Applying to college, graduate or doctoral programs, or medical school requires a lot of pieces, one of which includes a personal essay. They tell you to make it a personal story, unique, to reveal some of your individuality, but what are they really looking for? In my business, I have written numerous essays for those entering post-secondary education at all levels. Here are my thoughts.
Tip 1: Select a meaningful experience
Some will give you writing prompts or questions to choose from, but select a meaningful experience. What are they looking for? You have the chance to show them your ability to craft a well-thought-out, logical argument and present it clearly in writing. Grammar matters. Spelling matters. The details of how you write do matter and will be interpreted as indicative of things about you: intelligence, articulation, critical thinking, individuality, creativity, innovation, the ability to follow instructions, how detail-oriented you are. All these things and more.
The main point can center around one of three underlying and almost tacit ideas: a who are you question; a why this college question; or a creative question. The first, akin to a “tell me about yourself” prompt, intends to get you to reveal something they would not know from the rest of your application. The second works if you’re especially devoted to this particular college, and the third gives you a chance to demonstrate your knowledge or innovative nature.
Basic essay format begins with a thesis or introductory paragraph, three to five supporting points each with their own paragraph (which transition into the next point in a stone-stepping manner), and a conclusion. It should carry a nice story-arc where each portion relies on and gives depth to the next one, in a more-or-less linear fashion. Good arcs start, expand the detail, and then bring everything back to the beginning, but with a greater sense of depth about the essay’s intent.
Tip 2: Write introductory paragraph last
Keep it focused! Pick one experience and outline your thought processes, challenges you faced, and how you set goals and grew. If you have trouble crafting an introductory paragraph, do what my twelfth grade English teacher Mrs. Whitten told me: skip it and start with your supporting points, then move to your conclusion, coming back to the thesis after everything else is drafted.
Edit critically! One or two thousand words sounds like a lot of room, but it isn’t. You do not have space for – nor do you want – tangents. If it does not support your main point, cut it out. Stick to your point, otherwise your audience will get lost.
Tip 3: Have people that do not know you well read it
Have others read it! Make sure to use people who don’t know you as well and are a bit more removed than parents. While well-meaning, they might not be the most objective.
Tip 4: Follow the directions of each college
Lastly, follow the directions! Read over the college’s specifications as to what to write, how many words, and any other details. Give them what they want, and work within the boundaries they set. This is not the place to venture too far afield or buck the system.
Make sure your essay stands out!
Do you need someone look over your college essay for inspiration, organization and grammar? Contact me and we will discuss your vision.