How to write an effective personal essay?

What is the Personal Essay For?

Your academic record, test scores, honors, and so on are really just a list of numbers and data points giving a general idea of your abilities and interests, however numbers and lists do not give a good idea of who a person is. The personal essay is supposed to give the Admissions Office of a college a real sense of you as an individual, of your personal style, of the way you see the world. Selective colleges receive thousands of applications every year, and they have to say no to an awful lot of people. Your personal essay may be the factor that makes you stand out and gets you a place in the school of your choice, so it is a very important part of your application.

The Essay Writing Process.

  1. Brainstorming. Often, colleges will give you several different topics about which you can write your essay. After reviewing each topic, begin thinking of all the different things that you could write for each one. This process of coming up with lots of ideas is called “brainstorming,” and is one that you have probably used before in high school. Once you have some ideas, look for the one that is both interesting and that shows something about the kind of person you are. Maybe it is a story about an especially good teacher you’ve had; maybe it’s a story about terrible job you once had to do or a difficult decision you had to make.
  2. Writing a Draft. Since this is an essay, you need to develop an idea over the course of your paper rather than simply make a list your achievements; you have plenty of room to list all of the great things you’ve done elsewhere in your application. This means that your essay should have a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion. Since this essay is personal, you do not need to worry about it being tightly argued like a geometry proof, but the essay should introduce some facet of your personality or experience, explain something about it using examples and concrete language, and then reach a conclusion about what that facet or experience means to you. If you are describing yourself, it is probably a good idea to do so by using examples of things that have happened in your life, instead of simply using adjectives. Saying that you are “diligent” is not as interesting or convincing as using an example from your life that shows that quality of diligence in you.
  3. Editing. After you have finished writing your essay, put it aside for a day or two before you come back to it. You want to come back to your essay with new eyes and new ideas. You may need to rewrite sentences or delete entire paragraphs. Give your essay to someone that you trust, a parent or friend, and see what he or she has to say about it. Try reading your essay aloud. What does it sound like? Does it sound like you? Does it sound kind of pompous or boastful? Have you written simply or have you used big words just for the sake of using big words? Reading your own work aloud is a good way to find out if something you’ve written sounds like you or not. Keep refining until you find the right mix that expresses your ideas and your personality. Finally, read and reread the essay many times to search for spelling, punctuation and grammatical mistakes. This is an important essay and you don’t want somebody blowing you off because you misspelled a word.

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