With the submission deadline for applying in the early round of US college applications coming up, you will hopefully have already finished your personal essay. This is the one opportunity that you have to help the admissions teams get to ‘meet you’ and understand something about the individual behind the grades and scores.
Writing a strong personal essay is, for many students, the most challenging part of the application, its test comes because what is required is significantly different from the types of essays that most students have been writing during their schooling. In this blog, I will share five tips from admissions professionals to help you if you are still working on your personal essay.
1. First impressions count
Any student attending college should expect to do a great deal of writing, irrespective of their major. So, the first thing somebody reading your essay is going to be asking is ‘can this person write?’
When you read your essay, is it well put together? A strong essay will nearly always have a strong theme or story that runs through it from beginning to end, with clear transitions from one paragraph to the next. Avoid the passive voice that is normally expected for an academic essay, instead, try to engage your reader from the very start by using an active voice so that you can be seen through your words. You should always ask people who know you well to read your essay, if they say that they can hear your voice as they read it, then you are probably onto a winner!
Finally, grammar and spelling count, make sure you go through what you have written and checked it will a good spelling and grammar checker. Make sure you are using American spellings.
2. You are the story
The reader is reading your essay to find out about you, so make sure that what you are writing about is you. It seems an obvious thing to say, but you would be surprised how many essays I read where the student has talked about other people that are significant in their lives and finished off along the lines of ‘person X has made me the person I am today’ This sort of essay rarely comes across well, to make is strong you should relate how you live your life as an individual, in the spirit of the person.
To create a strong impression in the admissions officer you want them to feel that they know something about what makes you who you are, your motivations and passions.
To create the strong impression I just mentioned requires you to take time to reflect on who you are, and how you became that person. This is something that many students find difficult, but without sharing that knowledge in your essay runs the risk that it will come across as shallow or worse still clichéd! Sharing your reflections can add depth and character which can make even an everyday experience, such as waiting for the school bus, into a deeply revealing portrait about you and your life.
4. Add value
When talking about their work, admissions officers from top colleges and universities will talk about ‘crafting a community’. What they mean by this is that they are not just trying to fill the number of places available, rather they are looking for people that will contribute to the campus experience. In your personal essay try to focus on your genuine strengths, using anecdotes that will best portray them.
5. Be consistent
Before you start to work on your essay it is good to take time to identify what impression you want to create in the mind of the people that will read your application. Having done that, make sure that the whole of your application, including your essay, is in line with that picture. If you want your essay to portray you as a passionate biology researcher, you don’t want your activities to reflect a person who loves to spend their time deep into self published online stories. If your essay does not resonate with the rest of your application then you need to take a step back and consider how you can make the whole application reflect who you are.