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.
A college admissions essays, commonly referred to as a personal statement or statement of purpose, can range in length from 350 words to several pages which means, for some applications, you have limited space to describe your experiences, achievements, and goals.
As an admissions professional, I sometimes get asked the question, “For someone who is white and middle class, how can I write about how I will bring diversity to my school?”Well, let me tell you. It’s possible to do and it’s possible to do it without treating the diversity statement as a throwaway part of your application.
While the most popular college admissions application is the Common Application, over a 100 colleges are now using the Coalition Application, a competitor to the Common App first announced back in 2015.
The Common App is available for students to apply to more than 800 schools (private, public, large and small). An essential part of the Common Application is the Writing component which includes the Personal Essay section. Most, but not all of the 800 colleges that use the Common App, require the Personal Essay to be included in your application for submission. So, with all most all colleges you apply to, you can be sure a personal essay, or more commonly called the personal statement, will be a part of it.
As the name states, personal statements are inherently personal and meant to communicate your qualifications and show what kind of person you are. For this reason, each statement an admissions team member reads is uniquely different from any other, as it should be. That said, there are still some general do’s and don’ts to consider when writing your personal statement.
The style you choose to use for your personal statement offers important clues about you and your character. Much like your high school English class essays, the style of your personal statement can reveal your ability to write, your attention to detail, and how you choose to communicate.
As you apply for college programs at various point in your life, you’re personal statement should differ as a result. Admissions committees expect a personal statement for a transfer student to be much different than a college admissions essay from a incoming freshman student. With that in mind, here are some unique considerations to keep in mind when writing personal statements as an undergrad, transfer, veteran, graduate school applicant, or job seeker.
A personal statement, also known as a statement of purpose, is a priority tool used by college admissions teams as a part of the college application process. The personal statement is particularly useful as it essentially serves as a self-manifested demonstration of your unique qualifications. The personal statement also provides a glimpse into your writing ability, creativity, and career goals. Admissions committees look to personal statements to gain insight about you and understand your motivations as they relate to school and career choices.
Getting starting on your graduate school statement of purpose can be stressful and perplexing as the statement of purpose is unlike any other writing assignments you regularly complete. I would even venture to say it’s worlds apart from the personal statement you wrote for undergrad. While a personal statement should intentionally focus on the writer’s personal narrative (i.e. on who you are and how you got there), a graduate school statement of purpose, on the other hand, should emphasize the writer’s academic interests, skills, and career goals. But of course, your grad school statement shouldn’t be devoid of personality either.
Here are four questions to consider before you start writing your graduate school statement of purpose.
For one of the schools I’m applying to, the word limit for the personal statement is 3,250 words. I called the school’s admissions office to ask if 3,000 approximate words was correct, to which they confirmed on the basis of it being a “transfer essay”. I’m wondering if lengthier essays for transfers aren’t uncommon, especially for selective schools.
There are some clichés in personal statements that seem to happen over and over again. While having one or two clichés won’t prevent you from getting into a good college, it is nice to avoid them as don’t add depth to your writing, nor do they particularly work to help your application stand out. There are also a number of common occurrences I’ve seen when reading personal statements that are just annoying and don’t add any value to the application.
To help you out, here’s a short list of clichés and topics/ideas to avoid when writing your personal statement:
When you’re writing a narrative or telling a story in your personal statement, using sensory details is one of the most effective ways to captivate the reader which makes your essay more likely to stand out. Sensory details help the reader figuratively see, hear, feel, smell, and taste your words.
In honor of the start of college admissions season, I’m offering some tips I learned during my time as an admissions application reader and writing consultant tailored to help veterans write college application essays that actually stand out.