Similarly, a lot of students feel like they have to write about a major life event or their most impressive achievement. But the purpose of a personal statement isn't to serve as a resume or a brag sheet—there are plenty of other places in the application for you to list that information.
Many of the best essays are about something small because your approach to a common experience generally reveals a lot about your perspective on the world. Mostly, your topic needs to have had a genuine effect on your outlook , whether it taught you something about yourself or significantly shifted your view on something else. Your essay should add something to your application that isn't obvious elsewhere. Again, there are sections for all of your extracurriculars and awards; the point of the essay is to reveal something more personal that isn't clear just from numbers and lists.
You also want to make sure that if you're sending more than one essay to a school—like a Common App personal statement and a school-specific supplement—the two essays take on different topics. Your essay should ultimately have a very narrow focus. This means you either need to have a very specific topic from the beginning or find a specific aspect of a broader topic to focus on. If you try to take on a very broad topic, you'll end up with a bunch of general statements and boring lists of your accomplishments. Instead, you want to find a short anecdote or single idea to explore in depth.
A vague essay is a boring essay— specific details are what imbue your essay with your personality. For example, if I tell my friend that I had a great dessert yesterday, she probably won't be that interested. But if I explain that I ate an amazing piece of peach raspberry pie with flaky, buttery crust and filling that was both sweet and tart, she will probably demand to know where I obtained it at least she will if she appreciates the joys of pie.
She'll also learn more about me: I love pie and I analyze deserts with great seriousness. Given the importance of details, writing about something that happened a long time ago or that you don't remember well isn't usually a wise choice. If you can't describe something in depth, it will be challenging to write a compelling essay about it.
You also shouldn't pick a topic you aren't actually comfortable talking about. Some students are excited to write essays about very personal topics, like their mother's bipolar disorder or their family's financial struggles, but others dislike sharing details about these kinds of experiences. If you're a member of the latter group, that's totally okay, just don't write about one of these sensitive topics.
So much is at stake in writing a conclusion. This is, after all, your last chance to persuade your readers to your point of view, to impress yourself upon them as a. Having a good, clear ending helps you write & revise the rest of your story. 3. The Most Important Do and Don't of College Essay Endings.
Still, don't worry that every single detail has to be perfectly correct. Definitely don't make anything up, but if you remember a wall as green and it was really blue, your readers won't notice or care. You don't have to know exactly how many dewdrops there were on the leaf. As long as you're talking about yourself, there are very few ideas that you can't tie back to one of the Common App prompts. But if you're applying to a school with its own more specific prompt, or working on supplemental essays, making sure to address the question will be a greater concern.
Once you've gone through the questions above, you should have good sense of what you want to write about. Hopefully, it's also gotten you started thinking about how you can best approach that topic, but we'll cover how to plan your essay more fully in the next step. If after going through the narrowing process, you've eliminated all your topics, first look back over them: are you being too hard on yourself?
Are there any that you really like, but just aren't totally sure what angle to take on? If so, try looking at the next section and seeing if you can't find a different way to approach it. If you just don't have an idea you're happy with, that's okay! Give yourself a week to think about it. Sometimes you'll end up having a genius idea in the car on the way to school or while studying for your U.
Otherwise, try the brainstorming process again when you've had a break. If, on the other hand, you have more than one idea you really like, consider whether any of them can be used for other essays you need to write. Eva immediately rules out writing about playing piano, because it sounds super boring to her, and it's not something she is particularly passionate about.
She also decides not to write about splitting time between her parents because she just isn't comfortable sharing her feelings about it with an admissions committee. She feels more positive about the other three, so she decides to think about them for a couple of days. She ends up ruling out the job interview because she just can't come up with that many details she could include. She's excited about both of her last two ideas, but sees issues with both of them: the books idea is very broad and the reporting idea doesn't seem to apply to any of the prompts.
Then she realizes that she can address the solving a problem prompt by talking about a time she was trying to research a story about the closing of a local movie theater, so she decides to go with that topic. You've decided on a topic, but now you need to turn that topic into an essay.
To do so, you need to determine what specifically you're focusing on and how you'll structure your essay. If you're struggling or uncertain, try taking a look at some examples of successful college essays. It can be helpful to dissect how other personal statements are structured to get ideas for your own , but don't fall into the trap of trying to copy someone else's approach.
Your essay is your story—never forget that. As I touched on above, the narrower your focus, the easier it will be to write a unique, engaging personal statement. The simplest way to restrict the scope of your essay is to recount an anecdote , i. For example, say a student was planning to write about her Outward Bound trip in Yosemite. If she tries to tell the entire story of her trip, her essay will either be far too long or very vague.
Instead, she decides to focus in on a specific incident that exemplifies what mattered to her about the experience: her failed attempt to climb Half Dome. She described the moment she decided to turn back without reaching the top in detail, while touching on other parts of the climb and trip where appropriate. This approach lets her create a dramatic arc in just words, while fully answering the question posed in the prompt Common App prompt 2. Of course, concentrating on an anecdote isn't the only way to narrow your focus.
Depending on your topic, it might make more sense to build your essay around an especially meaningful object, relationship, or idea. Another approach our example student from above could take to the same general topic would be to write about her attempts to keep her hiking boots from giving her blisters in response to Common App prompt 4. Rather than discussing a single incident, she could tell the story of her trip through her ongoing struggle with the boots: the different fixes she tried, her less and less squeamish reactions to the blisters, the solution she finally found.
A structure like this one can be trickier than the more straightforward anecdote approach , but it can also make for an engaging and different essay. When deciding what part of your topic to focus on, try to find whatever it is about the topic that is most meaningful and unique to you.
Once you've figured that part out, it will guide how you structure the essay. To be fair, even trying to climb Half Dome takes some serious guts.
Put down anything you can think of that might work as an essay. The points below are most applicable to papers in the humanities: Avoid : Ending with a rephrased thesis statement that contains no substantive changes. Think outside of the box and say something different. Did you finally speak up, or get something done? This is Eva Smith again. Score on SAT Math.
Remember that the point of the college essay isn't just to tell a story, it's to show something about yourself. It's vital that you have a specific point you want to make about what kind of person you are , what kind of college student you'd make, or what the experience you're describing taught you. Since the papers you write for school are mostly analytical, you probably aren't used to writing about your own feelings. As such, it can be easy to neglect the reflection part of the personal statement in favor of just telling a story. Yet explaining what the event or idea you discuss meant to you is the most important essay —knowing how you want to tie your experiences back to your personal growth from the beginning will help you make sure to include it.
It's not enough to just know what you want to write about—you also need to have a sense of how you're going to write about it.
You could have the most exciting topic of all time, but without a clear structure your essay will end up as incomprehensible gibberish that doesn't tell the reader anything meaningful about your personality. There are a lot of different possible essay structures, but a simple and effective one is the compressed narrative, which builds on a specific anecdote like the Half Dome example above :. Start in the middle of the action. Don't spend a lot of time at the beginning of your essay outlining background info—it doesn't tend to draw the reader in and you usually need less of it than you think you do.
Instead start right where your story starts to get interesting. I'll go into how to craft an intriguing opener in more depth below. Briefly explain what the situation is. Now that you've got the reader's attention, go back and explain anything they need to know about how you got into this situation.
Don't feel compelled to fit everything in—only include the background details that are necessary to either understand what happened or illuminate your feelings about the situation in some way. Finish the story. Once you've clarified exactly what's going on, explain how you resolved the conflict or concluded the experience. Explain what you learned. The last step is to tie everything together and bring home the main point of your story: how this experience affected you. The key to this type of structure is to create narrative tension—you want your reader to be wondering what happens next.
A second approach is the thematic structure, which is based on returning to a key idea or object again and again like the boots example above :. Establish the focus. If you're going to structure your essay around a single theme or object, you need to begin the essay by introducing that key thing. You can do so with a relevant anecdote or a detailed description.
Touch on times the focus was important. The body of your essay will consist of stringing together a few important moments related to the topic. Make sure to use sensory details to bring the reader into those points in time and keep her engaged in the essay.
Also remember to elucidate why these moments were important to you. Revisit the main idea. At the end, you want to tie everything together by revisiting the main idea or object and showing how your relationship to it has shaped or affected you. Ideally, you'll also hint at how this thing will be important to you going forward. To make this structure work you need a very specific focus.
Your love of travel, for example, is much too broad—you would need to hone in on a specific aspect of that interest, like how traveling has taught you to adapt to event the most unusual situations.