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Start Your Personal Statement the Right Way

Start Your Personal Statement the Right Way

Ready to write your personal statement essay?

It can be for your Common Application essay, or other university or college prompts, or transfers, or medical or law school, or even scholarship applications.

To start, always read the prompt.

If it asks you to write something fundamental about yourself (such as all seven of the Common App prompts), then they want a personal statement essay from you.

The next step is to start brainstorming.

You want to find a topic for your personal statement that will help the reader (college admissions officers) get a take on what you are all about, what makes you tick.

Before you start fishing around your past for topic ideas, it helps to know what you are looking for.

I’ve narrowed it down to two important, if not key, components of effective personal statements.

Character and Personality.

There’s potential crossover in these two concepts, since each defines some part of your individuality.

At the same time, they are distinct and critical to helping convey who you are to your target schools.

The beauty of featuring both your character and personality in your essay is that it will help you balance the portrait you are painting of yourself through language.

Character tends to be more serious, deep and analytical while personality usually is lighter, creative and entertaining.

In both life and personal statement essays, balance is usually a good thing.

Here’s how I define character and personality, and why you need to find ways to convey and express them BOTH in your personal statement.

Character in Personal Statements

Character is what helps you stand out in the world through your ‘mental and moral’ qualities.

I call them your core values, or on a more personal level, your defining qualities and characteristics.

The best personal statements capture and convey the writer’s character because schools need to understand what you value, how you think and what you believe.

When you are brainstorming topic ideas for your personal statement, first identify a single core quality that captures or expresses something about your character.

For example, integrity, persistence, creativity, humility, empathy, wonder, etc. It should be something that you value above almost all else.

Pick one. Yes, just one. ( This makes sure you don’t try to say way too much in your essay, and end up on the dull side.)

These qualities are pretty universal, so writing about them can be tough to set yourself apart from other students, many of whom hold similar values.

So how do you showcase your all-important character in your personal statement and distinguish yourself from others at the same time?

Personality in Personal Statements

That’s where personality comes into play.

Personality is not universal.

Only one person on the planet has your personality:

Personality is how you and only you express or demonstrate your character on a daily basis.

It’s your unique personal style of expression in the world.

If you can figure out a way (a topic!) to highlight BOTH your character and your personality in your personal statement, you will nail it. Hands down.

But how do you that, and still craft an essay that is interesting to read?

It’s actually pretty simple. And time to start that brainstorming process.

What you need is a real-life experience or incident that one may share in your personal statement that shows you and your personality and character in action.

I’ve written many super helpful posts on exactly how to find those moments or experiences and spin them into killer personal statements and showcase BOTH your character and personality at the same time.

I share many writing tricks and tips on how to identify those magic moments, too as how to make sure your essay is focused and engaging.

If this approach makes sense to you, I would advise you to spend a few more minutes and read these posts.

How to Write a College Application in 3 Easy Steps

Find Your Defining Qualities and Characteristics

The Secret to a Killer College Application Essay

Should you want to keep going and learning more about how to write a personal statement, there are blue links to more posts in the ones you just checked out.

This may be all you need to get you well on your way.

If you want more help, in the form of more in-depth, step-by-step instruction, check out my writing guide, Escape Essay Hell!, and/or my online essay writing course.

I also highly encourage you to check out some sample essays to see the type of personal statement essay these resources will help you write. (Notice how they all showcase the student’s character and personality.)

Character and PersonalityChecklist for Your Personal Statement

Once you crank out a rough draft, here are some questions to ask about what you have written to check if you have captured and expressed both your character and your personality:

Do you feature a moment or experience that reveals one of your defining qualities or characteristics?

Do you share some type of problem (challenge, obstacle, failure, set-back, etc.) from your life that allows you to explain how you thought about it and what you learned in dealing with it?

Do you include how you felt during whatever moment or experience you shared, and explain the specific steps you took to handle it? (

Can you identify the main core quality, characteristic or value that you essay is about?

Can you write in one sentence or phrase what your unique style is in handling the problem you shared?

Did you include what you learned about yourself and the world from the experience/problem you shared?

Good luck with your personal statement essay!

In a previous post, I warned about the possible pitfalls of writing about the new Common Application prompt 6.

My main concern was that in writing about one of your passions a ‘topic, idea or concept you will need to make sure to craft a personal essay that is mainly about YOU!

As opposed to one that is only about the ‘topic, idea or concept’ that you pick to write about.

Read about how to write an essay about the new Common Application prompt 6 that is engaging and personal, instead of academic and dull, in this post: Common Application Prompt 6: Be Warned.

Then come back to learn three other hot tips on how to write about this tricky prompt.

The New Common Application Prompt 6

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you move to when you want to learn more?

Tip One for new Common Application Prompt 6: FOCUS

When deciding what to write about for the new Common Application prompt 6, first select ONE specific topic, idea or concept.

Don’t be tempted to expand your essay into writing about one idea and one concept. That will only make it more general. And generic essays can be boring.

The key is to be specific about the topic or idea or concept you are passionate about.

Do not try to cram in all your favorite ideas or concepts. That would be a disaster!

In fact, once you pick one of the these, see if you can make your essay topic even more specific.

For example, if you decide to write about your passion for the idea of social media.

Wow, that’s a cool topic, but sooooo big.

You will need to narrow it down. Pick one part of social media that captivates you, and then try to narrow it again.

Maybe you are obsessed with the idea of lucid dreaming, which is when you can control your dreams.

Again, find something specific about that idea to give your essay a stronger focus.

One way to focus or zero in on any broad ‘topic, idea of concept’ is to find a personal experience you have had with it.

Also, the more specific your topic, idea or concept, the better you can expand upon how it affected you, related experiences and what you think and learned about it.

Tip Two for new Common Application Prompt 6: Don’t Impress

To write a killer essay for the new Common Application Prompt 6, that you don’t need to pick a topic, idea or concept that is impressive in nature, such as quantum physics or artificial intelligence or genetic mapping.

Of course, you can pick those types of, but it’s not necessary to craft an effective essay.

In fact, often the more everyday ‘mundane’ topics, ideas or concepts end up being more interesting and powerful.

The trick to an awesome essay about the new Common Application Prompt 6 is not always your topic (idea of concept), but what you say about it.

An idea could be some business you started in high school, or a simple concept such as being a ‘lifelong learner’ or ‘healthy eating’ or ‘what causes the northern lights?’

Look for topics, ideas or concepts that are in your everyday life.

The closer they are to your normal activities, the better chance the topic, idea or concept will be more personal to you.

And that’s exactly what you want!

Tip Three for new Common Application Essay prompt 6: Answer the ENTIRE prompt

Most of your essay about the new Common Application essay prompt 6 will be about why you are so ‘captivated’ by it, or why you are so passionate about it.

However, note the last question in the prompt: What or who do you move to when you want to learn more?

Make sure to address this and explain somewhere in the essay how you learned more about the ‘topic, idea or concept’ you are writing about.

Was there someone who first introduced you to your topic, idea or concept?

Did you research your topic, idea or concept on the Internet, or go to the library to find books, or attend a lecture?

Simply include at least a sentence or two to show the colleges how you handle your curiosity about whatever topic, idea or concept you write about to answer the new Common Application prompt 6.