A strong personal statement or college application essay is the key to getting into your school of choice. A good personal statement is well organized, but also interesting, making the reader want to learn more about you. In this blog, you can read our tips on how to structure your essays and make your essays stand out. You will learn how to craft an outstanding college essay that will help you get into the school of your dreams! Plus, you will get to read sample college essays that will inspire you to write your own!
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Prompt: The Harvard College Honor code declares that we "hold honesty as the foundation of our community." As you consider entering this community that is committed to honesty, please reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty. (650 words)
"I sit in a hot SUV winding it’s way over a bumpy African road, a scarf protecting my nose and mouth as dust streams in through the window. Returning from a teaching session with the Maasai women, the other students' excited chatter dances around me as they discuss our invitation to the Maasai coming of age ceremony. The ceremony centres on the circumcision of pubescent males and females; often performed with a sharp rock and no anesthetic. It is a rite of passage for the Maasai. My stomach is a tight knot, picturing the children we met today and imagining the painful procedure they will soon undergo. The other students, excited about the feast and intricate costumes, hope that accepting the invitation will strengthen our bond with the community. I, however, am weighed down by a profound sense of unease when it comes to the main attraction, the circumcisions. Further, the leader of the organization is absent; should she not be consulted? Do I go along with the group, and participate in something that I am morally opposed to? Or do something about it?
For me, the strength of a person’s character is defined by their ability to act on their values and stand up for what they believe in. Having strong moral values only becomes a powerful agent of change when one is willing to follow through on them with action. Situations, such as this one, where I feel a sinking sensation deep in my gut, help to cue me to conflicts with my own values, prompting me to gather more information, thus taking the first step towards informed action.
In this situation, the knots in my stomach came from being asked to participate in the celebration of female genital mutilation; a practice which is decidedly against my personal values of reducing human suffering and promoting women’s rights. My visceral reaction came specifically from the idea of watching while doing nothing to intervene. Further, I worried that, as students, our group would be woefully ill-equipped to navigate the nuances of the situation, potentially resulting in harm to our relationship with the community. Plus, due to our association with a medical organization, our presence could be mis-interpreted as an endorsement of the safety of these procedures. With the potential to do harm and without an actionable plan in place for stopping genital mutilation, I concluded that I could not, in good conscience, attend the ceremony.
Though I had decided that I could not go, I still felt concerned about the potential impact of the group's attendance, and wanted to gain more insight into the situation before deciding on a course of action. I shared my concerns with my partner and another student. My partner agreed with me, and we decided to consult his physician father. We quickly learned that Canadian physicians are not legally permitted to condone female genital mutilation, meaning that our attending the ceremony could have legal ramifications for our physician-run organization. With this information in hand, I knew I had to contact the organization lead about the excursion. She forbid our group from attending, requesting that I inform the other students, who were obviously disappointed that I had 'gotten the trip cancelled'.
Though I believe my course of action was the right one and I would not change the outcome, looking back, I wish I had voiced my concerns earlier; it may have made the end result easier for the other students to swallow. In spite of this, being honest when expressing my discomfort with a situation and choosing an alternative course of action that is aligned with my values has never led me to make a decision that I regret. Though standing up for what you believe in, and doing what is right, is not always easy, it is always worth it, and arguably the only way of living a life without regrets."
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Your college personal statement is your only opportunity to showcase your personality to the admissions committee, and it truly can make or break your college application. As an academic consultant, I've helped a lot of students write strong personal statements and get accepted into their dream schools. Here is a list of the 5 most important components of crafting a creative and personal college admissions essay.
1. Read and Re-Read Your Prompts:
Read each prompt at least 2-3 times and jot down each part of the question. Take time to think about each question and let it sink in, and make sure that your essay actually addresses all components of the question. Nothing will get your essay thrown out faster then completely missing the point of the question, so make sure your essay is on topic!
Once you have given the prompt some time to sink in, reflect on your life experiences and how they have shaped the person you are today. Think about:
- Where you were born
- How you grew up
- Challenges you faced along the way
- Sports and extracurricular activities
- Volunteer and work activities
- Why you chose this particular school
- Why you chose your degree of study
- What you hope to accomplish in the future
Next, dig a little deeper, thinking about what you learned from each experience and how it shaped you as a person. Tease out the experiences that best address the question, while showcasing your strongest qualities and most positive character traits.
3. Create an Outline:
Lack of structure is the most common error I see in application essays. Structure helps to guide your reader from topic to topic within your essay, keeping them oriented throughout. Using an academic essay format helps to make your message both stronger and easier for the reader to understand. To prevent a lack of structure, start your essay with an outline. For my outlines, I usually start with the thesis (What am I trying to demonstrate with the essay?) and then craft my mapping statement (the points I will use to illustrate my thesis) and plan my body paragraphs. A properly structured essay contains:
4. Say it With Feeling:
Choose topics that you are passionate about. Get excited about your subject matter! Write about how situations made you feel, what you learned from your experiences and how it will serve you in the future. An essay written on a topic that you are passionate about will have a more genuine voice and will make for a more compelling and memorable read. The personal statement is your one chance to showcase your personality and character, so let your natural voice shine through!
Or, more importantly, get someone else to do it! Ask that person if you addressed the question, if your essay makes sense, and if your message is clear. Ask them for their impression of the person writing the essay, how would they describe this person? Does that match with what you were trying to convey? What did they think of the tone of your essay? It can be very helpful to ask someone who doesn't know you very well, because they will have no preconceived notions of your character or experiences and will thus be more objective. Ask a good teacher, a counselor, or another professional to go over your draft.
**Bonus Tip** Read that prompt one last time!
Note that it's also a good idea to go back and re-read the prompt one last time after you've completed the final draft of your personal statement. This way, you're absolutely sure that the prompt has been responded to effectively, after going through all the writes and re-writes you'll likely do in perfecting your admission essay.
1. Do college essays even matter?
Yes, your college admission essays are important. Although the committee can evaluate your academic abilities based on your grades and test scores, the essay is your chance to present a full, unique story of your experiences. While many students have great marks and scores, the essay is usually the weak link in many students’ applications. You must work hard to create an essay that will make your application stand out.
2. What can I write about in my essay for college?
The essay prompts are typically very open-ended. You can choose to write about any topic you like as long as it directly relates to the prompt. Remember, you must answer the prompt, do not ignore it! As I already said, essay prompts are open to interpretation, so try to be original. Instead of writing about common topics like a sports victory or a difficult test, brainstorm unique ideas for your college essay. Rather than playing it safe, take your chance to be unique and unforgettable.
Your essay is your chance to be personable, real, and honest. Discuss what shaped you and your world view, or what concerns you about humanity’s future, or discuss a painter or a filmmaker who changed your life. Do not be afraid to explore different topics. Put yourself in the shoes of an admissions committee member, wouldn’t you want to read something exciting, new, and different?
3. When should I start my essay?
Give yourself ample amount of time to prepare your essay. It might take you weeks or even months to shape it into a great paper. Give yourself at least 8 weeks to prepare your submission.
4. How should I start writing my essay?
To prepare your paper, start by reading the prompt and ensuring you understand what it is asking. Reflect on your life and experiences – brainstorm ideas and think how they can come together into a narrative. If you are having trouble writing your introduction, start by writing the body paragraphs. They will be the bulk of your essay. Then, move on to the introduction and conclusion – these will be easier to write if you already know what your essay includes.
5. Should I get someone to read my essay before I submit?
It might be a good idea for someone to review your essay. Do not let too many people read it, as too many reviews could make your essay into a melting pot of ideas and opinions. Ideally, your reader is someone you trust and who can provide you with honest feedback on the content and grammar of your essay.
6. How do I make my essay stand out?
Remember, this is your story. Instead of writing about topics often used in college essays, reflect on your own unique experiences and choose something that will intrigue and interest the admissions committee. You might not think that your life and experiences are very interesting, but you are wrong. Try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and look at your life objectively – dig deep and give yourself time to brainstorm a variety of options.
To your success,
Your friends at BeMo
BeMo Academic Consulting
*Please note that our sample essays are the property of BeMo Academic Consulting, and should not be re-used for any purpose. Admissions committees regularly check for plagiarism from online sources.