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4 Tips for a Standout College Essay

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You have the required GPA, the recommendations, the college dreams, and goals. Now it’s time to get accepted by your desired schools. If a university is selective or competitive, you could be asked to write a personal statement, also known as a personal essay or college admissions essay.  A personal statement is primarily a short essay about a student’s history and goals. These essays are either a response to a very specific prompt or a response to a generic prompt. In both cases, a good personal statement carefully balances its author’s history and aspirations.

Admissions officers read an incredible number of college essays, most of which are forgettable, and unfortunately, many students try to sound academic and generic rather than sounding like themselves. Others write about a subject that they do not necessarily care about, but that they think will impress admissions officers.

high school student writing his college admission essay

A personal statement serves many purposes, both for you and the college admissions counselor:

  1. A personal statement helps put recommendation letters, achievements, and grades to a face.
  2. Your statement displays your writing skills and your ability to tell your own story.
  3. A statement can set you apart in the eyes of an admissions counselor.
  4. Your statement can help you in case your GPA is less than ideal.

It’s a common misconception that you have to have started a non-profit or performed a magnificent feat to write a truly inspiring personal statement. This is entirely untrue. Most colleges are simply looking for thoughtful, motivated students who add value to their incoming class and make a difference during their time on-campus.

Use the four tips below to deliver a memorable personal statement.

Write about your passion. 

Write about what’s most important to you and what drives your every decision. It could be an experience, a person, a book—anything that has had an impact on your life. Don’t just restate the event, reflect on the experience. It’s easy to talk about your trip abroad or winning the championship games. When recalling these events, you need to explain why you’re telling this specific story. Describe what you learned from the experience and how it changed you.

Write early and often.

Do not procrastinate; this is no simple, filler assignment. Take the time to read and understand the question, then set it aside for a few days and read it again. Put yourself in the shoes of an admissions officer who has read thousands of essays: Is the essay interesting? Do the ideas flow logically? Does it reveal something about the applicant? Is it written in the applicant’s own voice?

Do not repeat.

What you write in your application essay or personal statement should not contradict nor repeat any other part of your application. This isn’t the place to list your awards, grades, or test scores. It’s time to talk about your experiences. Answer the question being asked. Don’t reuse an answer to a similar question from another application–although this may be tempting in an effort to save time.

Always get a second or third opinion.

Have at least one other person edit your essay such as a teacher or college counselor. Before you submit, check, check again, and then triple check to make sure your essay is free of spelling, grammar, or typo errors.

blue and black pencil next to a gray notebook
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