How to Write a Great College Personal Statement


Mar 2, 2023
This student learns how to write a great college personal statement.

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Though the last year of high school is stacked with fun milestones, dances, trips and even a few pranks, there is still that lingering anxiety about the future. Choosing a career or college can be an identity crisis on all its own, but college personal statements can exacerbate those worries to a terrifying degree. You may be asking yourself, what have I done in my life? Or, what can I say that sets me apart from the hundreds, if not thousands, of other students applying? 

Have no fear. There are interesting and incredible things you can use to build your reputation. With this guide, learn how to write a great college personal statement and wow any admissions department. 

What Are Personal Statements?

Admissions departments sometimes require these essays to learn more about the applicant beyond grades, clubs and test scores. They are searching for the human behind the paper, so the statement should show your personality, morals and goals. 

This is also a chance to advocate for yourself. Did you decide to take a gap year after high school, or was there a struggle that you overcame to have such great test scores? In this essay, you can round out the idea of yourself as a student and human being. 

Your statement is also a sample of your writing ability, so be sure your writing is clear and concise. 

There are also two kinds of personal statements. The general, or comprehensive statement is open-ended and allows you to write as much or as little about any topic. The lack of requirements gives students the freedom to tell their unique stories. 

A response statement is framed around a specific question, such as “what matters the most to you,” or “who is your biggest influence?” When all applicants are writing around the same ideas, it is easier for the brightest contenders to stand out. 

1. Brainstorm and Journal

The best personal statements tell your story and shape an image of what makes you, you. Some major topics are heritage, life challenges, influences, values, memorable experiences and motivations.

There is a misconception that these essays are all trauma-related so students can show how they overcome adversity. However, you don’t have to exploit harmful memories or share sensitive information to stand out. Great personal statements share stories, and they can be happy moments of introspection or inspiration. Maybe a trip to the tidepools as a child inspired your love of marine life, or time baking cookies with grandpa developed a love of culinary arts. 

Ultimately, you want to be vulnerable in sharing your story, but analytical enough to craft a thoughtful message or lesson from your experiences. Explore these example topics to craft your ideas:

  • Influential teachers or mentors
  • A childhood memory that sticks with you
  • Unique family traditions
  • Cultural identity
  • Family dynamics or relationships
  • Trips that made a mark on your life
  • Embarrassing or funny stories that show your outlook on life
  • Experiences with health or mental health
  • Hobbies or interests
  • Tough decisions or challenges
  • “Imagine-If” scenarios

Write down all your thoughts in a flurry, searching through memories and writing what comes to mind. Letting your mind wander may dredge up stories you have forgotten. Check old journals or talk to family members to get their perspectives on important topics you could explore. 

2. Select Your Story

Now, compile the strongest ideas and draft out some outlines. Ask yourself if this story represents your mindset or if it is a strong enough concept to build an essay around. 

These essays look different from your normal academic paper, but they should still have an outline and plan. Just because it is your personal life, doesn’t mean it should be rambling or without a point. Remember, your essay still needs a thesis, climax and conclusion, just like any good story. 

3. Outline an Arc

Immediately catch your reader’s attention. A good story sets the mood and characters within the first two or three sentences, so your essay should do the same. Don’t be afraid to lean into descriptive language or poetic images to paint your opening. 

As you progress further into your statement, check back in with your outline often. Are you deviating from the plan and potentially running away from the message, or are you right on track? You can also draft up new outlines or ideas when writing too. 

4. Showcase Your Hope and Growth

Endings are hard, even for the most experienced writers, but they are so important. Conclusions leave the reader with a feeling or a final thought, and if it misses the mark, it colors the entire essay. End your statement on a heartwarming or endearing note that shows you learned from these experiences or are growing as a person. 

Hope is the enduring human spirit that pushes us into the future. Even if this story is about a struggle or traumatic experience, show that you are forging ahead and creating a spot for yourself in the world.

5. Seek Revisions

You should have multiple drafts of this personal statement. Check for grammatical errors and line edits, but also read through for clarity, concise ideas and a good organizational flow. 

Get others to read it if you can. Your teachers want to see you succeed and would likely be happy to help revise anything. If you would feel more comfortable not sharing, put your current draft in a drawer. Take it out one week later and see your ideas with fresh eyes. 

How to Write a Great College Personal Statement

There’s no need to stress because you have the greatest resource on your side: yourself. Your stories are important and interesting, and with a great plan, you can learn how to write a great college personal statement that presents you in full detail. 

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