College Counseling

Personal Statement / Essay

Personal statements and essays provide students with an opportunity to convey something about themselves that goes beyond objective data. This component of the application is the most important, requiring the most time and attention. The essay should be well written, carefully edited, and limited to the prescribed length. Students should write 500 to 600 words maximum if no length is specified. Students should consider their audience and keep the piece short, lively, and insightful. The essay should reveal something interesting and unique about the candidate, which is not disclosed elsewhere in the application. The essay or personal statement should discuss topics important to the student (i.e., family, neighborhood, a particularly moving, amusing, or enriching experience, or intellectual growth).

A few guidelines for students

  • Write essays using a positive tone. Overcoming adversity or reacting well to a setback demonstrates strength of character. Instead of writing, "My test scores are low, but I know I'm smarter than that," write, "Conquering the challenges presented by standardized tests has taught me a great deal about taking a flexible approach to problem solving."
  • Avoid common topics such as Outward Bound experiences, Mission Trips, jaunts to the beach, and how sports build character.
  • Avoid excess in attempting to be original, memorable, or profound. Beware of humor that is not funny and sarcasm that could be deemed inappropriate.
  • The essay is an opportunity to add a new dimension to your folder. Avoid repeating facts, figures, or activities that you have mentioned previously in the application unless they have particular bearing on the development of your character.
  • Get feedback on your finished product. Consult a teacher, counselor, and/or parent to read and critique your essay's form and content. What does your essay communicate about your character and personality?

Essay Topics

Most application essay topics are fairly broad and open-ended. However, if the question is quite specific, make sure the essay addresses the question. Students should avoid writing general autobiographical essays, unless an institution specifically requests one. In some cases, the applicant may simply adapt an essay written for another application, or in other cases, they may have to write a new one. In the long run, it is well worth the effort to make sure the essay suits the application for each individual college or university.
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