Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start Writing Your Personal Statement


Brainstorming ideas for your college admissions essay can be the most challenging part of the process of writing a personal statement. I recommend that before you start writing you consider a few questions: what do colleges want to know about me? What makes me interesting and more qualified than my peers? How will I contribute to learning and the campus culture once admitted? And how can I answer these questions in 1000 words or less?

Each response to those questions is unique. Nonetheless, you should deliberately plan time to brainstorm ideas for the content of your personal statements. When choosing a topic, it’s important to dig deep and be vulnerable. These elements are key to telling the story you want to convey to admissions officers.

In preparing to write your college admissions essays, here are some questions collected from around the web to get you started with brainstorming topics:

Questions About You

  • Does any attribute, quality, or skill distinguish you from everyone else?

  • How did you develop this attribute?

  • Have you ever struggled for something and succeeded? What made you successful?

  • Have you ever struggled for something and failed? How did you respond

  • What's special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?

  • What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?

  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?

  • What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?

  • What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?

  • Why might you be a stronger candidate for admission—and more successful and effective than other applicants?

  • What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?

  • What makes you special?

  • What is impressive about your experiences or life?

  • What are your future goals?

  • What skills/characteristics of yours will contribute to your success in the field?


Questions about Your Family and Community Background

  • Where were you born? Your ethnicity?

  • Who do you live with?

  • Are you the first in your family to attend college?

  • Have you overcome any personal or economic struggles?

  • Who or what was your motivation to continue your education?

  • What are the opportunities and/or challenges you find in your community?

  • If you hold a leadership role: Are you a leader in your school, community or family? What does that role mean to you? How did youpersonally grow from this experience?

  • What role do you play in your family, and how has that influenced your decisions in and out of school?

  • Do you identify with one or more cultures? Can you speak more than one language? What has that allowed you to do in life?

  • What is a typical day or week in your life, and how do you manage to accomplish everything?

Questions about Your Academic Plans and Career Goals

  • What is your undergraduate major? Who or what has inspired you to pursue this major?

  • What degrees would you like to earn? (example: Associates Degree,

  • Bachelors degree, Masters degree or Doctorates degree)

  • What are your short term and long term career goals?

  • How have you already learned about this field that prepares you for the next step?

  • Have you been employed in any capacity or volunteered in your chosen field? If so, what have you learned from that experience?

  • What academic awards have you received?

  • Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre LSAT or GRE scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)?

  • What are your major accomplishments, and why do you consider them accomplishments?

  • What was your high school like? Are you (did you attend) attending a magnet school, academy or other specialized program? Describe the program and why you enrolled.

  • How are you challenging yourself in school to prepare for college? Is attending college common for students at your school

  • Do you have a major or career in mind? What is it and why are you interested in it? Are there any courses and/or extracurricular activities you have completed to get you started in this area?

Don’t forget to like and share on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Have a question about college admissions, you want answered, submit a question here, and I might pick it to answer on the blog. Be sure to read more tips on writing personal statements and navigating the college admissions process by checking out the Koodoos Blog.

Need help with your essays, contact the team at Koodoos now.