Your personal statement is a crucial part of your application process. It allows the admissions committee to get to know the “real you” rather than the “paper you”. It is during this part of the application that you need to show what you have not shown in the rest of your application.
A lot of people make some awful mistakes when writing a personal statement. Things you should keep in mind:
Don’t Sound Arrogant: Yes, this is a personal statement. You are talking about yourself and being confident is a great thing to do. However there is a very thin line between sounding confident and cocky. A lot of the times, that line is defined by the choice of words or syntax you use. There is a difference between “I honestly believe I can be a great addition to your Class of 2017” and “Your college will be lucky to have me”. Same idea, one sounds like a nice person, the there one sounds like a douche.
Show, Don’t Tell: A lot of the times people want to elaborate on some skills that they have not explained throughly in the rest of their application. Maybe, you just mentioned that you took art classes, but the structure of the application did not allow you to explain how has that helped you develop as a person. The personal statement is the perfect place to do that. However, if you do this, please show, don’t tell. I do not mean paste a picture in the middle of your essay (the CA will not allow you to anyway), but what I mean is that you should make the reader be able to picture it on its head. “The softness of clay on my hands made feel free to escape reality and empowered me to create with my own hands my own definition of perfection.” - is very different from - “I am a very amazing artist. I do awesome things with clay that makes me feel free.” One is more attractive and relatable. The other… eh… not so much.
Stick to the prompt: That should not even be said, but it is fairly easy to be drifted away from the original prompt. You do not want to talk about how awesome your vacation in Lake Titicaca was, if the prompt is asking you for your best quality. Personally I would suggest, looking over the prompts in advance. For the Common App, the prompts are already available. After that, brainstorm some ideas of how you can back each prompt up. The one prompt that you can back up with the most meaningful experiences should be your best bet.
Use your own experiences: That should be obvious. Remember, YOU are applying to college, not your friend’s neighbor’s cousin who knows an albino, vegan, south-east Asian doctor. STAY TRUE TO YOURSELF. Exaggerating your stories is just as bad as making them up or using someone else’s.
Write, Write, Write!!!: The Common App’s guidelines for college essays say that your personal statement should be between 250-650 words. DO NOT just write 250 words. This essay is your chance to shine! It is your time to show what the paper version of you lacks of. PLEASE write as much as possible, and make every word count. People may be tempted to write fluff in between their essays. Guys, this is not your English class. You are not allowed to do that with this essay.
Have people read it: I know you all are fantastic people and great writers. But please do not wing an essay. Have your English teacher read it. Have your best friend read it. Have your parents read it. Have a stranger read it. Have people read your essay. I am not talking about only looking for grammar and spelling errors. As much as those are important, you also want your personal essay to sound like you. Who else could help you with that, than the people who are close to you?
This are a few advices I can give. If you have any question, please feel free to send me a message. I will respond as soon as possible.
Special thanks to my friend Kiana who helped me out coming up with some of these advices.
Keep working hard, and don’t give up. That is the only way you can get where you want to be.
Next, get a blank sheet of paper, draw a vertical line down the middle, at the top of the right column write the word “My values,” and list your 3-5 most important values, with space in between. (Example: “knowledge” – skip an inch – “nature”– skip an inch – “music.”)
In the left column, beside each value, describe an image that shows how you developed that value. (Example: beside the value of “knowledge” you write “I sometimes stay up ‘til 3am surfing obscure Wikipedia articles” or beside the value of “nature” you write “when I go camping alone with just a tent, my journal and five lbs of trail mix.” You get the idea. Everything in the left column should be visual, like a snapshot or scene from a movie.
Put your little movies in order-–chronological often works-–and describe each image or movie in a brief paragraph. (Important: don’t mention your value.)
Write transitions between the ideas so there is some sense of flow. This part will take the longest. (Hint: if you write them chronologically you can use basic transitions such as “A few years later…” or “When I entered high school…” as placeholders and tweak later.)
At the end, describe some of the values that you’ll carry with you into and beyond college no matter what career you choose.
Ah yes, the elusive Common App Essay, or Personal Statement. The formatting is crucial to the piece, so I made this a photo post rather than a standard ask response. Hopefully that’s not too inconvenient for anyone.
The following is a real college application essay. We are using it with the writer’s permission.
Every Saturday morning, I’d awaken to the smell of crushed garlic and piquant pepper. I would stumble into the kitchen to find my grandma squatting over a large silver bowl, mixing fat lips of fresh cabbages with garlic, salt, and red pepper. That was how the delectable Korean dish, kimchi, was born every weekend at my home.
My grandma’s specialty always dominated the dinner table as kimchi filled every plate. And like my grandma who had always been living with us, it seemed as though the luscious smell of garlic would never leave our home. But even the prided recipe was defenseless against the ravages of Alzheimer’s that inflicted my grandma’s mind.
Dementia slowly fed on her memories until she became as blank as a brand-new notebook. The ritualistic rigor of Saturday mornings came to a pause, and during dinner, the artificial taste of vacuum-packaged factory kimchi only emphasized the absence of the family tradition. I would look at her and ask, “Grandma, what’s my name?” But she would stare back at me with a clueless expression. Within a year of diagnosis, she lived with us like a total stranger.
One day, my mom brought home fresh cabbages and red pepper sauce. She brought out the old silver bowl and poured out the cabbages, smothering them with garlic and salt and pepper. The familiar tangy smell tingled my nose. Gingerly, my grandma stood up from the couch in the living room, and as if lured by the smell, sat by the silver bowl and dug her hands into the spiced cabbages. As her bony hands shredded the green lips, a look of determination grew on her face. Though her withered hands no longer displayed the swiftness and precision they once did, her face showed the aged rigor of a professional. For the first time in years, the smell of garlic filled the air and the rattling of the silver bowl resonated throughout the house.
That night, we ate kimchi. It wasn’t perfect; the cabbages were clumsily cut and the garlic was a little too strong. But kimchi had never tasted better. I still remember my grandma putting a piece in my mouth and saying, “Here, Dong Jin. Try it, my boy.”
Seeing grandma again this summer, that moment of clarity seemed ephemeral. Her disheveled hair and expressionless face told of the aggressive development of her illness.
But holding her hands, looking into her eyes, I could still smell that garlic. The moments of Saturday mornings remain ingrained in my mind. Grandma was an artist who painted the cabbages with strokes of red pepper. Like the sweet taste of kimchi, I hope to capture those memories in my keystrokes as I type away these words.
A piece of writing is more than just a piece of writing. It evokes. It inspires. It captures what time takes away.
My grandma used to say: “Tigers leave furs when they die, humans leave their names.” Her legacy was the smell of garlic that lingered around my house. Mine will be these words.
Essay written for the University of Chicago prompt which asks you to create your own prompt.
Dear Christian, the admissions staff at the University of Chicago would like to inform you that your application has been “put on the line.” We have one spot left and can’t decide if we should admit you or another equally qualified applicant. To resolve the matter, please choose one of the following:
Rock, paper, or scissors.
You will be notified of our decision shortly.
Rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper, and paper beats rock. Wait … paper beats rock? Since when has a sheet of loose leaf paper ever defeated a solid block of granite? Do we assume that the paper wraps around the rock, smothering the rock into submission? When exposed to paper, is rock somehow immobilized, unable to fulfill its primary function of smashing scissors? What constitutes defeat between two inanimate objects?
Maybe it’s all a metaphor for larger ideals. Perhaps paper is rooted in the symbolism of diplomacy while rock suggests coercion. But does compromise necessarily trump brute force? And where do scissors lie in this chain of symbolism?
I guess the reasoning behind this game has a lot to do with context. If we are to rationalize the logic behind this game, we have to assume some kind of narrative, an instance in which paper might beat rock. Unfortunately, I can’t argue for a convincing one.
As with rock-paper-scissors, we often cut our narratives short to make the games we play easier, ignoring the intricate assumptions that keep the game running smoothly. Like rock-paper-scissors, we tend to accept something not because it’s true, but because it’s the convenient route to getting things accomplished. We accept incomplete narratives when they serve us well, overlooking their logical gaps. Other times, we exaggerate even the smallest defects and uncertainties in narratives we don’t want to deal with. In a world where we know very little about the nature of “Truth,” it’s very easy—and tempting—to construct stories around truth claims that unfairly legitimize or delegitimize the games we play.
Or maybe I’m just making a big deal out of nothing …
Fine. I’ll stop with the semantics and play your game.
But who actually wants to play a game of rock-paper-scissors? After all, isn’t it just a game of random luck, requiring zero skill and talent? That’s no way to admit someone!
Studies have shown that there are winning strategies to rock-paper-scissors by making critical assumptions about those we play against before the round has even started. Douglas Walker, host of the Rock-Paper-Scissors World Championships (didn’t know that existed either), conducted research indicating that males will use rock as their opening move 50% of the time, a gesture Walker believes is due to rock’s symbolic association with strength and force. In this sense, the seemingly innocuous game of rock-paper-scissors has revealed something quite discomforting about gender-related dispositions in our society. Why did so many males think that brute strength was the best option? If social standards have subliminally influenced the way males and females play rock-paper-scissors, than what is to prevent such biases from skewing more important decisions? Should your decision to go to war or to feed the hungry depend on your gender, race, creed, etc.?
Perhaps the narratives I spoke of earlier, the stories I mistakenly labeled as “semantics,” carry real weight in our everyday decisions. In the case of Walker’s study, men unconsciously created an irrational narrative around an abstract rock. We all tell slightly different narratives when we independently consider notions ranging from rocks to war to existence. It is ultimately the unconscious gaps in these narratives that are responsible for many of the man-made problems this world faces. In order for the “life of the mind” to be a worthwhile endeavor, we must challenge the unconscious narratives we attach to the larger games we play—the truths we tell (or don’t tell), the lessons we learn (or haven’t really learned), the people we meet (or haven’t truly met).
But even after all of this, we still don’t completely understand the narrative behind rock-paper-scissors.
I guess it all comes down to who actually made this silly game in the first place … I’d like to think it was some snotty 3rd grader, but then again, that’s just another incomplete narrative.