Summer College Checklist #7: Create a Strong Working Draft of the Personal Statement

If you were to choose one piece of the application work that stresses you out most, what would it be?

In our experience, there tends to be an overwhelming consensus for both students and parents: writing the personal statement.

But what makes that writing so daunting?

From our perspective, the pressure tends to build up well before the writing ever begins, and students start to obsess over what they could possibly write that will stand out from the rest of the pack.

On top of that, there is the constant barrage of advice, cautionary tales, rules, and gossip flying around schools, social circles, the internet — basically everywhere — telling students everything they should or should not be doing in college essays.

The result? Hours of staring at a blank screen, repeatedly typing half a sentence and starting over...and a growing cloud of self-doubt.

The personal statement is a genuinely tough assignment because most teenagers have never been given such an assignment — or instruction on how to approach it — before.

There are a few things to remember:

  • Just start writing. Lay out all the ideas that you can come up with in at least a week’s worth of stream-of-consciousness writing. Think word barfing on the page or screen for 20 minutes (literally — set a timer), and don’t delete, edit, or STOP writing until the time is up!

  • Don’t let the prompts box you in. Choose the topic that works for you, so that you can tell the story YOU want to tell — and make it personal.

  • Set aside a lot of time to write. The best personal statements usually take 2 - 3 full rewrites, and then multiples rounds of editing.

  • Focus on how you’ve grown into the person you are today. Use concrete sensory details to invite the reader into your unique experiences before reaching your broader conclusions.

  • 550 - 650 words isn’t a lot of space! Once you begin the writing process, think about the ONE thing about yourself that you want to stick in the mind of the reader, and concentrate on reinforcing that.

Teen LAUNCH