Learning to Love the Personal Statement

Calling all high school seniors!

For many of you, the college application season may seem like an endless process. There are many different elements required when applying for admission to college, but it’s the personal statement that often looms largest in students’ minds. Required by the Common App and designed to provide a clearer picture of who you are as an individual, the personal statement is your opportunity to express any relevant information that will help admissions understand you and your lived experiences.

Maybe you know exactly what you want to write about. Maybe you feel that you have nothing to write about. Whether you fall into one of these two categories or anywhere else along the spectrum, you probably want to know how to write a compelling essay that effectively communicates why you’d make an excellent addition to a college or university community.

First and foremost, understand that your personal statement is exactly that, YOURS. You should write about something that you want to write about, as long as you can do so in a sophisticated and intelligent manner. No matter what you end up writing about, truth and authenticity should be at the core of your writing. Many students have similar experiences, so use vivid sensory details to retell the experiences you wish to share with admissions. As a reader, I want to visualize your story as you tell it. I am also looking to see how you have grown or changed over time — How are you different today than you were five years ago? Last year? Yesterday? Think carefully about who you are right now, where your values lie and even who you want to be in the future. Though you may not have a concrete vision of your future, do not hesitate to project an idea of where you see yourself headed.

Yes, sharing a story in 500-650 words may seem daunting at first, but once you identify the story you want to tell and consider all the details surrounding that story, the word limit can often seem inadequate. Try to start small and work your way out to share bigger ideas about yourself and your goals over the course of your essay.

A simple exercise could be to write down any person, place or thing that has meaning to you and ask yourself “Why?” Or outline the various milestones in your life and recount these experiences in as much detail as possible while considering the effect they have had on your personal growth and development. The idea here is to brainstorm as many topics as possible before selecting just one because there may be an opportunity to connect different topics together, which can lead to a more compelling story.

If you love helping others, try to remember who or what first instilled that value in you. Perhaps you are passionate about art, nature or technology — share specific anecdotes that demonstrate how the relationship between you and your passions has evolved over time. Something as simple and mundane as your favorite food could be tied to other interests, including science, travel or language. Consider the intersections of your interests and your values and recognize the full scope of your uniqueness.

While it may seem oxymoronic, learning to love the personal statement is what will ultimately invite readers to gain a true glimpse into your world and understand what you as an individual can bring to a college community. Reflecting on your past and taking the time to truly think about its meaning is an incredibly rewarding experience. Although it can be easy to undervalue your journey, you have remarkable potential and much to offer. Once you understand how to articulate such individual character and integrity, recognizing what you bring to the table is undeniable.


Jon G. is originally from Houston, Texas. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Harvard University and is currently one of the resident English gurus at Elite of Los Angeles. Nothing makes him more proud and pumped up than watching his students succeed. When it comes to hitting the books, Jon recommends starting early and studying in increments to avoid burnout. He's a huge basketball fan, loves green tea, and his favorite vocabulary word is "seditious."

Posted on November 6, 2016 and filed under College Admissions.