A Toolbox for Writing the Personal Statement           by Patti Brugman


         Now that the early action date for applying to college is behind you, it is time to write for the schools that require a personal statement. This seems like an easy task, but it amazes us how often students doodle in the margins over this topic. What exactly should a personal statement say?

         A personal statement is a chance to write about yourself, but take heed of last week’s warning: the admissions counselor with a teetering stack of essays to read, late at night, with a deadline in the morning. Let me give you some handy ways to self-start a personal essay that will keep that counselor wide-awake with an honest reflection of your compelling character.

         Use the 500-1000 word allowance to take your reader for a day with you as you race a small sailboat, or inch up the side of a sheer rock wall. Show us your thinking as you round the mark or make a foothold. What have you learned about yourself in the process of mastering your sport?  Show us the steps. Teach us what you know. Or was it you, the jock, who listened your inner spirit and joined the choir or tried ballroom dancing? These are the kinds of stories that make you memorable because they reveal your passion.

         Maybe there is something noteworthy in your life that is ironic or even poetic. Are your divorced parents amiable neighbors? Does your grandmother live with your family, or does a sibling have a handicap that actually enriches your life? Maybe you collect shoes or can do a Sudoku puzzle in record time. A personal statement not only gives you a chance to showcase the unusual in your life, but it requires that you show your character and attitude in the process. This can be a rich experience, indeed.  

         Admissions counselors love it when you reveal how you have grown from incapable to able or have made a failure into a success. The trick here is to move away from the subject or situation and show yourself as a learner and leader.

         The best news about writing the personal statement is that once you have written a good one, you will know it because you’ll feel great about yourself and where you’re headed in life. And that is a winning statement, indeed!