Let me paint a picture for you. It is the middle of February, there are snow banks outside my apartment that are taller than I am (I'm only five foot two so that's not too difficult, but still) and I am nearing the finish line - I am almost done reading all the applications from my territories. I open up the last application of the day and begin the common app essay, or what we call the personal statement. I start reading, excited to learn more about the applicant, but as I continue reading, I can't help but think that the essay was definitely written for an English class the applicant took junior year. Something about it doesn't feel quite right...
You may be wondering, "Why is it such a bad idea to use an essay I already wrote?" You're busy and if you can save some time by reusing something you've already written, why wouldn't you? It's actually pretty simple- a personal statement is unlike any piece of writing you will write for your English class. In fact, it is probably the only piece of writing where the purpose of it is to help us get to know you. Honestly, it's not the topic that matters. When I'm reading through a common app essay, what makes me the most excited is the voice. I'm looking for an essay that sounds like you and embodies who you are as a senior in high school. If you are super excited about your robotics class, I want your enthusiasm to leap off the page. I probably won't understand the specifics of your final project, but I'm still going to get excited about the topic because I can tell you love it so much.
In my opinion, the type of writing that works best for personal statement is not the type of writing that will earn you an A. This is one of the only essays you will write that is exclusively about you, not someone's else's thoughts that are published in a book. The tone, length and purpose of a personal statement is different than that reflection piece that you wrote for your junior year English class. And that's the hard part. You've spent a lot of time writing to get those As in English, and now you have to switch gears and write from a completely different perspective.
I'm not saying to permanently destroy all of those essays you wrote your junior year. You can use them, but only as a jumping off point. If you love that topic from your final essay, try re-writing it with the idea of a personal statement in the back of your mind. When students struggle with their personal statement, I always give them one piece of advice- work backwards. First, think about what you want the schools you are applying to know about you and then just write. Don't focus on trying to answer the prompts, just tell us what you think is a crucial part of who you are. By shifting your focus, you won't feel constricted by the common application prompts and will have a lot more fun in the process. Happy writing!
If you still feel like you need more advice, check out some past essays we loved here!
Image courtesy of Ramiro Ramirez