Essay Writing & Personal Statement Tips

Below are some helpful tips that will benefit students in their essay writing and personal statements!

Manage your time! The easiest way to get overwhelmed by your essays is to force yourself to be rushed to make a deadline. Ensuring you leave yourself enough time to manage and deliver all of the proper application materials for an award can save you tons of time and a lot of stress as the deadline approaches.

Receive help from our Office! If you want assistance in wording your essays or making sure you are staying on track with what is being asked then be sure to schedule time to meet with us and we can adjust your drafts together! There are also resources such as the Writing Center that will be happy to help you better your application and your skills!

Your personal statement should share your story with reviewers, giving them a window into who you are, why you do the things you do, and where you see yourself in the future. Before you start writing, think about the stories you tell your friends and family when they ask what you're doing or what you want to do after college. Those stories will provide a great place to start for any personal statement. The more you open up in your writing, the easier it will be for reviewers to get to know and remember you.

Ask for feedback well in advance of the deadline so you have time to make revisions. You'll want to use this feedback to anticipate questions or critiques the formal reviewers may have so you can address them in your drafts. Those who take the time to give you feedback may not have the same perspective as the award's audience, which you'll want to keep in mind as you respond to and incorporate their feedback. Contacting the office or visiting the Writing Center are two very helpful resources.

Be specific in what you write! It can be very tempting to write vague generalities to avoid sounding too narrow, committing to something you're not totally sure you want to do, or offending anyone. Avoid that temptation. You want your essays to be specific so reviewers can clearly understand who you are, what you're interested in, and why you're applying. That specificity is what will distinguish you from other applicants.

Be unique in your writing! When you're writing, focus on how you can show readers what makes you different from everyone else who applies. Highlight unique experiences in your life and use those to become the applicant readers remember. Being vulnerable and specific will help you to write the best essays and statements so that the readers know exactly who is applying and will remember those stories.

Breaking Down the Personal Statement

1. Follow the format

The personal statement is one of many writing genres. As a genre, personal statements have recognizable patterns, syntax, techniques, and/or conventions. This means you should not make up your own rules for the form and content, no matter how tempting it may be. Instead, you'll want to understand what personal statements aim to do and what the readers of them expect.

2. Keep in mind the purpose

The personal statement is how you introduce yourself to reviewers. It can be a snapshot of who you are as a person, an invitation for readers to get to know you, or evidence of your priorities, values, and judgment. Most importantly it is your story! It is your chance to give the reviewers a more complete view of your interests and qualifications than they could get from your resume and transcript. To do this, you'll want to tell a narrative (story) about your interests, experiences, qualifications, and future plans. And, most importantly, you'll want to make clear to everyone who reads it why you're applying for this particular opportunity/program and why the reviewers should choose you. Think about being honest and what you are comfortable sharing with others.

3. Start the first draft

There are lots of ways to get started with writing your personal statement: you could describe the first moment you felt energized by your studies; make a list of your 5-10 greatest accomplishments, 10 adjectives that describe you, or the 7 things your friends/advisors/mentors would say about you; explain how you got involved in research; identify your long-term goals; describe a time where you went against the grain; tell us more about something on your resume; etc. It doesn't matter where you start as long as you write something. First drafts aren't supposed to be good so don't worry about grammar, organization, or structure. Your goal, for now, is to get something written down. Focus on the content and identifying the key elements of the story you want to tell. Don't overthink the writing process! Set aside some time (30 minutes or so) and try to keep yourself engaged and focused in your writing the entire time.

Improving Every Draft

Revisiting the first draft

If it’s been at least 36 hours since you last looked at your personal statement, then you’re ready to revisit it. Stepping away from what you've written is an essential part of the writing process. Then, conduct a second read of your first draft. As you're reading, take notes (in a separate file, on a sheet of paper, by hand on a printed copy) on any big picture changes you'd like to make. Next, answer the following questions:

What story/stories have you told?
What interesting personal or educational experiences have you described?
How have you explained your personal or professional inspiration?
What have you included about your academic background?
Is there content you think may no longer be necessary?
Is there any additional information you'd like other people to know about you?
After answering these questions, what content do you want to add to subsequent drafts?

Writing the Second Draft

After following the steps above and considering the questions that will help you enhance your draft, there is more that can be done to make sure you have the best personal statement possible. Think about your answers to the questions above and how they might be used to improve that first draft.

Before you begin working on your second draft, take some time to think about whether the story you have told is the story you want to tell. This means thinking about the audience (your intended readers), the program/opportunity you’re applying for, and any guidance or criteria they’ve provided. For example, if your personal statement focuses entirely on your first time looking through a telescope at the planets and they’ve asked you to write about why you want to study Hindi in India, it might not be the right personal statement for this particular application.

When you’re ready, start writing a second draft of your personal statement. Don’t be afraid to scrap phrases, sentences, and paragraphs! This is your chance to rebuild your personal statement with a stronger foundation. As before, don't worry about length, grammar, phrasing, or structure. Focus on ensuring the content you want is on the page/screen. Once you have a solid second draft, the next step is getting feedback on it from others. You can do this by consulting our Office, having a friend read it over, and more.