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Through our very own editors and guest writers, this blog will discuss the INSIDE scoop on the admissions process of various schools and programs. If you wish to ask a specific question, please write to us, and we will make every attempt to address your questions in our future blog discussions.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Theming the Personal Statement

Students often obsess over writing personal statements that they think admissions officers will want to read when, in all likelihood, pandering to a reader and writing about something that doesn’t reflect your true personality produces something inauthentic and stale. Still, it can be difficult to decide how to craft that perfect personal statement that crams a few decades of life into 500 pithy words.

Consider the following themes while drafting your personal statement. These themes were compiled after reading essays that worked for students seeking admission to Ivy League schools.

1. What really makes you happy.

What in your life, without fail, brings on a smile? One Yale student wrote his personal statement about cooking salmon with his dad. Through the story of preparing a meal, the student was able to explain why he loved the process of cooking and how it brought him closer to his father. By writing about what genuinely excites you, it will be easy to convey enthusiasm and a unique part of your personality.

2. A hilarious experience.

When reviewing applications, admissions officers sit in offices all day and read hundreds of essays, the majority of which are serious in tone. Consider writing about a hilarious personal experience to make a subtle point about your personality. Making an admissions officer laugh will typically be more effective than making some dramatic claim about your life philosophy. One Harvard student wrote his personal statement about dressing up as a knight, constructing foam weapons, and staging a medieval battle at a nearby soccer field with his friends. This anecdote communicated that the student was creative, able to execute his ideas, and a little bit eccentric. Moreover, the essay was fun to read, and probably fun to write.

3. A literary passage that carries special meaning for you.

Has a quote, poem, or literary passage informed your view of the world? Quotes are beneficial for applicants because they associate the student with a figure from history. If you quote Jon Stewart, it’s likely that you appreciate wry political commentary. If you quote Hannibal Lecter, it’s likely that you’re crazy. Quotes also provide a great starting place for a personal statement. Transcribe the quote, source it, and then explain how you encountered it and why it’s important to you.

4. A quirky hobby.

In your application, your pedigree and qualifications will stand on their own. Your personal statement offers you the chance to let your personality shine. It should not be a venue for boasting. One of the best ways to let your personality shine through is to write about a quirky personal hobby that you would never list on the “Activities” portion of a college application. Are you an avid tree climber? Do you absolutely love collecting post cards? Explain your hobby and why it interests you. This explanation will reveal more about you than you might think.

5. A defining moment.

If you are lucky enough to have experienced a defining experience in your life that determined your course of academic study, commit it to words. Did working in a soup kitchen convince you that you should dedicate your life to ending world poverty? Did learning about AIDS in AP Bio convince you that should pursue science and work toward a cure? Few students are lucky enough to have had these epiphanies.

Even if you don’t end up using one of these themes for your personal statement, thinking about these ideas will help generate ideas for whatever your personal statement becomes.

And, of course, if you ever need assistance, we’re here to help.


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