Updated: Jul 27
What is your personal statement?
The personal statement is a 650-word essay that is the "personality" portion of your application. The personal statement is not to be confused with a cover letter where you explain "why you're a good fit for higher education". Instead, it's genuinely meant to be a story or collection of stories that help admissions officers get to know you beyond the academic surface level. This is important because the vast majority of students applying to college have great grades, test scores, and extracurricular engagement. If you feel like this is you, I would call you the "average great student". The "average great student" is already clearly well-prepared for higher education, so a personal statement regaling your academic/pre-professional career does not tell admissions officers anything new about you. In fact, any essay that details the basics of being a high schooler doesn't tell admissions officers anything new because they will already have access to that information.
The essays, including the personal statement, are a key factor that admissions officers use to differentiate students. The aim of the admissions office is to create a diverse class of students who can all bring something different to the table. The best, and only way, for admissions officers to really understand you as a person and how you'll contribute to their school community is to find out what your personal experiences are, what makes you tick, and what personal values/passions you will uphold on campus.
This way, admissions officers don't admit students who are all the same, like having a band with only oboes, and instead admit students that are different from one another that can add to the overall symphony that is their matriculating class.
Why do you have to write a personal statement?
You have to write a personal statement so that admissions officers can get to know you beyond your academic life. Admissions officers are looking for students who match their vibe. The essays are generally vibes-based and the reason why is answered in the following question.
Who is reading your personal statement?
First and foremost, people are reading your essays! Admissions officers are people and the best way that people connect to others is through stories. The reason is because of the vibe or affect (noun) that your story has on the reader. Ultimately, in order for an admissions officer to want to advocate for you in committee, they first have to like you and feel connected to you. Even if you're not admitted, that doesn't necessarily mean the admissions committee didn't like you, but is likely because they didn't think that you were a "good fit" for the school. That could mean that you don't match the vibes that the school is looking for, or there was another student who fit the vibes better. In order to pass the vibe check for admissions officers they need to like you as a person, understand you as a person, and see your authentic truth in order for them to want you to be a member of their band.
What are the prompts for the personal statement?
Common Application Prompts
Coalition Application Prompts
1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
1. Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
2. What interests or excites you? How does it shape who you are now or who you might become in the future?
3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
3. Describe a time when you had a positive impact on others. What were the challenges? What were the rewards?
4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
4. Has there been a time when an idea or belief of yours was questioned? How did you respond? What did you learn?
5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
5. What success have you achieved or obstacle have you faced? What advice would you give a sibling or friend going through a similar experience?
6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
6. Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.
7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
Does it matter which prompt you choose to respond to?
No. The prompts purely exist to guide students on what the concept of a personal statement is. The purpose of the personal statement is to share stories about yourself that contribute to a larger journey. The admissions officers genuinely don't care which prompt you respond to as long as your essay nails the vibes of a good personal statement. The danger of submitting an essay of your own choice, or not having the prompts as a guide is that students may inadvertently write an essay about how cool the metaphor of Whoville by Dr. Seuss is instead of an essay about their own life. The application is not an English essay contest, it's your piece that states "this is me".
How long should my personal statement be?
Your personal statement should be as close to 650 words as possible. This is because 650 words isn't even that much to do a mini autobiography of you and your vibes, so it's really important that you maximize the space that you're allotted. Sometimes students have a really good story that encapsulates everything about who they are in 450-500 words, but I would not recommend writing that little unless your story is really that comprehensive in so few words.
How many prompts do I have to respond to?
One. There is one 650-world personal statement that you send to colleges, so you would choose to respond to one of the prompts. Each college, in addition to the personal statement, will ask you short supplemental questions for you to have the opportunity to provide additional context about you and other aspects of your application where you were unable to provide specific details.
When should I start working on my personal statement?
Right now! Getting a head start is going to provide a huge stress relief for when the application cycle and high school classes start to pick up.
What if I don't know where to start?
This is totally common and okay! The essay writing process is iterative where you brainstorm, draft, edit, and repeat! There will be a part two blog where I answer personal statement FAQ's for the brainstorming process. Additionally, if you feel like you need extra help to generate a convincing and personally engaging application, take advantage of my free consultation and essay advising plans!
Ultimately, and this is true throughout your application, schools want to know who you are, not who you think they want you to be. Schools can immediately tell when you're writing something just to impress and that is surface level instead of true personal stories and experiences that you have had that inform who you are today.