acting as dress-code vigilantes threw several people out of the prom.
  • My team spent hours planning the prom and managed to head off a repeat of the after-prom drinking that caused some parents to question whether the prom should be held this year.
  • Everyone was able to attend the prom proudly because our prom committee got several stores to loan outfits to make certain everyone would feel like they fit in.
  • I opted to attend an alternative prom because the principal refused to allow a same-sex couple to attend.

Keep in mind that the actions or events in your essay do not have to make you look heroic. You could write a convincing and powerful essay about how you attended the school-sponsored prom, even though the principal refused to allow a same-sex couple to attend. Your essay, in this case, might, for example, focus on your regret over your decision and your subsequent understanding of how you think you can best challenge the status quo in the future. In other words, you can write an effective personal essay about a moment of regret.

When writing a personal essay for an application of some kind (scholarship, internship, graduate school), remember that the ultimate purpose of the essay is to make you, the essay writer and applicant, look good. That doesn’t mean that you need to describe you doing great things. If your personal essay is all about your grandfather and what an amazing role model and person he was, you still need to think about how your essay can make you (and not just your grandfather) look good. One way to make yourself look good is to make clear that you are a thoughtful, reflective person (and someone smart enough to learn from a man like your grandfather).

https://assessments.lumenlearning.co...essments/20435

Contributors and Attributions

  • Narrative Essay. Provided by : Excelsior OWL. Located at : https://owl.excelsior.edu/rhetorical-styles/narrative-essay/narrative-essay-see-it-across-the-disciplines/ . License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Narrative Essays. Authored by : Marianne Botos, Lynn McClelland, Stephanie Polliard, Pamela Osback . Located at : https://pvccenglish.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/eng-101-inside-pages-proof2-no-pro.pdf . Project : Horse of a Different Color: English Composition and Rhetoric . License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Sample Narrative Essay. Provided by : Georgia State University. Located at : gsuideas.org/SCC/Narration/Sample%20Narrative%20Essay%20Personal%20Statement.html. Project : Writing For Success. License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Writing a Narrative Essay. Provided by : Boundless. Located at : courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-writing/chapter/types-of-rhetorical-modes/. License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
  • Image of person writing on sticky notes. Authored by : Nappiness. Provided by : Pixabay. Located at : pixabay.com/photos/brainstorming-business-professional-441010/. License : Other . License Terms : pixabay.com/service/terms/#license
  • Do Personal Essays have Thesis Statements?. Provided by : Radford University. Located at : https://lcubbison.pressbooks.com/chapter/core-101-personal-essay-assignment/ . Project : Radford University Core Handbook. License : Public Domain: No Known Copyright

6 Steps to Writing the Perfect Personal Essay

Personal essays are easy once you know how!

  • Tips For Adult Students
  • Getting Your Ged

things a personal essay should not include

  • B.A., English, St. Olaf College

It is the first day of a new school year and your teacher has just assigned a personal essay. They have good reasons for this assignment—personal or narrative essays allow teachers to assess your grasp of language, composition, and creativity.

If you don't know where to start or feel overwhelmed by the open-ended prompt, this list is here to help you navigate the process from beginning to end. Writing about yourself is easy to do when you keep the key ingredients of a great essay in mind.

Find Inspiration and Ideas

You can't begin a personal essay without a topic. If you are stuck on what to write about, look to some of these sources of inspiration:

  • Consult lists of ideas to get your brain thinking about the possibilities of your essay. Remember that a personal essay is autobiographical, so do not write about anything untrue.
  • Try writing a  stream of consciousness . To do this, start writing whatever is on your mind and don't stop or leave anything out. Even if ideas aren't connected to each other whatsoever, a stream of consciousness gets everything in your brain on paper and often contains many ideas.
  • Do a little research. Browsing through whatever interests you can really get the creative juices flowing and lead to small self-reflections. Grab onto any of these that you think you might want to write about.

Don't be afraid to ask your teacher what they are looking for. If you still aren't sure what to write about, go to your teacher for suggestions or a more specific prompt.

Understand the Composition of an Essay

Before you start writing, remind yourself of basic essay composition. Almost all essays are made up of three parts: an introduction, a body of information, and a conclusion. The five-paragraph essay is a common iteration of this and it contains an introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion paragraph. Use an outline, or general essay plan, to jot down your ideas before writing.

Introduction : Start your personal essay with a hook, or an interesting sentence that grabs your readers' attention and makes them want to read more. Select a topic that you know you can write an interesting essay about. Once you have a compelling topic, decide on the main idea you want to communicate and use it to capture your readers' interest in the first sentence.

After the hook, use the introductory paragraph to briefly outline the subject of your essay. Your readers should have a clear understanding of the direction of the rest of your piece from the introduction.

Body : The body of your essay is made up of one or more paragraphs that inform your readers about your topic, each paragraph accomplishing this in a unique way.

The structure of a paragraph resembles the structure of an essay. A paragraph contains an attention-grabbing topic sentence, several sentences elaborating on the point of the paragraph, and a conclusion sentence or two that summarizes the main idea. The conclusion sentence of a paragraph should also be used to transition into the next paragraph by smoothly introducing the next topic without going into too much detail.

Each paragraph should have its own idea that is closely related to the topic of the whole essay but elaborates on the main idea in a new way. It is important that topics flow logically from one to the next so that your essay is easy to follow. If your paragraphs are not related to each other or the main idea, your essay may be choppy and incoherent. Keeping your sentences concise also helps with clarity. Feel free to break a large paragraph up into two separate paragraphs if the topic changes or goes on for too long.

Conclusion : Close your essay with a final paragraph that summarizes the points you have made and states the takeaways. When writing personal essays, conclusion paragraphs are where you talk about the lessons you learned, ways that you changed as a result of your subject, or any other insights that were gained from your experience. In short: restate the ideas from the introduction in a new way and wrap up your essay.

Use Appropriate Voice for Essay and Verbs

In English grammar, there are many elements of writing that determine the quality of your work and voice is one of the most important. There are two types of voice: the author's voice and the voice of verbs.

Author's Voice

One of the things your teacher will be looking for when reading your personal essay is the use of voice in your essay, which is your own personal style of telling a story. They will be looking for features of your writing that make it unique, analyze the pacing of your essay, and determine how you establish your authority.

Because personal essays are works of nonfiction, your voice must be reliable. Other than that, you are free to play around with the delivery of your essay. Decide how formal or casual you want to be, how you want to keep the attention of your readers, how you would like your readers to feel when reading your essay, and how you would like your story to come across as a whole.

Voice of Verbs

Don't be confused—verbs have their own voice that is entirely separate from the author's voice. The active voice occurs when the subject of your sentence is performing the action or verb and the passive voice occurs when the subject is receiving the action.

The subject is italicized in the following examples.

Passive : An essay was assigned by Ms. Peterson.

Active : Ms. Peterson assigned a personal essay about summer vacation.

Generally, the active voice is most appropriate for personal essays as it is more effective at progressing a story forward. Using verbs in the active voice also tends to come across as more authoritative.

Be Consistent With Point of View and Tense

Personal essays are about yourself, so it is important that your point of view and tense be consistent with this. Personal essays are almost always written in first person tense, using the pronouns I, we, and us to tell what happened. Readers need to know what something was like from your perspective.

Remember that you can only speak to your own thoughts and feelings in first person tense unless you know for sure what another person was thinking or feeling and can quote them.

Personal essays are also written in the past tense because they describe something that happened to you, not something that is happening or will happen. You cannot speak confidently about experiences that have not happened or are still happening because you have not yet learned from them. Teachers will probably want you to write a personal essay to reflect on a real experience that taught you something.

Use Your Own Vocabulary

Just as you shouldn't lie when writing personal essays, you also shouldn't waver. Your choice of vocabulary can help you establish and maintain themes throughout your essay. Every word matters.

Your goal when writing a personal essay should be authenticity and you need to choose your vocabulary accordingly. Use the words that naturally come to mind when you are writing and don't try to be something that you are not. Your language should fit the topic and guide readers to interpret your writing in a certain way.

Here are some examples of how to choose the right words.

  • When you are making a statement of opinion or fact, use powerful words that make your ideas clear. For example, say, "I ran like my life depended on it," rather than, "I ran pretty fast."
  • If you are trying to communicate uncertainty that you felt during an experience, use words that convey these feelings. "I questioned whether or not it was a good idea," rather than, "I didn't know what would happen."
  • Use positive language. Write about what did happen or what is rather than what did not happen or what is not . "I left room for dessert after dinner," instead of, "I hated dinner and couldn't even finish it."

Always be as descriptive as possible and incorporate all of your senses into your writing. Write about how something looked, sounded, felt, smelled, or tasted to help your readers imagine the experience for themselves. Use adjectives that support what you have described but do not use them to do the work of describing for you.

Edit, Edit, Edit

English grammar is tough even for native English speakers. Brush up on grammar rules before writing and revisit your work when you are finished to ensure that you have written an essay that you can be proud of.

No matter what you write, one of the most important parts of the writing process is editing . It is good practice to give yourself some space from your essay just after finishing it before you dive into editing because this can help you analyze your writing more objectively. A second opinion is always helpful too.

When editing, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the grammar/sentence structure of your essay correct?
  • Is your essay well-organized and easy to follow? Does it flow?
  • Is your writing on topic throughout the essay?
  • Will your readers be able to picture what you have described?
  • Did you make your point?
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How to Write a Personal Essay: Topics, Structure, & Examples

Even though a personal essay seems like something you might need to write only for your college application, people who graduated a while ago are asked to write it. Therefore, if you are a student, you might even want to save this article for later!

Our specialists will write a custom essay specially for you!

A personal essay is a first-person narrative that describes a writer’s life experience and its influence . You may think that writing such an essay is easy-peasy. There is so much freedom regarding the topic, isn’t it? However, soon enough, you realize that it’s more of a curse than a blessing. Custom-writing.org experts understand it’s super confusing as you don’t know where to start. But this simple yet comprehensive guide on how to write a personal essay is here to help you out!

❔ What Is a Personal Essay?

🚦 how do you start a personal essay.

  • 🙋 Essay Topics
  • 📑 Personal Essay Types

🔗 References

A personal essay is just what you think it is: a piece of writing that presents some experience from your perspective . It doesn’t need to be extraordinary, but it has to show how you changed thanks to the experience you got. Such an essay also creates a feeling of intimacy.

A typical personal essay consists of a 1-paragraph introduction, a 3-paragraph body, and a 1-paragraph conclusion.

Long story short, it is a first-person narrative that describes a writer’s life experience and its influence. This type of essay allows you to use any writing style you want and usually has an informal tone. It helps the reader to gain a connection with you.

There is a wide variety of topic options: you may want your writing to be inspiring or, on the contrary, warning so that others could avoid your mistakes. However, the most important thing is sticking to the general guidelines.

The most popular personal essay outline would consist of three parts:

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  • Start with an introduction . It should include only one paragraph
  • Continue with the main body . It should be at least three paragraphs long
  • Write a conclusion . Don’t make it too long, one paragraph is enough

Let’s also note that typically you would write a personal essay as a part of the college application process. However, it’s not rare that this type of writing can help employers understand if the candidate meets the job requirements.

👀 Personal Essay Examples

To give you some inspiration, we included a list of excellent examples ranked as the most successful personal essays by The New York Times , The New Yorker , and America’s top universities.

The first and the most important thing you need to do when you are about to write a personal essay is to determine its purpose . When you know your audience, it becomes easier to find an appropriate topic for your writing. After that, you can draft an outline, which is the foundation of your future essay!

🙋 Personal Essay Topics

By now, you might have understood the idea of the personal statement. Your goal is to show off your personality from the good side. However, there is an endless amount of options on how to do it. The most popular way is to tell the story from the past. It can be either something you achieved or an obstacle you managed to overcome. Either way, it needs to highlight the lesson you learned.

Next, you can make your writing even more inspirational by revealing your future goals, showing that you have potential and determination. But remember to focus on things that the whole community can benefit from because just getting rich is a lame objective!

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Last but not least, be yourself and use creativity! Show your potential employers and college administration how much you can contribute to their development. You should convince them that it can be a mutually beneficial experience.

Here, we prepared some of the best personal essay topics for you:

  • How did the most significant loss of your life make you stronger?
  • Who would you like to switch live with, and why?
  • The time when you think you made the wrong choice.
  • How would you spend a million dollars?
  • Is there anything you have never shared with anyone?
  • A special friend that influenced your life.
  • One morning that has changed your life forever.
  • The time when you had to deliver devastating news.
  • A near-death experience and how it felt.
  • Describe the longest minute of your life.
  • Something you can’t resist and keep doing.
  • A meaningful event that is hard to explain.
  • Would you start a charity foundation if you could?
  • The most precious gift you ever received.
  • The wrong choice you never regret making.
  • A secret place that gives you peace of mind.
  • Something you’ve seen and wish you could forget.
  • A hidden talent no one knows you have.
  • A day when you felt like the unluckiest person in the world.
  • The most beautiful thing you’ve seen.
  • A skill you have that robots will never learn to do.
  • What is the one thing you want to change about yourself?
  • Where would you like to live?
  • The most important discovery you made.
  • What if you were a teacher?
  • The most fantastic movie scene that changed the world.
  • What would you like to change in schools?
  • Describe something you love about yourself and why.
  • Where do you see yourself in ten years?
  • Time with your family that you cherish the most.
  • The achievement you’re proud of.
  • Describe the time when you learned something from a child.
  • The words that made you hopeful again.
  • Write about the time when you were at the bottom.
  • A stranger that had an influence on you.
  • What would you do if you could go back in time?
  • Would you like to redo something in your life, would you?
  • The superpower you wish you had.
  • The person you would be grateful to at the end of your life.
  • The time when you avoided danger.
  • Family celebrations, and what do they mean to you?
  • Write about the time when you saw your mother crying.
  • Did you disappoint anyone?
  • Is there anyone you are not fond of?
  • A place that you try to keep away from.
  • How did you overcome your fear?
  • The most challenging choice you had to make.
  • The time you felt like an outsider.
  • When did you realize you’re not a child anymore?
  • Why does your hobby interest you?

📑 Personal Essay about Yourself: Main Types

Personal essays on hobbies.

Writing an essay on a hobby is not as easy as it seems. Take a look at any hobbies essay sample, and you will be likely to see a widespread thing: these essays can be boring, which is an easy way to get a low grade.

Below are some common problems with hobby essays (and their solutions).

No matter what, make sure the focus is on you. When you are writing about a personal hobby, you should aim to make yourself the star by essentially telling your reader about yourself through an interest of yours.

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Life-changing Experience Essays

The purpose of a life-changing experience essay is obvious: simply put, you need to tell the reader about a specific event that changed your life . Note that it also works for a closely related type of essay, the personal narrative essay .

Three essential elements should be clear to readers of any life-changing experience writing:

  • The reader should understand the event — both what happened and how it made you feel at the time.
  • The reader should understand what the event changed about you. It is best to tell the reader about your condition before the event and after it. However, this depends on the essay’s length.
  • The reader should understand how you feel about the event now.

If you need personal experience essay ideas, focus on events that you can write about to meet the three above criteria. If your assignment is very free form, take a look at a list of prompts for personal writing.

Education Essays

As a student, you will be asked to write an education essay eventually. It is important to remember that personal writing is about setting yourself apart. Tell the reader what made your educational experience unique.

How can you make your educational essay stand out? First, go beyond generic stories of overcoming an academic weakness by avoiding essays that take the following form: “I was terrible at subject X, but through hard work, I became quite excellent at subject X!”

Instead, focus on an assignment or subject that captured your attention — the more unusual the situation, the better. Use storytelling to enhance your essay. The best education essays can be essays about life-changing education experiences; for example, many great educational stories focus on the teacher or class that changed the author’s life.

Biographies

Writing a short biography is easy. All you need to do is to use a very basic biography template. But first: remember that you need to keep the attention of your reader. Tell a good story about yourself ! Learning how to write a biography is about learning how to tell a good story .

A Biography Template

A solid biography is a solid story. For this reason, the biography template is essentially the template of a well-crafted story, which is typically divided into three specific parts:

  • Establish the characters. In this case, these are people that play important roles in your life. For example, if your autobiographical essay includes family members, you need to describe them briefly before anything exciting happens.
  • Build tension. If you write about your family, you can describe a problem that exists there.
  • Describe a resolution. Not that it is not the same thing as a problem being solved. For example, when a loved one dies, there is no solution to that problem. Instead, you grieve and learn to live without that person in your life.

If your biography manages to achieve all three of these elements, you will indeed have one of the class’s strongest essays.

Personal Statements

The last type of personal writing is probably the most important. When faced with their first college application, most students go to the web to find a personal statement format.

If you learn from examples, the best thing to do is check out several strong personal statement examples. As mentioned in the second section, many universities post essays from accepted students. Or perhaps you should read a breakdown of portions of a personal statement. The point is, read what others have done for inspiration.

Sometimes colleges offer personal statement templates. However, they often use freeform personal statements to identify focused, articulate students. Thus, the top tip for these is to write a clear thesis statement . A thesis statement for an essay without a prompt should be so clear that it sounds like it addresses a writing prompt. When there is no prompt, this is the time you should specifically use the standard 5-paragraph essay . Your discipline will impress your readers, which is exactly what you want.

However, an open-ended essay prompt is sometimes just too much to handle in time, but that is alright. It happens to everyone, and our writing experts can help, luckily. You can work with one of their expert writers or editors to create the perfect personal essay.

  • Personal Essays – Georgia Tech Admissions
  • The Personal Statement // Purdue Writing Lab
  • Application Essays – UNC Writing Center
  • How To: Write Your Personal Essay
  • Essays | Penn Admissions
  • Writing the Personal Statement | Berkeley Graduate Division
  • Personal Insight Questions – UCLA Undergraduate Admission
  • Essay Topics | Yale College Undergraduate Admissions
  • Complete Your Application: Indiana University Bloomington
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College Admissions , College Essays

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In addition to standardized test scores and transcripts, a personal statement or essay is a required part of many college applications. The personal statement can be one of the most stressful parts of the application process because it's the most open ended.

In this guide, I'll answer the question, "What is a personal statement?" I'll talk through common college essay topics and what makes for an effective personal statement.

College Essay Glossary

Even the terminology can be confusing if you aren't familiar with it, so let's start by defining some terms:

Personal statement —an essay you write to show a college admissions committee who you are and why you deserve to be admitted to their school. It's worth noting that, unlike "college essay," this term is used for application essays for graduate school as well.

College essay —basically the same as a personal statement (I'll be using the terms interchangeably).

Essay prompt —a question or statement that your college essay is meant to respond to.

Supplemental essay —an extra school or program-specific essay beyond the basic personal statement.

Many colleges ask for only one essay. However, some schools do ask you to respond to multiple prompts or to provide supplemental essays in addition to a primary personal statement.

Either way, don't let it stress you out! This guide will cover everything you need to know about the different types of college essays and get you started thinking about how to write a great one:

  • Why colleges ask for an essay
  • What kinds of essay questions you'll see
  • What sets great essays apart
  • Tips for writing your own essay

Why Do Colleges Ask For an Essay?

There are a couple of reasons that colleges ask applicants to submit an essay, but the basic idea is that it gives them more information about you, especially who you are beyond grades and test scores.

#1: Insight Into Your Personality

The most important role of the essay is to give admissions committees a sense of your personality and what kind of addition you'd be to their school's community . Are you inquisitive? Ambitious? Caring? These kinds of qualities will have a profound impact on your college experience, but they're hard to determine based on a high school transcript.

Basically, the essay contextualizes your application and shows what kind of person you are outside of your grades and test scores . Imagine two students, Jane and Tim: they both have 3.5 GPAs and 1200s on the SAT. Jane lives in Colorado and is the captain of her track team; Tim lives in Vermont and regularly contributes to the school paper. They both want to be doctors, and they both volunteer at the local hospital.

As similar as Jane and Tim seem on paper, in reality, they're actually quite different, and their unique perspectives come through in their essays. Jane writes about how looking into her family history for a school project made her realize how the discovery of modern medical treatments like antibiotics and vaccines had changed the world and drove her to pursue a career as a medical researcher. Tim, meanwhile, recounts a story about how a kind doctor helped him overcome his fear of needles, an interaction that reminded him of the value of empathy and inspired him to become a family practitioner. These two students may seem outwardly similar but their motivations and personalities are very different.

Without an essay, your application is essentially a series of numbers: a GPA, SAT scores, the number of hours spent preparing for quiz bowl competitions. The personal statement is your chance to stand out as an individual.

#2: Evidence of Writing Skills

A secondary purpose of the essay is to serve as a writing sample and help colleges see that you have the skills needed to succeed in college classes. The personal statement is your best chance to show off your writing , so take the time to craft a piece you're really proud of.

That said, don't panic if you aren't a strong writer. Admissions officers aren't expecting you to write like Joan Didion; they just want to see that you can express your ideas clearly.

No matter what, your essay should absolutely not include any errors or typos .

#3: Explanation of Extenuating Circumstances

For some students, the essay is also a chance to explain factors affecting their high school record. Did your grades drop sophomore year because you were dealing with a family emergency? Did you miss out on extracurriculars junior year because of an extended medical absence? Colleges want to know if you struggled with a serious issue that affected your high school record , so make sure to indicate any relevant circumstances on your application.

Keep in mind that in some cases there will be a separate section for you to address these types of issues, as well as any black marks on your record like expulsions or criminal charges.

#4: Your Reasons for Applying to the School

Many colleges ask you to write an essay or paragraph about why you're applying to their school specifically . In asking these questions, admissions officers are trying to determine if you're genuinely excited about the school and whether you're likely to attend if accepted .

I'll talk more about this type of essay below.

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What Kind of Questions Do Colleges Ask?

Thankfully, applications don't simply say, "Please include an essay about yourself"; they include a question or prompt that you're asked to respond to . These prompts are generally pretty open-ended and can be approached in a lot of different ways .

Nonetheless, most questions fall into a few main categories. Let's go through each common type of prompt, with examples from the Common Application, the University of California application, and a few individual schools.

Prompt Type 1: Your Personal History

This sort of question asks you to write about a formative experience, important event, or key relationship from your life . Admissions officers want to understand what is important to you and how your background has shaped you as a person.

These questions are both common and tricky. The most common pit students fall into is trying to tell their entire life stories. It's better to focus in on a very specific point in time and explain why it was meaningful to you.

Common App 1

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Common App 5

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

University of California 2

Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

University of California 6

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

Prompt Type 2: Facing a Problem

A lot of prompts deal with how you solve problems, how you cope with failure, and how you respond to conflict. College can be difficult, both personally and academically, and admissions committees want to see that you're equipped to face those challenges .

The key to these types of questions is to identify a real problem, failure, or conflict ( not a success in disguise) and show how you adapted and grew from addressing the issue.

Common App 2

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Harvard University 7

The Harvard College Honor Code declares that we “hold honesty as the foundation of our community.” As you consider entering this community that is committed to honesty, please reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty.

Prompt Type 3: Diversity

Most colleges are pretty diverse, with students from a wide range of backgrounds. Essay questions about diversity are designed to help admissions committees understand how you interact with people who are different from you .

In addressing these prompts, you want to show that you're capable of engaging with new ideas and relating to people who may have different beliefs than you.

Common App 3

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Johns Hopkins University

Tell us about an aspect of your identity (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, religion, community) or a life experience that has shaped you as an individual and how that influenced what you’d like to pursue in college at Hopkins.  This can be a future goal or experience that is either [sic] academic, extracurricular, or social.

Duke University Optional 1

We believe a wide range of personal perspectives, beliefs, and lived experiences are essential to making Duke a vibrant and meaningful living and learning community. Feel free to share with us anything in this context that might help us better understand you and what you might bring to our community. 

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Prompt Type 4: Your Future Goals

This type of prompt asks about what you want to do in the future: sometimes simply what you'd like to study, sometimes longer-term career goals. Colleges want to understand what you're interested in and how you plan to work towards your goals.

You'll mostly see these prompts if you're applying for a specialized program (like pre-med or engineering) or applying as a transfer student. Some schools also ask for supplementary essays along these lines. 

University of Southern California (Architecture)

Princeton Supplement 1

Prompt Type 5: Why This School

The most common style of supplemental essay is the "why us?" essay, although a few schools with their own application use this type of question as their main prompt. In these essays, you're meant to address the specific reasons you want to go to the school you're applying to .

Whatever you do, don't ever recycle these essays for more than one school.

Chapman University

There are thousands of universities and colleges. Why are you interested in attending Chapman?

Columbia University

Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia.

Rice University

Based upon your exploration of Rice University, what elements of the Rice experience appeal to you?

Princeton University

Princeton has a longstanding commitment to understanding our responsibility to society through service and civic engagement. How does your own story intersect with these ideals?

Prompt Type 6: Creative Prompts

More selective schools often have supplemental essays with stranger or more unique questions. University of Chicago is notorious for its weird prompts, but it's not the only school that will ask you to think outside the box in addressing its questions.

University of Chicago

“Vlog,” “Labradoodle,” and “Fauxmage.” Language is filled with portmanteaus. Create a new portmanteau and explain why those two things are a “patch” (perfect match).

University of Vermont

Established in Burlington, VT, Ben & Jerry’s is synonymous with both ice cream and social change. The “Save Our Swirled” flavor raises awareness of climate change, and “I Dough, I Dough” celebrates marriage equality. If you worked alongside Ben & Jerry, what charitable flavor would you develop and why?

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What Makes a Strong Personal Statement?

OK , so you're clear on what a college essay is, but you're still not sure how to write a good one . To help you get started, I'm going to explain the main things admissions officers look for in students' essays: an engaging perspective, genuine moments, and lively writing .

I've touched on these ideas already, but here, I'll go into more depth about how the best essays stand out from the pack.

Showing Who You Are

A lot of students panic about finding a unique topic, and certainly writing about something unusual like a successful dating app you developed with your friends or your time working as a mall Santa can't hurt you. But what's really important isn't so much what you write about as how you write about it . You need to use your subject to show something deeper about yourself.

Look at the prompts above: you'll notice that they almost all ask you what you learned or how the experience affected you. Whatever topic you pick, you must be able to specifically address how or why it matters to you .

Say a student, Will, was writing about the mall Santa in response to Common App prompt number 2 (the one about failure): Will was a terrible mall Santa. He was way too skinny to be convincing and the kids would always step on his feet. He could easily write 600 very entertaining words describing this experience, but they wouldn't necessarily add up to an effective college essay.

To do that, he'll need to talk about his motivations and his feelings: why he took such a job in the first place and what he did (and didn't) get out of it. Maybe Will took the job because he needed to make some money to go on a school trip and it was the only one he could find. Despite his lack of enthusiasm for screaming children, he kept doing it because he knew if he persevered through the whole holiday season he would have enough money for his trip. Would you rather read "I failed at being a mall Santa" or "Failing as a mall Santa taught me how to persevere no matter what"? Admissions officers definitely prefer the latter.

Ultimately, the best topics are ones that allow you to explain something surprising about yourself .

Since the main point of the essay is to give schools a sense of who you are, you have to open up enough to let them see your personality . Writing a good college essay means being honest about your feelings and experiences even when they aren't entirely positive.

In this context, honesty doesn't mean going on at length about the time you broke into the local pool at night and nearly got arrested, but it does mean acknowledging when something was difficult or upsetting for you. Think about the mall Santa example above. The essay won't work unless the writer genuinely acknowledges that he was a bad Santa and explains why.

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Eloquent Writing

As I mentioned above, colleges want to know that you are a strong enough writer to survive in college classes . Can you express your ideas clearly and concisely? Can you employ specific details appropriately and avoid clichés and generalizations? These kinds of skills will serve you well in college (and in life!).

Nonetheless, admissions officers recognize that different students have different strengths. They aren't looking for a poetic magnum opus from someone who wants to be a math major. (Honestly, they aren't expecting a masterwork from anyone , but the basic point stands.) Focus on making sure that your thoughts and personality come through, and don't worry about using fancy vocabulary or complex rhetorical devices.

Above all, make sure that you have zero grammar or spelling errors . Typos indicate carelessness, which will hurt your cause with admissions officers.

Top Five Essay-Writing Tips

Now that you have a sense of what colleges are looking for, let's talk about how you can put this new knowledge into practice as you approach your own essay. Below, I've collected my five best tips from years as a college essay counselor.

#1: Start Early!

No matter how much you want to avoid writing your essay, don't leave it until the last minute . One of the most important parts of the essay writing process is editing, and editing takes a lot of time. You want to be able to put your draft in a drawer for a week and come back to it with fresh eyes. You don't want to be stuck with an essay you don't really like because you have to submit your application tomorrow.

You need plenty of time to experiment and rewrite, so I would recommend starting your essays at least two months before the application deadline . For most students, that means starting around Halloween, but if you're applying early, you'll need to get going closer to Labor Day.

Of course, it's even better to get a head start and begin your planning earlier. Many students like to work on their essays over the summer, when they have more free time, but you should keep in mind that each year's application isn't usually released until August or September. Essay questions often stay the same from year to year, however. If you are looking to get a jump on writing, you can try to confirm with the school (or the Common App) whether the essay questions will be the same as the previous year's.

#2: Pick a Topic You're Genuinely Excited About

One of the biggest mistakes students make is trying to write what they think the committee wants to hear. The truth is that there's no "right answer" when it comes to college essays . T he best topics aren't limited to specific categories like volunteer experiences or winning a tournament. Instead, they're topics that actually matter to the writer .

"OK," you're thinking, "but what does she mean by 'a topic that matters to you'? Because to be perfectly honest, right now, what really matters to me is that fall TV starts up this week, and I have a feeling I shouldn't write about that."

You're not wrong (although some great essays have been written about television ). A great topic isn't just something that you're excited about or that you talk to your friends about; it's something that has had a real, describable effect on your perspective .

This doesn't mean that you should overemphasize how something absolutely changed your life , especially if it really didn't. Instead, try to be as specific and honest as you can about how the experience affected you, what it taught you, or what you got out of it.

Let's go back to the TV idea. Sure, writing an essay about how excited you are for the new season of Stranger Things  probably isn't the quickest way to get yourself into college, but you could write a solid essay (in response to the first type of prompt) about how SpongeBob SquarePants was an integral part of your childhood. However, it's not enough to just explain how much you loved SpongeBob—you must also explain why and how watching the show every day after school affected your life. For example, maybe it was a ritual you shared with your brother, which showed you how even seemingly silly pieces of pop culture can bring people together. Dig beneath the surface to show who you are and how you see the world.

When you write about something you don't really care about, your writing will come out clichéd and uninteresting, and you'll likely struggle to motivate yourself. When you instead write about something that is genuinely important to you, you can make even the most ordinary experiences—learning to swim, eating a meal, or watching TV—engaging .

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#3: Focus on Specifics

But how do you write an interesting essay? Focus.

Don't try to tell your entire life story or even the story of an entire weekend; 500–650 words may seem like a lot, but you'll reach that limit quickly if you try to pack every single thing that has happened to you into your essay. If, however, you just touch on a wide range of topics, you'll end up with an essay that reads more like a résumé.

Instead, narrow in on one specific event or idea, and talk about it in more depth . The narrower your topic, the better. For example, writing about your role as Mercutio in your school's production of Romeo and Juliet is too general, but writing about opening night, when everything went wrong, could be a great topic.

Whatever your topic, use details to help draw the reader in and express your unique perspective. But keep in mind that you don't have to include every detail of what you did or thought; stick to the important and illustrative ones.

#4: Use Your Own Voice

College essays aren't academic assignments; you don't need to be super formal. Instead, try to be yourself. The best writing sounds like a more eloquent version of the way you talk .

Focus on using clear, simple language that effectively explains a point or evokes a feeling. To do so, avoid the urge to use fancy-sounding synonyms when you don't really know what they mean. Contractions are fine; slang, generally, is not. Don't hesitate to write in the first person.

A final note: you don't need to be relentlessly positive. It's OK to acknowledge that sometimes things don't go how you want—just show how you grew from that.

#5: Be Ruthless

Many students want to call it a day after writing a first draft, but editing is a key part of writing a truly great essay. To be clear, editing doesn't mean just making a few minor wording tweaks and cleaning up typos; it means reading your essay carefully and objectively and thinking about how you could improve it .

Ask yourself questions as you read: is the progression of the essay clear? Do you make a lot of vague, sweeping statements that could be replaced with more interesting specifics? Do your sentences flow together nicely? Do you show something about yourself beyond the surface level?

You will have to delete and rewrite (potentially large) parts of your essay, and no matter how attached you feel to something you wrote, you might have to let it go . If you've ever heard the phrase "kill your darlings," know that it is 100% applicable to college essay writing.

At some point, you might even need to rewrite the whole essay. Even though it's annoying, starting over is sometimes the best way to get an essay that you're really proud of.

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What's Next?

Make sure to check out our other posts on college essays , including our step-by-step guide to how to write your college essay , our analysis of the Common App Prompts , and our collection of example essays .

If you're in need of guidance on other parts of the application process , take a look at our guides to choosing the right college for you , writing about extracurriculars , deciding to double major , and requesting teacher recommendations .

Last but not least, if you're planning on taking the SAT one last time , check out our ultimate guide to studying for the SAT and make sure you're as prepared as possible.

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

Alex is an experienced tutor and writer. Over the past five years, she has worked with almost a hundred students and written about pop culture for a wide range of publications. She graduated with honors from University of Chicago, receiving a BA in English and Anthropology, and then went on to earn an MA at NYU in Cultural Reporting and Criticism. In high school, she was a National Merit Scholar, took 12 AP tests and scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and ACT.

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How To: Write Your Personal Essay

Posted by Carolyn Pippen on Wednesday, September 11, 2013 in Application Process , General Information , The College Essay .

While we still have a few more days until the official beginning of fall, around here it feels a lot like the season has already begun. Classes are back in session , the leaves are falling off the trees, and most of our counselors have departed for the two-month marathon of flights, high school visits, and college fairs that we call travel season.

things a personal essay should not include

In addition, thousands of high school seniors across the country have begun the process of filling out college applications. Regardless of whether or not one of your applications will be submitted to Vanderbilt, we would like to offer you a few nuggets of the expertise we have acquired working with students and evaluating applications over years.

Thus we give you: The “How To” Series. Over the next several weeks, we will be posting lists of tips concerning various pieces of the application that we hope will make this process a little less overwhelming for all of you. Today’s tips focus on the personal essay.

  • Be thoughtful, but not fretful. As a senior, most of the accomplishments that will make up the bulk of your application – academic performance, test scores, and extracurricular involvement – are said and done. In a sense, the only part of the application over which you have complete control right now is the essay. Don’t let this scare you! While the essay is a valuable tool that we use to understand you better, it is rarely if ever a “make or break” component of your application.
  • Keep the “personal” in personal essay. The Common Application presents six different prompts for you to choose from when writing your essay. To be honest, we don’t really care that much what you write about, as long as you’re writing about you. In other words, don’t spend the entire essay detailing the life of your favorite and most accomplished family member, but rather focus on how that person has affected you and your life decisions. Don’t give us a detailed narrative of your favorite community service trip, but instead tell us what you learned from that trip and how it has changed your outlook on the world. This is one time when it’s okay to be self-centered – more than anything, we want to know about you!
  • Don’t try to guess what the reader wants to hear. If you ask a hundred different admissions counselors what their favorite kind of essay is, you will likely get a hundred different answers. Trying to figure out what topic will get us most excited is like trying to guess which outfits the judges of Project Runway are going to like the most – no matter how many times we watch, Heidi always manages to confound. Instead of trying to game the system, focus on the things that get you excited. If nothing else, I promise that passion will show through.
  • Feel free to be funny or creative – but don’t overreach. If your friends tell you that you’re the funniest person in the class, use that skill to your advantage. If your creativity is what sets you apart from your peers, let that innovation guide the structure and content of the essay. On the other hand, if every joke you make at the cafeteria table falls flatter than a pancake in a Panini press, don’t try to fake it. Figure out what your personal strengths are, and stick with them.
  • Tell us something we don’t already know. When writing your essay, be sure to keep in mind all of the other pieces of your application we already have in front of us while we’re reading it. Do not use this space to summarize your extracurricular involvement or your academic achievements if we’ve already seen these things in your resume and transcript. We know that there is more to you than just test scores and leadership roles, so tell us more!
  • Ask for input (but not too much). Your parents, friends, guidance counselors, coaches, and teachers are great people to bounce ideas off of for your essay. They know how unique and spectacular you are, and they can help you decide how to articulate it. Keep in mind, however, that a 45-year-old lawyer writes quite differently from an 18-year-old student, so if your dad ends up writing the bulk of your essay, we’re probably going to notice.
  • Edit, proof, polish, and breathe. Beyond gaining insight into your personal psyche, the purpose of the essay is also to showcase your written communication skills. Treat this essay just like any class assignment – write it early, proof and revise, keep an eagle eye out for spelling and grammatical errors, and make sure it is presented in a clean and polished way. That being said, do not call our office in a panic if you discovered a missing article or a misused “its” after you hit submit. Because of our holistic selection process , no student will be denied based on one element of his or her application; this includes typos.

Tags: academic credentials , breathe , college applications , Common Application , essay writing , extracurricular activities , Heidi Klum , how to apply , personal essay , Project Runway

November 11th, 2013

Hi Carolyn, students get stressed regarding writing college admission essays. Your tips are going to help them a lot.

November 30th, 2013

thanks it helped me write a good essay

July 22nd, 2015

Thanks for the informative tips on short essay writing .

January 20th, 2016

Hello, I am applying to a liberal arts college and am sort of stuck up on the essay. Should I be completely honest and mention my shortcomings. I am pretty much introverted and not a good conversationalist. Should I or should I not mention these

January 27th, 2016

Your essay should help to give better, deeper insight into you as a person. As the post mentions, your essay should supplement the other parts of your application to help us understand you better. That said, you don’t have to include anything about yourself that you don’t feel comfortable sharing.

April 25th, 2016

Great tips!

September 3rd, 2016

Is there a specific place to write the essay and is there a prompt, the common app doesn’t have a location to attach a personal essay.

September 6th, 2016

Thank you for your question. The Common Application gives students the option to choose one of five essay prompts. You can read the essay promts on the Common Application site at http://www.commonapp.org/whats-appening/application-updates/common-application-announces-2016-2017-essay-prompts

Again, thanks for your question and your interest in Vanderbilt.

September 17th, 2016

so Vanderbilt does not have additional or supplemental essays?

September 20th, 2016

Thank you for your question – you are correct, there are no supplements for Vanderbilt.

September 21st, 2016

Hi! I’m just adding the final touches to my application and I’m ready to send it off. I’m very excited! Just a clarification: when you say there aren’t any supplements for Vanderbilt, does it mean that the activity essay/expansion isn’t required or is that not classified as a supplement? Thank you!

September 22nd, 2016

Hi Hannah, thanks for your question (and congratulations on finishing up your application). This can vary depending on the specific application method you are using. I think you may be asking about the Common App, and in that case the short answer about activities is required to submit your application. We don’t consider that a supplement because it is a part of the Common Application. If you have more questions, please feel free to follow up.

Thank you for the clarification!

September 23rd, 2016

I made a mistake..3 actually! I submitted my application today and after looking back through my pieces of writing, I realized that I accidentally wrote a word twice in my personal statement and forgot a period, and I also failed to include a small word in my topic sentence for my activities essay on the common app. Apparently, I was far too excited to hit submit. I would hate to have my admission chances suffer because of this. I’ve emailed my admissions counselor, but in the meantime, is there anything that can be done? Thank you!

September 30th, 2016

Hi Hannah, thank you for checking in on this. Emailing your admissions counselor is absolutely the right course of action, and I am sure they will handle it from here. Don’t worry about it! And thanks for your enthusiasm about Vanderbilt!

April 13th, 2017

Thanks for tips, right now i’m in the middle of essay writing, so your article is just what i needed. Start to get more and more worried each day, seems like now i know what to do

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Personal Statement

7 Things to Avoid in Your Personal Statement

🚫 make sure you're not doing anything from this list..

If you're still writing your essay, start with this guide on writing a personal statement . But if you have a first draft, then go through this checklist and make sure you're NOT doing any of these 7 things.

1. Whining. Don't whine in your essay! Definitely talk about challenges you've faced in your life, and how you've grown, but don't spend too much time talking about how tough you've had it. You're not looking for pity; you're looking for respect. Take a look at this paragraph:

"Every time he cries, no matter what the reason is, my parents always blame me for making him cry. I have tasted the injustice, but I cannot do anything to it. Since the birth of my brother, half of my time has been spent on him instead of hanging out with friends after school. My mom has stopped attending anything related to my education. I feel like I am not only the foreigner to this country, but also to this family that I belong to. My family always tells me that it is my responsibility to care about my brother, meaning I need to fill out every form for him, everything!"

See how it just feels like a list of complaints? Avoid doing this.

2. Someone else is the hero. Your essay might talk about someone else in your life who has had a positive or negative influence on you. But, make sure you're still the hero of the story! If you have more than 1-2 paragraphs talking about someone else, you might need to rewrite your essay. Take a look at this paragraph:

"Ultimately, my sister did a lot of seemingly spontaneous and irrational things. But, I realized these moments were some of the most satisfying and transformative moments growing up. I realized that my sister’s humor worked its way into my heart and loosened the constraints I put myself through previously. Progressively, I went from somebody who, in their frantic, stressed life, became discouraged when not getting what they expect to someone who finds value in every moment."

Tbh, the sister in this story seems the most interesting - as a reader, I want to know more about her. She seems pretty cool. On the flip side, we haven't learned much about the narrator.

3. Reads like a resume. Your resume is like the polished, fancy version of you. Your essay is your chance to be honest, personal, and vulnerable. Don't list off your accomplishments and only focus on all the shiny, good parts of your life. Give the reader a chance to connect with you.

Don't fake smile - be your true, authentic self.

4. Lack of focus. This is the most common issue we see. Don't throw in details that aren't relevant to the story you're telling. Every sentence you write should contribute to the overall story you're telling. Take a look at this paragraph:

"After exams, my father took us out to dinner. I cherished every single dish, licking my plate clean while my mother chided me on how improper that is. Back home, she scolded me about tiny stains of food on my shirt, all the while trying to hide a smile. I studied for these moments too. She suffers from depression, so it is rare to see her smile. On an oddly cold Tuesday morning, I got a call from the British Council; I had scored the highest marks in Economics in Pakistan."

See how there are too many distracting details? It's like, each sentence gives us something that we want to know more about, but then just moves on. Why does the narrator cherish each dish? How has his mother's depression affected him? Unless you're planning to dig deep into details like these, don't include them.

Stay focused! Don't try to do too many things at once.

5. Leaves out personal growth. If your essay is about overcoming a challenge or changing as a person, make sure you focus the bulk of your essay on how you grew and changed. Don't just brush over it. Check out these paragraphs:

"After a male teacher directly asked if synchronized swimming took any effort, I vowed never to tell another soul about my sport. My floral swim cap, which once stood proudly on my dresser like a brightly colored flag, slowly inched its way deeper into my dresser. Now at sixteen, I have accepted my existence in floral swim caps."

See how we're set up to learn how the narrator changed? She talks about how she was hiding herself and her passions. But, then she never actually talks about the process of accepting herself. What happened? Did she find support from her friends? Did winning a competition change her perspective? But she never addresses it, and just says that she accepts herself now.

Don't hide the tough moments or challenges - overcoming obstacles in your life make you who you are, and this essay is about sharing who you are.

6. Overcomplicated language. Don't overcomplicate your sentences. Don't use super long sentences - limit it to 2 independent clauses per sentence unless you have a REALLY good reason for something longer.

And try not to sound like a thesaurus. Don't say things like "I was already being informed about the divergent underlying notions encompassing gender." Just say "I was already learning about the different expectations for different genders."

Be you, don't be pretentious.

7. Incorrect grammar or spelling. Check your grammar! Use spellcheck or grammarly to make sure you don't have any grammar issues in your essay.

Now, make sure you also know the 5 things you SHOULD do in your personal statement.

MORE GUIDES

Home › University › How To Write A Personal Statement? 10 Tips + Student Questions Answered › What Not To Put In A Personal Statement

What Not To Put In A Personal Statement

  • Published October 19, 2021

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Table of Contents

Are you wondering what not to put in a personal statement ? If you are then this is the guide for you!

A personal statement can be thought of as an essay that you write to describe who you are. The content of a personal statement is one of the most critical factors in determining if you have a chance to be accepted to your chosen university.

It’s no secret that there are wordings and styles of writing you should avoid putting in your personal statement . A single sentence written out of context can potentially ruin your personal statement!

So if you want to avoid that from happening, you need to go over this list, discussing what not to put in your personal statement.

Let’s crack on!

Claims With No Evidence

You might be thinking, “What could possibly go wrong with listing down what I’m good at?” Well, for one, listing down your strengths without evidence is a fatal mistake.

Related Read : How To Write A Personal Statement?

If you say you have good leadership skills, why not write down the awards you received to back up your claim? Mentioning prominent positions you’ve had in your organisations is also an excellent way to prove your skills.

Listing down your strengths without evidence shows poor credibility on your part. Remember this when you’re thinking of what not to put in a personal statement!

Skills Or Extracurricular Activities Irrelevant For Your Course

You’ve listed down your strengths with sufficient evidence to back up your claim. Now ask yourself the question: how do your strengths relate to your course?

Sure, you have outstanding leadership skills, but how will you use that in the field of chemistry? Say you’re an excellent debater; will that give you an edge when applying for engineering?

Make sure you tie your strengths back to the course you’re applying for. If you don’t, you might as well not put them in. You only have 4,000 characters to convince the panel that you are worth accepting. 

Make each word count!

what not to put in a personal statement

Poor Grammar And Spelling

Poor grammar and spelling are essential criteria when talking about what not to put in a personal statement. Spelling and grammatical errors can ruin decent content for a personal statement. 

They show that you didn’t care enough to go over your personal statement and improve the quality.

Are you a budding medic? Here’s how to write a medical personal statement .

If you want to prove that you are a worthy applicant for your course, demonstrate your careful attention to detail by eliminating spelling and grammatical errors. Make it easy and pleasant for the admissions committee to read.

Doing so increases your chances of admittance by a hundredfold!

Failures And Regrets

Failures and regrets are some of the biggest things to remember on what not to put in a personal statement.

Why? Because your personal statement is a personal essay that sells you to universities for acceptance. Not an autobiography for you to inspire somebody like self-help books often do.

Mentioning how you failed Statistics or regret not trying out for the football team doesn’t accomplish very much when convincing the admissions committee that you’re potential student material.

But there is an exception to this rule. If your failure contributed significantly to developing your relevant skill, you may go ahead and write it down. As long as you make the connection explicit, you’re good to go!

Keep this progression in your mind: failure, skill development, then tie it back to your course. This narration structure demonstrates your grit and determination to try harder.

Sentences That Lead Nowhere

Avoid one-liners or sentences that don’t fit the context of your personal statement. If you’re writing about what inspired you to study engineering, don’t just mention inspirations and leave them hanging. Did a particular invention spark your interest?

Discuss why it sparked your interest. Could it be that the invention helped lift thousands of people from energy shortage? Perhaps it has helped alleviate global warming?

If so, how is that invention relevant in the 21st century? Then, if given the opportunity, what improvements would you make to enhance its usefulness in society? Perhaps this is the perfect opportunity for you to discuss technology ideas you have in mind. You may want to pursue it if the universities accept you.

From the universities’ point of view, they’ll be thrilled to accept a student who plans to invent a potentially groundbreaking tech. Do you see where this is going?

Each sentence in your personal statement has to build upon one another to come across as coherent. One sentence that leads nowhere will leave your reader hanging and perplexed. You can quickly lose the momentum you’ve worked so hard to gain.

So “sentences that lead nowhere” should be in your “what not to put in a personal statement” list!

Quotes That Don’t Fit

Quotes are powerful, authoritative, and timeless. They can easily lift your personal statement to a higher level. But you need to know how to use them to their fullest potential. Or they may end up ruining your personal statement!

So if you want to use quotes, make sure they fit the context of your personal statement. You cannot drop in a random quote by Theodore Roosevelt with no connection to your story and how your experience relates to your determination to study the course.

One of the best ways to make quotes work is to interweave them throughout your personal statement. Explain how the quote inspired you to be a volunteer in the local kitchen soup. Then explain how your experience in the kitchen soup motivated you to apply for the course.

For a full-blast ending, mention your quote again in your conclusion.

Related Read: How To Conclude Your Personal Statement?

Facts With No Context

By now, you have substantial know-how on what not to put in a personal statement. But there’s more – facts with no context.

You don’t have to demonstrate your knowledge by discussing facts or histories. Chances are, the admissions already know what you’re talking about. They probably know more than you do!

So steer clear of textbook-type explanations. Your personal statement is not a research paper! It’s a personal essay aimed at showing the reader why you should be admitted as their student. That’s why you need to nail your facts or histories in context by explaining how these helped you in your personal development. What realisations did you have that urged you to hone your skills? 

Don’t forget to tie your skills in with your course, writing why they’re essential for you to succeed in the field. 

Made Up Stories

Making up stories is an absolute red line you must never cross. But it’s not easy to resist when you feel the pressure to impress and stand out. When you do feel the pressure, think of the effects down the road.

How would you prepare for a university interview if they were to ask you a question about the made-up story? Slight exaggerations, no matter how believable, can still knock you out cold when caught off-guard!

Say you mentioned that you read a particular journal article. Here comes an up-to-date professor who knows the latest research papers like the back of their hand. They ask you a question about it, but your poor answers reveal the truth that you made the story up.

Do you feel the chills crawling down your spine at the very thought? Good! Please don’t do it! It’s not worth it.

Not only can it ruin your chances of being admitted. But it can also potentially damage your career options years later!

Childhood Aspirations

Childhood aspirations carry little weight in personal statements. Why? Because you didn’t have the knowledge, experience, or skills yet to make an informed choice of your course.

The admissions committee is not looking to know your whole life story. What they want to know is if you’re a great fit as a student of your course.

Do you have the necessary experience and skills to succeed in your chosen field of study? What’s your purpose? What are your long-term plans?

Mentioning your childhood aspirations will only waste much-needed space in your personal statement. Replace what’s not needed with what’s necessary. Choose only the best and most relevant of your experience and strengths and put them on your personal statement.

If you want to avoid writing what not to put in your personal statement, this list should be a great starting point.

The main idea is to nail down each sentence in context. Every line should support the whole point of your personal statement. That is, to convince the admissions committee that you are qualified to be their student.

So keep your personal statement clear of these common errors, and you’ll have greater chances of succeeding!

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things a personal essay should not include

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How to Write an Amazing Personal Statement (Includes Examples!)

things a personal essay should not include

Lisa Freedland is a Scholarships360 writer with personal experience in psychological research and content writing. She has written content for an online fact-checking organization and has conducted research at the University of Southern California as well as the University of California, Irvine. Lisa graduated from the University of Southern California in Fall 2021 with a degree in Psychology.

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things a personal essay should not include

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things a personal essay should not include

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How to Write an Amazing Personal Statement (Includes Examples!)

The personal statement. It’s one of the most important parts of the entire college application process. This essay is the perfect opportunity to show admissions officers who you are and what makes you stand out from the crowd. But writing a good personal statement isn’t exactly easy. That’s why we’ve put together the ultimate guide on how to nail your personal statement, complete with example essays . Each essay was reviewed and commented upon by admissions expert Bill Jack. Let’s dive in!

Related: How to write an essay about yourself  

What is a personal statement? 

A personal statement is a special type of essay that’s required when you’re applying to colleges and scholarship programs. In this essay, you’re expected to share something about who you are and what you bring to the table. Think of it as a chance to reveal a side of yourself not found in the rest of your application. Personal statements are typically around 400 – 600 words in length. 

What can I write about? 

Pretty much anything, as long as it’s about you . While this is liberating in the sense that your writing options are nearly unlimited, it’s also overwhelming for the same reason. The good news is that you’ll probably be responding to a specific prompt. Chances are you’re applying to a school that uses the Common App , which means you’ll have seven prompts to choose from . Reviewing these prompts can help generate some ideas, but so can asking yourself meaningful questions. 

Below you’ll find a list of questions to ask yourself during the brainstorming process. For each of the following questions, spend a few minutes jotting down whatever comes to mind. 

  • What experiences have shaped who you are? 
  • What’s special or unique about you or your life story? 
  • Who or what has inspired you the most? 
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of? 
  • What are your goals for the future? How have you arrived at those goals? 
  • If your life was a movie, what would be the most interesting scene? 
  • What have been some of the biggest challenges in your life? How did you respond and what did you learn? 

The purpose of these questions is to prompt you to think about your life at a deeper level. Hopefully by reflecting on them, you’ll find an essay topic that is impactful and meaningful. In the next section, we’ll offer some advice on actually writing your essay. 

Also see:  How to write a 500 word essay

How do I write my personal statement? 

Once you’ve found a topic, it’s time to start writing! Every personal statement is different, so there’s not really one formula that works for every student. That being said, the following tips should get you started in the right direction:  

1. Freewrite, then rewrite 

The blank page tends to get more intimidating the longer you stare at it, so it’s best to go ahead and jump right in! Don’t worry about making the first draft absolutely perfect. Instead, just get your ideas on the page and don’t spend too much time thinking about the finer details. Think of this initial writing session as a “brain dump”. Take 15-30 minutes to quickly empty all your thoughts onto the page without worrying about things like grammar, spelling, or sentence structure. You can even use bullet points if that helps. Once you have your ideas on the page, then you can go back and shape them exactly how you want. 

2. Establish your theme 

Now that you’ve got some basic ideas down on the page, it’s time to lock in on a theme. Your theme is a specific angle that reflects the central message of your essay. It can be summarized in a sentence or even a word. For example, let’s say you’re writing about how you had to establish a whole new group of friends when you moved to a new city. The theme for this type of essay would probably be something like “adaptation”. Having a theme will help you stay focused throughout your essay. Since you only have a limited number of words, you can’t afford to go off on tangents that don’t relate to your theme. 

3. Tell a story

A lot of great essays rely on a specific scene or story. Find the personal anecdote relevant to your theme and transfer it to the page. The best way to do this is by using descriptive language. Consult the five senses as you’re setting the scene. What did you see, hear, taste, touch, or smell? How were you feeling emotionally? Using descriptive language can really help your essay come to life. According to UPchieve , a nonprofit that supports low income students, focusing on a particular moment as a “ revised version of a memoir ” is one way to keep readers engaged. 

Related: College essay primer: show, don’t tell  

4. Focus on your opening paragraph

Your opening paragraph should grab your reader’s attention and set the tone for the rest of your essay. In most cases, this is the best place to include your anecdote (if you have one). By leading with your personal story, you can hook your audience from the get-go. After telling your story, you can explain why it’s important to who you are. 

Related:  How to start a scholarship essay (with examples)

5. Use an authentic voice 

Your personal statement reflects who you are, so you should use a tone that represents you. That means you shouldn’t try to sound like someone else, and you shouldn’t use fancy words just to show off. This isn’t an academic paper, so you don’t have to adopt a super formal tone. Instead, write in a way that allows room for your personality to breathe. 

6. Edit, edit, edit…

Once you’re done writing, give yourself some time away from the essay. Try to allow a few days to pass before looking at the essay again with fresh eyes. This way, you’re more likely to pick up on spelling and grammatical errors. You may even get some new ideas and rethink the way you wrote some things. Once you’re satisfied, let someone else edit your essay. We recommend asking a teacher, parent, or sibling for their thoughts before submitting. 

Examples of personal statements 

Sometimes viewing someone else’s work is the best way to generate inspiration and get the creative juices flowing. The following essays are written in response to four different Common App prompts: 

Prompt 1: “Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”

When I was eight years old, I wanted a GameCube very badly. For weeks I hounded my dad to buy me one and finally he agreed. But there was a catch. He’d only get me a GameCube if I promised to start reading. Every day I played video games, I would have to pick up a book and read for at least one hour. At that point in my life, reading was just something I had to suffer through for school assignments. To read for pleasure seemed ludicrous. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about this proposed agreement. But I figured anything was worth it to get my hands on that shiny new video game console, so I bit the bullet and shook my dad’s hand. Little did I know that I had just made a life-changing deal. 

At first, the required hour of reading was a chore — something I had to do so I could play Mario Kart. But it quickly turned into something more than that. To my complete and utter surprise, I discovered that I actually enjoyed reading. One hour turned into two, two turned into three, and after a while I was spending more time reading than I was playing video games. I found myself captivated by the written word, and I read everything I could get my hands on. Lord of the Rings , Percy Jackson , Goosebumps — you name it. I was falling in love with literature, while my GameCube was accumulating dust in the TV stand. 

Soon enough, reading led to writing. I was beginning to come up with my own stories, so I put pen to paper and let my imagination run wild. It started out small. My first effort was a rudimentary picture book about a friendly raccoon who went to the moon. But things progressed. My stories became more intricate, my characters more complex. I wrote a series of science fiction novellas. I tried my hand at poetry. I was amazed at the worlds I could create with the tip of my pen. I had dreams of becoming an author. 

Then somewhere along the way my family got a subscription to Netflix, and that completely changed the way I thought about storytelling. My nose had been buried in books up until then, so I hadn’t really seen a lot of movies. That quickly changed. It seemed like every other day a pair of new DVDs would arrive in the mail (this was the early days of Netflix). Dark Knight, The Truman Show, Inception, Memento — all these great films were coming in and out of the house. And I couldn’t get enough of them. Movies brought stories to life in a way that books could not. I was head over heels for visual storytelling. 

Suddenly I wasn’t writing novels and short stories anymore. I was writing scripts for movies. Now I wanted to transfer my ideas to the big screen, rather than the pages of a book. But I was still doing the same thing I had always done. I was writing, just in a different format. To help with this process, I read the screenplays of my favorite films and paid attention to the way they were crafted. I kept watching more and more movies. And I hadn’t forgotten about my first love, either. I still cherished books and looked to them for inspiration. By the end of my junior year of high school, I had completed two scripts for short films. 

So why am I telling you all this? Because I want to turn my love of storytelling into a career. I’m not totally sure how to do that yet, but I know I have options. Whether it’s film production, creative writing, or even journalism, I want to find a major that suits my ambitions. Writing has taken me a long way, and I know it can take me even further. As I step into this next chapter of my life, I couldn’t be more excited to see how my craft develops. In the meantime, I should probably get rid of that dusty old GameCube. 

Feedback from admissions professional Bill Jack

Essays don’t always have to reveal details about the student’s intended career path, but one thing I like about this essay is that it gives the reader a sense of the why. Why do they want to pursue storytelling. It also shows the reader that they are open to how they pursue their interest. Being open to exploration is such a vital part of college, so it’s also showing the reader that they likely will be open to new things in college. And, it’s always fun to learn a little bit more about the student’s family, especially if the reader can learn about how the students interacts with their family. 

Prompt 2: “The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”

I remember my first impression of Irvine: weird. It was foggy, stock-full of greenery and eucalyptus trees, and reminded me of my 5th grade trip to a “science camp” which was located in the San Bernardino mountains. Besides Irvine, that was one of the few places in Southern California where you’d find so many non-palm trees. 

Of course, perhaps my initial impression of Irvine was biased, motivated by a desire to stay in my hometown and a fear of the unknown. While that was true to an extent, Irvine was certainly still a little peculiar. The city itself was based on a “master plan” of sorts, with the location of each of its schools, parks, shops, and arguably its trees having been logically “picked” before the foundation was poured. Even the homes all looked roughly the same, with their beige, stucco walls almost serving as a hallmark of the city itself.

Thus, this perfectly structured, perfectly safe city seemed like a paradise of sorts to many outsiders, my parents included. I was a little more hesitant to welcome this. As I saw it, this was a phony city – believing that its uniformity stood for a lack of personality. My hometown, although not as flawlessly safe nor clean as Irvine, was where most of my dearest memories had occurred. From the many sleepovers at Cindie’s house, to trying to avoid my school’s own version of the “infamous” cheese touch, to the many laughs shared with friends and family, I shed a tear at the prospect of leaving my home.

Moving into the foreign city, remnants of the hostility I held towards Irvine remained. Still dwelling in my memories of the past, I was initially unable to see Irvine as a “home.” So, as I walked into my first-ever Irvine class, being greeted by many kind, yet unfamiliar faces around me, I was unable to recognize that some of those new faces would later become some of my dearest friends. Such negative feelings about the city were further reinforced by newer, harder classes, and more complicated homework. Sitting in the discomfort of this unfamiliar environment, it started to seem that “change” was something not only inevitable, but insurmountable.

As the years went on, however, this idea seemed to fade. I got used to my classes and bike racing through Irvine neighborhoods with my friends, watching the trees that once seemed just a “weird” green blob soon transform into one of my favorite parts of the city. While I kept my old, beloved memories stored, I made space for new ones. From carefully making our way over the narrow creek path next to our school, to the laughs we shared during chemistry class, my new memories made with friends seemed to transform a city I once disliked into one I would miss. 

Through this transformation, I have come to recognize that change, although sometimes intimidating at first, can open the door to great times and meaningful connections. Although Irvine may have once seemed like a strange, “phony” place that I couldn’t wait to be rid of, the memories and laughs I had grown to share there were very real. As I move onto this next part of my life, I hope I can use this knowledge that I have gained from my time in Irvine to make the most of what’s to come. Even if the change may be frightening at first, I have learned to embrace what’s on the other side, whether green or not.

One huge plus to writing an essay that focuses on a place is that you might have it read by someone who has been there. Yet, what’s really helpful about this essay is that even if someone hasn’t been there, a picture is painted about what the place is like.  Admission officers have the hard task of really understanding what the student sees, so the use of adjectives and imagery can really help.  It’s also really clever to see that the green that’s mentioned at the beginning is mentioned at the end.  It’s a nice way to bookend the essay and tie it all together.

Prompt 6: “Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?”

I like getting lost. Not literally, of course, but figuratively. Whether it be in the story of a love song by Taylor Swift, or in the memories brought back by listening to my favorite childhood video game’s background music, I’ve always appreciated music’s ability to transport me to another place, another time, another feeling. 

Alas, I cannot sing, nor have I practiced an instrument since my middle school piano class days. So, perhaps Kurt Vonnegut was right. As he puts it, “Virtually every writer I know would rather be a musician.” While I cannot speak for others, I have certainly not debunked his theory. Writing allows many, including myself, to attempt to mimic the transformative power of music – even if our singing voices aren’t exactly “pleasant.” Just as you can get lost in music, you can do so in a story. Whether it is in George Orwell’s totalitarian Oceania, or Little Women’s Orchard House, the stories outlined in novels can provide an amazing look into the lives and worlds of others, and an escape from the worries and problems of those in your own.

While I am certainly not claiming to have the storytelling abilities of the Orwells or Alcotts before me, I’ve had fun trying to recreate such transformative feelings for others. When I was nine, I attempted to write a story about a little girl who had gotten lost in the woods, only managing to get a couple pages through. As I got older, whenever I was assigned a creative writing assignment in school, I wrote about the same pig, Phil. He was always angry: in my 8th grade science class, Phil was mad at some humans who had harbored his friend captive, and in my 9th grade English class, at a couple who robbed him. 

Thus, when I heard about a writing club being opened at my school in 11th grade, I knew I had to join. I wanted to discern whether writing was just a hobby I picked up now and then, or a true passion. If it was a passion, I wanted to learn as much as possible about how I could improve. Although my high school’s writing club certainly wasn’t going to transform me into Shakespeare, I knew I could learn a lot from it – and I did. The club challenged me to do many things, from writing on the spot, to writing poetry, to even writing about myself, something that’s hopefully coming in handy right now. 

From then on, I started to expand into different types of writing, storing short ideas, skits, and more in appropriately-labeled Google Drive folders. At around the same time, I became interested in classic literature, which largely stemmed from a project in English class. We had been required to choose and read a classic on our own, then present it to the class in an interesting way. While my book was certainly interesting and unique in its own right, nearly everyone else’s novels seemed more captivating to me. So, I took it upon myself to read as many classics as I could the following summer.

One of the books I read during the summer, funnily enough, was Animal Farm, which starred angry pigs, reminiscent of Phil. I had also started going over different ideas in my head, thinking about how I could translate them into words using the new skills I learned. While the writing club helped reaffirm my interest in writing and allowed me to develop new skills, my newfound affinity for classics gave me inspiration to write. Now, I am actually considering writing as part of my future. In this endeavor, I hope that Phil, and the music I inevitably listen to as I write, will accompany me every step of the way.

Admission officers might read 70 (or more!) essays in one day. It’s not uncommon for them to start to blend together and sound similar. This essay might not make you laugh out loud. But, it might make the reader chuckle while reading it thanks to the subtle humor and levity. Being able to incorporate a little humor into your essay (if it is natural for you to do… do not force it), can really be a great way to shed additional light into who you are. Remember, the essay isn’t merely about proving that you can write, but it should also reveal a little bit about your personality.

Prompt 5: “Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.”

I learned a lot of things during the summer I worked at Tropical Smoothie. I discovered the value of hard work. I figured out how to save money. I even mastered the art of the Mango Magic smoothie (the secret is lots of sugar). But most importantly, I learned the power of perspective. And I have Deja to thank for that. 

Deja was my shift supervisor, and one of Tropical Smoothie’s best employees. She was punctual, friendly, and always willing to lend a helping hand. She knew the store from top to bottom, and could handle pretty much any situation thrown her way. She made everyone around her better. On top of all that, she was four months pregnant! I was always impressed by Deja’s work ethic, but I gained an entirely new level of respect for her one day.

It was a Friday night, and Deja and I were working the closing shift together. It was very busy, and Deja and I were the only ones on shift. We managed to get by, but we were exhausted by the end of the evening. After wiping down the counters and mopping the floors, we closed up shop and went our separate ways. I was eager to get home. 

I walked a couple blocks to where I had parked my car. Well, it wasn’t my car actually. It was my dad’s ‘98 Chevy pickup truck, and it was in rough shape. It had no heat or A/C, the leather seats were cracked beyond repair, and the driver’s side door was jammed shut. I sighed as I got in through the passenger side and scooted over to the driver’s seat. The whole reason I was working at Tropical Smoothie was to save up enough money to buy my own car. I was hoping to have something more respectable to drive during my senior year of high school. 

I cranked the old thing up and started on my way home. But soon enough, I spotted Deja walking on the side of the road. There was no sidewalk here, the light was low, and she was dangerously close to the passing cars. I pulled over and offered her a ride. She got in and explained that she was on her way home. Apparently she didn’t have a car and had been walking to work every day. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was complaining about my set of wheels, while Deja didn’t have any to begin with.

We got to talking, and she confessed that she had been having a tough time. You would never know from the way she was so cheerful at work, but Deja had a lot on her plate. She was taking care of her mother, her boyfriend had just lost his job, and she was worried about making ends meet. And of course, she was expecting a baby in five months. On top of all that, she had been walking nearly a mile to and from work every day. The whole thing was a real eye opener, and made me reconsider some things in my own life. 

For one, I didn’t mind driving my dad’s truck anymore. It was banged up, sure, but it was a lot better than nothing. My mindset had changed. I appreciated the truck now. I began to think about other things differently, too. I started making mental notes of all the things in my life I was thankful for — my family, my friends, my health. I became grateful for what I had, instead of obsessing over the things I didn’t. 

I also gained more awareness of the world outside my own little bubble. My encounter with Deja had shown me first-hand that everyone is dealing with their own problems, some worse than others. So I started paying more attention to my friends, family members, and coworkers. I started listening more and asking how I could help. I also gave Deja a ride home for the rest of the summer. 

These are all small things, of course, but I think they make a difference. I realized I’m at my best when I’m not fixated on my own life, but when I’m considerate of the lives around me. I want to keep this in mind as I continue to grow and develop as a person. I want to continue to search for ways to support the people around me. And most importantly, I want to keep things in perspective.

Too often we can be focused on our own problems that we fail to realize that everyone has their own things going on in their lives, too.  This essay showcases how it’s important to put things in perspective, a skill that certainly will prove invaluable in college… and not just in the classroom.  Another reason I like this essay is because it provides deeper insight into the student’s life.  Sure, you might have mentioned in your activities list that you have a job.  But as this essay does, you can show why you have the job in the first place, what your responsibilities are, and more.

A few last tips

We hope these essay examples gave you a bit of inspiration of what to include in your own. However, before you go, we’d like to send you off with a few (personal statement) writing tips to help you make your essays as lovely as the memories and anecdotes they’re based off of. Without further ado, here are some of our best tips for writing your personal statements:

1. Open strong

College admissions officers read many, many essays (think 50+) a day, which can sometimes cause them to start blending together and sounding alike. One way to avoid your essay from simply fading into the background is to start strong. This means opening your essay with something memorable, whether an interesting personal anecdote, a descriptive setting, or anything else that you think would catch a reader’s attention (so long as it’s not inappropriate). Not only might this help college admissions officers better remember your essay, but it will also make them curious about what the rest of your essay will entail.

2. Be authentic

Perhaps most important when it comes to writing personal statement essays is to maintain your authenticity. Ultimately, your essays should reflect your unique stories and quirks that make you who you are, and should help college admissions officers determine whether you’d truly be a good fit for their school or not. So, don’t stress trying to figure out what colleges are looking for. Be yourself, and let the colleges come to you!

3. Strong writing

This one may seem a little obvious, but strong writing will certainly appeal to colleges. Not only will it make your essay more compelling, but it may show colleges that you’re ready for college-level essay writing (that you’ll likely have to do a lot of). Just remember that good writing is not limited to grammar. Using captivating detail and descriptions are a huge part of making your essay seem more like a story than a lecture.

4. Proofread

Last but not least, remember to proofread! Make sure your essay contains no errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. When you’re done proofreading your essay yourself, we would also recommend that you ask a teacher, parent, or other grammatically savvy person to proofread your essay as well.

Final thoughts 

With those in hand, we hope you now have a better sense of how to write your personal statement. While your grades and test scores are important when it comes to college admissions, it’s really your essays that can “make” or “break” your application. 

Although this may make it seem like a daunting task, writing an amazing personal statement essay is all about effort. Thus, so long as you start early, follow the advice listed above, and dedicate your time and effort to it, it’s entirely possible to write an essay that perfectly encapsulates you. Good luck, and happy writing!

Also see:  Scholarships360’s free scholarships search tool

Key Takeaways

  • It may take some people longer than others to know what they want to write about, but remember that everyone, including you, has something unique to write about!
  • Personal statements should be personal, which means you should avoid being too general and really strive to show off what makes you “you”
  • Time and effort are two of the most important things you can put into your personal statement to ensure that it is the best representation of yourself
  • Don’t forget to ask people who know you to read your work before you submit; they should be able to tell you better than anyone if you are truly shining through!

Frequently asked questions about writing personal statements 

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10 Personal Statement Essay Examples That Worked

What’s covered:, what is a personal statement.

  • Essay 1: Summer Program
  • Essay 2: Being Bangladeshi-American
  • Essay 3: Why Medicine
  • Essay 4: Love of Writing
  • Essay 5: Starting a Fire
  • Essay 6: Dedicating a Track
  • Essay 7: Body Image and Eating Disorders
  • Essay 8: Becoming a Coach
  • Essay 9: Eritrea
  • Essay 10: Journaling
  • Is Your Personal Statement Strong Enough?

Your personal statement is any essay that you must write for your main application, such as the Common App Essay , University of California Essays , or Coalition Application Essay . This type of essay focuses on your unique experiences, ideas, or beliefs that may not be discussed throughout the rest of your application. This essay should be an opportunity for the admissions officers to get to know you better and give them a glimpse into who you really are.

In this post, we will share 10 different personal statements that were all written by real students. We will also provide commentary on what each essay did well and where there is room for improvement, so you can make your personal statement as strong as possible!

Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 

Personal Statement Examples

Essay example #1: exchange program.

The twisting roads, ornate mosaics, and fragrant scent of freshly ground spices had been so foreign at first. Now in my fifth week of the SNYI-L summer exchange program in Morocco, I felt more comfortable in the city. With a bag full of pastries from the market, I navigated to a bus stop, paid the fare, and began the trip back to my host family’s house. It was hard to believe that only a few years earlier my mom was worried about letting me travel around my home city on my own, let alone a place that I had only lived in for a few weeks. While I had been on a journey towards self-sufficiency and independence for a few years now, it was Morocco that pushed me to become the confident, self-reflective person that I am today.

As a child, my parents pressured me to achieve perfect grades, master my swim strokes, and discover interesting hobbies like playing the oboe and learning to pick locks. I felt compelled to live my life according to their wishes. Of course, this pressure was not a wholly negative factor in my life –– you might even call it support. However, the constant presence of my parents’ hopes for me overcame my own sense of desire and led me to become quite dependent on them. I pushed myself to get straight A’s, complied with years of oboe lessons, and dutifully attended hours of swim practice after school. Despite all these achievements, I felt like I had no sense of self beyond my drive for success. I had always been expected to succeed on the path they had defined. However, this path was interrupted seven years after my parents’ divorce when my dad moved across the country to Oregon.

I missed my dad’s close presence, but I loved my new sense of freedom. My parents’ separation allowed me the space to explore my own strengths and interests as each of them became individually busier. As early as middle school, I was riding the light rail train by myself, reading maps to get myself home, and applying to special academic programs without urging from my parents. Even as I took more initiatives on my own, my parents both continued to see me as somewhat immature. All of that changed three years ago, when I applied and was accepted to the SNYI-L summer exchange program in Morocco. I would be studying Arabic and learning my way around the city of Marrakesh. Although I think my parents were a little surprised when I told them my news, the addition of a fully-funded scholarship convinced them to let me go.

I lived with a host family in Marrakesh and learned that they, too, had high expectations for me. I didn’t know a word of Arabic, and although my host parents and one brother spoke good English, they knew I was there to learn. If I messed up, they patiently corrected me but refused to let me fall into the easy pattern of speaking English just as I did at home. Just as I had when I was younger, I felt pressured and stressed about meeting their expectations. However, one day, as I strolled through the bustling market square after successfully bargaining with one of the street vendors, I realized my mistake. My host family wasn’t being unfair by making me fumble through Arabic. I had applied for this trip, and I had committed to the intensive language study. My host family’s rules about speaking Arabic at home had not been to fulfill their expectations for me, but to help me fulfill my expectations for myself. Similarly, the pressure my parents had put on me as a child had come out of love and their hopes for me, not out of a desire to crush my individuality.

As my bus drove through the still-bustling market square and past the medieval Ben-Youssef madrasa, I realized that becoming independent was a process, not an event. I thought that my parents’ separation when I was ten had been the one experience that would transform me into a self-motivated and autonomous person. It did, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t still have room to grow. Now, although I am even more self-sufficient than I was three years ago, I try to approach every experience with the expectation that it will change me. It’s still difficult, but I understand that just because growth can be uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not important.

What the Essay Did Well

This is a nice essay because it delves into particular character trait of the student and how it has been shaped and matured over time. Although it doesn’t focus the essay around a specific anecdote, the essay is still successful because it is centered around this student’s independence. This is a nice approach for a personal statement: highlight a particular trait of yours and explore how it has grown with you.

The ideas in this essay are universal to growing up—living up to parents’ expectations, yearning for freedom, and coming to terms with reality—but it feels unique to the student because of the inclusion of details specific to them. Including their oboe lessons, the experience of riding the light rail by themselves, and the negotiations with a street vendor helps show the reader what these common tropes of growing up looked like for them personally. 

Another strength of the essay is the level of self-reflection included throughout the piece. Since there is no central anecdote tying everything together, an essay about a character trait is only successful when you deeply reflect on how you felt, where you made mistakes, and how that trait impacts your life. The author includes reflection in sentences like “ I felt like I had no sense of self beyond my drive for success, ” and “ I understand that just because growth can be uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not important. ” These sentences help us see how the student was impacted and what their point of view is.

What Could Be Improved

The largest change this essay would benefit from is to show not tell. The platitude you have heard a million times no doubt, but for good reason. This essay heavily relies on telling the reader what occurred, making us less engaged as the entire reading experience feels more passive. If the student had shown us what happens though, it keeps the reader tied to the action and makes them feel like they are there with the student, making it much more enjoyable to read. 

For example, they tell us about the pressure to succeed their parents placed on them: “ I pushed myself to get straight A’s, complied with years of oboe lessons, and dutifully attended hours of swim practice after school.”  They could have shown us what that pressure looked like with a sentence like this: “ My stomach turned somersaults as my rattling knee thumped against the desk before every test, scared to get anything less than a 95. For five years the painful squawk of the oboe only reminded me of my parents’ claps and whistles at my concerts. I mastered the butterfly, backstroke, and freestyle, fighting against the anchor of their expectations threatening to pull me down.”

If the student had gone through their essay and applied this exercise of bringing more detail and colorful language to sentences that tell the reader what happened, the essay would be really great. 

Table of Contents

Essay Example #2: Being Bangladeshi-American

Life before was good: verdant forests, sumptuous curries, and a devoted family.

Then, my family abandoned our comfortable life in Bangladesh for a chance at the American dream in Los Angeles. Within our first year, my father was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He lost his battle three weeks before my sixth birthday. Facing a new country without the steady presence of my father, we were vulnerable — prisoners of hardship in the land of the free. We resettled in the Bronx, in my uncle’s renovated basement. It was meant to be our refuge, but I felt more displaced than ever. Gone were the high-rise condos of West L.A.; instead, government projects towered over the neighborhood. Pedestrians no longer smiled and greeted me; the atmosphere was hostile, even toxic. Schoolkids were quick to pick on those they saw as weak or foreign, hurling harsh words I’d never heard before.

Meanwhile, my family began integrating into the local Bangladeshi community. I struggled to understand those who shared my heritage. Bangladeshi mothers stayed home while fathers drove cabs and sold fruit by the roadside — painful societal positions. Riding on crosstown buses or walking home from school, I began to internalize these disparities. During my fleeting encounters with affluent Upper East Siders, I saw kids my age with nannies, parents who wore suits to work, and luxurious apartments with spectacular views. Most took cabs to their destinations: cabs that Bangladeshis drove. I watched the mundane moments of their lives with longing, aching to plant myself in their shoes. Shame prickled down my spine. I distanced myself from my heritage, rejecting the traditional panjabis worn on Eid and refusing the torkari we ate for dinner every day. 

As I grappled with my relationship with the Bangladeshi community, I turned my attention to helping my Bronx community by pursuing an internship with Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda. I handled desk work and took calls, spending the bulk of my time actively listening to the hardships constituents faced — everything from a veteran stripped of his benefits to a grandmother unable to support her bedridden grandchild.

I’d never exposed myself to stories like these, and now I was the first to hear them. As an intern, I could only assist in what felt like the small ways — pointing out local job offerings, printing information on free ESL classes, reaching out to non-profits. But to a community facing an onslaught of intense struggles, I realized that something as small as these actions could have vast impacts. Seeing the immediate consequences of my actions inspired me. Throughout that summer, I internalized my community’s daily challenges in a new light. I began to stop seeing the prevalent underemployment and cramped living quarters less as sources of shame. Instead, I saw them as realities that had to be acknowledged, but could ultimately be remedied. I also realized the benefits of the Bangladeshi culture I had been so ashamed of. My Bangla language skills were an asset to the office, and my understanding of Bangladeshi etiquette allowed for smooth communication between office staff and its constituents. As I helped my neighbors navigate city services, I saw my heritage with pride — a perspective I never expected to have.

I can now appreciate the value of my unique culture and background, and of living with less. This perspective offers room for progress, community integration, and a future worth fighting for. My time with Assemblyman Sepulveda’s office taught me that I can be a change agent in enabling this progression. Far from being ashamed of my community, I want to someday return to local politics in the Bronx to continue helping others access the American Dream. I hope to help my community appreciate the opportunity to make progress together. By embracing reality, I learned to live it. Along the way, I discovered one thing: life is good, but we can make it better.

This student’s passion for social justice and civic duty shines through in this essay because of how honest it is. Sharing their personal experience with immigrating, moving around, being an outsider, and finding a community allows us to see the hardships this student has faced and builds empathy towards their situation. However, what really makes it strong is that they go beyond describing the difficulties they faced and explain the mental impact it had on them as a child: Shame prickled down my spine. I distanced myself from my heritage, rejecting the traditional panjabis worn on Eid and refusing the torkari we ate for dinner every day. 

The rejection of their culture presented at the beginning of the essay creates a nice juxtaposition with the student’s view in the latter half of the essay and helps demonstrate how they have matured. They use their experience interning as a way to delve into a change in their thought process about their culture and show how their passion for social justice began. Using this experience as a mechanism to explore their thoughts and feelings is an excellent example of how items that are included elsewhere on your application should be incorporated into your essay.

This essay prioritizes emotions and personal views over specific anecdotes. Although there are details and certain moments incorporated throughout to emphasize the author’s points, the main focus remains on the student and how they grapple with their culture and identity.  

One area for improvement is the conclusion. Although the forward-looking approach is a nice way to end an essay focused on social justice, it would be nice to include more details and imagery in the conclusion. How does the student want to help their community? What government position do they see themselves holding one day? 

A more impactful ending might look like the student walking into their office at the New York City Housing Authority in 15 years and looking at the plans to build a new development in the Bronx just blocks away from where the grew up that would provide quality housing to people in their Bangladeshi community. They would smile while thinking about how far they have come from that young kid who used to be ashamed of their culture. 

Essay Example #3: Why Medicine

I took my first trip to China to visit my cousin Anna in July of 2014. Distance had kept us apart, but when we were together, we fell into all of our old inside jokes and caught up on each other’s lives. Her sparkling personality and optimistic attitude always brought a smile to my face. This time, however, my heart broke when I saw the effects of her brain cancer; she had suffered from a stroke that paralyzed her left side. She was still herself in many ways, but I could see that the damage to her brain made things difficult for her. I stayed by her every day, providing the support she needed, whether assisting her with eating and drinking, reading to her, or just watching “Friends.” During my flight back home, sorrow and helplessness overwhelmed me. Would I ever see Anna again? Could I have done more to make Anna comfortable? I wished I could stay in China longer to care for her. As I deplaned, I wondered if I could transform my grief to help other children and teenagers in the US who suffered as Anna did.

The day after I got home, as jet lag dragged me awake a few minutes after midnight, I remembered hearing about the Family Reach Foundation (FRF) and its work with children going through treatments at the local hospital and their families. I began volunteering in the FRF’s Children’s Activity Room, where I play with children battling cancer. Volunteering has both made me appreciate my own health and also cherish the new relationships I build with the children and families. We play sports, make figures out of playdoh, and dress up. When they take on the roles of firefighters or fairies, we all get caught up in the game; for that time, they forget the sanitized, stark, impersonal walls of the pediatric oncology ward. Building close relationships with them and seeing them giggle and laugh is so rewarding — I love watching them grow and get better throughout their course of treatment.

Hearing from the parents about their children’s condition and seeing the children recover inspired me to consider medical research. To get started, I enrolled in a summer collegelevel course in Abnormal Psychology. There I worked with Catelyn, a rising college senior, on a data analysis project regarding Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Together, we examined the neurological etiology of DID by studying four fMRI and PET cases. I fell in love with gathering data and analyzing the results and was amazed by our final product: several stunning brain images showcasing the areas of hyper and hypoactivity in brains affected by DID. Desire quickly followed my amazement — I want to continue this project and study more brains. Their complexity, delicacy, and importance to every aspect of life fascinate me. Successfully completing this research project gave me a sense of hope; I know I am capable of participating in a large scale research project and potentially making a difference in someone else’s life through my research.

Anna’s diagnosis inspired me to begin volunteering at FRF; from there, I discovered my desire to help people further by contributing to medical research. As my research interest blossomed, I realized that it’s no coincidence that I want to study brains—after all, Anna suffered from brain cancer. Reflecting on these experiences this past year and a half, I see that everything I’ve done is connected. Sadly, a few months after I returned from China, Anna passed away. I am still sad, but as I run a toy truck across the floor and watch one of the little patients’ eyes light up, I imagine that she would be proud of my commitment to pursue medicine and study the brain.

This essay has a very strong emotional core that tugs at the heart strings and makes the reader feel invested. Writing about sickness can be difficult and doesn’t always belong in a personal statement, but in this case it works well because the focus is on how this student cared for her cousin and dealt with the grief and emotions surrounding her condition. Writing about the compassion she showed and the doubts and concerns that filled her mind keeps the focus on the author and her personality. 

This continues when she again discusses the activities she did with the kids at FRF and the personal reflection this experience allowed her to have. For example, she writes: Volunteering has both made me appreciate my own health and also cherish the new relationships I build with the children and families. We play sports, make figures out of playdoh, and dress up.

Concluding the essay with the sad story of her cousin’s passing brings the essay full circle and returns to the emotional heart of the piece to once again build a connection with the reader. However, it finishes on a hopeful note and demonstrates how this student has been able to turn a tragic experience into a source of lifelong inspiration. 

One thing this essay should be cognizant of is that personal statements should not read as summaries of your extracurricular resume. Although this essay doesn’t fully fall into that trap, it does describe two key extracurriculars the student participated in. However, the inclusion of such a strong emotional core running throughout the essay helps keep the focus on the student and her thoughts and feelings during these activities.

To avoid making this mistake, make sure you have a common thread running through your essay and the extracurriculars provide support to the story you are trying to tell, rather than crafting a story around your activities. And, as this essay does, make sure there is lots of personal reflection and feelings weaved throughout to focus attention to you rather than your extracurriculars. 

Essay Example #4: Love of Writing

“I want to be a writer.” This had been my answer to every youthful discussion with the adults in my life about what I would do when I grew up. As early as elementary school, I remember reading my writing pieces aloud to an audience at “Author of the Month” ceremonies. Bearing this goal in mind, and hoping to gain some valuable experience, I signed up for a journalism class during my freshman year. Despite my love for writing, I initially found myself uninterested in the subject and I struggled to enjoy the class. When I thought of writing, I imagined lyrical prose, profound poetry, and thrilling plot lines. Journalism required a laconic style and orderly structure, and I found my teacher’s assignments formulaic and dull. That class shook my confidence as a writer. I was uncertain if I should continue in it for the rest of my high school career.

Despite my misgivings, I decided that I couldn’t make a final decision on whether to quit journalism until I had some experience working for a paper outside of the classroom. The following year, I applied to be a staff reporter on our school newspaper. I hoped this would help me become more self-driven and creative, rather than merely writing articles that my teacher assigned. To my surprise, my time on staff was worlds away from what I experienced in the journalism class. Although I was unaccustomed to working in a fast-paced environment and initially found it burdensome to research and complete high-quality stories in a relatively short amount of time, I also found it exciting. I enjoyed learning more about topics and events on campus that I did not know much about; some of my stories that I covered in my first semester concerned a chess tournament, a food drive, and a Spanish immersion party. I relished in the freedom I had to explore and learn, and to write more independently than I could in a classroom.

Although I enjoyed many aspects of working for the paper immediately, reporting also pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I am a shy person, and speaking with people I did not know intimidated me. During my first interview, I met with the basketball coach to prepare for a story about the team’s winning streak. As I approached his office, I felt everything from my toes to my tongue freeze into a solid block, and I could hardly get out my opening questions. Fortunately, the coach was very kind and helped me through the conversation. Encouraged, I prepared for my next interview with more confidence. After a few weeks of practice, I even started to look forward to interviewing people on campus. That first journalism class may have bored me, but even if journalism in practice was challenging, it was anything but tedious.

Over the course of that year, I grew to love writing for our school newspaper. Reporting made me aware of my surroundings, and made me want to know more about current events on campus and in the town where I grew up. By interacting with people all over campus, I came to understand the breadth of individuals and communities that make up my high school. I felt far more connected to diverse parts of my school through my work as a journalist, and I realized that journalism gave me a window into seeing beyond my own experiences. The style of news writing may be different from what I used to think “writing” meant, but I learned that I can still derive exciting plots from events that may have gone unnoticed if not for my stories. I no longer struggle to approach others, and truly enjoy getting to know people and recognizing their accomplishments through my writing. Becoming a writer may be a difficult path, but it is as rewarding as I hoped when I was young.

This essay is clearly structured in a manner that makes it flow very nicely and contributes to its success. It starts with a quote to draw in the reader and show this student’s life-long passion for writing. Then it addresses the challenges of facing new, unfamiliar territory and how this student overcame it. Finally, it concludes by reflecting on this eye-opening experience and a nod to their younger self from the introduction. Having a well-thought out and sequential structure with clear transitions makes it extremely easy for the reader to follow along and take away the main idea.

Another positive aspect of the essay is the use of strong and expressive language. Sentences like “ When I thought of writing, I imagined lyrical prose, profound poetry, and thrilling plot lines ” stand out because of the intentional use of words like “lyrical”, “profound”, and “thrilling” to convey the student’s love of writing. The author also uses an active voice to capture the readers’ attention and keep us engaged. They rely on their language and diction to reveal details to the reader, for instance saying “ I felt everything from my toes to my tongue freeze into a solid block ” to describe feeling nervous.

This essay is already very strong, so there isn’t much that needs to be changed. One thing that could take the essay from great to outstanding would be to throw in more quotes, internal dialogue, and sensory descriptors.

It would be nice to see the nerves they felt interviewing the coach by including dialogue like “ Um…I want to interview you about…uh…”.  They could have shown their original distaste for journalism by narrating the thoughts running through their head. The fast-paced environment of their newspaper could have come to life with descriptions about the clacking of keyboards and the whirl of people running around laying out articles.

Essay Example #5: Starting a Fire

Was I no longer the beloved daughter of nature, whisperer of trees? Knee-high rubber boots, camouflage, bug spray—I wore the garb and perfume of a proud wild woman, yet there I was, hunched over the pathetic pile of stubborn sticks, utterly stumped, on the verge of tears. As a child, I had considered myself a kind of rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees, who could glide through tick-infested meadows and emerge Lyme-free. I knew the cracks of the earth like the scars on my own rough palms. Yet here I was, ten years later, incapable of performing the most fundamental outdoor task: I could not, for the life of me, start a fire. 

Furiously I rubbed the twigs together—rubbed and rubbed until shreds of skin flaked from my fingers. No smoke. The twigs were too young, too sticky-green; I tossed them away with a shower of curses, and began tearing through the underbrush in search of a more flammable collection. My efforts were fruitless. Livid, I bit a rejected twig, determined to prove that the forest had spurned me, offering only young, wet bones that would never burn. But the wood cracked like carrots between my teeth—old, brittle, and bitter. Roaring and nursing my aching palms, I retreated to the tent, where I sulked and awaited the jeers of my family. 

Rattling their empty worm cans and reeking of fat fish, my brother and cousins swaggered into the campsite. Immediately, they noticed the minor stick massacre by the fire pit and called to me, their deep voices already sharp with contempt. 

“Where’s the fire, Princess Clara?” they taunted. “Having some trouble?” They prodded me with the ends of the chewed branches and, with a few effortless scrapes of wood on rock, sparked a red and roaring flame. My face burned long after I left the fire pit. The camp stank of salmon and shame. 

In the tent, I pondered my failure. Was I so dainty? Was I that incapable? I thought of my hands, how calloused and capable they had been, how tender and smooth they had become. It had been years since I’d kneaded mud between my fingers; instead of scaling a white pine, I’d practiced scales on my piano, my hands softening into those of a musician—fleshy and sensitive. And I’d gotten glasses, having grown horrifically nearsighted; long nights of dim lighting and thick books had done this. I couldn’t remember the last time I had lain down on a hill, barefaced, and seen the stars without having to squint. Crawling along the edge of the tent, a spider confirmed my transformation—he disgusted me, and I felt an overwhelming urge to squash him. 

Yet, I realized I hadn’t really changed—I had only shifted perspective. I still eagerly explored new worlds, but through poems and prose rather than pastures and puddles. I’d grown to prefer the boom of a bass over that of a bullfrog, learned to coax a different kind of fire from wood, having developed a burn for writing rhymes and scrawling hypotheses. 

That night, I stayed up late with my journal and wrote about the spider I had decided not to kill. I had tolerated him just barely, only shrieking when he jumped—it helped to watch him decorate the corners of the tent with his delicate webs, knowing that he couldn’t start fires, either. When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.

This student is an excellent writer, which allows a simple story to be outstandingly compelling. The author articulates her points beautifully and creatively through her immense use of details and figurative language. Lines like “a rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees,” and “rubbed and rubbed until shreds of skin flaked from my fingers,” create vivid images that draw the reader in. 

The flowery and descriptive prose also contributes to the nice juxtaposition between the old Clara and the new Clara. The latter half of the essay contrasts elements of nature with music and writing to demonstrate how natural these interests are for her now. This sentence perfectly encapsulates the contrast she is trying to build: “It had been years since I’d kneaded mud between my fingers; instead of scaling a white pine, I’d practiced scales on my piano, my hands softening into those of a musician—fleshy and sensitive.”

In addition to being well-written, this essay is thematically cohesive. It begins with the simple introduction “Fire!” and ends with the following image: “When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.” This full-circle approach leaves readers satisfied and impressed.

There is very little this essay should change, however one thing to be cautious about is having an essay that is overly-descriptive. We know from the essay that this student likes to read and write, and depending on other elements of her application, it might make total sense to have such a flowery and ornate writing style. However, your personal statement needs to reflect your voice as well as your personality. If you would never use language like this in conversation or your writing, don’t put it in your personal statement. Make sure there is a balance between eloquence and your personal voice.

Essay Example #6: Dedicating a Track

“Getting beat is one thing – it’s part of competing – but I want no part in losing.” Coach Rob Stark’s motto never fails to remind me of his encouragement on early-morning bus rides to track meets around the state. I’ve always appreciated the phrase, but an experience last June helped me understand its more profound, universal meaning.

Stark, as we affectionately call him, has coached track at my high school for 25 years. His care, dedication, and emphasis on developing good character has left an enduring impact on me and hundreds of other students. Not only did he help me discover my talent and love for running, but he also taught me the importance of commitment and discipline and to approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running. When I learned a neighboring high school had dedicated their track to a longtime coach, I felt that Stark deserved similar honors.

Our school district’s board of education indicated they would only dedicate our track to Stark if I could demonstrate that he was extraordinary. I took charge and mobilized my teammates to distribute petitions, reach out to alumni, and compile statistics on the many team and individual champions Stark had coached over the years. We received astounding support, collecting almost 3,000 signatures and pages of endorsements from across the community. With help from my teammates, I presented this evidence to the board.

They didn’t bite. 

Most members argued that dedicating the track was a low priority. Knowing that we had to act quickly to convince them of its importance, I called a team meeting where we drafted a rebuttal for the next board meeting. To my surprise, they chose me to deliver it. I was far from the best public speaker in the group, and I felt nervous about going before the unsympathetic board again. However, at that second meeting, I discovered that I enjoy articulating and arguing for something that I’m passionate about.

Public speaking resembles a cross country race. Walking to the starting line, you have to trust your training and quell your last minute doubts. When the gun fires, you can’t think too hard about anything; your performance has to be instinctual, natural, even relaxed. At the next board meeting, the podium was my starting line. As I walked up to it, familiar butterflies fluttered in my stomach. Instead of the track stretching out in front of me, I faced the vast audience of teachers, board members, and my teammates. I felt my adrenaline build, and reassured myself: I’ve put in the work, my argument is powerful and sound. As the board president told me to introduce myself, I heard, “runners set” in the back of my mind. She finished speaking, and Bang! The brief silence was the gunshot for me to begin. 

The next few minutes blurred together, but when the dust settled, I knew from the board members’ expressions and the audience’s thunderous approval that I had run quite a race. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough; the board voted down our proposal. I was disappointed, but proud of myself, my team, and our collaboration off the track. We stood up for a cause we believed in, and I overcame my worries about being a leader. Although I discovered that changing the status quo through an elected body can be a painstakingly difficult process and requires perseverance, I learned that I enjoy the challenges this effort offers. Last month, one of the school board members joked that I had become a “regular” – I now often show up to meetings to advocate for a variety of causes, including better environmental practices in cafeterias and safer equipment for athletes.

Just as Stark taught me, I worked passionately to achieve my goal. I may have been beaten when I appealed to the board, but I certainly didn’t lose, and that would have made Stark proud.

This essay effectively conveys this student’s compassion for others, initiative, and determination—all great qualities to exemplify in a personal statement!

Although they rely on telling us a lot of what happened up until the board meeting, the use of running a race (their passion) as a metaphor for public speaking provides a lot of insight into the fear that this student overcame to work towards something bigger than themself. Comparing a podium to the starting line, the audience to the track, and silence to the gunshot is a nice way of demonstrating this student’s passion for cross country running without making that the focus of the story.

The essay does a nice job of coming full circle at the end by explaining what the quote from the beginning meant to them after this experience. Without explicitly saying “ I now know that what Stark actually meant is…” they rely on the strength of their argument above to make it obvious to the reader what it means to get beat but not lose. 

One of the biggest areas of improvement in the intro, however, is how the essay tells us Stark’s impact rather than showing us: His care, dedication, and emphasis on developing good character has left an enduring impact on me and hundreds of other students. Not only did he help me discover my talent and love for running, but he also taught me the importance of commitment and discipline and to approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running.

The writer could’ve helped us feel a stronger emotional connection to Stark if they had included examples of Stark’s qualities, rather than explicitly stating them. For example, they could’ve written something like: Stark was the kind of person who would give you gas money if you told him your parents couldn’t afford to pick you up from practice. And he actually did that—several times. At track meets, alumni regularly would come talk to him and tell him how he’d changed their lives. Before Stark, I was ambivalent about running and was on the JV team, but his encouragement motivated me to run longer and harder and eventually make varsity. Because of him, I approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running.

Essay Example #7: Body Image and Eating Disorders

I press the “discover” button on my Instagram app, hoping to find enticing pictures to satisfy my boredom. Scrolling through, I see funny videos and mouth-watering pictures of food. However, one image stops me immediately. A fit teenage girl with a “perfect body” relaxes in a bikini on a beach. Beneath it, I see a slew of flattering comments. I shake with disapproval over the image’s unrealistic quality. However, part of me still wants to have a body like hers so that others will make similar comments to me.

I would like to resolve a silent issue that harms many teenagers and adults: negative self image and low self-esteem in a world where social media shapes how people view each other. When people see the façades others wear to create an “ideal” image, they can develop poor thought patterns rooted in negative self-talk. The constant comparisons to “perfect” others make people feel small. In this new digital age, it is hard to distinguish authentic from artificial representations.

When I was 11, I developed anorexia nervosa. Though I was already thin, I wanted to be skinny like the models that I saw on the magazine covers on the grocery store stands. Little did I know that those models probably also suffered from disorders, and that photoshop erased their flaws. I preferred being underweight to being healthy. No matter how little I ate or how thin I was, I always thought that I was too fat. I became obsessed with the number on the scale and would try to eat the least that I could without my parents urging me to take more. Fortunately, I stopped engaging in anorexic behaviors before middle school. However, my underlying mental habits did not change. The images that had provoked my disorder in the first place were still a constant presence in my life.

By age 15, I was in recovery from anorexia, but suffered from depression. While I used to only compare myself to models, the growth of social media meant I also compared myself to my friends and acquaintances. I felt left out when I saw my friends’ excitement about lake trips they had taken without me. As I scrolled past endless photos of my flawless, thin classmates with hundreds of likes and affirming comments, I felt my jealousy spiral. I wanted to be admired and loved by other people too. However, I felt that I could never be enough. I began to hate the way that I looked, and felt nothing in my life was good enough. I wanted to be called “perfect” and “body goals,” so I tried to only post at certain times of day to maximize my “likes.” When that didn’t work, I started to feel too anxious to post anything at all.  

Body image insecurities and social media comparisons affect thousands of people – men, women, children, and adults – every day. I am lucky – after a few months of my destructive social media habits, I came across a video that pointed out the illusory nature of social media; many Instagram posts only show off good things while people hide their flaws. I began going to therapy, and recovered from my depression. To address the problem of self-image and social media, we can all focus on what matters on the inside and not what is on the surface. As an effort to become healthy internally, I started a club at my school to promote clean eating and radiating beauty from within. It has helped me grow in my confidence, and today I’m not afraid to show others my struggles by sharing my experience with eating disorders. Someday, I hope to make this club a national organization to help teenagers and adults across the country. I support the idea of body positivity and embracing difference, not “perfection.” After all, how can we be ourselves if we all look the same?

This essay covers the difficult topics of eating disorders and mental health. If you’re thinking about covering similar topics in your essay, we recommend reading our post Should You Talk About Mental Health in College Essays?

The short answer is that, yes, you can talk about mental health, but it can be risky. If you do go that route, it’s important to focus on what you learned from the experience.

The strength of this essay is the student’s vulnerability, in excerpts such as this: I wanted to be admired and loved by other people too. However, I felt that I could never be enough. I began to hate the way that I looked, and felt nothing in my life was good enough. I wanted to be called “perfect” and “body goals,” so I tried to only post at certain times of day to maximize my “likes.”

The student goes on to share how they recovered from their depression through an eye-opening video and therapy sessions, and they’re now helping others find their self-worth as well. It’s great that this essay looks towards the future and shares the writer’s goals of making their club a national organization; we can see their ambition and compassion.

The main weakness of this essay is that it doesn’t focus enough on their recovery process, which is arguably the most important part. They could’ve told us more about the video they watched or the process of starting their club and the interactions they’ve had with other members. Especially when sharing such a vulnerable topic, there should be vulnerability in the recovery process too. That way, the reader can fully appreciate all that this student has overcome.

Essay Example #8: Becoming a Coach

”Advanced females ages 13 to 14 please proceed to staging with your coaches at this time.” Skittering around the room, eyes wide and pleading, I frantically explained my situation to nearby coaches. The seconds ticked away in my head; every polite refusal increased my desperation.

Despair weighed me down. I sank to my knees as a stream of competitors, coaches, and officials flowed around me. My dojang had no coach, and the tournament rules prohibited me from competing without one.

Although I wanted to remain strong, doubts began to cloud my mind. I could not help wondering: what was the point of perfecting my skills if I would never even compete? The other members of my team, who had found coaches minutes earlier, attempted to comfort me, but I barely heard their words. They couldn’t understand my despair at being left on the outside, and I never wanted them to understand.

Since my first lesson 12 years ago, the members of my dojang have become family. I have watched them grow up, finding my own happiness in theirs. Together, we have honed our kicks, blocks, and strikes. We have pushed one another to aim higher and become better martial artists. Although my dojang had searched for a reliable coach for years, we had not found one. When we attended competitions in the past, my teammates and I had always gotten lucky and found a sympathetic coach. Now, I knew this practice was unsustainable. It would devastate me to see the other members of my dojang in my situation, unable to compete and losing hope as a result. My dojang needed a coach, and I decided it was up to me to find one.

I first approached the adults in the dojang – both instructors and members’ parents. However, these attempts only reacquainted me with polite refusals. Everyone I asked told me they couldn’t devote multiple weekends per year to competitions. I soon realized that I would have become the coach myself.

At first, the inner workings of tournaments were a mystery to me. To prepare myself for success as a coach, I spent the next year as an official and took coaching classes on the side. I learned everything from motivational strategies to technical, behind-the-scenes components of Taekwondo competitions. Though I emerged with new knowledge and confidence in my capabilities, others did not share this faith.

Parents threw me disbelieving looks when they learned that their children’s coach was only a child herself. My self-confidence was my armor, deflecting their surly glances. Every armor is penetrable, however, and as the relentless barrage of doubts pounded my resilience, it began to wear down. I grew unsure of my own abilities.

Despite the attack, I refused to give up. When I saw the shining eyes of the youngest students preparing for their first competition, I knew I couldn’t let them down. To quit would be to set them up to be barred from competing like I was. The knowledge that I could solve my dojang’s longtime problem motivated me to overcome my apprehension.

Now that my dojang flourishes at competitions, the attacks on me have weakened, but not ended. I may never win the approval of every parent; at times, I am still tormented by doubts, but I find solace in the fact that members of my dojang now only worry about competing to the best of their abilities.

Now, as I arrive at a tournament with my students, I close my eyes and remember the past. I visualize the frantic search for a coach and the chaos amongst my teammates as we competed with one another to find coaches before the staging calls for our respective divisions. I open my eyes to the exact opposite scene. Lacking a coach hurt my ability to compete, but I am proud to know that no member of my dojang will have to face that problem again.

This essay begins with an in-the-moment narrative that really illustrates the chaos of looking for a coach last-minute. We feel the writer’s emotions, particularly her dejectedness, at not being able to compete. Starting an essay in media res  is a great way to capture the attention of your readers and build anticipation for what comes next.

Through this essay, we can see how gutsy and determined the student is in deciding to become a coach themselves. She shows us these characteristics through their actions, rather than explicitly telling us: To prepare myself for success as a coach, I spent the next year as an official and took coaching classes on the side.  Also, by discussing the opposition she faced and how it affected her, the student is open and vulnerable about the reality of the situation.

The essay comes full circle as the author recalls the frantic situations in seeking out a coach, but this is no longer a concern for them and their team. Overall, this essay is extremely effective in painting this student as mature, bold, and compassionate.

The biggest thing this essay needs to work on is showing not telling. Throughout the essay, the student tells us that she “emerged with new knowledge and confidence,” she “grew unsure of her own abilities,” and she “refused to give up”. What we really want to know is what this looks like.

Instead of saying she “emerged with new knowledge and confidence” she should have shared how she taught a new move to a fellow team-member without hesitation. Rather than telling us she “grew unsure of her own abilities” she should have shown what that looked like by including her internal dialogue and rhetorical questions that ran through her mind. She could have demonstrated what “refusing to give up” looks like by explaining how she kept learning coaching techniques on her own, turned to a mentor for advice, or devised a plan to win over the trust of parents. 

Essay Example #9: Eritrea

No one knows where Eritrea is.

On the first day of school, for the past nine years, I would pensively stand in front of a class, a teacher, a stranger  waiting for the inevitable question: Where are you from?

I smile politely, my dimples accentuating my ambiguous features. “Eritrea,” I answer promptly and proudly. But I  am always prepared. Before their expression can deepen into confusion, ready to ask “where is that,” I elaborate,  perhaps with a fleeting hint of exasperation, “East Africa, near Ethiopia.”

Sometimes, I single out the key-shaped hermit nation on a map, stunning teachers who have “never had a student  from there!” Grinning, I resist the urge to remark, “You didn’t even know it existed until two minutes ago!”

Eritrea is to the East of Ethiopia, its arid coastline clutches the lucrative Red Sea. Battle scars litter the ancient  streets – the colonial Italian architecture lathered with bullet holes, the mosques mangled with mortar shells.  Originally part of the world’s first Christian kingdom, Eritrea passed through the hands of colonial Italy, Britain, and  Ethiopia for over a century, until a bloody thirty year war of Independence liberated us.

But these are facts that anyone can know with a quick Google search. These are facts that I have memorised and compounded, first from my Grandmother and now from pristine books  borrowed from the library.

No historical narrative, however, can adequately capture what Eritrea is.  No one knows the aroma of bushels of potatoes, tomatoes, and garlic – still covered in dirt – that leads you to the open-air market. No one knows the poignant scent of spices, arranged in orange piles reminiscent of compacted  dunes.  No one knows how to haggle stubborn herders for sheep and roosters for Christmas celebrations as deliberately as my mother. No one can replicate the perfect balance of spices in dorho and tsebhi as well as my grandmother,  her gnarly hands stirring the pot with ancient precision (chastising my clumsy knife work with the potatoes).  It’s impossible to learn when the injera is ready – the exact moment you have to lift the lid of the mogogo. Do it too  early (or too late) and the flatbread becomes mangled and gross. It is a sixth sense passed through matriarchal  lineages.

There are no sources that catalogue the scent of incense that wafts through the sunlit porch on St. Michael’s; no  films that can capture the luminescence of hundreds of flaming bonfires that fluoresce the sidewalks on Kudus  Yohannes, as excited children chant Ge’ez proverbs whose origin has been lost to time.  You cannot learn the familiarity of walking beneath the towering Gothic figure of the Enda Mariam Cathedral, the  crowds undulating to the ringing of the archaic bells.  I have memorized the sound of the rains hounding the metal roof during kiremti , the heat of the sun pounding  against the Toyota’s window as we sped down towards Ghinda , the opulent brilliance of the stars twinkling in a  sky untainted by light pollution, the scent of warm rolls of bani wafting through the streets at precisely 6 o’clock each day…

I fill my flimsy sketchbook with pictures from my memory. My hand remembers the shapes of the hibiscus drifting  in the wind, the outline of my grandmother (affectionately nicknamed a’abaye ) leaning over the garden, the bizarre architecture of the Fiat Tagliero .  I dice the vegetables with movements handed down from generations. My nose remembers the scent of frying garlic, the sourness of the warm tayta , the sharpness of the mit’mt’a …

This knowledge is intrinsic.  “I am Eritrean,” I repeat. “I am proud.”  Within me is an encyclopedia of history, culture, and idealism.

Eritrea is the coffee made from scratch, the spices drying in the sun, the priests and nuns. Eritrea is wise, filled with ambition, and unseen potential.  Eritrea isn’t a place, it’s an identity.

This is an exceptional essay that provides a window into this student’s culture that really makes their love for their country and heritage leap off the page. The sheer level of details and sensory descriptors this student is able to fit in this space makes the essay stand out. From the smells, to the traditions, sounds, and sights, the author encapsulates all the glory of Eritrea for the reader. 

The vivid images this student is able to create for the reader, whether it is having the tedious conversation with every teacher or cooking in their grandmother’s kitchen, transports us into the story and makes us feel like we are there in the moment with the student. This is a prime example of an essay that shows , not tells.

Besides the amazing imagery, the use of shorter paragraphs also contributes to how engaging this essay is. Employing this tactic helps break up the text to make it more readable and it isolates ideas so they stick out more than if they were enveloped in a large paragraph.

Overall, this is a really strong essay that brings to life this student’s heritage through its use of vivid imagery. This essay exemplifies what it means to show not tell in your writing, and it is a great example of how you can write an intimate personal statement without making yourself the primary focus of your essay. 

There is very little this essay should improve upon, but one thing the student might consider would be to inject more personal reflection into their response. Although we can clearly take away their deep love and passion for their homeland and culture, the essay would be a bit more personal if they included the emotions and feelings they associate with the various aspects of Eritrea. For example, the way their heart swells with pride when their grandmother praises their ability to cook a flatbread or the feeling of serenity when they hear the bells ring out from the cathedral. Including personal details as well as sensory ones would create a wonderful balance of imagery and reflection.

Essay Example #10: Journaling

Flipping past dozens of colorful entries in my journal, I arrive at the final blank sheet. I press my pen lightly to the page, barely scratching its surface to create a series of loops stringing together into sentences. Emotions spill out, and with their release, I feel lightness in my chest. The stream of thoughts slows as I reach the bottom of the page, and I gently close the cover of the worn book: another journal finished.

I add the journal to the stack of eleven books on my nightstand. Struck by the bittersweet sensation of closing a chapter of my life, I grab the notebook at the bottom of the pile to reminisce.

“I want to make a flying mushen to fly in space and your in it” – October 2008

Pulling back the cover of my first Tinkerbell-themed diary, the prompt “My Hopes and Dreams” captures my attention. Though “machine” is misspelled in my scribbled response, I see the beginnings of my past obsession with outer space. At the age of five, I tore through novels about the solar system, experimented with rockets built from plastic straws, and rented Space Shuttle films from Blockbuster to satisfy my curiosities. While I chased down answers to questions as limitless as the universe, I fell in love with learning. Eight journals later, the same relentless curiosity brought me to an airplane descending on San Francisco Bay.

“I wish I had infinite sunsets” – July 2019

I reach for the charcoal notepad near the top of the pile and open to the first page: my flight to the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes. While I was excited to explore bioengineering, anxiety twisted in my stomach as I imagined my destination, unsure of whether I could overcome my shyness and connect with others.

With each new conversation, the sweat on my palms became less noticeable, and I met students from 23 different countries. Many of the moments where I challenged myself socially revolved around the third story deck of the Jerry house. A strange medley of English, Arabic, and Mandarin filled the summer air as my friends and I gathered there every evening, and dialogues at sunset soon became moments of bliss. In our conversations about cultural differences, the possibility of an afterlife, and the plausibility of far-fetched conspiracy theories, I learned to voice my opinion. As I was introduced to different viewpoints, these moments challenged my understanding of the world around me. In my final entries from California, I find excitement to learn from others and increased confidence, a tool that would later allow me to impact my community.

“The beauty in a tower of cans” – June 2020

Returning my gaze to the stack of journals, I stretch to take the floral-patterned book sitting on top. I flip through, eventually finding the beginnings of the organization I created during the outbreak of COVID-19. Since then, Door-to-Door Deliveries has woven its way through my entries and into reality, allowing me to aid high-risk populations through free grocery delivery.

With the confidence I gained the summer before, I took action when seeing others in need rather than letting my shyness hold me back. I reached out to local churches and senior centers to spread word of our services and interacted with customers through our website and social media pages. To further expand our impact, we held two food drives, and I mustered the courage to ask for donations door-to-door. In a tower of canned donations, I saw the value of reaching out to help others and realized my own potential to impact the world around me.

I delicately close the journal in my hands, smiling softly as the memories reappear, one after another. Reaching under my bed, I pull out a fresh notebook and open to its first sheet. I lightly press my pen to the page, “And so begins the next chapter…”

The structuring of this essay makes it easy and enjoyable to read. The student effectively organizes their various life experiences around their tower of journals, which centers the reader and makes the different stories easy to follow. Additionally, the student engages quotes from their journals—and unique formatting of the quotes—to signal that they are moving in time and show us which memory we should follow them to.

Thematically, the student uses the idea of shyness to connect the different memories they draw out of their journals. As the student describes their experiences overcoming shyness at the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes and Door-to-Door Deliveries, this essay can be read as an Overcoming Obstacles essay.

At the end of this essay, readers are fully convinced that this student is dedicated (they have committed to journaling every day), thoughtful (journaling is a thoughtful process and, in the essay, the student reflects thoughtfully on the past), and motivated (they flew across the country for a summer program and started a business). These are definitely qualities admissions officers are looking for in applicants!

Although this essay is already exceptionally strong as it’s written, the first journal entry feels out of place compared to the other two entries that discuss the author’s shyness and determination. It works well for the essay to have an entry from when the student was younger to add some humor (with misspelled words) and nostalgia, but if the student had either connected the quote they chose to the idea of overcoming a fear present in the other two anecdotes or if they had picked a different quote all together related to their shyness, it would have made the entire essay feel more cohesive.

Where to Get Your Personal Statement Edited

Do you want feedback on your personal statement? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

Next Step: Supplemental Essays

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8 Things To Include In Your College Admission Essay

Madeleine Karydes

Madeleine Karydes

Lead admissions expert, table of contents, make it unique and personal, pick one area in your life, and focus on it, ensure you write about the best version of yourself, include traditions and culture that shape you, research, research, research, write only the truth, vocabulary matters, grammar and spelling must be correct, have your essay read by someone else you trust.

Stay up-to-date on the latest research and college admissions trends with our blog team.

8 Things To Include In Your College Admission Essay

More than any other part of the application, your admission essay is intended to give the college admission team a look at your personal life, goals, and achievements. This article reviews eight things to include in your admission essay to increase your chances of being accepted into the college of your choice. We hope you find this checklist helpful as you start drafting!

And of course, remember that we’re here to help if you get stuck. Deciding on what colleges to apply for, then beginning the application process, can bring much-added stress in your life. With the proper support, however, that stress does not need to reflect in your writing.

So, let’s get started. Your high school counselors may have shown the dos and don’ts of writing a college application essay. However, they may not have taken you through the entire process. Not to worry, Empowerly offers college counseling to work with you through the entire journey.    

To give you a glimpse into our services, we are sharing the eight things to include in your college admission essay:

The committee in charge of admission wants to know who you are. Talk about your personality, passions, values, achievements, goals, and what motivates you. If given a topic to write on, ensure you shine through it. Your uniqueness is the most important part of the application!

Writing an in-depth essay about yourself can feel overwhelming, considering all the information you could cover. Instead, focusing on an area that expressly gives well-detailed information helps craft a structure that is easier to read. Essentially, it produces more clarity than packing so many options in one essay.

Select a single activity, passion, or project to which you can relate and produce the best write-up. If you need help, we offer college counseling services to help fully express your train of thought.

The admission committee wants to read about the strong, positive information that makes you who you are. You should be able to write about experiences that have brought out a part of your character, built your mindset, or become an important lesson. Demonstrate qualities that will make you a great addition to their campus.

Schools are always searching for diverse perspectives to add to the cultural richness of their intellectual landscape. Feel free to include stories of your family emblem, heritage, tradition, and culture if you feel they have shaped you. Acknowledging and celebrating these aspects of your history is key.

Read up about the school you are applying to. These details demonstrate passion and interest in your future! Not only that, citing specific programs or clubs in order to talk about what you will bring to the table is very compelling to admissions officers looking to build a strong freshman class.

It doesn’t matter if you exaggerate the details or go as far as plagiarizing; if you are caught, you will be immediately rejected. It’s not worth writing anything other than the truth. Besides, you do have a chance of winning their hearts by showing your honesty and authenticity.

First, you’ll want to avoid using the same word in multiple places, unless it’s the focus of your essay. Following that, however, you won’t benefit from using words that you choose out of the thesaurus at random, without reason. And finally, your essay should not include uncommon slang, niche scientific phrases, or overly flowery language that confuses the meaning of your sentences.

You can write conversationally, but if the grammar and spelling are not correct, it will reduce the overall effect of your essay. Incorrect spelling can happen by mistake, but proofreading should correct it. Show that you care enough to review your essay and put your best foot forward.

Good job completing your essay draft! The next step is to have it read by someone knowledgeable enough to give objective responses. That means you want to find someone who can pinpoint errors, notice if certain paragraphs are rambling, and can tell you if the impression is not what you were going for. With this feedback, you want to be certain your application is the best reflection of your work.

Of course, at Empowerly , we offer services that include college counseling, reading your admission essay, making all necessary corrections, and giving you the best pre-college experience. So if you don’t have a good essay editor in mind, you can always reach out to us.

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College apps can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it alone. empowerly college counseling is in it with you., related articles.

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  6. Steps to Write an Essay about Yourself

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  2. 4 Things You Need in Your College Essay

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  5. How to Start a Personal Statement

  6. CAG has annouced an essay competition for all students /big opportunity for essay writing lovers

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  1. College essay don'ts: 37 Things to Avoid In a college essay

    Follow this advice to know what not to write about in your college essay! 1. Don't restate the Essay prompt. Start your essay with a hook. Start with dialogue. Start by setting the scene. Don't start by restating the essay topic! The reader knows the essay prompts, so just start telling your story.

  2. College Essay Don'ts: 20 Things to Avoid to Stand Out

    The essay solely focuses on accolades and fails to highlight personal growth, setbacks overcome, or lessons learned from challenges. #15 Don't Diss The Reader: (aka - avoid belittling)Refrain from talking down to or demeaning the reader in your essay. They are not minions. Keep the tone respectful and inclusive! #16 Dump Being Robotic-Like:

  3. 9 Common College Essay Mistakes To Avoid in Your Personal Statement

    Start from a blank canvas to make sure you get to the personal right away. No cliched "inspirational" quotes either, please. 7) Writing a Cliched Conclusion. Another major personal essay mistake is that your closing paragraph feels cliche and just repeats information you've already said earlier in the essay.

  4. How to Write a Personal Essay: 8 Common Mistakes to Avoid

    Avoiding these mistakes each time you write an essay about yourself is a solid starting point. Here are eight common mistakes you should avoid when writing a personal essay: 1. Using essay to vent. Writers often use an essay as an opportunity to express a moralistic stand, rant about a controversial issue or vent about a family member. Don't.

  5. What topics should I avoid in a college essay?

    Avoid topics that are: Overly personal (e.g. graphic details of illness or injury, romantic or sexual relationships) Not personal enough (e.g. broad solutions to world problems, inspiring people or things) Too negative (e.g. an in-depth look at your flaws, put-downs of others, criticizing the need for a college essay)

  6. How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

    Here are some tips to get you started. Start early. Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don't have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to ...

  7. 4.13: Writing a Personal Essay

    Figure 1. Brainstorming the details of a personal experience can help you to write a more complete story with elements like vivid details, dialogue, and sufficient character development. Once you identify the event, you will write down what happened. Just brainstorm (also called freewriting). Focus on the actual event.

  8. How to Write a Personal Essay: 6 Tips for Writing Personal Essays

    Written by MasterClass. Last updated: Sep 9, 2021 • 3 min read. People write personal essays for a number of reasons. High school students write them for college admissions and writers use them to share personal stories with others. A personal narrative essay can enlighten and inspire an audience with information gained from real life ...

  9. 6 Steps to Writing the Perfect Personal Essay

    Try writing a stream of consciousness. To do this, start writing whatever is on your mind and don't stop or leave anything out. Even if ideas aren't connected to each other whatsoever, a stream of consciousness gets everything in your brain on paper and often contains many ideas. Do a little research.

  10. PDF Strategies for Essay Writing

    you write an essay should not be only to show readers what you know, but to learn more about something that you're genuinely curious about. For some assignments, you'll be given a specific question or problem to address that will guide your thought process. For other assignments, you'll be asked to identify your own topic and/or question.

  11. 11 Topics to Avoid in College Essays

    Sports is a common topic, though, which can make it much harder for you to stand apart from the competition. Even if this is your strongest area of interest, it's better to choose a different topic. 7. Humorous Topics or Jokes. Topics to avoid in college essays also include jokes or humor. Writing your entire college essay in a humorous tone ...

  12. How To Write Personal Essays

    Compared to fiction, you know what comes next. Personal essays involve using the same writing skills. You'll incorporate scenes and dialogue into your observations and reflections as you build a story. In addition, you'll use evocative sensory language to immerse your reader and build empathy with your audience.

  13. How to Write a Personal Essay: Topics, Structure, & Examples

    The first and the most important thing you need to do when you are about to write a personal essay is to determine its purpose. When you know your audience, it becomes easier to find an appropriate topic for your writing. After that, you can draft an outline, which is the foundation of your future essay! ️.

  14. What Is a Personal Statement? Everything You Need to Know About the

    Prompt Type 1: Your Personal History. This sort of question asks you to write about a formative experience, important event, or key relationship from your life. Admissions officers want to understand what is important to you and how your background has shaped you as a person. These questions are both common and tricky.

  15. How To: Write Your Personal Essay

    January 27th, 2016. Your essay should help to give better, deeper insight into you as a person. As the post mentions, your essay should supplement the other parts of your application to help us understand you better. That said, you don't have to include anything about yourself that you don't feel comfortable sharing.

  16. How To Write a Personal Essay in 8 Simple Steps (With Tips)

    Write the introduction. Write the body. Write the conclusion. 1. Make preparations. When preparing to write your personal essay, first consider who your audience is and what you want them to know. Ask yourself questions to determine how your story relates to your goals for writing it.

  17. 7 Things to Avoid in Your Personal Statement

    Don't list off your accomplishments and only focus on all the shiny, good parts of your life. Give the reader a chance to connect with you. Don't fake smile - be your true, authentic self. 4. Lack of focus. This is the most common issue we see. Don't throw in details that aren't relevant to the story you're telling.

  18. How to Write a Personal Statement That Wows Colleges

    Tips for Writing a Personal Statement for College. 1. Approach this as a creative writing assignment. Personal statements are difficult for many students because they've never had to do this type of writing. High schoolers are used to writing academic reports or analytical papers, but not creative storytelling pieces.

  19. What Not To Put In A Personal Statement

    Conclusion. If you want to avoid writing what not to put in your personal statement, this list should be a great starting point. The main idea is to nail down each sentence in context. Every line should support the whole point of your personal statement. That is, to convince the admissions committee that you are qualified to be their student.

  20. How to Write an Amazing Personal Statement (Includes Examples!)

    5. Use an authentic voice. Your personal statement reflects who you are, so you should use a tone that represents you. That means you shouldn't try to sound like someone else, and you shouldn't use fancy words just to show off. This isn't an academic paper, so you don't have to adopt a super formal tone.

  21. 10 Personal Statement Essay Examples That Worked

    Personal Statement Examples. Essay 1: Summer Program. Essay 2: Being Bangladeshi-American. Essay 3: Why Medicine. Essay 4: Love of Writing. Essay 5: Starting a Fire. Essay 6: Dedicating a Track. Essay 7: Body Image and Eating Disorders. Essay 8: Becoming a Coach.

  22. 8 Things To Include In Your College Admission Essay

    Make It Unique And Personal. The committee in charge of admission wants to know who you are. Talk about your personality, passions, values, achievements, goals, and what motivates you. If given a topic to write on, ensure you shine through it. Your uniqueness is the most important part of the application!