By Carol Barash, PhD
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. There are things even the best personal statement can rarely accomplish:
1. It can’t get you into a school for which you are not qualified. The first question Admissions asks? “Is this person academically ready to attend our school?” At big schools computers make this first cut. A solid essay gives you a leg up where you are qualified, but it won’t change your odds someplace you are not. So apply to a range of schools that fit your talents and academic strengths.
2. It can’t tell a fabulous story that’s not true. Students often ask, “Can I tell a white lie in my application? Can I write something that’s fictional?” “No, absolutely not,” is my answer. You sign each application saying that all the information is correct and that it is all your own work. Fiction belongs in your arts portfolio, or perhaps a literature blog, but not in your personal statement.
3. And you can’t tell everything in 500 words. You may be tempted to try to tell everything about yourself in your personal statement. Actually, less is almost always more. The story of one moment you made a difference. An event that changed your life in a way that was visible. Or just an everyday occurrence told from your point of view. Any moment that captures who you are as a person today – and who you will be in college – is a moment worth writing about.
Application essays are not a magic bullet that will suddenly turn you into someone you are not. But they can help admissions officers to distinguish you from other students who may look similar on paper. A great essay brings you to life, as if you are right there in the room. Here are 3 ways the time you spend on your essays pays off in admissions results:
1. It can reveal your character. The #1 job of your essay is to show colleges who you are as a human being. Don’t waste time repeating things that are found in other parts of your application: Let your teachers sing your academic accomplishments; let your coach talk about your record-setting pole vault. Use essays to reveal what else you bring to a college community.
2. It can connect with admissions officers. Great essays leave the reader with a positive sense of you – not by saying “I am really a compassionate person,” but by telling the story of one moment that shows you as compassionate (or some other attribute). At the end of the essay you want the reader to think, “This is a person I want to know more. This person will make a difference here.”
3. It can show your strengths as a writer. College requires a lot of writing, so admissions officers look at the writing in all parts of your application to make sure it’s consistently and solidly college level. So, yes, grammar is important, and you want to take the time to make sure that your spelling is impeccable and that the essay represents your best written work.
A final note: No matter how tempting, do not have anyone else write your essays for you. And do not buy an essay – recycled or new – off the Internet. Many colleges put admissions essays through the same plagiarism software they use for student essays, and any essay that sounds remotely like a 40-year-old editor will be quickly brushed to the side.
Have a college application essay question or concern? Post it on our Facebook page and get an answer the same day.« Back to News