You know the saying, “Life isn’t fair”?
Well, one of those unfair things might be that it’s possible to have a perfect SAT score, straight A's, and impressive extracurriculars, yet still be rejected from competitive colleges and universities.
How could this happen? In short, because spots are limited. So the reality is that more than a few perfectly qualified applicants have to be turned away. (Even if you end up being one of these people, refer to this earlier post about why rejection isn't the end of the world).
Given that a significant part of a college's admissions decision is out of your control, let’s focus on one way you can maximize your chances of acceptance:
Personal statements (a.k.a. college essays) are great opportunities to clearly demonstrate that you have something unique and valuable to offer campuses.
As you craft your college essays, keep in mind that, depending on the school you’re applying to, admissions committees might receive upwards of 60,000 applications. So if you’re going to write about playing piano, for example, you might be one of like 20,000 other piano essays. (Keep reading to find out why this doesn’t mean you can’t write about piano, or any other common topic for that matter.)
With all this competition, you might feel tempted to include outrageous personal details in an attempt to get noticed. Be careful. Yes, it’s called a personal statement, but there is such a thing as being too personal.
If you are considering a potentially “TMI” topic, here are some questions to help you stay college app appropriate:
- Would you tell this detail to a stranger? Or is it better suited for a best friend or therapist?
- Is it “R” rated? (It’s usually better to stay away from discussing sex or anything illegal.)
- Does it make you sound currently unwell, insecure, or emotionally unstable?
Basically, you don’t want to cause readers to feel uncomfortable, or doubt that you’d be a positive addition to their school.
You do want to make them interested in getting to know you better.
You can still stand out without divulging off-putting details about of yourself. Even if there are 20,000 applicants who write about playing the piano, no one but you has lived your particular experiences. As long as you include specific enough details, examples, and insight, and you don’t hold back your true interests and personality, your essays will not be like anyone else’s.
So express your true greatness in a way that shows it belongs to the one-and-only, awe-inspiring YOU.
Kiley A. teaches SAT/ACT Writing and leads College Application Workshops at Elite Prep Rowland Heights. As the Elite Community Scholars Coordinator, he also works to spread this college preparation guidance to low-income, first-generation students who may not otherwise have access to such support. Above all, he wants his students to know the far-reaching power of their own self-assurance.
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