The boost to begin the personal statement (+ a free workshop)

Last Updated on March 29, 2021 by Real College Matters

Daunted at the outset, many students place their personal statement for college applications on the back burner. Some students assume their big story – the one that will compel the admissions team at their choice college – just hasn’t happened yet. “But it will,” they say, “before my deadline.” Others in this procrastination camp insist they “work better under pressure,” or need to “wait until the application is live,” or “get through AP Exams,” or “get through finals,” or “get to summer.” In my decade of college counseling, I’ve heard every excuse, but none of them justify the pressure students feel when the personal statement looms over them as their deadlines approach. 

While it’s true an essay won’t make up for a lack of academic qualifications, it certainly provides several opportunities for a student to favorably present themselves to an admissions team. At its core, the personal statement is a chance to provide insight into what is truly important to a student. Be it a passion for change, or a personal value that cannot be identified by their GPA, this section allows an admissions team to understand the student more intimately. A great essay helps a student stand out in a sea of applicants by revealing an unexpected trait, injecting humor, or even evoking emotion. If nothing else, the personal statement is an important indicator of a student’s ability to write well and (hopefully) succeed in a first-year English class at the school(s) where they seek admission. Because the personal statement is so multifaceted, it’s important to remember that it is judged subjectively by each reader. Therefore, no opportunity – insight, uniqueness, or strong writing – should be ignored.

A narrowed list of ideas, a thoughtful outline, or a simple rough draft – very rough, even – can help students set themselves up for a manageable application season in the coming months. The personal statement will endure many, many revisions. It will (or, should) be reviewed by one or two chosen editors, and the editing should include both thoughtful and technical examination. For example, is it evident this topic is important to the author? Does the essay transition well between ideas and obey directions regarding length? (Consider, too, that these editors may also have priorities that prevent them from working under a looming deadline.) The process is long, but the pressure is lessened with an early start.

Juniors, ample time exists to brainstorm, generate ideas, write a draft, edit, and even change your mind should that life story you’ve been waiting for actually occur this summer. Give yourself this gift of time by getting started – this season, this week, or even right now. Your senior self will thank you. 

Real College Matters is hosting a free personal statement writing workshop on Tuesday, April 6, from 6-7pm on Zoom. Register here.