If you are reading this sentence, you are probably going to start or in the middle of writing your personal statements. “Personal statement” is just a fancy way to say college essay. However, we do maintain that it is an accurate one.

Here’s why as explained from this excerpt from our Ultimate College Application Checklist:

“College admissions officers say that your personal statement can make or break your entire application. Although personal statements are supposed to be one part of the holistic review of college applications, remember that this is where the college can see who you are. They do not want to hear about your grades or numbers. They want to know what makes you, you. What an easy task, right?
We’re kidding. Writing personal statements is usually the hardest part of the applications for students. Each college generally requires extra, college-specific answers to introspective questions. This is alongside the one or two major personal essays. Each personal statement also has different word limits. It is important to think out of the box but still remain true to yourself.”

There’s an important keyword repeated above—personal. Your college essay must be first and foremost incredibly relevant to you as a person. It needs to give the college admissions officer insight about who you are as an individual. An insight that is not already present in the numbers in your application.

Accept it or not, there are going to be many students with test scores and GPAs similar to yours competing for the same spots. You need to give the admissions officer a reason to pick you. Usually, it is your college essay that ends up being that reason.

But how do you go about writing a compelling college essay? If you are looking for prompt-specific advice, check out our application-specific college essay guides below:

  • How to Write Your UC Essays: A Comprehensive Guide
    • In the above guide, we will help you choose and write the perfect responses for your University of California application.
    • Quick Glance:
      • Purpose of the UC Essays
      • Category of each UC Essay Prompt
      • Step-by-step instructions on how to write your response for each UC Essay Prompt
      • What the Admissions Officer is hoping to learn from your response for each UC Essay Prompt
  • Common Application Essay Simplified: A Strategic Guide
    • In this guide, we will meticulously explain each Common Application prompt as well as how to write a stellar response to it.
    • Quick Glance:
      • Purpose of the Common App Essay
      • How to Choose the Best Topic For You
      • Step-by-step instructions on how to write your response for each Common App Prompt
      • What the Admissions Officer is hoping to learn from your response for each Common App Prompt

Still with us? Awesome.

To be completely honest, the best college essay is one that answers each aspect of the prompt explicitly. It generally consists of these attributes:

  • Focuses on the writer (not about someone close to you, not about an organization you are fond of, but YOU!)
  • Concise and specific in nature
  • Uses first person
  • Introspective and informative
  • Utilizes academic language
  • Has no mistakes in grammar or punctuation

In other words, the best college essay is really a very well-written and compelling personal narrative. 

What is a Personal Narrative?

A personal narrative is an essay that captures the events, interactions, or experiences of the author within a specific frame of reference. It very much reads as a story meaning it should have a plot, a protagonist, an antagonist, a climax and a denouement. Watch the video below to get a quick refresher on the elements of good story using The Lion King.

It is NOT a descriptive essay. Your college essay should not merely provide the image of the event. You should be interacting with your own story in a manner that shows reflection and growth.

In the case of your college essay, the protagonist is you. Your plot’s main conflict will be your interactions with the antagonist. Remember the antagonist can be person, concept, or force. For example, if the prompt asks you to talk about a time where you took initiative and solved a problem, the antagonist could be the obstacle that almost prevented you from solving the problem.

Identifying your antagonist is incredibly important because the antagonist drives the plot! Once you have identified the antagonist, you will have a clear cut idea of the conflicts and resolution. It is within this resolution or denouement where you will have most of your reflection and introspection.

How Should You Choose Your Topic?

The above infographic is a general step-by-step guide for choosing a topic for a great speech. We only have few changes for the special case of a college essay. Ensure that the topic is one that you have an experience to support it with. In addition to that, deliberate on which ability or characteristic of yours you want to highlight through the essay.

If you want to know what matters to the College Admissions Officer:

Also Read: How Admissions Officers Read College Applications

Why is Introspection and Reflection so Integral to a Great College Essay?

For the college admissions officer, it is not enough to hear about your experiences. They want to know what you find significant about what you have chosen to talk about. By explicitly explaining what you have learned and how you have applied said knowledge after the fact, you are affirming to the admissions officer that you are self-sufficient enough to deal with new or tough circumstances.

This is because you will largely have to be independent in a college setting. Moreover, the campus population will be incredibly diverse and you may be meeting new groups of people. You need to show maturity and adaptability in your college essay.

Furthermore, all of this combined will give the college admissions officer an idea of who you are as a person. What morals and values do you hold important? How do you choose to define yourself? What sort of privileges and hardships have you experienced? What inspires you? These are all aspects that will help them decide whether or not you will be a good addition to their campus.

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable or too personal. Show as much of yourself as you can and the sincerity and genuineness will shine through.

How are you going to achieve all of this?

We understand that writing your college essay may be filling you with anxiety. Do not fret! Write a couple of drafts, get the opinions of those you trust around you, but know that ultimately it is your decision on what changes and choices to make within your essay.

As college essays appear to get more and more important, we see students hiring essay writing tutors to review and edit their work. We know that not everyone has the luxury of hiring a private tutor to edit their essays. That’s why we are offering free editing by an Ivy-League college essay writer until December 20th. 

Free College Essay Review

Get Your College Essays Edited Now! Deadline is December 20th.

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Posted by Irfhana Zakir Hussain

Irfhana Zakir Hussain is an undergraduate student in Computer Science and Engineering with Big Data Analytics. A lover of both STEM and humanities, she combines the two by writing analytical pieces on essential topics in education. In 2016, she was one of 15 students worldwide selected to speak at the inaugural TED-Ed Weekend. There, Irfhana navigated the complex issue of solving the effects of racism and intersectionality on educational opportunities.