When you apply for college, the admissions office will ask to see a number of documents included in your application, from your high school transcripts to your SAT/ACT scores. Additionally, most applications also ask students to include their college essay or personal statement. This personal statement gives colleges an opportunity to see who you really are and understand the character of the person behind the application.

For some students who have admission credentials that are borderline, the personal essay may have the potential to make or break their decision. It gives you a chance to stand out from the competition. Therefore, it's important to know how to go about writing your personal statement to impress admissions counselors. Additionally, make sure you start this process as early as possible, as applications are due as early as fall semester of senior year.

Read the Personal Statement Question

Colleges will generally pose a list of personal statement questions of which students can choose from when they start their application process. The first step in writing your personal statement is to know exactly what the question is asking of you. According to the Common Application website, some examples of essay prompts for the 2018-2019 year on the Common Application were:

  • "Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story."
  • "Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution."   
  • "Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?"   

Brainstorm Ideas Alone and With Others

The next step in writing your personal statement requires you to start brainstorming ideas. Think about why you chose the question you want to answer in your personal statement. What stuck out to you right away when you read the question? Do you have examples? How did those experiences or situations make you feel and how did they inspire you to become the person you are today?

High school students applying to college should consider asking their family members, guidance counselors, teachers and perhaps even their peers for advice. These other people in your life may know you better than you know yourself and may be able to give you some insight that you didn't realize.

Once you start brainstorming, it's a good idea to record all of your thoughts. Keep them somewhere safe, whether that be in a document on your computer or in a notebook. This way, you can return back to it whenever you lose your train of thought or have writer's block.

Look at Personal Statement Sample Essays

Before beginning your personal statement draft, you should take some time to look at some personal statement sample essays, to get an idea of the personal statement format that many colleges expect. You can do a simple search on the internet to find examples that may be helpful, like those at Internationalstudent.com. Many colleges, like Johns Hopkins, share examples of essays that worked for past admissions.

Create Your Outline

Now it's time to create your outline. In high school, you should have taken several classes that have prepared you for this step. But, in case you need a refresher, there are many ways to write outlines. You can create a visual with a web, in which you put your introduction, main points, and conclusion into separate bubbles with details written beneath each point.

Or, you can write out an outline on paper, using one of the various outlining methods you learned in school or that appeals to you. There is no right or wrong way to make an outline when it comes to writing your personal statement, so just do what makes sense for you.

Start Writing Your Draft

Once your outline is complete, it's time to start writing your first draft. Remember that writing is a process, and in order to have a final draft that's nearly perfect, you may have to go through several drafts, first. Before writing your draft, keep in mind how long the word count should be for your personal statement.

According to PrepScholar, most college essays should be somewhere between 250 and 600 words, which isn't very long. Even though you can cut down your word count later, it's best to not go too far over this in your draft.

Ask Others to Review Your Final Draft

Students who are working on their personal statements may go through many drafts before they have their final draft ready. But, when that time comes, you should still have others read it over and review it for you. You've been staring at your personal statement for a long time now, and it's necessary to have a fresh pair of eyes look it over for any mistakes or anything that can be improved.

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About the Author

Hana LaRock is a freelance content writer from New York, currently living in Mexico. She has spent the last 5 years traveling the world and living abroad and has lived in South Korea and Israel. Before becoming a writer, Hana worked as a teacher for several years in the U.S. and around the world. She has her teaching certification in Elementary Education and Special Education, as well as a TESOL certification. Hana spent a semester studying abroad at Tel Aviv University during her undergraduate years at the University of Hartford. She hopes to use her experience to help inform others. Please visit her website, www.hanalarockwriting.com, to learn more.