Your personal statement is a 650-word essay that will go to nearly every college or university you apply to. The Common Application essay prompts—which are released as new for each year’s application cycle but tend to remain mostly the same year to year—allow you to distinguish yourself from other students who might have similar SAT scores, grades, or resumes. Here are three things you must do to make your personal statement stand out from the crowd.
1. Pick a strong topic
Writing about a sports injury, how you finally got an “A” in a demanding high school class, how much you love Harry Potter, your mission trip to a foreign country, or how the death of a grandparent affected you are not the best ways to spend your 650 words. These topics tend to be overdone, and admission officers are likely bored reading about them. However, no topic will be completely unique, so you should focus on being very personal. Add a lot of details to your essay so readers walk away feeling like they really know you better. Some possible topics you could write about include:
- A unique activity your family does
- An extracurricular or other activity where you display leadership skills
- An accomplishment you’re proud of
- A challenge you’ve overcome
- A time you were pushed out of your comfort zone
2. Start your essay with a hook
A great way to start your essay is with a story or anecdote. You can pick a small moment from your topic that leads into the full narrative. One writing technique is to use the five senses to show us the story. For example, if you want to talk about your babysitting experience, don’t just tell us the kids ages and how much fun it is. Instead, start with a particular moment from your time together. Describe how you taught them the planets by painting them or the unique memory games you created. Then walk us through the situation. As you continue to write your essay, also try to highlight specific skills you learned along the way and tell a story that portrays those particular qualities.
Remember, you don’t have to write about only “big” moments. Find something small that can help show who you are and make the reader understand you by the end of the essay. Consider a few qualities you want to showcase and stick with those. If you try to put too much information into your essay, you won’t be able to fit it all in 650 words, so be concise and focused with your writing.
3. Proofread your essay
Always have one or two other people proofread your essay long before you have to submit it! They will catch any grammar and spelling mistakes you make and can give you advice on the direction of your essay if it needs more structure. You’ll want to ensure the tone of your essay and the stories you choose to tell showcase you to the best of your abilities. To do that, be sure to ask someone you trust to be honest with you and who will know what to look out for to improve your writing.
One last bonus tip: Start writing your personal statement and other college essays well before your admission deadlines. Getting a head start will ensure you have plenty of time to pick a topic that means a lot to you, find an interesting way to draw the reader in, and polish it to as close to perfect as possible. Good work takes time, and this part of your college applications is too important to rush through.