Essay Tips

What the Experts say About Personal Statements for Admissions:

“The real task for high school students [as they write their application personal statements] is to move away from the voices of other authorities and find their own voices, become their own authorities.”
-Sarah Myers McGinty
Writing Your College Application Personal Statement (College Board, 1991)

“Kids make the mistake of guessing what admissions officers want to hear. The difference between a compelling personal statement and a run-of-the-mill one is the integrity and sincerity of the student’s voice. A good application reads like a good book. It has plot, character development, twists and turns, humor, pain, and other sublime aspects. There is a balance of description and reflection; energy and vitality is reflected.”
-Michael Goldberger

Director of Admission, Brown University

Some Writing Tips

  • Read the prompt carefully and answer it. Analyze what’s being asked. Don’t write about a challenge in your life if the prompt is asking about a book you read.
  • Be reflective of your life experience and how it applies to the prompt. Dare to go deep.
  • Decide on a theme.
  • Decide on a topic, an experience from your life.
  • Find your voice and be true to it.
  • Show us, don’t tell us:
    • Tell a story from your life that illustrates your theme.
    • Write with passion. Personalize the story. If your topic doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t use it.
    • Be specific. All good writing comes to life within the details.
    • Tell the story from your point of view: what you did, saw, felt, thought, how you were changed.
  • Tie the story to the theme, what you learned, or how your view of the word was altered or illuminated, what choices you subsequently made.
  • Use the conclusion to reflect on the experience and how it will affect you going forward; career, relationships, community or world view.
  • Things to avoid:
    • Don’t include anything that’s already in another part of the application.
    • Don’t list activities, accomplishments, leadership positions, awards, or service.  Write about them only if they are integral to your story, i.e., organic.
    • Don’t recite the ways in which you love a particular college.
    • Avoid colloquialisms, casual, or lazy language.