Crafting an Effective Personal Statement,Mollie Reznick
The personal statement is arguably one of the most important components of a student’s college application. This is especially true if he is applying to a smaller school which has the resources to view his application “holistically”. This is the student’s chance to lend his application a third dimension, to transcend his grades and test scores, and figuratively speak to the admissions officers. This opportunity should not be taken lightly. When approaching the personal statement, the cardinal rule students should keep in mind is: if any other person on the planet could have written the same essay, trash it and start over again. The essay at its very core should be PERSONAL. It should reveal positive qualities about the applicant (maturity, responsibility, compassion, commitment, etc) through the lens of an engaging narrative.
I help my students start the process by brainstorming qualities about themselves that they feel are admirable. I then have them consider things that they are interested in. The ideal personal statement should be a topic where the fruits of these reflections intersect: an instance where the student demonstrated his maturity, responsibility, compassion, commitment, etc while doing something he truly cared about. Another approach is to consider an experience that has had great impact on the student’s life and what he learned from it (note: steer clear of dead grandmas, dead dogs, and “how I won the big game”. Again, these could happen to anyone.)
The first sentence is probably the most important part of the whole piece; it determines immediately whether a student has earned the reader’s full attention or merely a cursory glance. The first sentence should thrust the reader directly into the action of the story. Don’t necessarily start the essay at the beginning of the story; some of the most interesting essays begin in the middle. An effective formula (though by all means certainly not the only approach) is to open with a compelling story, and close with a reflection about its meaningfulness. The last sentence should be as memorable as the first as it is the last impression that the reader will be left with. Students should be encouraged to have friends, family members, and teachers proofread their essays but ensure that their voice is not altered.
*Mollie Reznick is the Associate Director at The College Connection. She is a third generation educational consultant, with a background in Shakespeare and performing arts. Mollie on Unigo
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