Essay Tips

What the Experts Say About Personal Statements for Admissions

"The topic may seem hard, but it’s really the essay’s greatest attraction.  It’s about you – a topic you know, need to know, want to talk about, have as your exclusive territory, and can’t be wrong about.  You are the expert and can easily speak with both authority and conviction.”

Sarah Myers McGinty - The College Application Essay, 6th Edition, The College Board

“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 - Former 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, though, 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.