By: Jenny Li


When I was a high school student, I read countless blogs, articles, and videos about how to write the perfect personal statement. I also spent hours upon hours perusing personal statement samples published by my dream universities. Even so, writing my personal statement felt incredibly daunting, leading me to majorly procrastinate on it! Here are six tips I wish I knew back then: 


1. Brainstorm:

Before you start writing, spend ample time thinking about what you want to write about. Most of you have 15+ years of life experience to mull over. So, what exactly should you write about in a 650-word essay? 


To brainstorm, look through the seven 2023-2024 Common App Essay Prompts and think of two to three ideas for each. Make a list of your activities, interests, and passions. You can fill out brainstorm worksheets that are specifically tailored for personal statement writing (look online or ask your counselor for some). Then, choose your top three favorite topics. Write outlines—each with at least 10 bullet points—for every topic, so you can show them to your counselor(s), family, and/or friends. They can give you honest feedback about which outline has the most potential. 


2. Remember that everyone starts at 0:

At this point, you have chosen your essay topic(s) and need to start writing. Don’t be intimidated! Oftentimes, my students read exemplary personal statements published by top universities, and they expect themselves to write first drafts of the same caliber. Some students feel so much pressure that they can’t start writing (because no sentence is good enough).  


Just remember that every excellent personal statement was once a straggly, not-sure-where-this-is-going first draft. That first draft will turn into a better second draft, then into an even better third draft, and so on. So, just get something on the paper, and go from there. 


3. Use a catchy introduction: 

Have you ever started a TV show and in the first five minutes decide to turn it off? The first five minutes of a TV show will determine if you want to continue watching the rest. Similarly, the first five sentences of your personal statement will determine whether your reader wants to continue reading it. Of course, your reader HAS to continue reading it, but if they’re hooked from the very beginning, they will enjoy your personal statement a lot more. 


4. “Show, Don’t Tell”: 

A popular creative writing phrase is “show, don’t tell.” So what exactly does “showing” entail? You can “show” through unique details, precise actions, complex emotions, vivid visuals, etc. For example, instead of “I ate a sandwich,” you might write, “I devoured an Italian meatball sub, savoring the combination of gooey cheese, rich tomato sauce, and herby meatballs, ignoring the oily juices dripping down my chin.” By writing your sentences with attention to detail, you will captivate your admissions reader to want to read more. 


5. Demonstrate your growth and maturity by the end:

Another popular creative writing phrase is “character arc,” which is the character’s transformation or inner journey throughout the story. Even though your personal statement is only 650 words long, you should still incorporate your character arc, no matter how big or small. For example, how did starting your nonprofit transform you? Or, what did you learn from your years of fly fishing? Or, how did cracking your tooth on your birthday cake change the way you react to crises? (Kidding.)


All jokes aside, if you show self-growth (and self-awareness) in your essay, your admissions reader will regard you as thoughtful, reflective, and mature. Universities definitely want more thoughtful, reflective, and mature students on their campuses!   


6. Have fun with it! 

As I often tell my students, writing your personal statement should be an enjoyable and perhaps even enlightening experience. 


Your personal statement is creative and personal, intended to show your admissions readers a more honest and human side of you. So have fun with it! Embrace who you are. If you’re funny, show that. If you’re witty, show that. If you’re passionate, show that. If you’re emotionally adept, show that. 


If you enjoy writing your personal statement, chances are your admissions reader will enjoy reading it too.