Tips for Writing a Personal Essay for Your College Application

DO start early. Leave plenty of time to revise, record, and rewrite. You can improve on your presentation.

DO read the directions carefully. You will want to answer the question as directly as possible, and you'll want to follow word limits exactly. Express yourself as briefly and as clearly as you can.

DO tell the truth about yourself. The admission committee is anonymous to you; you are completely unknown to it. Even if you run into a committee member in the future, he will have no way of connecting your essay (out of the thousands he has read) to you.

DO focus on an aspect of yourself that will show your best side. You might have overcome some adversity, worked through a difficult project, or profited from a specific incident. A narrow focus is more interesting than broad-based generalizations.

DO feel comfortable in expressing anxieties. Everybody has them, and it's good to know that an applicant can see them and face them.

DO tie yourself to the college. Be specific about what this particular school can do for you. Your essay can have different slants for different colleges.

DO speak positively. Negatives tend to turn people off.

DO write about your greatest assets and achievements. You should be proud of them!

But. . . .

DON'T repeat information given elsewhere on your application. The committee has already seen it—and it looks as though you have nothing better to say.

DON'T write on general, impersonal topics—like the nuclear arms race or the importance of good management in business. The college wants to know about you.

DON'T use the personal statement to excuse your shortcomings. It would give them additional attention.

DON'T use cliches.

DON'T go to extremes: too witty, too opinionated, or too "intellectual."


The personal statement is yours. If it looks like Madison Avenue, the admission committee will probably assume that it is your mother's or your father's or their secretaries'.

A "gimmick" essay rarely goes anywhere. The committee is amused, but unimpressed with your candidacy.

Write a serious essay, from the bottom of your heart, in the most mature manner possible.

Proofread or better yet, have a knowledgeable person proofread for you.

Be sure your essay has complete sentences, natural and specific details and style, correct grammar, correct spelling.


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