There is nothing easy about the personal statement that seniors are currently writing for the college application process. Not only is it uncomfortable for students to talk about themselves, but the 650-word limit can appear to go on forever and, at the same time, be too constricting. The essay is really the only place a student has to “talk” to the admissions office and tell their story, thus the pressure to do it well can be intense.
After working with students for years on these little gems, there are some things you need to know as you begin the process of writing.
Your essay should be the one that only you can write. Your friends should be able to read a pile of random essays and pick yours out because it sounds so much like you. Readers want to see your sense of humor, your quirky way of looking at the world, or the depth of your caring. We want your essay to touch our hearts and make us glad we spent the time reading it and getting to know you.
Watch for Word Repetition
While your essay should develop a tight theme, it should not use the same word over and over again. It is so easy to overuse a particular word and a person doesn’t even realize it. All writers have to be careful with this, not just kids writing college essays! Remember, the thesaurus is your friend!
Watch for Repeated Ideas
Sometimes students want so badly to communicate their theme that they inadvertently say the same thing repeatedly. Even if they don’t reuse the same words to describe what they mean, the theme itself is not developed, it is just reiterated. Remember, college essays are short. Statements must be pithy and to the point.
Start with a Spreadsheet
A spreadsheet which lists all essay prompts, word limits, and the name of the college requesting it will save you a great deal of time. A quick visit to the Common Application will show you the prompts for the main personal statement and the college supplements will give you the prompts for the things they want. By pulling all these prompts out and putting them in one place, you will be able to see just what is needed and where you can write a few good essays and then edit carefully to reuse for other schools. There are certain common topics that many schools will ask about. One of these is how you would fit on their campus. Another frequent topic encourages you to share your curiosity or how you think about life.
While a lot of work, the finished college essays are also a wonderful reflection of where you are at this point in your life. I encourage you to give yourself plenty of time and enjoy the process. You can learn a lot about yourself when you commit your thoughts to paper!
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