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How to write a college personal statement that gets you noticed

How to write a college personal statement that gets you noticed

Most credible colleges require a personal statement or essay as part of your application. How do you get noticed in a stack of thousands of applications? Standing out from the crowd is especially important if you can’t rely on your grade point average to do the trick. The following tips will help you write a college personal statement that admissions officers will notice.

Don’t forget step 0 – internalize the instructions

While obvious and overlooked by students, many admissions counselors say this is the biggest reason for rejecting an application. Students are passed over because they failed to understand what was expected. Here are some areas of the instructions to internalize and completely understand before you write your first word:

  • Is there a specific topic?
  • Is there a word count limit?
  • Is the topic split into two sub-topics such as, “What do you see yourself doing in four years?” and “why?”

Be especially careful when answering questions to ensure you don’t skip over anything you’ve been asked to write about. Two-part questions are very common, and not answering part two is even more common!

Don’t procrastinate. Write your first draft today.

There is a strong correlation between students who start writing early and students who get into the college of their dreams. Good writing takes time, thought, revision, and outside feedback. Start writing your personal statement as soon as you receive the college application packet.

The longer you put it off, the higher the propensity of a rush job. This makes it far more difficult to express yourself and establish a unique voice that will separate you from the pack. It’s no different than fast food. Food that takes three minutes to prepare probably isn’t unique. Food that a chef in the kitchen of a restaurant makes is most likely not something you’ll find at the local burger joint.

Become a storyteller

A story has a beginning, middle and end. Once upon a time won’t cut it, and neither will a blasé answer. Use words and a narrative that hooks, grabs and grips the person reading your personal statement.

For example, if the personal statement question is, “What do you see yourself doing in four years and why?” you could turn your answer to the “why” into your opener.

“Wind was blowing mist across the bay as I walked along the beach. In the distance, I could see what I thought was a log projecting from the sand, but as I drew closer I realized…”

The person reading your personal statement is going to be hooked. He or she will want to unlock the mystery of this unconventional introduction. Each sentence should lead to the next. Keep the reader asking, “What’s coming next?” Learn to exploit suspense to your advantage. For example, technology was a boring industry until a master storyteller named Steve Jobs arrived. His sold-out presentations were stage plays that made transformed bytes and bits into a subject of lust.

Revise, revise and revise.

The first draft should be an orgy of thoughts and ideas. The only bad ideas are the ones you fail to put on paper in your first draft. In Writing for Your Readers by Donald Murray, poet William Stafford said, “I believe the so-called ‘writing block’ is a product of some kind of disproportion between your standards and your performance. One should lower his standards…”

Don’t let grammar, spelling, or punctuation get in the way of your first draft. Just write. Once you have a complete draft you can go back and revise. This is when you start focusing your personal statement on the question being asked and into something that gets attention. Don’t fret over the number of times you need to revise. In fact, don’t count. Continue revising until you are happy with what you’ve done. You should be happy enough to read aloud your personal statement to a complete stranger.

Final tips

Find your unique angle. Every applicant is asked the same question. It’s your job to find an angle that stands out from the rest. A question such as “What is your favorite book and why?” might seem dull, but it doesn’t need to be. Open with a quote from your favorite book and share your interpretation of the quote. How has the quote impacted your life? How have you seen the quote impact others? Or, employ several quotes and expand on how each one has motivated you. Get creative and step outside of the comfort zone that suppresses your original voice.

Show an intelligent sense of humor. Don’t be afraid to show wit. Intelligent humor and sarcasm can keep your personal statement from being a boring recital. Of course, keep the humor tasteful.

Get help from professionals. Seek professional counsel once you are happy with your work. Your friends and family are far too vested into thinking anything you do is great. A professional copy editing service will ensure your writing is focused, clear, unique, and addresses to the question at hand. You want your personal statement to stand out against the competition. An editor can help you accomplish that goal.

While a professional editing service costs money, it’s well worth the expense if you consider the return you will get with a college degree from an institution of your choice.

Here’s what one student had to say,

“I got into Columbia with a full scholarship, and your help was appreciated! If you were a girl, I’d ask you out!
-Rahul Menon

Rahul used a professional editing service called Gramlee.