Let’s cut to the chase: to get into your dream school, you’ll need not only great grades and test scores but also a strong personal statement. The personal statement is the 650-word essay you’ll submit to colleges as part of your admission application. This essay allows schools to do a holistic review of you as an applicant, because it enables them to see the full picture of who you really are. The personal statement is your one chance (along with any other supplemental essays) to come alive off the page and show your personality to admission officers. For rising seniors, the time to start writing your personal statement is now. Here are five top tips to help you during the writing process.
1. Write how you speak
When crafting your personal statement, you need to write how you speak: like a high school student. Don’t try to use overly flowery language; otherwise, it becomes unnatural and awkward to read, and it definitely won’t sound like you. The flow of an essay is usually thrown off when students try too hard to sound “smart.” Just be yourself. Also avoid exclamation points—using powerful words is a better way to show your emotions.
2. Use metaphors and similes
Figures of speech like metaphors and similes will make your writing more interesting. However, using ones that are stale or overdone can cause your essay to become cliché and boring. For example, don’t say “couch potato,” “white as snow,” or “straight as an arrow.” Try to use more unique metaphors and similes, like, “The play was like a lukewarm cup of coffee. After one sip, I’d had enough.” You can see this sentence is much more interesting to read.
3. Use strong verbs
Unless you’re a natural writer, there’s a chance you may not have thought of verbs as being strong or weak. Some weaker verbs students tend to overuse include “be,” “add, “utilize,” “provide,” and “make.” But these words are fairly boring and not very descriptive. Can you even picture what “utilize” means? For instance, instead of saying “talked,” you could say, “whispered,” “shouted,” etc. Use verbs you can visualize to give your story a bigger punch and show your reader not just what happened but how it happened.
4. Adjectives: less is more
Overstuffing your sentences with adjectives makes them clunky and hard to read. Pick one attribute that’s strong enough to change the meaning of the sentence on its own instead of using multiple descriptors, and use emotional words or analogies to describe the story in your personal statement in a stronger way. As you re-read your essay, check to see if the meaning of a sentence is altered if you remove an adjective. If it isn’t, that’s a good sign that the adjective isn’t necessary—but don’t be afraid to keep it if you think it strengthens the sentence. Also consider using a stronger noun if that means you can eliminate the adjective. For example, instead of saying something was a really good movie, you could say it was action-packed. Instead of an extravagant party, say gala.
Bonus tip: Sensory adjectives are your friend. When you do use an adjective, keep the five senses (sight, touch, taste, hearing, smell) in mind to describe your stories. Words like drab, stuffy, and chirpy can bring your story to life. Your goal with all your college essays should be to show, not tell.
5. Edit, revise, and edit again
Don’t submit your personal statement with your application without having someone read it first. You’ll likely have to go through many different drafts, which is perfectly normal. As you edit, make sure you’re explaining yourself thoroughly. Remember, the admission officer doesn’t know you and can’t read your mind. That’s why it’s a good idea to have someone else read your essay so they can catch small grammatical mistakes or big content problems.
Start writing now
Early college admission deadlines are right around the corner. Need help getting started on your essays? Join Moon Prep’s free eight-day crash course on writing your personal statement for more advice and actionable steps to follow.
Check out more advice on writing your personal statement in our College Admission—Application Essay Clinic section!