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College Personal Statement: Tips for Efficient, Optimal Writing

Chances are, your days are already pretty packed: classes, extracurriculars, seeing friends, spending time with family… and now throw on top of that applying to college. Senior year can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to writing your admission essays. And while you’ve certainly written essays on the Civil War, Einstein, or plant biology, a personal essay is a different animal.

Instead of trying to brainstorm an essay that matches an existing question from your school of choice, try working backward. Think of a personal experience that moved you or changed you … then tailor that to answer the question. Let’s say you want to write about your experience playing the flute for the first time with a large orchestra. This story answers a lot of possible essay questions: what was a personal activity of special significance, or an accomplishment you are proud of—even an adversity you have dealt with. This one story can be tweaked into the many essays your colleges require.

It’s great to get feedback from a friend or a teacher on a draft you’ve written, but don’t overdo it. A common mistake is an essay written “by committee” – too many people have read it and the writer is trying to please too many different opinions.  In the end, you’re left with an essay with all the life sucked out of it. Find one person you trust—preferably not a family member or friend—and let that individual be your sounding board.

Make sure to set aside a little bit of time every day to work on your essay. It’s better to spend 20 minutes on it daily than 10 hours right before it’s due. You’ll find that visiting it every day will help your ideas flow and connect better, give you perspective on what you’ve already written, and reduce the chances of sloppy mistakes.


College Admission Essays: How Much Do They Matter?


A big myth about college applications: if your grades are poor, your SATs below average, and your list of extracurriculars nonexistent, you can still knock it out of the park with a stellar admission essays.

False! It’s been said that a great admission essays will heal the sick but won’t raise the dead. Ultimately, admissions officers are looking for students who’ve already proven they can be citizens of a larger intellectual and social community—students who have proven through grades, test scores, and recommendations that they can not only handle college but can also thrive there. So coming up with a last-minute mind-blowing essay to right the rest of your academic wrongs isn’t realistic.

That said, admission essays are an increasingly crucial part of the admissions process and many times can make the difference between an acceptance or rejection for students who are on the fence.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is to use the essay as a tool to show a different part of you. If your application already includes lists of homeless shelters where you volunteered and a curriculum heavy in math, don’t talk about that one time you taught a homeless person how to add. Talk about something completely different, something that will give admissions officers yet another glimpse of who you are.

And while almost any essay topic can work, any topic can also fail. Many students make the mistake of starting with too broad a focus. By the time you’re into the meat of the story, you’re out of word count. So cut to the chase. Don’t start with “I have always enjoyed science.” Start with “As soon as I cut that frog open I knew I wanted to be a biologist.”

Keep it lively, keep it personal, and, if possible, make them laugh. Admissions officers remember a smart, funny essay the same way we remember a good joke. It makes us want to pass it on and tell it again. That’s the way a good essay should be. And that’s a surefire way to make your essay matter

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