Updated: Aug 4, 2021
We all know the personal statement is a crucial part of one’s college application. It introduces you as an individual, gives a voice to your name, makes you more than a statistic, and punches you into the 3D world of being a real person in the eyes of an admissions officer. With so much at stake, it’s normal to be worried about whether your personal statement is able to fulfill all of those expectations, or whether it falls short. While every applicant’s essay will be different, there are a few common personal statement mistakes that students make every year, like clockwork. The first step to writing an excellent essay is avoiding the pitfalls that would make a reader lose interest. Read on for our top four mistakes to avoid when you start writing yours.
Wasting your essay by making it another activities list
Your essay should, first off, be an essay. Some students start out by writing a list of accomplishments, then detailing their experience with each one, and rolling through what essentially becomes another, longer, activities list. The thing is, you *already have* an activities list. It’s not just about coming off as a braggart - admissions officers want to come away from your personal statement with a picture of who you are in their minds, and nothing about your accomplishments in list form helps them do that. Instead, dig deep with an experience that changed you, altered your perspective, or contributed to your worldview.
Retelling the plot of Rocky (in a high school sports setting)
The people who read essays have read thousands - no, millions - of essay that follow the same rough plot. We’re all familiar with the “epic highs and lows of high school football,” as Archie Andrews put it, and frankly, tired of reading about how you learned such-and-such life lesson on the soccer field. Unless this story is very specific, or sports play a tangential role in the circumstances of something more uncommon or unique, stay away from cliché stories about the big game.
Being above this whole essay thing
While we understand the creative impulse to be outside the box, writing a haiku, submitting a collage, or singing an improvised musical number in the place of your personal statement will not go over well at the majority of universities. Some small liberal arts schools might embrace this creativity, but the truth is, the personal statement exists in this format for a reason - they want to hear you, not your artistic persona or character, speak. About yourself, not the state of the world. The point of this essay is to demonstrate top notch writing and communication skills - save the sarcasm, art, and improvisation for after you get to college.
If we’re being honest, this should be numbers 1, 2, and 3 on the list as well. Educational institutions care about the level of attention to detail and professional commitment that you invested in this essay. You’re asking to go to a school, so show them that you can spell, punctuate, and format like an adult. We recommend having someone else look over your essay, or using editing software like Grammarly.