College Personal Statement


View an excellent lecture from the UC Office of the President on the personal statement here.

As we've gone over the various elements of the college personal statement, let me remind you of a few of the things we've highlighted about this process.

The Big Ideas

  1. Every essay should contain a story and a lesson that shows insight into your personal growth.

  2. The essay exists to compliment your resume and transcripts, and it shouldn't repeat this information.

  3. Never do anything to put yourself into the reject pile; do your best to fulfill specifications of your college's admission essay.

  4. Remember that you are putting your best face on for an admissions essay reader. Although this essay reflects you, it should reflect the best you. It is a selling piece not a personal diary, and it should be as slick as any advertisement campaign that expresses what makes you special and spectacular. Think of it as the difference between answering the door for the admissions officer wearing your bathrobe and bunny slippers vs. answering the door for an interview wearing your best outfit.

  5. It's important to maintain an appropriate tone; remember your audience.

  6. You are applying to an academic institution, so remember that whatever the subject of your essay, you should be showing the admissions office a desire to grow intellectually, broaden your thinking, acquire knowledge, gain skills, and otherwise improve your mind.

  7. Always communicate a good attitude, an attitude of optimism, gratitude, and caring. This is the attitude of a winner and the kind of student they want.

As we go through the process of revising this essay, remember you are revising on two levels: globally and technically. The first is to understand how you want to shape your essay to best express yourself and your story. The second level is to be reviewing your essay for writing style and mechanics to make sure that you are sending the impression you want.

Our Practice Topics

With the understanding that most essay topics boil down to some variation of the following ideas, these are what you will choose from to write your two prompts.

1. A challenge that you overcame and were strengthened by

2. A time or experience of personal growth

3. A relationship with a mentor or someone who positively shaped you or helped you grow.

4. A subject you are passionate about and has shaped you and grown you positively.

Shaping Your Essay

You need to look at your essay as having a story like arc with a beginning middle and end that propels the reader forward. Remember, paragraphs exist to create a schema for the reader, to shape their understanding of where you are going. You must think of communicating your story clearly to the reader as you set out to create your essay structure.

The structure we are working towards may look a lot like a truncated 5-paragraph essay structure. Remember that the 5-paragraph formula is only an observation of what people have seen work in terms of shaping an essay for symmetry and effect. With this type of a personal and creative essay, don't think of this structure as prescriptive as much as scaffolding for your creative muse.

The Three Parts

1, Intro Paragraph

First Lines - should be everything you want your first impression to be: articulate, unique, compelling, intriguing, enticing...

These can be quotes, images, or ideas that reflect you and the big idea of your essay. They should not be trite questions, dictionary definitions, or choose your own adventure scenarios (e.g. "Imagine if...")

Exposition - the details in the middle of the intro paragraph define terms for the audience, set the scene, and provide the context. The intro paragraph isn't too early to start using detail and action as much as possible. This part of the introductory paragraph should give as much info as needed but no more than necessary. Remember that you want to keep the audience's attention moving forward. Think of it as carrot dangling.

Thesis - as you close out your introductory paragraph narrow the focus to you and your growth. Remember, whether you are talking about a mentor or a challenge, the focus should always remain on you. This is your essay, and your story. Make sure the audience knows what you are going to show them about yourself.

More to come on the other two parts...

Extra Goodness

Work Towards...

Keeping it positive – the committee wants to see you as someone with a positive outlook. Good students rarely have a bad one.

Keeping your focus narrow and personal to match the scale of the essay.

Showing not telling – develop your thesis with facts.

Being specific – include specifics and details to make it come to life.


Writing errors.They simply make you look careless or unskilled.

Trite subjects or sensitive subjects. This doesn't mean that you can't do something with a strong emotional pull, but don't write if you can't be objective. It's okay to be choked up as you write, but no sobbing over your laptop.

Being generic and talking about just ideas (stick with a narrative to avoid this).

Trying to impress.