At this point—January—your college applications should be complete, because most undergraduate colleges have application deadlines at or near the beginning of the year—and everyone knows that your chances of being accepted increase with the promptness of your application. But if you’re still working on your undergraduate or graduate college application, and you need help with your personal statement, see the advice below.
Follow the given instructions. Many colleges allow applicants to choose their own essay topic. Do not assume that all do. If you are asked to write about a particular subject or experience, make sure you do just that. Answer all of the questions provided in the instructions. For example, if the writing prompt instructs you to describe a challenge you have faced and what the challenge taught you about yourself. Make sure you do both things—describe the challenge AND tell what you learned. Don’t just describe the challenge.
Along these same lines, be careful about recycling your statement. Make sure you adjust the name of the college and other identifying descriptions according to the specific college to which you are applying. For example, do not state that you are interested in joining an organization that exists at one of the colleges to which you are applying, but not another. Always re-read your entire statement before submitting it to any one college.
Sad stories do not by themselves make for good prose. Many applicants think that simply telling a sad story about a personal experience will impress admissions counselors into thinking that they deserve a spot in the upcoming class. This is not how it works. Admissions counselors are not necessarily looking for students who have experienced adversity. They are looking for well-rounded students who will diversify the incoming class. Diversity does not only apply to race, ethnicity, disability and gender. Older students, and students whose views differ from the general populace, may also diversity a class.
Tell how the adversity you have experienced has transformed you. Tell how having the opportunity to share your views and experiences will make you an asset to the college community. Use your personal statement as an opportunity to demonstrate that you are capable of articulating your unique perspective in a useful way. What good is having an interesting story, if you don’t know how to tell it?
Do not simply re-state information that appears in other parts of your application. If the instructions for your application state that you may write about whatever you choose, do not use the personal statement as an opportunity to brag or simply give information that is stated elsewhere in your application. Give new, relevant information in your personal statement. Tell how your accomplishments, previous education, and experiences have prepared you for a college education.
For example, if your resume lists an honor you received, use your personal statement to give details about how the honor came about. Tell the impact receiving the honor had on you and others.
Stay within the page limit. Personal statements are generally not longer than two double-spaced pages. If the writing prompt does not specify a page limit, be sure to adhere to the generally-accepted two double-spaced pages limit.
Check your work for correct grammar and punctuation. Your personal statement is an opportunity to show off your writing ability—a skill that is essential to college success. Admissions counselors want to round out their incoming class with students who are ready to succeed. Grammatical errors may leave the impression that you are not ready for the rigors of a college education. And if you’re already not putting your best foot forward, how will you represent the college to which you are applying once accepted?
Taking the time to check your work for correct grammar and punctuation lets the reader know that you are thorough and accurate—a characteristic that will eventually serve you well in the workforce.
Every part of your college application says something about you: how you will represent your prospective college, and how likely you are to succeed. Use your personal statement as an opportunity to prove to admissions counselors that offering you admission is a worthy investment.