Tips for Your Personal Statement

Tips for Your Personal Statement

There are 17 days left before the UC application deadline—just enough time to reread and revise your personal statement. Such is my current predicament, and without a college counselor to draw advice from, I went in search of an ideal book I could consult with. What I found was “100 Successful College Application Essays,” compiled and edited by members of the staff of the Harvard Independent, which was referred to me by a friend. Firstly, former Dean of Admission of Princeton University Fred A. Hargadon shares, “write your essays…for yourselves, or for a favorite avuncular relative, or roommate…consider simply telling a story…and invest some time in reading some good writing.”

In almost all of the essays I’ve read in the book, I have almost always seen some kind of revelation or character-revealing aspect at the end of them. It’s a conclusion that shows that the writer have learned something from the experience he or she has written about. Nothing big or life changing, but something thoughtful and interesting that makes me feel as if I had just really gotten to know the person behind the words.

One comment reads, “When given a choice, write about that which is known or familiar. This is written about a childhood experience that obviously left a deep impression on the writer.”

Since the best way of learning how to write is to read, here’s an example: “Finally, much beauty arises from ‘imperfect vision.’ It has been speculated that Vincent van Gogh’s fondness of yellow was due to a physical condition that caused the world to look yellow to him. Everyone sees differently. Who is to say what is perfect and what is imperfect?…In the final analysis, ‘seeing’ is a mental rather than physical act. To see through another’s eyes is to truly get into his mind.”

In general, the professional admissions officers and counselors seem to dislike it when essays seem “self-conscious” or use generalities. One such comment includes the words “cliché-ridden” and another warns us from “using godawful expressions such as ‘meaningful experience’ and ‘from this…I learned’” to attempt to “sanctify the trivial.” All I can suggest is that if it sounds like something you would find in a leadership pamphlet, inspirational slideshow, chic-flick, or rom-com, scrap it.

Yet another comment states, “It bothers me that the only expression expressed is anger.” I personally believe that this could be applied to any emotion, so if your essay sounds like a rant or sob-story, inject some other feelings into it.

Language also plays a large part in the reception of essays, as many of the commenters often look favorably on those with “impressive” word usage. However, on the other hand, there were also some essays that received criticism for improper usage. Try to get your essay checked by your English teacher or a friend knowledgeable in grammar. Sometimes, the smallest things can be detrimental to your essay—things like “quietly whispering” (how else can you whisper?) and referring to a woman as a “waiter” (she’s a waitress!)

Then again, all these comments are subjective ones—there’s no real rubric for assessing a personal statement. What sounds tacky to one person may not to another, so if you feel as if your essay is perfect but contradicts all points mentioned here, there’s no need to change anything. Except the last point; never refer to a team as “they” (its!) and an individual as “them” (he or she!).