A great personal essay is key to some colleges

By Joleen Montoya and Anne Levine
Posted 11/14/19

A Google search about how to approach college and scholarship essays will yield so many results it will make your head spin.

There is such noise surrounding this step - it is almost debilitating. Students and parents alike agonize over what might be the catchiest topics, but there are no right or wrong subjects.

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A great personal essay is key to some colleges

Posted

A Google search about how to approach college and scholarship essays will yield so many results it will make your head spin.

There is such noise surrounding this step - it is almost debilitating. Students and parents alike agonize over what might be the catchiest topics, but there are no right or wrong subjects. Often narratives that are about common experiences can make for the most refreshing, revealing pieces. What is most important is that your voice and personality come through.

Many colleges do not require admissions essays, but for those that do, it is a central component of the process. Chances are, if you don't have to write a personal statement as part of your application, you will most likely need to write one when applying for scholarships. While your transcript is the most evaluated piece of your application, the essay is very important, and for a student on the margins it can make or break acceptance to a school or receiving a scholarship.

Colleges and scholarship committees ask for personal statements because they want to get a sense of your character. They are interested in finding out that you are ready for a transformative experience, that you understand your growth up to this point in your life and that you are ready to take on the rigors of postsecondary education.

Colleges are tasked with the responsibility of building an interesting, well-rounded student body and want to better understand what you might contribute to their community. At the most basic level, they want to assess your writing ability.

Successful personal statements are written honestly and center around what is truly meaningful to you. Writing this type of essay is an opportunity for self-reflection, and to share who you are beyond test scores and grades. While it may feel awkward to reveal details about yourself to strangers, give yourself permission to tell personal stories and provide specific examples about your experiences.

If you're not sure how to begin, try free writing. Often something meaningful will pop up that you can expand upon.

Another way to get started is to take 15 minutes to write your biography in the third person and then see if anything you've written sparks an idea. Stay with it and don't feel discouraged if it doesn't come together right away -- this is a process that merits many revisions. When successful, this process can feel messy and painful because you are discovering who you are, what you care about and how you want to articulate this to the world.

Admissions and scholarship committees never ask for information they don't find useful. Admissions representatives recommend that you give the short answers on your application as much care as you do the main essay. Use these short essays as an opportunity to illustrate your understanding of the college or scholarship, and show how you will contribute to the campus or further the values and goals of the scholarship committee.

Give yourself enough time before the due date to polish your work. Look at how you vary your sentence length, how you begin sentences and how you create rhythm in your writing. Review carefully for typos and grammatical errors. Solicit feedback from trusted readers who will critique content and assist with editing.

We are here to help. You are welcome to set up an appointment in advance of your deadline and we can help you develop essays that will reflect who you are.

Call Bridges Project at (575) 758-5074 or email at info@bridgesproject.org

Joleen Montoya and Anne Levine are college counselors at Bridges. Bridges Project for Education has been providing free college counseling since 1997.

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