THE PERSONAL ESSAY: Making the Most of First Impressions

Making the most of the personal essay is easier said than done.  How does one put an entire life of experience into one or two typed pages?  How can a student convey who they are and what they want, AND, why this particular school has a particular program that works for the student’s particular needs?

The easy answer is: You can’t.  I like to apply Einstein’s basic principle here:  Keep it simple.  People may be complex, but when you are first meeting a person on paper, you need to convey your intellect in the most straightforward way possible.  Keep it simple.

How can you keep it simple? 

Easy.  Do what every good writer from every generation has always done:  Write what you know.  Don’t use words you’re unfamiliar with.  Don’t exaggerate your accomplishments.  And last but certainly not least, DON’T have your parents, or your girlfriend, boyfriend, or anyone other than YOU, write your essay.  Straightforward.  Simple.

I know, I know, there are those of you reading this right now saying, “People do that?” in shock and dismay.  Yes, people do that.  There is nothing wrong with having a parent or friend help you EDIT your essay—in fact—I encourage peer editing.  The problem comes in with authenticity—“keeping it real”, if you’d prefer.

There is no magic formula.  Sit down with pen and paper. Begin to brainstorm your most influential experiences in your lifetime, not just during your four years of high school, or your four years as an undergraduate.  You need to show you’re more than just an automaton writing with a single purpose.  This essay shows admissions counselors WHO YOU ARE.  Your transcripts, letters of recommendations, portfolio, writing sample, website—all are excellent, all are important pieces of the puzzle.  But your personal essay is YOUR CHANCE to say, “Hey, I’m more than what you see on paper or screen.”

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