The College Essay, Personal Statement and How to Choose a Theme

Almost all colleges or universities who require anything more than a quick fill in the blank standard questionnaire as part of a potential student’s application submission will demand some form of an essay. Quite possibly, depending on the school (Usually the Ivy Leagues or the more difficult ones to get accepted to by common knowledge) may require two or three and as I’ve seen, up to even five can be common. One school I applied to when I was a young high schooled awaiting graduation actually asked for about ten essays and five short answers, but that was New College at the University of South Florida where they don’t have tests or grades and the courses are run in sort of a self-taught or individual to individual Montessori-style environment, so I suppose an extensive amount of information might be understandably necessary to maintain a student database that is appropriately fit for the bohemian curriculum. Either way, though, if a school asks for the extra self particular information in addition to the common college application, be it ten essays or three, chances are one of these assignments demand a college essay, personal statement piece as one of the applicant’s writing samples.

A college essay, personal statement piece sometimes is also sometimes referred to as a statement of purpose. Occasionally, this essay type is slightly disguised by a more narrow title such as “Your reasons for choosing this college”, “What you wish to do once you are here” or “Why do you believe you would be a good fit for this school”. All of these statements require pretty much the same thing and that is basically a general essay about yourself, your goals and your credentials.

These college essay, personal statement pieces tend to be more formal in tone and format, basic in terms of details and anecdotes and objective in viewpoint as strictly as possible. And it should be noted that the usually more subjective first person “I” form can be very effective in some instances if used correctly though that is not to say that the language be esoteric and the voice, superior. It is important to find a happy medium between an interesting story or series of facts told with vibrancy and intellect, and a structure that is sophisticated yet down to earth. In the college essay, personal statement, the admissions board at your desired new college pretty much just wants the facts. No need to color your phrases with creative adjectives and this is no place to break into traditional modern literature styles and break grammatical rules. Do that once you get in. For now, they just want to see that they are inviting someone to represent the school who is unique, worthy of that honor, and who will be a positive example of the great minds that the college or university turns out.

So how to begin writing your college essay, personal statement piece? Since the essay assignment is rather broad you have the opportunity here- though only a pigeonhole of it so make it worthy- to let your personality and particular individual attributes shine through. Before beginning your essay, thing about what you like about the school you are applying to and to put it tritely, think about why it would like you. The ultimate goal here is to thread together an eloquent piece of written work that leaves the reader with the unmistakable impression that you and the said school would be a good match, at least according to this personal statement alone. Also, you should think about some kind of issue in your life, a moment that occurred gradually or spontaneously that has led you to be where you are today in life and to choose this as your preferred college. A brief story that can be threaded through your objective factual paragraphs or some kind of anecdote with a lesson are great ways to drive the point home that y you are a qualified candidate for the school while at the same time making for a tenacious piece of work that can demonstrate your strong written communication skills.

Upon choosing the story to tell, which will essentially secure the indirect theme of your essay, it is very important to select something to share that is different enough to avoid an eye rolling “join the club poor baby” comment but relevant enough to current society’s issues and trends that the admissions department will know enough about the topic to be touched by your tale. For instance, “My parents went through a horrible divorce when I as at a young age” is not, as valid of a concern that it is, going to elicit much sympathy. We’ve all heard it too many times before, it seems everyone divorces these days. On the other hand, something like, “My father left our family shortly after my mother gave birth to me in the 1960 VW bus we had resorted to calling our temporary home” is a good type of issue. If your story’s sympathy-creating level is in question a good way to measure it somewhat is by thinking about what that conflict resulted and will result in for you down the line, now and in the future at this college. The goal is to create a positive image of yourself so you want to make sure your conflict resolution leads to something fruitful like a lesson you were proud to have learned or an extensive practice with a given skill or hobby.

For example, using the two “problem” scenarios above, the divorce situation is easily prone to taking the reader and writer in a negative direction, with such resulting conclusions made as “I had an abusive childhood” or “I got into trouble with drugs and/or the law”. While both of these matters can obviously turn into a very sentimental story that throws great attention toward the applicant, it doesn’t mean that the sympathy isn’t derived from pity or guilt. It also doesn’t mean that the school is going to care too much, to be blunt. Negativity, as a rule should be kept completely out of every sentence of every essay submitted to a school or university because, as such is the case with this, the reviewer will subconsciously be left with uncomfortable feelings associated with your application. You want to make them smile after reading about you, not shut their blinds, lock their doors or heaven forbid dwell on similar traumatic instances of their own past. No, it is best to avoid the downer subjects which is why picking a conflict like the single mom /VW bus scenario works better. For one, the obscurity of life in a VW bus is interesting enough to gain precedence over the fact that dad left (as long as dad’s leaving is not dwelled upon). But more importantly, instead of showing the rise from a fall as in the divorce case, it demonstrates an individuals’ escalation from low to high, constantly and ultimately upward and positive. This topic can lead to the more positive results such as “so I worked every weekend at a homemade lemonade stand to help mom pay bills” or “I learned at an early age the beauty of the outdoors”. These positive uppers of anecdotes will touch those reviewers in the effective way. So choose them carefully.

Now you are ready to construct your college essay, personal statement. Your application guidelines should dictate how long they prefer the piece to be but if I remember correctly some do not. If the latter is the case, try to keep it from 500-800 words, or even better, five solid paragraphs. This gives you room for your introduction, conclusion and three supporting paragraphs of varying topics to back up your claim with your theme or conflict resolution story threaded expertly and subtly throughout. Typically, it is most effective and reader friendly to lead the essay with a little teaser about your unique story and theme. Starting the first sentence out with a statement that is somewhat shocking or even slightly confusing, as it stands alone, is great because from the get go the reviewer is eager to learn more about you. Not to mention that by introducing the issue in your first few sentences it is clear that you know what you want to say and are not about wasting time getting to the point. Liberal Arts or Communications schools love to see this. So after the leading teaser, give a succinct explanation of the scenario in two or three sentences. Then, end the intro paragraph by stating your conclusion of the scenario (your designated theme, officially) being sure to quickly (you can even list them in one word descriptions each) mention the relevant supporting topics you plan to discuss next. Note that the conclusion should contain some sort of firm declaration about the applicant’s intention and personal association with and around the college.

The supporting paragraphs are pretty self- explanatory in that they should follow the guidelines of structure mentioned previously. The trickiest part one might come to is the challenge of mentioning the theme situation appropriately. It should be more neutral (less shocking) than the information in the introduction and more explanatory. Understand that we want the reader to make mental deductions as he or she flows through the essay so best to keep the material more objective in nature. Designating the first couple sentences to the explanation works well in this section too. It is also important to bring up information that is new, irredundant from the intro stuff, but not shockingly, big twist on the case new, that further lends to the ultimate underlying persuasive goal, which is that, the applicant should be a great fit for the college. Then, use the next few lines to explain one of your topics as mentioned in the into. Note that great topics that schools like to be informed about are special skill sets or credentials, personal interests, hobbies or expertise and reasons why they should accept you.

The next two supporting main body paragraphs should follow the same general guidelines with a little less emphasis on the conflict and focus, if anything, on the wonderful resolution. Remember, you want to leave them with a positive feeling the whole way, especially this close to the end.

Finally, the conclusion paragraph of the college essay, personal statement piece should be constructed similarly to the introduction, with the same reiteration of topics. Those being an extremely quick recap of the conflict resolution (no more than 1 Ã?½ sentences) and also your qualifications to attend the college. This part is much like the opening paragraph except the only difference is instead of asserting an idea it is more to make a firm confirmation about the fact because you have just used three to four paragraphs to prove it. Don’t forget to throw in a little twinge of personal charm here at the end. Just a little bit of your own voice if appropriate while giving a final explanation about your overall feelings toward the new college.

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