I have some bad news and some good news. The good news is that the tips on writing a good personal statement apply regardless of where you want to get into. The bad news is that unless you are one of those few students that have been outperforming 99% of your classmates in every way, even a Pulitzer Prize-winning personal statement (if that were even possible) wouldn't help a student get into an ivy league that wasn't otherwise competitive.
It's a big ol' myth that's perpetrated by the college admissions industry and newspapers because it's like catnip for parents and students alike. While a well-written personal statement can definitely tilt the scales in your favor, it will only give you an edge over your competition, not a facelift.
The Longterm Health Benefits of a Deep Personal Statement
So if I am here to talk about the personal statement, why on earth am I discussing health benefits. Well, because choosing to do this personal statement in a deeper way than the average student, can have a huge impact on your overall well-being and mental health.
Research on narrative psychology from the American Psychological Association shows that the stories we create about ourselves and that we share with the world, help shape our own sense of self-worth, our identity, and even our future. For instance, people who portray their past as a redemption story are more likely to give back to their community. And how we frame our past contributes significantly to how we perceive our own mental health. So requiring students to try and frame their lives in a way that connects the seemingly arbitrary into some grander scheme is actually a stroke of genius, for those teenagers who choose to accept it.
So what should I write about?
You could write about anything, as long as you don't write your story in a cliche way. What admissions officers really want is you- in a story- wrapped in a neat little bow. They want the thread that connects your life into some unifying them as equally as they want the parts that make you feel vulnerable. But they want it humble, they want it presented in a refreshingly creative way, and they want it oozing with personality.
So in the end, it's not about what you write about, but how you write it. Think human connection. You want to write a story that can connect with others through shared sentiments and grander appeals. What worked well in Papa John's essay (which is a personal statement that got a teenager into Yale) was not just that she loved some corporate conglomerate, but how she tied her appreciation for something that we all share (pizza) to abstrations like liberty. That student's essay oozed personality. In the words of the Admission officer, she said, "I kept thinking that you are the kind of person that I would want to be best friends with." That's the kind of essay admissions officers want to read.