A personal statement essay is a college's opportunity to really see YOU. This is your chance to demonstrate some key, unique things about yourself that will set you apart and prove to the college admissions officer that you are the perfect choice for the institution.
If you're applying to US universities, this will be your "Common App Essay" - the main 650 word essay found in the Common Application. This is typically required to be completed by all US colleges and universities. In this case, you write this essay once and it gets sent to all schools.
If you're applying to universities in Canada or the UK, writing a personal statement is dependent on the schools you're applying to. Some schools require it, and others don't care for it -- so it's important to be 100% aware of each school's requirements as you prepare your application. In this case, you may have to tweak each essay to correspond with the specific school or program that you're applying to.
Typically, personal statement essays are written based on prompts from your institution; however, they all point back to one central question: WHO ARE YOU? So, no matter what the prompt is, ensure that you answer that question ALWAYS.
You can easily divide your essay writing process into three phases: Planning, Execution and Revision.
Writing your college essays takes TIME... and a lot of students underestimate how long it takes to craft a GREAT college essay. In AIM's College Advising Program, if you're heading to college in 2024 for example, you're starting your essay process as early as June 2023 -- especially if the majority of the schools you're applying to are based in the United States.
The college essay (like any other part of the college application process) starts with strategy and planning. At this point, you are beginning to brainstorm all your unique qualities, positionalities and points of view that could make your essay... and ultimately yourself, stand out. This is the time to identify your strengths and really maximise on them and let the college admissions officer know, that you know, that your presence will add value to their school.
The biggest issue we see every year is that students are not familiar with THINKING and WRITING ABOUT THEMSELVES. Your formal education up until this point typically has taught you to write about the states of matter, rebellions, literature reviews... but not about YOURSELF.
A quick Google search of some "College Essay Brainstorming Activities" will help you begin this strangely unfamiliar process of getting to know yourself and beginning to put that on paper.
While the main purpose of this essay is to display your strengths, don't be afraid to highlight any weakness / challenges you may have experienced. But make sure not to fixate on the weakness / challenge, but instead use it as a launching pad to tell the reader how you overcame these adversities. This will demonstrate resilience and tenacity to the admissions board.
This essay is not a sob story or a pity plea... neither is it a pageant show that lists every one of your best qualities. You want to show the admissions officer reading your essay that you are not only a strong and creative communicator, but also a resilient critical thinker and problem solver.
It's important to give yourself ample time to do this planning and mind-mapping, so that you are able to produce the best essay possible, taking full advantage of the weight of this component.
You will also need to view sample personal statements online and identify the best approach for you.
Then, you can begin drafting an essay, keeping your chosen points in mind.
Now that you've determined what it is that you want to say and have a general idea of how to say it. It's time to get working!
Authenticity and honesty are crucial to this essay. There is no understating the importance of being true to yourself when writing a personal statement essay. Authenticity is what separates the winners and puts them on top. Be true to who you are and demonstrate it well!
One of the biggest mistakes we see is writing about "what you think the college wants to hear". We guarantee that admissions officers have heard and seen it all... and they can 100% tell when you're prioritizing what you think they want over telling your authentic story.
If you're writing the "Common App essay", it's important to keep everything as general as possible since this one essay will be going to several schools. Do not tailor your essay to a specific school or program, and do not degrade any school or program either.
If you're writing a Personal Statement for a Canadian or UK university that will not be sent to other schools, we highly recommend tailoring the content to the specific school and program that you're applying to. You want to showcase not only YOU, but also how you will fit into the campus culture and utilize their resources to better yourself and the school community.
We highly recommend writing AT LEAST 2 drafts of this essay before getting to the final. On average, AIMers write about 3-4 drafts before settling on a final with their assigned Essay Coach. We definitely recommend having someone else read your essay as well to ensure that you are putting your best foot forward.
You start this phase by re-reading your work both aloud and in your head, about one week after you originally wrote. This week-long break will allow your brain to view the essay with a clear mind, so you are able to identify errors or issues more easily. You want to ensure your thoughts are presented coherently, cohesively and concisely.
After you've done your own revision, you can share it with a friend, or your college counsellor, your guidance counsellor or your parents to get their thoughts and impressions.
From these comments, you can make final edits and add it to your application portfolio.
And just like that, you've written a terrific personal statement essay and are ready to WIN!
You don't have to go through the college essay process alone. AIM's Essay Coaches are ready to help you cultivate the BEST college essays possible that showcase your most authentic self in the most creative and captivating way!