“Be your best self, clearly, concisely and entertainingly.”
In this one sentence, Harry Bauld (in On Writing The College Application Essay) succinctly captures the goal of a college application’s personal statement.
Who is your best self? That’s your authentic voice, the person who shines through when you’ve cut away all the unessential facts and details (think: Hemingway). You know your best self is evident in your writing when a close friend or family member reads the piece and responds with delight, “Yes! That sounds just like you!”
What is clear? Clarity in a college essay means simply that the reader doesn’t have to struggle to understand the point you're making. Your thoughts and ideas unfold easily, effortlessly, neatly. They flow.
Being concise is critical to the success of the essay not simply because there’s a word limit but because – as you probably already know- it’s much harder to write something short and good, than it is to go on at length. The personal essay is a place to showcase your best writing. So give us “Less, but better.”
Why “entertainingly”? Because the personal statement is NOT an expository essay. You’ve listed your accomplishments elsewhere on the application, and your recommenders have already sung your praises. If you can entertain the reader – that is, draw her in, capture her imagination, and leave her with a sense of who you are- then you have released her temporarily from the effort of slogging through a mountain of less interesting essays, and you WILL be remembered. And that, ultimately, is the goal of the college essay.
Summer is prime college essay writing time for rising seniors. We’ll have more tips and reflections on making your personal statement shine in the coming weeks.