Personal Statements and Essays for College Admissions

In every essay you choose to answer, what you need to do is tell a story. Tell a compelling story that connects and cannot be forgotten.

Top schools generally have thousands of candidates with impressive grades and test scores. You’ve decided that you want to gain admission to one of them. Now you must stand out. To make yourself more than just one of the countless applications in the stack, you’ve got to nail every word and essay to have a chance at admission.

Common App Main Personal Statement

In less than 650 words of your own personal statement, the Common App uses these essay prompts for all applicants to choose from:

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encountercan be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realizationthat sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. 
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Whichever prompt you choose to answer, what you need to do is tell a story. Tell a compelling story that connects and cannot be forgotten.

An Essay Like No Other

In high school, you mastered the art of crafting an essay that analyzes a written passage or argues a point about a historical event. But the college admissions personal statement is different. The subject is you, and the directions to take are limitless. It’s no wonder this part of the college admissions process is often the most daunting and anxiety-ridden for even the most prepared students.

The members of our Going Ivy team, who have gained admission to nearly every top university in the country, know how to write compelling essays and personal statements and supplemental essays schools want to read. We will walk you through every step of the process, including appropriate topic selection, organizing your thoughts, editing and proofreading.

If you have heard that admissions officers don’t really read the essays, add that to the list of inaccuracies and myths about the admissions process. Colleges very rarely decide admission or rejection based solely on grades and test scores. They almost always read, critique and gain insight into the applicants from the personal statements and essays. Your words are a window into who you are and what you will add to the college, and they are of critical importance. Test scores and grades show the schools what you have achieved academically—the essays (often referred to as personal statements) allow the admissions officers to get to know you as an actual person through your experiences and accomplishments.

What to Write About in Your Admissions Essays

Many colleges ask about a significant experience or achievement and its impact on you. Some colleges ask about obstacles you have overcome. Some want you to describe your extracurricular activities. Some want to know why you are applying to that school. And some just want you to tell them something about yourself. Some schools sometimes offer essays that they say are optional. We suggest you write these essays too.

In general, the admissions officer reading your application is looking for two things:

  • How are you unique and how that uniqueness will fit into their college community?
  • How and why have the details described in this essay shaped
    your attitude, focus and intellectual maturity?

The answer cannot be a listing of accomplishments. It has to be authentic, revealing, interesting, humble, insightful, rich in detail, vivid in word choice and grammatically correct.

A great essay must also answer the question. And most of all, the best essays are written by confident students. Colleges want to know that students will be a success personally and academically on their campus and beyond.

Going Ivy’s helpful brainstorming sessions and worksheets will inspire you with essay ideas, and from there you’ll write an essay only you can write because only you have experienced it. We’ll help you with introspection and avoiding a cliché answer, but just like all aspects of the college counseling work of the Going Ivy team, we’ll support the work you put into the process.

Common Personal Statement Mistakes

Don’t let these mistakes happen to you:

  • The essay regurgitates information that is already in the application itself.
  • The writer complains about circumstances rather than explaining them.
  • Money or college ranking is noted as the motivating factor for applying.
  • The essay uses generalized statements rather than substance and detail.
  • Something is claimed in the essay that isn’t anywhere else in the application and can’t be supported or proven.
  • The essay contains the wrong school name or points to a program not offered at the school.
  • The essay includes grammar errors, clichés, or doesn’t answer the prompt.
  • The essay is much too short or much too long.

Contact Going Ivy for Your Consultation

Going Ivy offers free, no-obligation consultations for students. During your consultation, we will ask you many questions in order to get to know you better and learn more about your experiences and unique voice. This assists our admissions counselors with developing a comprehensive plan that is best designed to help you write amazing essays. To learn more about how we can help you with your essays and with your college admissions needs, contact us today.

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