Successful personal statements tell a story, and the wow factor in a personal statement is typically found in the way the story is told, not in the details of the story itself. An endearing reflection about translating phone bills and making business calls for your English-challenged parents can be an infinitely more appealing read than, say, a rundown of a once-in-a-lifetime summer research opportunity with a renowned professor. Students who write strong personal statements don’t necessarily have to have extraordinary experiences to write about. Often times, they are simply strong storytellers.
For many of you, this kind of “storytelling”, or writing the narrative essay, is a craft that stops developing after elementary school. Many high school seniors I have worked with are shocked to find that most colleges look for neither the persuasive or critical essay style that is so essential for success in many high school courses. I have seen many seniors flustered with having to produce a story that is punchy and worse yet, about themselves, after having spent so many years in school writing about this book or that historical figure.
If you want to be able to write better personal statements years down the line, among other important reasons like cultivate self-awareness, it is essential that you continue to be in touch with what makes you giddy, angry, pensive, get up unusually early in the morning, laugh, or as the nation’s top colleges prefer to say, “tick”. In fact, the challenge is two-fold; not only do you have to know who you are, but you also have to know how to present this knowledge in a compelling, amusing way.
Oh gosh, you must be thinking, they did NOT teach us how to do this in school at all! As daunting a task as it may seem for many high school students, the process to overcoming this common challenge—expressing and talking about yourself in writing—is actually quite simple and even a bit fun. Here goes:
Pull out a notebook or fire up your favorite word processor and keep a daily journal on it.
Yup, that’s it. I believe the easiest way to get (back) into writing is by keeping a journal. Let everything that is going on in your mind take shape in the form of words. Jot down events in your life and how you feel about them. Be conscious of how you are writing and critique your style as you go. You will surprise yourself with all the purposes that a journal can serve, and all the topics you will come up with. What tasty dish did you have for dinner? Why did you have an argument with a close friend? How did you improve your skills in a video game? Why did a movie make you emotional? Write about any and every thing that you care about. In doing so each day and sticking to this routine, you are developing a record of life experiences and ruminations you can refer to in the future, as well as take advantage of the opportunity to more closely examine your development as a person and as a writer, both of which will better prepare you to write stronger personal statements.
Give it a try. Write your heart out. Your college-app-filing-senior-year-self will thank you for it.
By Jackie Lam , ThinkTank Learning Admissions Senior Consultant and Academic Counselor