Tips for writing a good personal essay


Ofelia Mattingly

The personal essay is one of the most important parts of the college application process. Graphic by Ofelia Mattingly.

Ofelia Mattingly

As we are heading through the final semester of the 2021-2022 school year, there is a new population of students who will be preparing for the college application session. As a current senior who has finished all of her college applications, the personal essay is what challenged me the most.

The personal essay is a way for colleges to get to know the applicant by hearing a story about the student that is especially unique to them. Unlike the other sections of college applications, the personal essay is the only section where you can talk about yourself and stand out from the rest of the applicants.

Now it may seem a little too soon for students to start working on their essay, but it is never too early to start preparing as there is no particular prompt students need to follow. Here are some tips to think about before starting your personal essay.

Start with an anecdote

An anecdote is a small story usually found in the beginning of an essay. Starting with a story to introduce yourself will set the tone for the rest of your essay. Make sure to have a catchy introduction to catch the admission officers attention. This is attainable by having a story that is especially unique to yourself.

Do not worry about language

One of the pressures to avoid is using language that you yourself do not use in your everyday life. You may want to use “big” words to show how intelligent and professional you are, but that is not the important part of your essay. Do not be scared of using simple words, this brings out your character more than harder words do.

Connect different experiences

First, you start with an anecdote, now you can write about another story. Make sure this new story is similar to the anecdote’s topic. For example, if you decide to write about a unique experience with volunteer work, you can make your anecdote about why you decided to volunteer, then the body about your own experiences with helping while volunteering. Conclude with how happy you feel about it. 

Have editors

Find some peers, teachers and guardians to read over your essay. Do not take any criticism to heart, your editors want you to help you present yourself as best as you can to the college admission officers.

Do not worry about the word limit

The word limit is always daunting to look at when writing an essay. The easy thing about a personal essay is that you are mainly talking about yourself and the experiences you have over the years, and who knows those specifics more than yourself? Just continue writing without looking at the word limit, then have an editor read over it and make suggestions on what to add or remove. After these edits, your word limit should not be a problem.

The personal essay is one of the longest parts of the college application, but with the right amount of work and edits, your essay can stand out against other applicants. Do not be embarrassed to write about yourself, colleges want to know the authentic you.