The #1 Personal Statement Mistake Most Students Make (and How to Avoid It)

If you are planning to apply for college within the next few years, you're probably aware that you'll need to write a personal statement (or your "main" college essay of about 500 - 650 words).

Do you know what it takes to create a personal statement that gives you the best chance at acceptance -- into the college that is the best fit for you? What do college admissions want to see in a personal statement? What should you share in a personal statement?

 

The Most Common Mistake

Students (and their parents) become incredibly overwhelmed by these questions. When looking for answers, trying to include all the most impressive details in their personal statement, many make a terrible mistake that creates the wrong impression for admissions readers.

Here's why this mistake is so easy to make. After more than three years of busting their butt for great grades, a solid list of extracurricular activities, and maxed-out test scores, most students are stuck in a head space of trying to anticipate exactly what admissions officials want to see. They feel pressured to be perceived as impressive, well-rounded, accomplished or professional. This often leads students to focus on comparing themselves to others, which triggers an immense amount of stress.

However, there is one thing all students must do before writing their personal statement: they must look within themselves.

Protect yourself from stress and fear before you begin writing by finding your inspiration. It will instill your work with confidence and clarity -- which will ultimately show in your writing.

What Is Inspiration?

What inspires you? For many people, this is not a simple question to answer, or the answer feels somehow contrived or boring, even to you.

When we talk about "inspiration," we're using that word in fairly broad sense. For many people, the word automatically conjures images of cheesy posters about teamwork or leadership of following dreams...but we want to open that up a bit.

While inspiration can be found in the career you hope to someday have or in the thing you love to do more than anything else, it can also be something that has caused you discomfort or even pain. If it bothered you enough to act upon it, that experience could be worth writing about. (Note that we're not encourage you to dwell on that pain point, but rather what you did to learn from it.)

In other words, inspiration is anything that compels you to take action. When you take action, you inevitably have an experience. An experience offers you the chance to grow as a person -- to add something to your life's picture that wasn't there before.

 

How Does Connecting with Your Inspiration Create the Best Personal Statement?

While everyone else is scrambling to come up with something impressive, you will be focused, relaxed, and confident because you'll already have the perfect centerpiece for an application that represents your best, most authentic self.

Searching for the perfect angle and fretting over what you SHOULD or SHOULDN'T write about will cause your stress level surrounding the entire application process to skyrocket. This will be especially problematic when it comes to your personal statement, because, while admissions readers hope to glimpse the true you through those pages, you might find yourself stuck with the worst writer's block of your life.

Why Does Your Inspiration Matter to Colleges?

Your voice is the window through which admissions readers want to get a glimpse at who you are as a human being. Your inspiration allows you to easily speak with a unique and engaging voice. Colleges want to see that spark and what it has ignited in you. They know better than anyone the particular "vibe" of the students on their campus. Is that the vibe they're picking up in your piece?

Beyond that, colleges seek out inspired minds because it's precisely those minds that take big actions and risks that pay off in the end. They contribute to the community that surrounds them. Put another way, no one ever accomplished anything without inspiration. It's what you'll need not only to succeed in college, but to make use of everything you gain from college later in your life as an adult.

 

It Will Be Easy to Start Early.

Part of starting early is finding just the subject and the angle at which you want to approach that subject that feels just right for you. It can be a lengthy process that requires many rounds of sitting down and gathering up what's on your mind at the time, and then sifting back through all those thoughts to find the real gems. (This is where you can make the most out of the space afforded to you by the "topic of your choice" writing prompts.)

Starting when you have your application deadlines coming up, however, comes with the panic of "I don't know where to begin, and I don't have any time, so I need someone or something to tell me what to do — now!" These are the writers who tend to think more narrowly about the prompts, as if they're writing a school paper, and because they're thinking in a more formulaic way, they'll write a narrow, formulaic, and often cliché piece -- a reader's worst nightmare.

The key? There is no one-size-fits-all formula for a great personal statement. By their nature, the piecess that make the most impact are the ones that are as unique as the people who wrote them.

 

Find and Use Your Inspiration Now.

Now that you get the idea, put it into action! Don't get discouraged if you aren't sure what or where you draw your inspiration from.

We have made it simple and easy for you to get started with our free, downloadable step-by-step worksheet, The Personal Statement Inspiration Finder. You'll find instructions to help you get connected to your inspiration, and with it, form the foundation of a brilliant college essay only YOU could write.

If you'd like to learn about how to connect to your inspiration, write an outstanding personal statement, and start your journey to college, watch our free, on-demand webinar

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