I Did the Transition from Military to College. Here are the Strategies I Used to Write My Personal Statements


While I work as a college admissions coach now, I used to be in the Army -- for six whole years! So when I write, at work especially, I tend to default to the concise, bottom line up front (BLUF), way of writing we use in the military for evaluation reports, operations orders, and basically everything else. This straightforward style is essential for military communications but doesn’t work well for writing college admissions essays that are meant to be vastly more expressive and introspective. So, my first strategy was to focus my admissions essays on being both impactful and personal. 

I also knew it was important to avoid military jargon that civilian admissions readers don’t understand since it’s really specific to the military and even specific to each branch of service. I mean “Captain” doesn’t even represent the same pay grade in the Navy as it does in the Army. It’s best to avoid military speak like “barracks”, “9-line”, and “MOS” altogether. Besides, you don’t want to confuse the admissions officer reading your essay to the point where they can’t even understand what you’re saying. 


3 Basic Tips for Writing Your Personal Statement 

With that being said, there are a few other things every military member or veteran should keep in mind when writing their personal essays for college applications: 

  1. Tell your story. The best way to capture the attention of an admissions reader is to tell a good story and veterans have plenty of experiences (both abroad and in garrison) that can form the basis for this narrative

  2. Don’t be too informal. Talk among service members can become pretty casual after long days in the field and spending literally all day with each other. Still, using language like “There, I was” or “Sarge” isn’t suitable for a personal statement where your tone should be a bit more formal. 

  3. Highlight the experiences that set you apart. As a young lieutenant, I was put in charge of 43 other soldiers as one of my first assignments. How many other 22-year-olds can say they’ve been put in similar positions? Use points like this to demonstrate what sets you apart from your nonveteran peers. 


3 Basic Tips for Editing Your Personal Statement

Like brainstorming and the actual writing, editing is an essential part of the writing process and you would be doing yourself a disservice to skip this step. Editing will not only help you catch any grammatical or spelling errors, but help you potentially develop better essay flow, structure, and content.  Here’s how you should approach the editing process: 

  1. Read your paper aloud. Reading aloud gives you the opportunity to both see and hear what you have written. I always say your personal statement should be conversational anyhow (not too formal, not too informal), so reading the essay aloud will let you know if you’re achieving this effect. 

  2. Consider if you’ve answered the prompt. I read a lot of personal essays that tell a great story, but don’t actually answer the prompt. As an example, avoid writing a “Why X School” essay when the prompt asks you to “describe a time in your life that had an impact on you.”

  3. Give it to someone else to read. Have a civilian read through your personal statement and ask if there are any parts they’re confused by. If so, consider that you may be using too much military jargon and it might be useful to revise your writing style