“Get Personal” in Your College Personal Statement

Some students reveal their thoughts and feelings without prodding; others clam up if asked a question as seemingly innocent as: How are you? Both modes are obviously normal and applauded; however, in the college essay, it’s important to figure out a way to express emotion, whether it lives on the surface or in the depths. Here are a few tips for showing personality in the Common App Essay and other personal statement narratives:

Choose a Hot Topic

No matter how into “feels” you are, if you don’t communicate that energy into the subject material you’re writing about, your reader, aka the admissions team, won’t understand who you are. Just because you haven’t suffered terrific loss (be thankful) or haven’t had significant physical or mental health issues (again, be thankful) doesn’t mean you don’t feel deeply about certain matters. Take your temperature: does bullying wind you up? What about political, socio-economic or environmental issues? Does making pies with Grandma elicit positive vibes, thrifting with your bff, playing pick-up at a local park where you learn from better players, driving cross country with the fam, making your first open-water life-save as a guard? Remember: It’s the How not the What. How you approach the content you’re plumbing can up the sizzle on any reader’s thermometer.

Rely on Craft

Without a strong POV (opinion, slant, bias, take) and an inviting tone of voice (serious, upbeat, soulful, sad), an essay has no rudder or sail. These two key elements of writing provide direction and guidance for the reader, allowing them to trust their storyteller and relax into the narrative. I’ve had a few admissions deans mention that they just didn’t know what the writer was trying to say about themself and the topic they were writing about. Using description, action, dialogue and time/place can anchor a writer; scene-building with these tools can transform a blah essay into one that readers can’t put down. As a writing teacher, I place huuuuuuge emphasis on making sure applicants rely on craft and technique, not simply intuition.

Everyone’s Different

One of the first morsels of advice I give my students is: don’t discuss your Common App essay topic with anyone – but me! Why? Because everyone has an opinion when it comes to someone else’s work. When a student is still incubating their essay, and ideas are embryonic, they don’t need to hear what others think, especially friends and fellow applicants. Birthing the college essay isn’t easy and the goal is to reduce not amplify the noise of the inner-critic chorus. My job is to bolster students, reminding them that their voice and lived experience is unique and important to share with admissions teams.

How a student chooses and conveys their personal story varies. With that in mind, I gently guide students through the process of accessing emotion and then infusing their college essay with that individual richness.

For more information about College Counseling/Essay Coaching, please drop me a line at Elizabeth@eecollegecoach.com or give me a holler at 917-863-2424. Also, for “news you can use,” please check out my blog, videos, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

And Happy Holidays to All!