Here are seniors' five most common complaints about writing their personal statements — and our responses:
“There’s nothing unique about me.”
First of all, that’s just not true. Colleges aren’t only looking for World Champion jugglers who overcame brain damage at young ages; you don’t have to stand out on paper to be unique.Think of the quirks that make you you…are you super organized and punctual? Did you grow up with two investment bankers as parents and dream of becoming an actress? Do you say hello to strangers? Do you smile even when you’re sad?
“I haven’t done anything special.”
Sure, if someone discovers the cure for cancer over the summer, colleges will be impressed — but they don’t expect that. What do you do to pass the time when you’re “off the clock” and not trying to pad your resume or get ahead in school? What do you actually enjoy? Do you write in a journal regularly? Do you jump rope competitively? Have you gotten involved in a local election? Have you designed a video game with a friend? Whatever your answer is, the next question is WHY? They want to know what makes you tick and what unique interests you might bring to their campus.
“I don’t like to talk about myself."
We’ll be direct…too bad. This is the most important time to showcase what makes you great. If your greatest strength is your empathy for other people, write about it. If you are one of the best coders at your high school, tell them.
“I’m not a good writer."
While sentence structure, grammar, spelling, and vocabulary clearly matter, this isn’t a writing sample. Don’t spend so much time stressing over what figurative language best describes the third world village you volunteered in or which “big” words sound the most impressive; rather, focus on helping the readers understand why you volunteered in the first place or what you realized while you were there. Finally, use vocabulary that is familiar, comfortable, and natural — don’t try to impress them by sounding like a thesaurus.
“I don’t know what they’re looking for."
Let’s start with what they are NOT looking for: a description or recap of anything they’ve already read in your Extracurricular section. For instance, they already know you play Varsity Volleyball and volunteer with Habitat for Humanity because you’ve already mentioned it — giving them more details about these activities is simply wasting the space given. This is your chance to help them get to know the real you: quirks, obstacles, passions, goals, beliefs, values, etc. This is the most human part of the process, so don’t be afraid to let them in.
The most important takeaway of any essay is that the point is to convince the reader that you will be an excellent addition to their school; they don't just want to know about an event, but rather, what does it say about or how did it shape who are you as a person? How/why does this experience/realization/etc make you the ideal candidate? What do you have to offer them? What would you be like to have on campus? Clearly, you don't want to answer all of these questions directly, but the answers should be implied.