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Writing Personal Essays – Not for the Meek and Humble

April 17, 2015 - Posted to Writing

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One thing about personal essays that are written as a part of an admissions or scholarship packet – you cannot be humble and you cannot be meek. This is an important time in your life when you must be assertive, creative, and speak to your accomplishments and experience, without, at the same time, appearing to be a “braggart.”

If you do not know how to write a personal essay, and you are fat approaching the time for college applications, you need to begin to plan for this essay (or essays) now. While some students just sort of “blow them off” as not that important, they are being very foolish. When all other things are equal between applicants, the ones who have impressed the admissions committees with their essays will always have the scales tipped in their favor.

Two Kinds of Admissions Essays for Undergraduate Schools

The Common Essay: Most students use the “common application” process because they are able to fill out one application, write one essay, and send it off to several schools. It streamlines the process for them, and writing only one essay is often a relief. Here is what you need to know about the common essay:

  • You will be given 5 prompts and will be asked to select one for our essay. You can get online, Google the “common essay,” and you will find the prompts listed. They have not changed in the past few years, and they are not likely to change in the near future.
  • Even if you are only a high school junior, you need to think about the prompt that will best portray you, make you shine, and tell your story best.

Individual College Essays: Some colleges have their own application and their own essay prompts. While they may be substantively close to those of the common application, there will be subtle differences which may skew what is written. You should request the application packet early, so that you have time to study those essay prompts, select yours, and begin to think about what you want to say.

Some Important Personal Essay Tips

As you begin to think about your essay, here are some things you can do that will help make your piece of writing shine and make you memorable.

  • Once you have chosen the prompt you will use, get a spiral notebook. Carry it with you at school and keep it in your room evenings and weekends. As thoughts come to you, jot them down in that notebook. When it is time to actually begin your writing, you will have lots of material that you can draw upon that you might not otherwise have thought of.
  • Start thinking about your introduction. It will perhaps be the most important part of your essay, and you will want to command attention from the onset. As you think about the prompt, consider some short anecdotes from your life that might create immediate interest on the part of the reader. Barring that, think of some short rather startling or humorous statements that you might use to begin your essay. Write all of these things down in your notebook.

Once you are ready to begin to write your essay (and you need to give yourself plenty of time – start a few months in advance), you will not have to think much about the personal essay format. It mirrors every essay you have written in high school – introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. But here are some other important things about which you must be very mindful.

  • As much as you might be tempted, do not veer from the essay prompt. It is natural to try to get in everything you want to tell about yourself, but your essay will then be disjointed and lack coherency. If it does not weave naturally into the concept of the prompt, leave it out. If it is really compelling information, choose a different prompt with which it will fit.
  • Organize your thoughts by way of an informal outline. If you are recounting a personal experience that has significantly impacted who you are today or the values you have developed, find logical break points in that story and transition smoothly from one paragraph to the next.
  • Remember your introduction – make it snappy and unforgettable!
  • Personal essays are memorable when they appeal to emotions. If you have a poignant story to tell, do so. On the other hand, being humorous is just as effective. One student wrote a winning essay for admission to Harvard by recounting the life principles she learned when attempting to swat a fly buzzing around in her room.
  • Read some great examples of personal essays that have been published all over the web. They will give you some good ideas and, as well, stimulate your creative “juices.”

How to Write a Personal Statement Essay for a Graduate Program or a Scholarship

The basic steps for these essays are the same as those for undergraduate admissions. Be mindful, however, that you will be given prompts that will address some important experiences and qualities. What leadership positions have you held and what was your leadership style? What do you think you can contribute to the academic community you are entering? What are your career goals and what has influenced you to seek those goals? How will you use your education to improve the human condition in some way?

Struggling with admissions and scholarship essays is common, and you may need a gifted mentor to help you write them. If you do not have such a person in mind, you can always come to and say, “Write my personal essay.” You will receive a personal creative writer with lots of experience and with whom you will collaborate directly, until you have an essay that definitely possesses the “wow” factor.

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