Writing a personal statement is ultimately personal. However, just like admissions officers, each of our essay coaches has their own sense of what essays most stick with them and leave a powerful impression year to year.
We asked each of our coaches to share their opinion of what makes a personal statement memorable and impactful, and now we’re pleased to share it with you!
My favorite kinds of personal statements showcase the student’s ability to be introspective and answer the question “So, what?” You went to the place, you did the thing; what did you take away from this experience? How has it or will it play out in other places in your life? Answering these questions takes a personal statement to the next level and allows me to get to know students on a deeper level than just recounting a story would. Learning how to thoughtfully reflect is key to the college experience. Showcasing your ability to do this in high school will only help you be more successful in the admission process and in college.
A great personal statement is like putting on a VR headset. Essays that create a personal connection by transporting me into a student’s experience or allowing me to see a situation from their perspective are the ones that stay with me. Sensory details, emotions, and specific memories make a writer feel relatable and real. For me, a personal statement succeeds when it makes me root for the writer and believe in their journey.
I’ve said before that so much of a student’s college experience is what they make of it and how they engage with the other people and resources that they have on campus. In some ways, my favorite personal statements are the ones that do exactly that. I love essays that allow me to see who a student is going to be on campus. What kind of roommate are they going to be? What kind of lab partner, friend, and study group member? Essays that show a student engaging with the world around them in high school allow me to picture them doing the same in college.
“Change how I see the world.” It sounds so grandiose, but it’s really not. I have had a student write an essay about her obsession with pink; another student wrote about their snow globe collection; another wrote about why they microwave waffles for a specific amount of time. Needless to say, I don’t look at the color pink or snow globes the same way, and I am much more intentional about how much time I input into the microwave. Any student can change how I see the world because even the smallest things can be profound. And when I see the world through a student’s eyes, a personal connection is made. That, ultimately, is the goal. After all: Admissions officers are people. People accept other people.
My favorite personal statements tell me how a student nurtures what is most important to them. I don’t want to just know what is most important to a student. I love understanding how students interact with the people, places, or things that mean the most to them. Who a student is, what makes them unique, and what they will contribute, shows in what they give their time to and pour their hearts into.
My favorite personal statements are when students are able to show passion for projects that are completely outside of the scope of their normal activities. Whether their project covers art or science, students who go really in-depth about how they embarked on their projects and the results of their projects end up with amazing personal statements. The reader really gets to learn about their interests, skills, and passion. Even if the project is one that the reader would never pursue, the reader can appreciate the love and hard work the student put in. ‘Nerd out’ about the projects that you love!
I like essays that give me an insight into a student’s inner world. This doesn’t necessarily mean a student explaining their philosophy of life or giving an exhaustive inventory of their emotions and innermost thoughts. Instead, students do this in different ways: describing how they interact with their surroundings, what matters to them in or outside of school, or how they have affected people and communities around them. My favorite essays function like windows, opening onto details and slices of the student’s life, revealing what is beneath.
My favorite essays are quirky essays that make me think about the world a little differently. I want to see the world through your eyes: What is the emotional significance of the movie poster on your wall? Which philosophical insights do you get from growing tomatoes in the backyard? How does your favorite song empower you? Why should I reconsider the importance of ketchup on breakfast sandwiches? Any essay topic can be impactful if you make the reader think a little differently about their daily life. Your unique perspective is what makes your essay interesting — no matter what topic you ultimately write about — so don’t be afraid to share your opinions and ideas! Relatedly, I love reading essays that showcase a student’s unique voice. There’s no need to use “fancy” vocabulary. Instead, write as you speak: it will come across as more natural and relatable. The goal is to showcase who YOU are and how YOU tell your story.
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