1. Brainstorm. We are still teenagers, but we have much experience to write about, both academic and non-academic. The brainstorming process can be very fun, since you get to picture different memories and dig them out from the past. Talk to your family and friends to get a more holistic view of your growth. Think about the moments that sparked your intellectual curiosity, reminisce about some off-campus activities that informed your leadership style or helped you become more of an open-minded risk-taker. A good tool to use is the Johari Window. It allows your family and friends to anonymously pick a few adjectives to describe your personality.
2. Go to your school counselor for advice. If you do not have a counselor, find someone you trust who has gone through the application cycle himself / herself. An experienced person will tell you if something really does not work. You want to get the general directions ‘right’. Sure, there is no right or wrong in terms of writing, but some of the things to avoid would be a) sounding pompous, b) being dishonest, c) a story / memory from way back that is no longer relevant in defining your character as of today, and d) a personal statement headed in a clichéd direction. There are ways that you could make a bad impression on the Admissions Officers, so beware of them from the moment you start drafting your personal statement.
3. Pay attention to the style of writing. We need to achieve a balance in terms of formality and creativity, in my opinion. In most of my creative writing pieces, as you can see from my previous articles, I tend to use ‘flowery’ language.
4. Be succinct. Personally, I love writing long, long sentences. Although I am a firm believer in ‘quantity can be quality’ and ‘more is more’, I have to advise you that the essay readers are paid according to ‘quantity’ – the more personal statements they read, the more $ they make:) Imagine your readers sitting next to a table that has mountains of essays. Picture their eyes – so drowsy…half shut…during the long days and nights. Be merciful:)
5. Introduction and conclusions are very significant, or shall I say, vitally important. Have you ever been assigned a tedious academic essay that you really do not want to read? Your strategy might have been focusing on the opening and closing paragraphs. Similarly, it might be a good idea to really demonstrate your style of writing and your ability to write concisely and coherently from the very beginning. Conclude with a flourish. One trick to use is to relate the conclusion and the beginning to create an ‘echoing’ effect.
6. Do not be afraid to complete many, many drafts. Although I admit that I do not like editing my essays most of the time, I completed at least 10 drafts of my personal statement. It is, after all, a document through which the Admissions Officers can truly get to know you beyond skimming through the long list of your grades, achievements, awards, and leadership roles.
7. Proofread and edit. Sometimes, you get so used to your own work that you don’t pay attention to minor mistakes. Apart from reading it out loud, share your work with your friends, teachers, and family members.
8. Here are several common causes of headaches during the application cycle. Watch out for them.
i. Do not know when to start
ii. Too many ideas
iii. Do not know which one to pick or what to focus on
iv. Cannot effectively balance school work with application work, two equally important components of the last few terms of high school
v. Become tired of editing and reediting essay
vi. And eventually, senioritis!
I wish you (or your children) the best of luck! If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment.