Make a Truly Personal Statement

survey of 75 highly competitive institutions found that about 21 percent of these schools make their first-round cuts based in large part on the personal statement. Why? Colleges have so many strong applicants to choose from, all with top GPAs and SAT/ACT scores, lots of leadership experience and community work. Schools are already expecting such strong credentials, but an interesting story or unique voice in the essay could get them excited about you and your profile. This is also the best place for them to figure out what kind of a classmate you will be, and understand your values, personality, and decision-making process.

If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a list of a few common themes in the personal statement.

Common types of content for college personal statement (see tips below):

  • Life-Changing Event
  • Favorite Activity
  • Greatest influence

More college essays topics (and ideas): 

  • Plans for the future
  • Why you want to study at this specific college/university
  • Address an issue

Life-Changing Event

One example of how to approach a personal statement would be to discuss an important event in your life. This could be a life-changing trip your family took to Europe which inspired your love of architecture, or a story about how you worked for years to achieve your goal of learning to play the trombone. Even a story about a personal failure – trying out for the cheerleading squad and being the one person who didn’t make the cut – can be used to good effect if you can show how this experience helped you come to terms with the fact that you were better suited to a different activity and went on to play, say, a starring role on the basketball team rather than cheering from the sidelines.

Favorite Activity


Another kind of personal statement could involve describing a favorite activity. This activity need not be related to the course of study you plan to follow – in fact, it may be better if it’s something else entirely, since you want to show that you’re not one-dimensional. If you plan to study music, and the rest of your application is filled with testimonials from your violin teacher and awards you earned while participating in the state youth orchestra, it would be better to focus on your passion for cooking. An essay about how you perfected your special triple chocolate raspberry coconut cheesecake recipe will display your creativity while also highlighting a different aspect of your personality than that of dedicated musician.


Greatest Influence

You could also choose to discuss someone who has had a great influence on your life, and why. Did you learn important life lessons from your grandfather when the two of you went on fishing trips together? Or perhaps you had a special teacher who worked with you to overcome your fear of math and showed you that you can tackle any problem, no matter how difficult. You could also talk about a famous person who inspired you to follow in their footsteps – maybe a famous actor who sparked your love of theater, or a world leader who got you thinking about dedicating your life to public service.

Use Your Own Words!

The most important aspect of your personal statement is that it conveys what is special and distinctive about you. Not just what you’ve accomplished, but also your thoughts and feelings, and any hopes and dreams you may have for the future. Your goal is to express who you are, what made you this way, and what you’d like to do with your unique talents. Tell your story in your own words – don’t try to come across as someone you’re not. And do not, according to the advice given by an unnamed Oberlin admission counselor, give in to the temptation to let your parents write the essay for you! The admissions office doesn’t want a statement by your PR officer, no matter how well-meaning. Instead, they are looking to hear your own voice, and how you put across your own best assets, whether it be a sincere desire to learn, a willingness to try new things, a taste for adventure or a sense of humor. Believe in yourself, and express this confidence in your writing, as this will make your essay stand from the pack.