The personal statement is arguably the most challenging part of the college application for high school students. It’s not that this is a super long, 20-page paper that will take various sources and MLA citing. Rather, the opposite. It is merely 650 words—relatively short to tell your whole life story! It will definitely feel daunting at first. However, I challenge my students to consider this an exciting opportunity. The main essay is really the only part of the application that is a chance to showcase WHO they are instead of merely WHAT they have done. It is a chance to show admissions readers that they are human beings with thoughts, feelings, passions, values, qualities, and dreams.
So, start there. Don’t try to think of the most unique story in the world that will “impress” colleges. Instead, begin with what you want them to know about you that isn’t clear from the rest of your application. Sure, they can probably tell your main interests by your activities and classes, but they won’t know what sparked that interest or just how deep they truly go by the tiny 150-character descriptions you can write (more on that next month).
How To Stand Out
Standing out is important, sure, but I don’t think most students truly understand how to do this. Students are so worried about the pressure of being “special” that they fail to realize they are special just for being them. No one else has the same story they do. Hundreds of students could all write about the taboo topics of “the big game” or “the big injury,” but if they can, very specifically, focus on their individual values, talents, or journey, their essay is going to be unique by default. The best way I can describe how to see if a student’s essay is uniquely theirs is that if I were to throw a pile of essays up in the air, could someone hand theirs back to them because it is so distinctly theirs? If the essay could potentially also belong to someone else, more details need to be added.
Have Some Fun!
In the end, there is a lot of pressure surrounding the personal statement, but this should be a fun part of the application journey! It is one of self-discovery to really dig deep to show the admissions readers that students are more than just good grades or a lot of volunteer hours. They are, by default, unique young people with incredible stories to share about who they are and where they’re going, which is a beautiful thing! So, go ahead and try to enjoy the ride... and if you get stuck, reach out here, and I’m happy to walk you through some brainstorming exercises!