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Getting Into College: Writing the Winning Personal Statement

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Personal statements are now part and parcel of every application for college or graduate school.  This article addresses how to write a personal statement that will stand out.

In writing a personal statement, prospective students often have a tendency to emphasize the wrong things.  They’ll focus on quantity rather than quality.  They highlight academics at the expense of overall development.  They’ll write randomly, and fail to convey meaning.

The truth of the matter is that colleges are interested in the “whole person” concept.  In other words, they want mature individuals who have grown and developed in more than just the classroom setting.  (Yes, there is room for the clinically shy and socially awkward at college, but nobody wants a campus full of them.)  Bearing this in mind, you can convey the requisite information about yourself to the college of your choice in five simple paragraphs. 

Introduction - You should thank the college for the opportunity to express your interest in their campus.  Be sure to include a statement that shows you are familiar with the college (e.g., you’re excited about the possibility of studying in their award-winning science lab, you think it’s amazing that they have 5 Nobel laureates on staff, etc.). 

Academics - Hopefully you are an all-around great student and have exceptional grades, in which case you can tout your strong academic record and the likelihood of success in college - that you’re a self-starter, highly motivated, etc.  If your GPA is weak, you should focus on those areas where you performed best - there have to be at least one or two classes (outside of P.E.) where you earned an “A”; stress those and your interest in that particular subject matter.  You can also insert participation in sports or clubs in this paragraph.

Community Service - This one can be a big deal, because it reflects a certain level of maturity: you’ve outgrown the selfishness of youth and realized that you are part of a larger social structure.  Colleges always seem to think of themselves as tight little communities, so they’ll be looking for people who think about the whole and not just individual parts.  Moreover, almost every college organization that you think about joining will probably be involved in some type of community service project.  Long story short, if you don’t have any community service in your background you should get some:  volunteer for Special Olympics, Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity, what have you - just get out there and get involved.

Overall Impressions - This is an area where you get to brag a little.  Talk - humbly - about the impact you’ve had.  (For example, maybe you won an award for community service).  This is also where you convey how others feel about you  - for instance, maybe you were voted “Most Congenial” your senior year.  Primarily, you want to convey the fact that the people you come into contact with respect and value you and what you bring to the table.  Don't forget to include anything significant from your own past (e.g., extreme poverty) here as well.

Conclusion - Simply put, you think you’d be an ideal candidate for their college. Mention the impact you think you’d have, and thank them again for the opportunity to apply.

The entire statement can be pretty short. (Like résumés, I always tried to keep mine to no more than a page in length).  Remember, the focus is on quality, not quantity; three pages of fluff isn’t going to fool anybody - especially an admissions office that is seeing great letters from other candidates.  Needless to say, you need to read your final statement carefully for typos, grammatical errors, and the like.  (A personal statement riddled with errors will say more about you as college material than the content of what’s written.)  Most of all, be sincere, and you shouldn’t have any problems.


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