This article was written by Subha Sivakumar, a RaiseMe student editorial intern. Subha is currently a first year neuroscience student at The Ohio State University. Her other passions include dancing, updating her Spotify playlists, collecting things that have elephants on them, learning new languages, and being outdoors.
The Breakdown: The Personal Essay
As the beginning of senior year gets closer, so does the reality of the filling out the common app — and with the common app comes the personal essay. This 250-650 word essay is your chance to show college admissions your personality and what is important to you. It can seem a bit daunting, as it was for most of my senior class, so here are a few tips to structure your essay:
1. Choose a Prompt
Make a list of all the lessons you have learned over time. Think about themes of self-growth like failures, times you have persevered, defied the odds, been outside your comfort zone, accepted something about yourself, or overcoming a challenge. It can be a particular soccer game, a passion you have, or a time you felt hurt. Colleges want to see how you are able to deal with the challenges that life gives you. Write down as many ideas as possible. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Talk about your mistakes and regrets — we all have them. The important thing is to show how much you have grown because of them. You can check the common app essay prompts here. Note that it is okay if the focus of your essay changes over time, but try to direct it so that it completely answers the prompt that they give you.
2. Write a Draft
Writing is a hard process and the common app’s open ended prompts don’t make it much easier. Start with what I like to call a trashy first draft. This is when you put all the ideas that come to your head, as they come to your head. Don’t worry about grammar or sentence structure but make sure that these thoughts come from the heart. That will show throughout the essay.
This might be the most labor intensive part of the process, but for good reason. Good writers write, and then rewrite, and rewrite some more. Do everything that you can to make sure that the final product feels like a true representation of who you are. Common mistakes that many seniors make is that they underestimate how much a well worded sentence can make or break a college admissions’ impression of your essay.
4. Tips and Tricks of the Trade
Do NOT overload your essay with all of your accomplishments and leadership roles. The common app already has a section to list all of the things that you did with your high school career. The personal essay is not the place to say that the “value of perseverance helped me achieve” and then list all your high school accomplishments. Use the personal essay to focus on one event or lesson that has really shaped who you are.
Remember that this essay is basically like story telling. Most of your essay should focus on the details of the event itself and build up the image of the journey. Limit the conclusion and reflection to the last paragraph of your essay.
And finally, don’t stress too much about the outcome. Personal essays do not make or break your application. They simply help colleges get to know the character behind the paper. Many people in high school would spend countless sleepless nights worrying about 650 words. Just remember that 650 words do not define you – they describe you. Take this opportunity to have as much fun with it as you can and maybe learn something about yourself and your accomplishments. Good Luck!