Making the Personal Statement Personal

Writing the Personal Statement can be a torturous exercise for many seniors. Fears of sounding like a braggart - or, worse - having nothing worthwhile to say, leave even strong writers paralyzed. While the temptation might be to adopt a distant, academic tone, and tackle a safe topic, it’s important to distinguish yourself from the rest of the applicant pool by making your Personal Statement personal. The following suggestions will help guide your writing. Make your Personal Statement about yourself. Don’t write someone else’s biography. Even if your essay is about a person who has had a significant influence on you, your writing should focus on the nature of that influence and how that person helped to shape the person you are today.

Write something only you could write. While you may have had a powerful experience doing community service with your youth group or celebrated an amazing victory with teammates, focus about your perspective on those moments and what you learned to make your essay uniquely yours. Focus on what that experience meant to you, not on the experience itself.

Related to that, your Personal Statement should not merely tell a story. The event you share should represent some type of catalyst of change for you – a moment that helped you come to a new and deeper understanding about something that has led to a meaningful change in your perceptions of the world or of yourself.

Sometimes the events themselves are so momentous that they can eclipse the rest of your essay. For example, if you worked with a profoundly handicapped person, or helped starving children, or had dinner with the Dalai Lama, the moment itself is so significant that you might feel like your personal reflections pale in comparison. Thus, sometimes it's in the small, seemingly insignificant moments that the best personal insights are shared. It really, truly, doesn't really matter what moment you write about. What matters is what happened in that moment that reveals who you are.

Write about what is personally meaningful to you. Don’t be swayed by what other people tell you to write about. In the end, you won’t be able to write with the same conviction and passion, and the reader will know it. Write about what is deeply, powerfully meaningful to you.

Use only those words you need to tell your story, recognizing that 650 is the limit, not the requirement. Be a ruthless editor.

Finally, write in your own voice. Don’t adopt a faux-intellectual style because you think that will impress your reader - it won’t. While it’s important not to write in a style that is too casual, the reader should learn something about you just by the way you write. Are you an optimistic person? Do you have a dry wit? Do you have an unusual way of describing things? Drop the formal academic tone and let your personality shine through.

The Personal Statement has many jobs to do: it should convey who you are, how you think, what it important to you, all while showcasing your writing skills. In the end, however, the statement needs to be personal in tone, content, and meaning. While much will be left unsaid, a statement that that is personal brings a depth and dimension to the application.