The personal statement of the Common Application is feared by most students. But if students understand what colleges want to see from the personal statement, it becomes much less intimidating.
Colleges look at the personal statement for two basic reasons. First, they want to see how well you write. Of course this means no misspellings or partial sentences. But it is more than that. Can you write an interesting essay? Can you write a story that people want to read?
Structuring the personal statement as a story is not the only way to write the personal statement but it is often one of the best ways. Humans by nature like to tell stories and listen to stories. If you can tell a story in your essay, you are much more likely to have an interesting essay.
Is there a set format for this story? No. Is there a set format for the essay at all? No.
So, if you are going to tell a story, what is your story going to be about? This brings us to the second thing that colleges look for in the personal statement. Colleges want to learn something about you that they don’t otherwise find in the rest of the application.
This isn’t really a time to tell them what you feel as much as why you feel, think or behave a certain way. And nothing says you can’t talk about a weakness. In most cases, particularly for very strong students, talking about a weakness can make you more real and approachable.
Think about what you want to communicate to the college about who you are deep down and write a story that gives examples from your life. This is not an easy process and it may take many days to figure out what you want to talk about.
But, if you understand what the colleges want from the personal statement, you will have a much stronger essay than most of the other students who are applying. With everyone having good grades and test scores, an interesting story can be the difference that makes you the most competitive candidate.