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Sample Personal History Statement

personal history college essay

by Talha Omer, MBA, M.Eng., Harvard & Cornell Grad

In personal statement samples by field.

A personal history statement (PHS) provides an insight into your academic and professional endeavors. It should include your notable achievements as well as the challenges you have faced. The purpose of a PHS is to provide the admissions committee with a better understanding of your personality, your motivation, and how your prior experiences have prepared you for the future.

Here is a sample personal history statement of a student who applied to the anthropology program and got into several top schools like Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford.

Growing up in a family and society that strictly adhered to the traditional roles of a “proper conservative woman,” I have found pride in breaking free from these restrictive cultural expectations and in embracing my own identity and self-expression.

As the first female in my family to study arts, I remember feeling discouraged when, during a sixth-grade science class, I was lectured by my teacher on the importance of hard sciences and the perceived uselessness of arts. This came after she saw my notebook filled with a detailed sketch of the circulatory system of a frog. Her face betrayed her disdain. The muffled laughter of my classmates seemed to confirm her notions – as if to say that only the truly intelligent pursued careers in the hard sciences.

During my tenth-grade, my family pressured me to choose a science-based curriculum over one that focused on arts and humanities. But I refused to give in and instead found a way to combine my love of art with my disdain for science. When words failed me and I felt stifled by my circumstances, art became a reliable outlet for self-expression, full of vibrant colors and offering endless opportunities for creativity.

During my senior high school year, I finally took control of my own future and decided to study fine arts. This choice opened the doors to a whole new realm of possibilities, allowing me to pursue the future I had always dreamed of. In college, I approached my studies with a sense of exploration, as if I were an adventurer in uncharted territory. Each new topic and area of knowledge helped me to grow in objectivity, intellect, and wisdom.

My journey through the world of art and culture has been filled with magnificent pieces and spellbinding paintings, as well as the opportunity to learn about and appreciate the glorious civilizations that reached the pinnacle of trade, art, and culture. My coursework in the history of art piqued my interest in anthropology, and I was particularly fascinated by the ancient Egyptian civilization, whose artifacts, hieroglyphics, and art offered a window into its evolving languages, unique architecture, and transformative culture. Similarly, in Greek civilization, I discovered how art and politics intersected and shaped public opinion, and how philosophy and politics were intertwined.

Art is often thought of as an individual expression, but when considered as a collection, it can have a powerful impact on society. I am fascinated by the relationship between the arts and the evolution of social, political, cultural, and religious systems and constructs.

It has been difficult for me to come to terms with the fact that I have lived in two worlds that often seem incompatible. On a daily basis, I find myself immersed in a culture that imposes strict rules that limit my intellectual and expressive freedom. Whenever I had the opportunity, I immersed myself in the emotive world of curiosity, human expression, and perspective, where individuals create cultures that have outlasted even the most famous nations throughout history. Unfortunately, this parallel universe abruptly came to an end when I graduated.

Working as a professional graphic designer and photographer made it clear to me that I wanted to pursue a Master’s degree. Unfortunately, it took me over a year and a half to convince my family to allow me to do so, rather than simply getting engaged and becoming the first female in my family to pursue a graduate degree.

Attending the country’s premier National College of Arts allowed me to expand my education and skills across the fine arts. This broader exposure helped to refine my academic interests, and I was able to bring these interests together in my thesis on self-harm.

My experimental short film, “Pain of Disappointment,” and accompanying paper explored how the society cope with the expectations placed on them by their families to be successful. The film and paper highlighted the prevalence of self-harm in the society, and how it manifests itself physically, emotionally, and mentally. Through this project, I sought to educate people about self-harm and its impact on our society.

As the first woman in my family to pursue an advanced degree outside of the country, I hope to use the science of Anthropology to explore how individuals can transform negative energies into positive expressions that contribute to and benefit society. Additionally, as a woman growing up in a male-domindated society, I am interested in using Visual Anthropology to study suppressed issues and effectively inform all segments of society, including those who are illiterate, in order to empower everyone to reclaim their pride.

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personal history college essay

UC Davis Graduate Studies

Admissions essays.

UC Davis requires that applicants to all graduate programs submit both a Statement of Purpose and a Personal History and Diversity Statement. Each essay can be no longer than 4,000 characters (including spaces). To allow prospective applicants the opportunity to prepare these essays before starting the application, the prompts for each essay are listed below.

Statement of Purpose

Please highlight your academic preparation and motivation; interests, specializations and career goals; and fit for pursuing graduate study at UC Davis.

  • preparation and motivation may include your academic and research experiences that prepare you for this graduate program (for example: coursework, employment, exhibitions, fieldwork, foreign language proficiency, independent study, internships, laboratory activities, presentations, publications, studio projects, teaching, and travel or study abroad) and motivation or passion for graduate study.
  • interests, specializations, and career goals may include your research interests, disciplinary subfields, area/s of specialization, and professional objectives.
  • fit may include how your preparation, experiences, and interests match the specific resources and characteristics of your graduate program at UC Davis. Please identify specific faculty within your desired graduate program with whom you would like to work and how their interests match your own.

Personal History and Diversity Statement

The University of California Davis, a public institution, is committed to supporting the diversity of the graduate student body and promoting equal opportunity in higher education. This commitment furthers the educational mission to serve the increasingly diverse population and educational needs of California and the nation. Both the Vice Provost of Graduate Education/Dean of Graduate Studies and the University of California affirm that diversity is critical to promoting lively intellectual exchange and the variety of ideas and perspectives essential to advancing higher education and research. Our graduate students contribute to the global pool of future scholars and academic leaders, thus high value is placed on achieving a diverse graduate student body to support the University of California’s academic excellence. We invite you to include in this statement how you may contribute to the diversification of graduate education and the UC Davis community.

The purpose of this essay is to get to know you as an individual and potential graduate student. Please describe how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. You may include any educational, familial, cultural, economic, or social experiences, challenges, community service, outreach activities, residency and citizenship, first-generation college status, or opportunities relevant to your academic journey; how your life experiences contribute to the social, intellectual, or cultural diversity within a campus community and your chosen field; or how you might serve educationally underrepresented and underserved segments of society with your graduate education. This essay should complement but not duplicate the content in the Statement of Purpose.

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personal history college essay

10 Personal Statement Essay Examples That Worked

What’s covered:, what is a personal statement.

  • Essay 1: Summer Program
  • Essay 2: Being Bangladeshi-American
  • Essay 3: Why Medicine
  • Essay 4: Love of Writing
  • Essay 5: Starting a Fire
  • Essay 6: Dedicating a Track
  • Essay 7: Body Image and Eating Disorders
  • Essay 8: Becoming a Coach
  • Essay 9: Eritrea
  • Essay 10: Journaling
  • Is Your Personal Statement Strong Enough?

Your personal statement is any essay that you must write for your main application, such as the Common App Essay , University of California Essays , or Coalition Application Essay . This type of essay focuses on your unique experiences, ideas, or beliefs that may not be discussed throughout the rest of your application. This essay should be an opportunity for the admissions officers to get to know you better and give them a glimpse into who you really are.

In this post, we will share 10 different personal statements that were all written by real students. We will also provide commentary on what each essay did well and where there is room for improvement, so you can make your personal statement as strong as possible!

Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 

Personal Statement Examples

Essay example #1: exchange program.

The twisting roads, ornate mosaics, and fragrant scent of freshly ground spices had been so foreign at first. Now in my fifth week of the SNYI-L summer exchange program in Morocco, I felt more comfortable in the city. With a bag full of pastries from the market, I navigated to a bus stop, paid the fare, and began the trip back to my host family’s house. It was hard to believe that only a few years earlier my mom was worried about letting me travel around my home city on my own, let alone a place that I had only lived in for a few weeks. While I had been on a journey towards self-sufficiency and independence for a few years now, it was Morocco that pushed me to become the confident, self-reflective person that I am today.

As a child, my parents pressured me to achieve perfect grades, master my swim strokes, and discover interesting hobbies like playing the oboe and learning to pick locks. I felt compelled to live my life according to their wishes. Of course, this pressure was not a wholly negative factor in my life –– you might even call it support. However, the constant presence of my parents’ hopes for me overcame my own sense of desire and led me to become quite dependent on them. I pushed myself to get straight A’s, complied with years of oboe lessons, and dutifully attended hours of swim practice after school. Despite all these achievements, I felt like I had no sense of self beyond my drive for success. I had always been expected to succeed on the path they had defined. However, this path was interrupted seven years after my parents’ divorce when my dad moved across the country to Oregon.

I missed my dad’s close presence, but I loved my new sense of freedom. My parents’ separation allowed me the space to explore my own strengths and interests as each of them became individually busier. As early as middle school, I was riding the light rail train by myself, reading maps to get myself home, and applying to special academic programs without urging from my parents. Even as I took more initiatives on my own, my parents both continued to see me as somewhat immature. All of that changed three years ago, when I applied and was accepted to the SNYI-L summer exchange program in Morocco. I would be studying Arabic and learning my way around the city of Marrakesh. Although I think my parents were a little surprised when I told them my news, the addition of a fully-funded scholarship convinced them to let me go.

I lived with a host family in Marrakesh and learned that they, too, had high expectations for me. I didn’t know a word of Arabic, and although my host parents and one brother spoke good English, they knew I was there to learn. If I messed up, they patiently corrected me but refused to let me fall into the easy pattern of speaking English just as I did at home. Just as I had when I was younger, I felt pressured and stressed about meeting their expectations. However, one day, as I strolled through the bustling market square after successfully bargaining with one of the street vendors, I realized my mistake. My host family wasn’t being unfair by making me fumble through Arabic. I had applied for this trip, and I had committed to the intensive language study. My host family’s rules about speaking Arabic at home had not been to fulfill their expectations for me, but to help me fulfill my expectations for myself. Similarly, the pressure my parents had put on me as a child had come out of love and their hopes for me, not out of a desire to crush my individuality.

As my bus drove through the still-bustling market square and past the medieval Ben-Youssef madrasa, I realized that becoming independent was a process, not an event. I thought that my parents’ separation when I was ten had been the one experience that would transform me into a self-motivated and autonomous person. It did, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t still have room to grow. Now, although I am even more self-sufficient than I was three years ago, I try to approach every experience with the expectation that it will change me. It’s still difficult, but I understand that just because growth can be uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not important.

What the Essay Did Well

This is a nice essay because it delves into particular character trait of the student and how it has been shaped and matured over time. Although it doesn’t focus the essay around a specific anecdote, the essay is still successful because it is centered around this student’s independence. This is a nice approach for a personal statement: highlight a particular trait of yours and explore how it has grown with you.

The ideas in this essay are universal to growing up—living up to parents’ expectations, yearning for freedom, and coming to terms with reality—but it feels unique to the student because of the inclusion of details specific to them. Including their oboe lessons, the experience of riding the light rail by themselves, and the negotiations with a street vendor helps show the reader what these common tropes of growing up looked like for them personally. 

Another strength of the essay is the level of self-reflection included throughout the piece. Since there is no central anecdote tying everything together, an essay about a character trait is only successful when you deeply reflect on how you felt, where you made mistakes, and how that trait impacts your life. The author includes reflection in sentences like “ I felt like I had no sense of self beyond my drive for success, ” and “ I understand that just because growth can be uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not important. ” These sentences help us see how the student was impacted and what their point of view is.

What Could Be Improved

The largest change this essay would benefit from is to show not tell. The platitude you have heard a million times no doubt, but for good reason. This essay heavily relies on telling the reader what occurred, making us less engaged as the entire reading experience feels more passive. If the student had shown us what happens though, it keeps the reader tied to the action and makes them feel like they are there with the student, making it much more enjoyable to read. 

For example, they tell us about the pressure to succeed their parents placed on them: “ I pushed myself to get straight A’s, complied with years of oboe lessons, and dutifully attended hours of swim practice after school.”  They could have shown us what that pressure looked like with a sentence like this: “ My stomach turned somersaults as my rattling knee thumped against the desk before every test, scared to get anything less than a 95. For five years the painful squawk of the oboe only reminded me of my parents’ claps and whistles at my concerts. I mastered the butterfly, backstroke, and freestyle, fighting against the anchor of their expectations threatening to pull me down.”

If the student had gone through their essay and applied this exercise of bringing more detail and colorful language to sentences that tell the reader what happened, the essay would be really great. 

Table of Contents

Essay Example #2: Being Bangladeshi-American

Life before was good: verdant forests, sumptuous curries, and a devoted family.

Then, my family abandoned our comfortable life in Bangladesh for a chance at the American dream in Los Angeles. Within our first year, my father was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He lost his battle three weeks before my sixth birthday. Facing a new country without the steady presence of my father, we were vulnerable — prisoners of hardship in the land of the free. We resettled in the Bronx, in my uncle’s renovated basement. It was meant to be our refuge, but I felt more displaced than ever. Gone were the high-rise condos of West L.A.; instead, government projects towered over the neighborhood. Pedestrians no longer smiled and greeted me; the atmosphere was hostile, even toxic. Schoolkids were quick to pick on those they saw as weak or foreign, hurling harsh words I’d never heard before.

Meanwhile, my family began integrating into the local Bangladeshi community. I struggled to understand those who shared my heritage. Bangladeshi mothers stayed home while fathers drove cabs and sold fruit by the roadside — painful societal positions. Riding on crosstown buses or walking home from school, I began to internalize these disparities. During my fleeting encounters with affluent Upper East Siders, I saw kids my age with nannies, parents who wore suits to work, and luxurious apartments with spectacular views. Most took cabs to their destinations: cabs that Bangladeshis drove. I watched the mundane moments of their lives with longing, aching to plant myself in their shoes. Shame prickled down my spine. I distanced myself from my heritage, rejecting the traditional panjabis worn on Eid and refusing the torkari we ate for dinner every day. 

As I grappled with my relationship with the Bangladeshi community, I turned my attention to helping my Bronx community by pursuing an internship with Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda. I handled desk work and took calls, spending the bulk of my time actively listening to the hardships constituents faced — everything from a veteran stripped of his benefits to a grandmother unable to support her bedridden grandchild.

I’d never exposed myself to stories like these, and now I was the first to hear them. As an intern, I could only assist in what felt like the small ways — pointing out local job offerings, printing information on free ESL classes, reaching out to non-profits. But to a community facing an onslaught of intense struggles, I realized that something as small as these actions could have vast impacts. Seeing the immediate consequences of my actions inspired me. Throughout that summer, I internalized my community’s daily challenges in a new light. I began to stop seeing the prevalent underemployment and cramped living quarters less as sources of shame. Instead, I saw them as realities that had to be acknowledged, but could ultimately be remedied. I also realized the benefits of the Bangladeshi culture I had been so ashamed of. My Bangla language skills were an asset to the office, and my understanding of Bangladeshi etiquette allowed for smooth communication between office staff and its constituents. As I helped my neighbors navigate city services, I saw my heritage with pride — a perspective I never expected to have.

I can now appreciate the value of my unique culture and background, and of living with less. This perspective offers room for progress, community integration, and a future worth fighting for. My time with Assemblyman Sepulveda’s office taught me that I can be a change agent in enabling this progression. Far from being ashamed of my community, I want to someday return to local politics in the Bronx to continue helping others access the American Dream. I hope to help my community appreciate the opportunity to make progress together. By embracing reality, I learned to live it. Along the way, I discovered one thing: life is good, but we can make it better.

This student’s passion for social justice and civic duty shines through in this essay because of how honest it is. Sharing their personal experience with immigrating, moving around, being an outsider, and finding a community allows us to see the hardships this student has faced and builds empathy towards their situation. However, what really makes it strong is that they go beyond describing the difficulties they faced and explain the mental impact it had on them as a child: Shame prickled down my spine. I distanced myself from my heritage, rejecting the traditional panjabis worn on Eid and refusing the torkari we ate for dinner every day. 

The rejection of their culture presented at the beginning of the essay creates a nice juxtaposition with the student’s view in the latter half of the essay and helps demonstrate how they have matured. They use their experience interning as a way to delve into a change in their thought process about their culture and show how their passion for social justice began. Using this experience as a mechanism to explore their thoughts and feelings is an excellent example of how items that are included elsewhere on your application should be incorporated into your essay.

This essay prioritizes emotions and personal views over specific anecdotes. Although there are details and certain moments incorporated throughout to emphasize the author’s points, the main focus remains on the student and how they grapple with their culture and identity.  

One area for improvement is the conclusion. Although the forward-looking approach is a nice way to end an essay focused on social justice, it would be nice to include more details and imagery in the conclusion. How does the student want to help their community? What government position do they see themselves holding one day? 

A more impactful ending might look like the student walking into their office at the New York City Housing Authority in 15 years and looking at the plans to build a new development in the Bronx just blocks away from where the grew up that would provide quality housing to people in their Bangladeshi community. They would smile while thinking about how far they have come from that young kid who used to be ashamed of their culture. 

Essay Example #3: Why Medicine

I took my first trip to China to visit my cousin Anna in July of 2014. Distance had kept us apart, but when we were together, we fell into all of our old inside jokes and caught up on each other’s lives. Her sparkling personality and optimistic attitude always brought a smile to my face. This time, however, my heart broke when I saw the effects of her brain cancer; she had suffered from a stroke that paralyzed her left side. She was still herself in many ways, but I could see that the damage to her brain made things difficult for her. I stayed by her every day, providing the support she needed, whether assisting her with eating and drinking, reading to her, or just watching “Friends.” During my flight back home, sorrow and helplessness overwhelmed me. Would I ever see Anna again? Could I have done more to make Anna comfortable? I wished I could stay in China longer to care for her. As I deplaned, I wondered if I could transform my grief to help other children and teenagers in the US who suffered as Anna did.

The day after I got home, as jet lag dragged me awake a few minutes after midnight, I remembered hearing about the Family Reach Foundation (FRF) and its work with children going through treatments at the local hospital and their families. I began volunteering in the FRF’s Children’s Activity Room, where I play with children battling cancer. Volunteering has both made me appreciate my own health and also cherish the new relationships I build with the children and families. We play sports, make figures out of playdoh, and dress up. When they take on the roles of firefighters or fairies, we all get caught up in the game; for that time, they forget the sanitized, stark, impersonal walls of the pediatric oncology ward. Building close relationships with them and seeing them giggle and laugh is so rewarding — I love watching them grow and get better throughout their course of treatment.

Hearing from the parents about their children’s condition and seeing the children recover inspired me to consider medical research. To get started, I enrolled in a summer collegelevel course in Abnormal Psychology. There I worked with Catelyn, a rising college senior, on a data analysis project regarding Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Together, we examined the neurological etiology of DID by studying four fMRI and PET cases. I fell in love with gathering data and analyzing the results and was amazed by our final product: several stunning brain images showcasing the areas of hyper and hypoactivity in brains affected by DID. Desire quickly followed my amazement — I want to continue this project and study more brains. Their complexity, delicacy, and importance to every aspect of life fascinate me. Successfully completing this research project gave me a sense of hope; I know I am capable of participating in a large scale research project and potentially making a difference in someone else’s life through my research.

Anna’s diagnosis inspired me to begin volunteering at FRF; from there, I discovered my desire to help people further by contributing to medical research. As my research interest blossomed, I realized that it’s no coincidence that I want to study brains—after all, Anna suffered from brain cancer. Reflecting on these experiences this past year and a half, I see that everything I’ve done is connected. Sadly, a few months after I returned from China, Anna passed away. I am still sad, but as I run a toy truck across the floor and watch one of the little patients’ eyes light up, I imagine that she would be proud of my commitment to pursue medicine and study the brain.

This essay has a very strong emotional core that tugs at the heart strings and makes the reader feel invested. Writing about sickness can be difficult and doesn’t always belong in a personal statement, but in this case it works well because the focus is on how this student cared for her cousin and dealt with the grief and emotions surrounding her condition. Writing about the compassion she showed and the doubts and concerns that filled her mind keeps the focus on the author and her personality. 

This continues when she again discusses the activities she did with the kids at FRF and the personal reflection this experience allowed her to have. For example, she writes: Volunteering has both made me appreciate my own health and also cherish the new relationships I build with the children and families. We play sports, make figures out of playdoh, and dress up.

Concluding the essay with the sad story of her cousin’s passing brings the essay full circle and returns to the emotional heart of the piece to once again build a connection with the reader. However, it finishes on a hopeful note and demonstrates how this student has been able to turn a tragic experience into a source of lifelong inspiration. 

One thing this essay should be cognizant of is that personal statements should not read as summaries of your extracurricular resume. Although this essay doesn’t fully fall into that trap, it does describe two key extracurriculars the student participated in. However, the inclusion of such a strong emotional core running throughout the essay helps keep the focus on the student and her thoughts and feelings during these activities.

To avoid making this mistake, make sure you have a common thread running through your essay and the extracurriculars provide support to the story you are trying to tell, rather than crafting a story around your activities. And, as this essay does, make sure there is lots of personal reflection and feelings weaved throughout to focus attention to you rather than your extracurriculars. 

Essay Example #4: Love of Writing

“I want to be a writer.” This had been my answer to every youthful discussion with the adults in my life about what I would do when I grew up. As early as elementary school, I remember reading my writing pieces aloud to an audience at “Author of the Month” ceremonies. Bearing this goal in mind, and hoping to gain some valuable experience, I signed up for a journalism class during my freshman year. Despite my love for writing, I initially found myself uninterested in the subject and I struggled to enjoy the class. When I thought of writing, I imagined lyrical prose, profound poetry, and thrilling plot lines. Journalism required a laconic style and orderly structure, and I found my teacher’s assignments formulaic and dull. That class shook my confidence as a writer. I was uncertain if I should continue in it for the rest of my high school career.

Despite my misgivings, I decided that I couldn’t make a final decision on whether to quit journalism until I had some experience working for a paper outside of the classroom. The following year, I applied to be a staff reporter on our school newspaper. I hoped this would help me become more self-driven and creative, rather than merely writing articles that my teacher assigned. To my surprise, my time on staff was worlds away from what I experienced in the journalism class. Although I was unaccustomed to working in a fast-paced environment and initially found it burdensome to research and complete high-quality stories in a relatively short amount of time, I also found it exciting. I enjoyed learning more about topics and events on campus that I did not know much about; some of my stories that I covered in my first semester concerned a chess tournament, a food drive, and a Spanish immersion party. I relished in the freedom I had to explore and learn, and to write more independently than I could in a classroom.

Although I enjoyed many aspects of working for the paper immediately, reporting also pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I am a shy person, and speaking with people I did not know intimidated me. During my first interview, I met with the basketball coach to prepare for a story about the team’s winning streak. As I approached his office, I felt everything from my toes to my tongue freeze into a solid block, and I could hardly get out my opening questions. Fortunately, the coach was very kind and helped me through the conversation. Encouraged, I prepared for my next interview with more confidence. After a few weeks of practice, I even started to look forward to interviewing people on campus. That first journalism class may have bored me, but even if journalism in practice was challenging, it was anything but tedious.

Over the course of that year, I grew to love writing for our school newspaper. Reporting made me aware of my surroundings, and made me want to know more about current events on campus and in the town where I grew up. By interacting with people all over campus, I came to understand the breadth of individuals and communities that make up my high school. I felt far more connected to diverse parts of my school through my work as a journalist, and I realized that journalism gave me a window into seeing beyond my own experiences. The style of news writing may be different from what I used to think “writing” meant, but I learned that I can still derive exciting plots from events that may have gone unnoticed if not for my stories. I no longer struggle to approach others, and truly enjoy getting to know people and recognizing their accomplishments through my writing. Becoming a writer may be a difficult path, but it is as rewarding as I hoped when I was young.

This essay is clearly structured in a manner that makes it flow very nicely and contributes to its success. It starts with a quote to draw in the reader and show this student’s life-long passion for writing. Then it addresses the challenges of facing new, unfamiliar territory and how this student overcame it. Finally, it concludes by reflecting on this eye-opening experience and a nod to their younger self from the introduction. Having a well-thought out and sequential structure with clear transitions makes it extremely easy for the reader to follow along and take away the main idea.

Another positive aspect of the essay is the use of strong and expressive language. Sentences like “ When I thought of writing, I imagined lyrical prose, profound poetry, and thrilling plot lines ” stand out because of the intentional use of words like “lyrical”, “profound”, and “thrilling” to convey the student’s love of writing. The author also uses an active voice to capture the readers’ attention and keep us engaged. They rely on their language and diction to reveal details to the reader, for instance saying “ I felt everything from my toes to my tongue freeze into a solid block ” to describe feeling nervous.

This essay is already very strong, so there isn’t much that needs to be changed. One thing that could take the essay from great to outstanding would be to throw in more quotes, internal dialogue, and sensory descriptors.

It would be nice to see the nerves they felt interviewing the coach by including dialogue like “ Um…I want to interview you about…uh…”.  They could have shown their original distaste for journalism by narrating the thoughts running through their head. The fast-paced environment of their newspaper could have come to life with descriptions about the clacking of keyboards and the whirl of people running around laying out articles.

Essay Example #5: Starting a Fire

Was I no longer the beloved daughter of nature, whisperer of trees? Knee-high rubber boots, camouflage, bug spray—I wore the garb and perfume of a proud wild woman, yet there I was, hunched over the pathetic pile of stubborn sticks, utterly stumped, on the verge of tears. As a child, I had considered myself a kind of rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees, who could glide through tick-infested meadows and emerge Lyme-free. I knew the cracks of the earth like the scars on my own rough palms. Yet here I was, ten years later, incapable of performing the most fundamental outdoor task: I could not, for the life of me, start a fire. 

Furiously I rubbed the twigs together—rubbed and rubbed until shreds of skin flaked from my fingers. No smoke. The twigs were too young, too sticky-green; I tossed them away with a shower of curses, and began tearing through the underbrush in search of a more flammable collection. My efforts were fruitless. Livid, I bit a rejected twig, determined to prove that the forest had spurned me, offering only young, wet bones that would never burn. But the wood cracked like carrots between my teeth—old, brittle, and bitter. Roaring and nursing my aching palms, I retreated to the tent, where I sulked and awaited the jeers of my family. 

Rattling their empty worm cans and reeking of fat fish, my brother and cousins swaggered into the campsite. Immediately, they noticed the minor stick massacre by the fire pit and called to me, their deep voices already sharp with contempt. 

“Where’s the fire, Princess Clara?” they taunted. “Having some trouble?” They prodded me with the ends of the chewed branches and, with a few effortless scrapes of wood on rock, sparked a red and roaring flame. My face burned long after I left the fire pit. The camp stank of salmon and shame. 

In the tent, I pondered my failure. Was I so dainty? Was I that incapable? I thought of my hands, how calloused and capable they had been, how tender and smooth they had become. It had been years since I’d kneaded mud between my fingers; instead of scaling a white pine, I’d practiced scales on my piano, my hands softening into those of a musician—fleshy and sensitive. And I’d gotten glasses, having grown horrifically nearsighted; long nights of dim lighting and thick books had done this. I couldn’t remember the last time I had lain down on a hill, barefaced, and seen the stars without having to squint. Crawling along the edge of the tent, a spider confirmed my transformation—he disgusted me, and I felt an overwhelming urge to squash him. 

Yet, I realized I hadn’t really changed—I had only shifted perspective. I still eagerly explored new worlds, but through poems and prose rather than pastures and puddles. I’d grown to prefer the boom of a bass over that of a bullfrog, learned to coax a different kind of fire from wood, having developed a burn for writing rhymes and scrawling hypotheses. 

That night, I stayed up late with my journal and wrote about the spider I had decided not to kill. I had tolerated him just barely, only shrieking when he jumped—it helped to watch him decorate the corners of the tent with his delicate webs, knowing that he couldn’t start fires, either. When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.

This student is an excellent writer, which allows a simple story to be outstandingly compelling. The author articulates her points beautifully and creatively through her immense use of details and figurative language. Lines like “a rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees,” and “rubbed and rubbed until shreds of skin flaked from my fingers,” create vivid images that draw the reader in. 

The flowery and descriptive prose also contributes to the nice juxtaposition between the old Clara and the new Clara. The latter half of the essay contrasts elements of nature with music and writing to demonstrate how natural these interests are for her now. This sentence perfectly encapsulates the contrast she is trying to build: “It had been years since I’d kneaded mud between my fingers; instead of scaling a white pine, I’d practiced scales on my piano, my hands softening into those of a musician—fleshy and sensitive.”

In addition to being well-written, this essay is thematically cohesive. It begins with the simple introduction “Fire!” and ends with the following image: “When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.” This full-circle approach leaves readers satisfied and impressed.

There is very little this essay should change, however one thing to be cautious about is having an essay that is overly-descriptive. We know from the essay that this student likes to read and write, and depending on other elements of her application, it might make total sense to have such a flowery and ornate writing style. However, your personal statement needs to reflect your voice as well as your personality. If you would never use language like this in conversation or your writing, don’t put it in your personal statement. Make sure there is a balance between eloquence and your personal voice.

Essay Example #6: Dedicating a Track

“Getting beat is one thing – it’s part of competing – but I want no part in losing.” Coach Rob Stark’s motto never fails to remind me of his encouragement on early-morning bus rides to track meets around the state. I’ve always appreciated the phrase, but an experience last June helped me understand its more profound, universal meaning.

Stark, as we affectionately call him, has coached track at my high school for 25 years. His care, dedication, and emphasis on developing good character has left an enduring impact on me and hundreds of other students. Not only did he help me discover my talent and love for running, but he also taught me the importance of commitment and discipline and to approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running. When I learned a neighboring high school had dedicated their track to a longtime coach, I felt that Stark deserved similar honors.

Our school district’s board of education indicated they would only dedicate our track to Stark if I could demonstrate that he was extraordinary. I took charge and mobilized my teammates to distribute petitions, reach out to alumni, and compile statistics on the many team and individual champions Stark had coached over the years. We received astounding support, collecting almost 3,000 signatures and pages of endorsements from across the community. With help from my teammates, I presented this evidence to the board.

They didn’t bite. 

Most members argued that dedicating the track was a low priority. Knowing that we had to act quickly to convince them of its importance, I called a team meeting where we drafted a rebuttal for the next board meeting. To my surprise, they chose me to deliver it. I was far from the best public speaker in the group, and I felt nervous about going before the unsympathetic board again. However, at that second meeting, I discovered that I enjoy articulating and arguing for something that I’m passionate about.

Public speaking resembles a cross country race. Walking to the starting line, you have to trust your training and quell your last minute doubts. When the gun fires, you can’t think too hard about anything; your performance has to be instinctual, natural, even relaxed. At the next board meeting, the podium was my starting line. As I walked up to it, familiar butterflies fluttered in my stomach. Instead of the track stretching out in front of me, I faced the vast audience of teachers, board members, and my teammates. I felt my adrenaline build, and reassured myself: I’ve put in the work, my argument is powerful and sound. As the board president told me to introduce myself, I heard, “runners set” in the back of my mind. She finished speaking, and Bang! The brief silence was the gunshot for me to begin. 

The next few minutes blurred together, but when the dust settled, I knew from the board members’ expressions and the audience’s thunderous approval that I had run quite a race. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough; the board voted down our proposal. I was disappointed, but proud of myself, my team, and our collaboration off the track. We stood up for a cause we believed in, and I overcame my worries about being a leader. Although I discovered that changing the status quo through an elected body can be a painstakingly difficult process and requires perseverance, I learned that I enjoy the challenges this effort offers. Last month, one of the school board members joked that I had become a “regular” – I now often show up to meetings to advocate for a variety of causes, including better environmental practices in cafeterias and safer equipment for athletes.

Just as Stark taught me, I worked passionately to achieve my goal. I may have been beaten when I appealed to the board, but I certainly didn’t lose, and that would have made Stark proud.

This essay effectively conveys this student’s compassion for others, initiative, and determination—all great qualities to exemplify in a personal statement!

Although they rely on telling us a lot of what happened up until the board meeting, the use of running a race (their passion) as a metaphor for public speaking provides a lot of insight into the fear that this student overcame to work towards something bigger than themself. Comparing a podium to the starting line, the audience to the track, and silence to the gunshot is a nice way of demonstrating this student’s passion for cross country running without making that the focus of the story.

The essay does a nice job of coming full circle at the end by explaining what the quote from the beginning meant to them after this experience. Without explicitly saying “ I now know that what Stark actually meant is…” they rely on the strength of their argument above to make it obvious to the reader what it means to get beat but not lose. 

One of the biggest areas of improvement in the intro, however, is how the essay tells us Stark’s impact rather than showing us: His care, dedication, and emphasis on developing good character has left an enduring impact on me and hundreds of other students. Not only did he help me discover my talent and love for running, but he also taught me the importance of commitment and discipline and to approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running.

The writer could’ve helped us feel a stronger emotional connection to Stark if they had included examples of Stark’s qualities, rather than explicitly stating them. For example, they could’ve written something like: Stark was the kind of person who would give you gas money if you told him your parents couldn’t afford to pick you up from practice. And he actually did that—several times. At track meets, alumni regularly would come talk to him and tell him how he’d changed their lives. Before Stark, I was ambivalent about running and was on the JV team, but his encouragement motivated me to run longer and harder and eventually make varsity. Because of him, I approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running.

Essay Example #7: Body Image and Eating Disorders

I press the “discover” button on my Instagram app, hoping to find enticing pictures to satisfy my boredom. Scrolling through, I see funny videos and mouth-watering pictures of food. However, one image stops me immediately. A fit teenage girl with a “perfect body” relaxes in a bikini on a beach. Beneath it, I see a slew of flattering comments. I shake with disapproval over the image’s unrealistic quality. However, part of me still wants to have a body like hers so that others will make similar comments to me.

I would like to resolve a silent issue that harms many teenagers and adults: negative self image and low self-esteem in a world where social media shapes how people view each other. When people see the façades others wear to create an “ideal” image, they can develop poor thought patterns rooted in negative self-talk. The constant comparisons to “perfect” others make people feel small. In this new digital age, it is hard to distinguish authentic from artificial representations.

When I was 11, I developed anorexia nervosa. Though I was already thin, I wanted to be skinny like the models that I saw on the magazine covers on the grocery store stands. Little did I know that those models probably also suffered from disorders, and that photoshop erased their flaws. I preferred being underweight to being healthy. No matter how little I ate or how thin I was, I always thought that I was too fat. I became obsessed with the number on the scale and would try to eat the least that I could without my parents urging me to take more. Fortunately, I stopped engaging in anorexic behaviors before middle school. However, my underlying mental habits did not change. The images that had provoked my disorder in the first place were still a constant presence in my life.

By age 15, I was in recovery from anorexia, but suffered from depression. While I used to only compare myself to models, the growth of social media meant I also compared myself to my friends and acquaintances. I felt left out when I saw my friends’ excitement about lake trips they had taken without me. As I scrolled past endless photos of my flawless, thin classmates with hundreds of likes and affirming comments, I felt my jealousy spiral. I wanted to be admired and loved by other people too. However, I felt that I could never be enough. I began to hate the way that I looked, and felt nothing in my life was good enough. I wanted to be called “perfect” and “body goals,” so I tried to only post at certain times of day to maximize my “likes.” When that didn’t work, I started to feel too anxious to post anything at all.  

Body image insecurities and social media comparisons affect thousands of people – men, women, children, and adults – every day. I am lucky – after a few months of my destructive social media habits, I came across a video that pointed out the illusory nature of social media; many Instagram posts only show off good things while people hide their flaws. I began going to therapy, and recovered from my depression. To address the problem of self-image and social media, we can all focus on what matters on the inside and not what is on the surface. As an effort to become healthy internally, I started a club at my school to promote clean eating and radiating beauty from within. It has helped me grow in my confidence, and today I’m not afraid to show others my struggles by sharing my experience with eating disorders. Someday, I hope to make this club a national organization to help teenagers and adults across the country. I support the idea of body positivity and embracing difference, not “perfection.” After all, how can we be ourselves if we all look the same?

This essay covers the difficult topics of eating disorders and mental health. If you’re thinking about covering similar topics in your essay, we recommend reading our post Should You Talk About Mental Health in College Essays?

The short answer is that, yes, you can talk about mental health, but it can be risky. If you do go that route, it’s important to focus on what you learned from the experience.

The strength of this essay is the student’s vulnerability, in excerpts such as this: I wanted to be admired and loved by other people too. However, I felt that I could never be enough. I began to hate the way that I looked, and felt nothing in my life was good enough. I wanted to be called “perfect” and “body goals,” so I tried to only post at certain times of day to maximize my “likes.”

The student goes on to share how they recovered from their depression through an eye-opening video and therapy sessions, and they’re now helping others find their self-worth as well. It’s great that this essay looks towards the future and shares the writer’s goals of making their club a national organization; we can see their ambition and compassion.

The main weakness of this essay is that it doesn’t focus enough on their recovery process, which is arguably the most important part. They could’ve told us more about the video they watched or the process of starting their club and the interactions they’ve had with other members. Especially when sharing such a vulnerable topic, there should be vulnerability in the recovery process too. That way, the reader can fully appreciate all that this student has overcome.

Essay Example #8: Becoming a Coach

”Advanced females ages 13 to 14 please proceed to staging with your coaches at this time.” Skittering around the room, eyes wide and pleading, I frantically explained my situation to nearby coaches. The seconds ticked away in my head; every polite refusal increased my desperation.

Despair weighed me down. I sank to my knees as a stream of competitors, coaches, and officials flowed around me. My dojang had no coach, and the tournament rules prohibited me from competing without one.

Although I wanted to remain strong, doubts began to cloud my mind. I could not help wondering: what was the point of perfecting my skills if I would never even compete? The other members of my team, who had found coaches minutes earlier, attempted to comfort me, but I barely heard their words. They couldn’t understand my despair at being left on the outside, and I never wanted them to understand.

Since my first lesson 12 years ago, the members of my dojang have become family. I have watched them grow up, finding my own happiness in theirs. Together, we have honed our kicks, blocks, and strikes. We have pushed one another to aim higher and become better martial artists. Although my dojang had searched for a reliable coach for years, we had not found one. When we attended competitions in the past, my teammates and I had always gotten lucky and found a sympathetic coach. Now, I knew this practice was unsustainable. It would devastate me to see the other members of my dojang in my situation, unable to compete and losing hope as a result. My dojang needed a coach, and I decided it was up to me to find one.

I first approached the adults in the dojang – both instructors and members’ parents. However, these attempts only reacquainted me with polite refusals. Everyone I asked told me they couldn’t devote multiple weekends per year to competitions. I soon realized that I would have become the coach myself.

At first, the inner workings of tournaments were a mystery to me. To prepare myself for success as a coach, I spent the next year as an official and took coaching classes on the side. I learned everything from motivational strategies to technical, behind-the-scenes components of Taekwondo competitions. Though I emerged with new knowledge and confidence in my capabilities, others did not share this faith.

Parents threw me disbelieving looks when they learned that their children’s coach was only a child herself. My self-confidence was my armor, deflecting their surly glances. Every armor is penetrable, however, and as the relentless barrage of doubts pounded my resilience, it began to wear down. I grew unsure of my own abilities.

Despite the attack, I refused to give up. When I saw the shining eyes of the youngest students preparing for their first competition, I knew I couldn’t let them down. To quit would be to set them up to be barred from competing like I was. The knowledge that I could solve my dojang’s longtime problem motivated me to overcome my apprehension.

Now that my dojang flourishes at competitions, the attacks on me have weakened, but not ended. I may never win the approval of every parent; at times, I am still tormented by doubts, but I find solace in the fact that members of my dojang now only worry about competing to the best of their abilities.

Now, as I arrive at a tournament with my students, I close my eyes and remember the past. I visualize the frantic search for a coach and the chaos amongst my teammates as we competed with one another to find coaches before the staging calls for our respective divisions. I open my eyes to the exact opposite scene. Lacking a coach hurt my ability to compete, but I am proud to know that no member of my dojang will have to face that problem again.

This essay begins with an in-the-moment narrative that really illustrates the chaos of looking for a coach last-minute. We feel the writer’s emotions, particularly her dejectedness, at not being able to compete. Starting an essay in media res  is a great way to capture the attention of your readers and build anticipation for what comes next.

Through this essay, we can see how gutsy and determined the student is in deciding to become a coach themselves. She shows us these characteristics through their actions, rather than explicitly telling us: To prepare myself for success as a coach, I spent the next year as an official and took coaching classes on the side.  Also, by discussing the opposition she faced and how it affected her, the student is open and vulnerable about the reality of the situation.

The essay comes full circle as the author recalls the frantic situations in seeking out a coach, but this is no longer a concern for them and their team. Overall, this essay is extremely effective in painting this student as mature, bold, and compassionate.

The biggest thing this essay needs to work on is showing not telling. Throughout the essay, the student tells us that she “emerged with new knowledge and confidence,” she “grew unsure of her own abilities,” and she “refused to give up”. What we really want to know is what this looks like.

Instead of saying she “emerged with new knowledge and confidence” she should have shared how she taught a new move to a fellow team-member without hesitation. Rather than telling us she “grew unsure of her own abilities” she should have shown what that looked like by including her internal dialogue and rhetorical questions that ran through her mind. She could have demonstrated what “refusing to give up” looks like by explaining how she kept learning coaching techniques on her own, turned to a mentor for advice, or devised a plan to win over the trust of parents. 

Essay Example #9: Eritrea

No one knows where Eritrea is.

On the first day of school, for the past nine years, I would pensively stand in front of a class, a teacher, a stranger  waiting for the inevitable question: Where are you from?

I smile politely, my dimples accentuating my ambiguous features. “Eritrea,” I answer promptly and proudly. But I  am always prepared. Before their expression can deepen into confusion, ready to ask “where is that,” I elaborate,  perhaps with a fleeting hint of exasperation, “East Africa, near Ethiopia.”

Sometimes, I single out the key-shaped hermit nation on a map, stunning teachers who have “never had a student  from there!” Grinning, I resist the urge to remark, “You didn’t even know it existed until two minutes ago!”

Eritrea is to the East of Ethiopia, its arid coastline clutches the lucrative Red Sea. Battle scars litter the ancient  streets – the colonial Italian architecture lathered with bullet holes, the mosques mangled with mortar shells.  Originally part of the world’s first Christian kingdom, Eritrea passed through the hands of colonial Italy, Britain, and  Ethiopia for over a century, until a bloody thirty year war of Independence liberated us.

But these are facts that anyone can know with a quick Google search. These are facts that I have memorised and compounded, first from my Grandmother and now from pristine books  borrowed from the library.

No historical narrative, however, can adequately capture what Eritrea is.  No one knows the aroma of bushels of potatoes, tomatoes, and garlic – still covered in dirt – that leads you to the open-air market. No one knows the poignant scent of spices, arranged in orange piles reminiscent of compacted  dunes.  No one knows how to haggle stubborn herders for sheep and roosters for Christmas celebrations as deliberately as my mother. No one can replicate the perfect balance of spices in dorho and tsebhi as well as my grandmother,  her gnarly hands stirring the pot with ancient precision (chastising my clumsy knife work with the potatoes).  It’s impossible to learn when the injera is ready – the exact moment you have to lift the lid of the mogogo. Do it too  early (or too late) and the flatbread becomes mangled and gross. It is a sixth sense passed through matriarchal  lineages.

There are no sources that catalogue the scent of incense that wafts through the sunlit porch on St. Michael’s; no  films that can capture the luminescence of hundreds of flaming bonfires that fluoresce the sidewalks on Kudus  Yohannes, as excited children chant Ge’ez proverbs whose origin has been lost to time.  You cannot learn the familiarity of walking beneath the towering Gothic figure of the Enda Mariam Cathedral, the  crowds undulating to the ringing of the archaic bells.  I have memorized the sound of the rains hounding the metal roof during kiremti , the heat of the sun pounding  against the Toyota’s window as we sped down towards Ghinda , the opulent brilliance of the stars twinkling in a  sky untainted by light pollution, the scent of warm rolls of bani wafting through the streets at precisely 6 o’clock each day…

I fill my flimsy sketchbook with pictures from my memory. My hand remembers the shapes of the hibiscus drifting  in the wind, the outline of my grandmother (affectionately nicknamed a’abaye ) leaning over the garden, the bizarre architecture of the Fiat Tagliero .  I dice the vegetables with movements handed down from generations. My nose remembers the scent of frying garlic, the sourness of the warm tayta , the sharpness of the mit’mt’a …

This knowledge is intrinsic.  “I am Eritrean,” I repeat. “I am proud.”  Within me is an encyclopedia of history, culture, and idealism.

Eritrea is the coffee made from scratch, the spices drying in the sun, the priests and nuns. Eritrea is wise, filled with ambition, and unseen potential.  Eritrea isn’t a place, it’s an identity.

This is an exceptional essay that provides a window into this student’s culture that really makes their love for their country and heritage leap off the page. The sheer level of details and sensory descriptors this student is able to fit in this space makes the essay stand out. From the smells, to the traditions, sounds, and sights, the author encapsulates all the glory of Eritrea for the reader. 

The vivid images this student is able to create for the reader, whether it is having the tedious conversation with every teacher or cooking in their grandmother’s kitchen, transports us into the story and makes us feel like we are there in the moment with the student. This is a prime example of an essay that shows , not tells.

Besides the amazing imagery, the use of shorter paragraphs also contributes to how engaging this essay is. Employing this tactic helps break up the text to make it more readable and it isolates ideas so they stick out more than if they were enveloped in a large paragraph.

Overall, this is a really strong essay that brings to life this student’s heritage through its use of vivid imagery. This essay exemplifies what it means to show not tell in your writing, and it is a great example of how you can write an intimate personal statement without making yourself the primary focus of your essay. 

There is very little this essay should improve upon, but one thing the student might consider would be to inject more personal reflection into their response. Although we can clearly take away their deep love and passion for their homeland and culture, the essay would be a bit more personal if they included the emotions and feelings they associate with the various aspects of Eritrea. For example, the way their heart swells with pride when their grandmother praises their ability to cook a flatbread or the feeling of serenity when they hear the bells ring out from the cathedral. Including personal details as well as sensory ones would create a wonderful balance of imagery and reflection.

Essay Example #10: Journaling

Flipping past dozens of colorful entries in my journal, I arrive at the final blank sheet. I press my pen lightly to the page, barely scratching its surface to create a series of loops stringing together into sentences. Emotions spill out, and with their release, I feel lightness in my chest. The stream of thoughts slows as I reach the bottom of the page, and I gently close the cover of the worn book: another journal finished.

I add the journal to the stack of eleven books on my nightstand. Struck by the bittersweet sensation of closing a chapter of my life, I grab the notebook at the bottom of the pile to reminisce.

“I want to make a flying mushen to fly in space and your in it” – October 2008

Pulling back the cover of my first Tinkerbell-themed diary, the prompt “My Hopes and Dreams” captures my attention. Though “machine” is misspelled in my scribbled response, I see the beginnings of my past obsession with outer space. At the age of five, I tore through novels about the solar system, experimented with rockets built from plastic straws, and rented Space Shuttle films from Blockbuster to satisfy my curiosities. While I chased down answers to questions as limitless as the universe, I fell in love with learning. Eight journals later, the same relentless curiosity brought me to an airplane descending on San Francisco Bay.

“I wish I had infinite sunsets” – July 2019

I reach for the charcoal notepad near the top of the pile and open to the first page: my flight to the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes. While I was excited to explore bioengineering, anxiety twisted in my stomach as I imagined my destination, unsure of whether I could overcome my shyness and connect with others.

With each new conversation, the sweat on my palms became less noticeable, and I met students from 23 different countries. Many of the moments where I challenged myself socially revolved around the third story deck of the Jerry house. A strange medley of English, Arabic, and Mandarin filled the summer air as my friends and I gathered there every evening, and dialogues at sunset soon became moments of bliss. In our conversations about cultural differences, the possibility of an afterlife, and the plausibility of far-fetched conspiracy theories, I learned to voice my opinion. As I was introduced to different viewpoints, these moments challenged my understanding of the world around me. In my final entries from California, I find excitement to learn from others and increased confidence, a tool that would later allow me to impact my community.

“The beauty in a tower of cans” – June 2020

Returning my gaze to the stack of journals, I stretch to take the floral-patterned book sitting on top. I flip through, eventually finding the beginnings of the organization I created during the outbreak of COVID-19. Since then, Door-to-Door Deliveries has woven its way through my entries and into reality, allowing me to aid high-risk populations through free grocery delivery.

With the confidence I gained the summer before, I took action when seeing others in need rather than letting my shyness hold me back. I reached out to local churches and senior centers to spread word of our services and interacted with customers through our website and social media pages. To further expand our impact, we held two food drives, and I mustered the courage to ask for donations door-to-door. In a tower of canned donations, I saw the value of reaching out to help others and realized my own potential to impact the world around me.

I delicately close the journal in my hands, smiling softly as the memories reappear, one after another. Reaching under my bed, I pull out a fresh notebook and open to its first sheet. I lightly press my pen to the page, “And so begins the next chapter…”

The structuring of this essay makes it easy and enjoyable to read. The student effectively organizes their various life experiences around their tower of journals, which centers the reader and makes the different stories easy to follow. Additionally, the student engages quotes from their journals—and unique formatting of the quotes—to signal that they are moving in time and show us which memory we should follow them to.

Thematically, the student uses the idea of shyness to connect the different memories they draw out of their journals. As the student describes their experiences overcoming shyness at the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes and Door-to-Door Deliveries, this essay can be read as an Overcoming Obstacles essay.

At the end of this essay, readers are fully convinced that this student is dedicated (they have committed to journaling every day), thoughtful (journaling is a thoughtful process and, in the essay, the student reflects thoughtfully on the past), and motivated (they flew across the country for a summer program and started a business). These are definitely qualities admissions officers are looking for in applicants!

Although this essay is already exceptionally strong as it’s written, the first journal entry feels out of place compared to the other two entries that discuss the author’s shyness and determination. It works well for the essay to have an entry from when the student was younger to add some humor (with misspelled words) and nostalgia, but if the student had either connected the quote they chose to the idea of overcoming a fear present in the other two anecdotes or if they had picked a different quote all together related to their shyness, it would have made the entire essay feel more cohesive.

Where to Get Your Personal Statement Edited

Do you want feedback on your personal statement? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

Next Step: Supplemental Essays

Essay Guides for Each School

How to Write a Stellar Extracurricular Activity College Essay

4 Tips for Writing a Diversity College Essay

How to Write the “Why This College” Essay

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

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personal history college essay

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How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

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What does it take to land in the “accept” (instead of “reject”) pile?

How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Start early.  Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay.
  • Keep the focus narrow.  Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
  • Be yourself.  Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, use the narrative to be vulnerable and honest about who you are. Use words you would normally use. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
  • Be creative.  “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece.
  • Make a point. As you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had.

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We’ve all heard about the dreaded “college essay,” the bane of every high school senior’s existence. This daunting element of the college application is something that can create angst for even the most accomplished students.

  • AA Amy Allen is a writer, educator, and lifelong learner. Her freelance writing business,  All of the Write Words , focuses on providing high school students with one-on-one feedback to guide them through the college application process and with crafting a thoughtful personal essay. A dedicated poet, Amy’s work has also been published in several journals including  Pine Row Press ,  Months to Years,  and  Atlanta Review .

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7 Steps (And Examples) For Writing a Killer Personal Statement

David Jun 24, 2019

7 Steps (And Examples) For Writing a Killer Personal Statement

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Personal statements (also known as college essays) are a major part of both college applications and scholarship applications. Unfortunately for some, writing a personal statement isn’t as easy as it sounds. How are you supposed to write a great essay that sets you apart from the competition? How are you supposed to talk positively about yourself without bragging and coming across as arrogant? All of this in only a couple hundred words? These are tough questions, but rest assured, we’ve got answers. This guide will walk you through a 7 step process that will help you write your personal statement, and increase your chances of getting into college and winning scholarships. In addition, at the bottom of this post, we have 7 (!) example templates that you can use to give you inspiration for your own personal statements. Buckle up, here we go!

Personal Statement vs College or Scholarship Essay 

There is a lot of confusion about the differences between personal statements and scholarship essays. Before we begin, it’s important to clarify what a few of these commonly-used terms actually mean.

  • Personal statement- an essay you must write for your college applications or scholarship applications to prove that you deserve to be accepted.
  • Scholarship essay- this term is used interchangeably with ‘personal statement.’ They are basically the same thing.
  • Essay prompt- the essay question or topic that you must write your essay on. This will be provided for you in the application.
  • Supplemental essay- an additional essay that you may need to write for an application. This is not always needed and the topic may vary between schools or programs.

Now that we’ve explained the terms, let’s dig in and go through how to write a personal statement in 7 easy steps.

Step 1 – Understand the Different Question Types

Thankfully, colleges and scholarship providers give you some direction on what to write about. Each application contains an essay prompt that you are asked to respond to. While these prompts are open-ended and can be answered in many different ways, they usually fall into one of a few categories. Being able to identify the category an essay prompt belongs to is the first step in formulating an outstanding response. Let’s go through the category types.

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Prompt Category 1: Overcoming a Problem

“You don’t lose if you get knocked down; you lose if you stay down”. Muhammed Ali. “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing”. Henry Ford. “I get knocked down, but I get up again, no you’re never gonna keep me down”. Chumbawamba. You get the idea 🙂 We all encounter hardship at some point in our lives. This type of essay prompt asks you to identify a problem or failure you faced and to describe how you overcame the problem, and what lessons you were able to learn. It’s worth noting that two essay prompts from The Common App this past year were from this category: Have a look and see:

Common App Question 2

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can 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?

Common App Question 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.

Prompt Category 2  – A Personal History of You

These kinds of questions ask you to pinpoint an important person or event in your life that helped shape you into the person you are today. For these kinds of questions, you should write about a specific formative experience, key event, or key person from your life. It’s better to focus on a specific event or person than to tell your life story. This past year there were 2 questions of this kind in The Common App:

Common App Question 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.

Common App Question 5

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Prompt Category 3 – Openness to New Ideas

Are you open to new ideas? How do you express these ideas, especially when relating to people with different beliefs than your own? This type of prompt aims to see how you engage with new and differing perspectives. One of the questions from The Common App this past year is a great example of this category.

Common App Question 3

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

  Prompt Category 4  – Your Future Goals

What do you want to do when you grow up? Do you want to become an astronaut? A doctor? A content writer? These types of prompts are designed to help the committee understand what you’re interested in and how you plan to apply what you learn in college towards a future career.  While there were no questions like this on The Common App this year, you might still see this kind of essay prompt if you are applying to a specialized program. Here is an example from the University of Southern California

Example “Your Future Goals” prompt:

Describe one example of how you might use design as a future architect. The admission committee will review this statement as a measure of your awareness, determination, and vision.

Prompt Category 5  – Why Do you Want to Go to This School? 

These prompts are pretty much what the title suggests. In this type of personal statement, you should let the committee know why you are interested in that particular school.

Prompt Category 6 – Creative Prompts 

Some schools value creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, and eloquent writing. As a result, you might get an essay prompt that asks you to write unique, and creative personal statements. For example, you might be asked how their school will prepare you for a job that won’t exist by the time you graduate. The University of Chicago, notorious for its strange prompts, has asked “What can actually be divided by zero?”. The key to these prompts is to show off clever, creative, out-of-the-box thinking that relates to what and where you want to study.

Step 2- Brainstorm and Plan

DON’T. OVERLOOK. THIS. STEP. Many students think they’ll finish faster if they skip the planning and just start writing. The truth is that good brainstorming will actually save you time. When you brainstorm effectively you will

  • Be able to eliminate prompts that don’t work for you
  • Be able to identify prompts that might work for you
  • Come up with things you could write about for each prompt
  • Be in the best position to start writing a great essay. This is much better than starting to write an essay only to realize that it’s not going to work and you need to start over.

After reading the essay prompt options, and figuring out which category it belongs to, take some time to write down some thoughts and ideas that you could write about. Here are some leading questions you can ask yourself that can help you think about what you can write for your personal statement.

Prompt Category 1: “Overcoming a problem” Brainstorming:

Think of some problems you have encountered in your life. Once you have a problem (or two), think about how you overcame it. If you aren’t happy with how you overcame it then you can focus on what you learned from the experience. Here are some ideas that might help you identify problems you’ve experienced that might be good to write about.

  • Loss of a family member or close friend
  • An injury or health problem (physical or mental)
  • A difficult relationship with a family member, friend, or romantic partner
  • Moving to a new city or state, or changing schools
  • Revealing a sexual or gender identity to friends or family
  • Issues with acceptance, bullying, addiction, body image, or anything similar

Prompt Category 2: “A Personal History of You” Brainstorming:

This category of essay prompts probably requires the biggest amount of brainstorming. These questions want to know about your background, identity, interests, accomplishments, and more. Here are some ideas you can brainstorm that might help you figure out what to write for this type of personal statement:

  • When you first became aware of an important identity (for good or bad)
  • Your first job
  • Volunteer experience
  • A class that motivated or inspired you in some way.
  • A new hobby
  • A memorable victory or failure
  • A leadership position you took on
  • A family member, friend, teacher, or celebrity who has impacted you.
  • A personal goal you achieved
  • A quality in yourself you are proud of
  • A unique talent you have

Prompt Category 3: “Openness to New Ideas” Brainstorming:

The world is more polarized than ever before. For this reason, universities want to know how you handle differences. For these kinds of questions, it can be helpful to think about:

  • Religion or Ethnicity
  • Nationality
  • Social class
  • Country, state, or city of origin
  • Sexual or gender identification
  • Political beliefs
  • If so have you ever spoken about them to anyone? How did it turn out?

Prompt Category 4: “Your Future Goals” Brainstorming:

Future goals tend to be based on what you’d like to study but can also include long-term career goals. It’s important to show determination, vision, and ambition in these kinds of personal statements. For these kinds of questions it can be helpful to think about:

  • What you’d like to do professionally when you grow up
  • Why you’d like to do it
  • What kinds of things do you need to learn in order to get where you want to go?
  • How will the things you need to learn help you?
  • Does the school have a reputable program?
  • Does it have a well-known faculty?
  • Does it have state-of-the-art facilities?
  • Does it have a great network of graduates who could be mentors?

Prompt Category 5: “Why this School” Brainstorming:

This kind of prompt requires much of the same brainstorming as the previous one.  Ideas to brainstorm should be centered around why you want to attend this particular school. For example:

  • Is there a program that makes the school special?
  • Is the school known for a talented faculty or professors you want to learn from?
  • Is the school affordable?
  • Is student life alive and vibrant?
  • Does the school offer excellent career services, programs, and facilities?
  • Do you want to become involved with a certain sport or activity the school is known for?
  • Are you interested in living in the city or town the college is located in?

Prompt Category 6: “Creative Prompts”  Brainstorming (h3)

Since these are so unique, it’s hard to say what should be brainstormed. Consider each question on its own. Try to brainstorm a few creative, out-of-the-box ideas. See which ideas you feel most passionate about and take the writing in that direction.

Step 3: Choose the Best Topic

Maybe, for a “history of you” essay prompt, you’re debating between writing about a few things. Maybe you can’t decide between talking about volunteer experience, a friend who impacted you, or how your identity affected who you became. Now is the time to narrow it down and choose one topic you want to write about. Your topic should be one that you can write an interesting story about, one that highlights your personality, and one that shows a side of yourself that can’t be found in your transcripts or resume. If you aren’t sure which to choose, you can try this tactic of freewriting to see what comes easiest to you. The freewriting strategy recommends writing about a topic in an open way to see which topic is the easiest to write about, and which topics let you talk about the best ideas. If you start coming up with a lot of ideas and things to write about for one of your topics, go with it! If not, move on to your next topic and try freewriting again.

Step 4: Create An Outline 

Now that you have your topic, it’s time to create an outline on how to do it! Like brainstorming, you should not skip this step! Creating an outline is like mapping out your essay. It makes the writing much much easier, and in the long run, will save you lots and lots of time. When you have a good plan, you don’t end up rewriting the first sentence of your essay 100 times. There are two common ways to structure your personal statement – the journey structure and the passion structure. If you are writing about a time of personal growth, you should probably consider the journey structure. The journey structure focuses on the before, during, and after of your personal growth. If you plan to write about something you love doing, we recommend using the passion structure.  The passion structure consists of multiple experiences all related to a single theme (e.g., your passion). This structure works well when you have a number of different experiences across your life that all played a significant role in shaping who you are today. We have a whole separate post that talks about both journey and passion structures for personal statements .

Step 5: Writing Your Personal Statement 

Now that you have your outline, you are ready to finally start writing your personal statement! If you’ve done everything until now, including writing a good outline, this should be quick and easy. Keep in mind that no matter how many words you are asked to write, your personal statement should have an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. We’ll quickly go over how to write each one

Step 5a – Introduction Paragraph

The introduction is crucial. It is your chance to grab the committee’s attention and convince them to keep reading.  Your introduction should contain three things:

  • An attention-grabbing first sentence (a hook)
  • A short explanation for what you will talk about in your essay
  • The thesis statement in which you address the essay prompt.

Your introduction should be short, sweet, and to the point. Some ideas you can use for a hook are:

  • A rhetorical question
  • A memorable quote
  • A quick story
  • A surprising fact
  • A strong surprising statement

If you need more detailed guidance, this post talks about how to write a scholarship essay introduction 

5b) How to Write Body Paragraphs

This depends on so many things. It depends on if you decide to use a journey structure, a passion structure or something else entirely. For that reason we’ll simply give you some tips to keep in mind while writing the body of your essay:

Personality

What makes you unique? What makes you, well…you? SAT scores and grades aren’t relevant here. What can you tell the committee about your character? What are some of your achievements? What are some of your goals for the future? The personal statement is the place to give readers an insight into who you are as a person aside from your test scores. Use this space to charm and impress.

Authenticity

It will help you charm and impress if you are honest and genuine. Write about what you hold near and dear to your heart, and not what you think readers are expecting to hear from you. Also, speak in your own voice that shows who you are! Don’t look for big synonyms because it makes you sound smarter. Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.

Concrete Examples

Stories and examples are powerful devices that help people remember who they are. If you are passionate about animals, writing about your volunteer experience in an animal shelter is much more powerful than writing about how you love animals. Committees have to read through hundreds of scholarship applications. Examples and anecdotes will help your essay stand out. Better to prove it than to say it.

Know your Reader

If you are writing a personal statement for a scholarship, your goals should also align with the mission of the scholarship committee. The same can be said of a unique school or program. To understand the mission, you’ll have to get to know the organization. You can do this by browsing their website.

Stay within the required word limit. If the maximum word limit is 500, don’t write 800 words. This is a sure-fire way to get you disqualified or to have the committee stop reading after about 500.

5c) How to End your Personal Statement

Your conclusion needs to give the committee one last impression of who you are. It should leave them remembering you. Your conclusion should do these three things:

  • Wrap up your story by summing up your main points
  • Clarify your thesis in a new and fresh way
  • Answer the question: Why is all this important?

Some ideas on how to answer the question: why is this important

  • A big thought
  • Hope for the future
  • A call to action

If you need more guidance, read this post that talks about how to end a scholarship essay

Step 6: Edit Your Statement!

Once you finish writing, it’s super important to read the whole thing and to edit it before you turn it in. Editing your work means reading it through several times until you are confident that it sounds good and that there are no mistakes in it. Before you do this, however, it’s a good idea to take at least a 12-hour break from the computer. Giving yourself a break will give your brain and your eyes some time to relax. You will be fresher and in a better state of mind to catch mistakes if you give yourself some time to breathe. When you start editing, read your essay from top to bottom. Read it several times.  Pay extra close attention to spelling, grammar, punctuation, capital letters, and sentence structure. Your personal statement is a reflection of you and your standard of work. If you submit an essay with mistakes in it, that says far more about who you are than anything you write in your statement. Submitting work with mistakes may give the committee the impression that you are lazy or careless. You obviously don’t want to do that. Once you’ve read everything over everything and are confident that it’s flawless, have a family member, friend, teacher, or counselor look over it to make sure you didn’t miss anything. An extra pair of eyes can give a fresh perspective, and help you catch anything you may have missed.

Step 7 – Hit the Submit button!

Finally! It’s time to submit your essay. Great job putting in all the hard work. Go buy yourself a cupcake or treat yourself to something nice. You earned it.

Example Personal Statements

Need some extra inspiration? We’ve got 7(!) sample personal statements that you can use to give you ideas and ensure you are on the right track. Each of the 7 personal statements below is for a different kind of prompt, as was categorized above. Some of the prompts are taken from this year’s Common App questions.

Prompt Category 1 – Overcoming a Problem Sample Essay

Common App Essay Prompt 2: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can 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?  When I was a sophomore in high school, my parents decided that it was a good idea for me to spend less time on the couch playing video games and more time moving my body. They encouraged me to try out for the high school swimming team. I wasn’t particularly talented at the sport, but I did have a number of childhood swim lessons up my sleeve. It might also be a good time to mention that I went to a small private high school that accepted everyone onto their sports teams, so I didn’t have much to lose  Another thing worth mentioning is that I am from Minneapolis where we spend many winter days in below zero weather. Jumping into a not-heated-enough indoor pool at 6 am, 3 days a week isn’t exactly enticing. But, for one reason or another and against all odds, I didn’t put up much of a fight. I guess I knew deep down inside that it would be good for me to start doing something else with my life besides sitting behind a computer screen all day long.  As expected, I was accepted onto the swimming team but at a big cost- I was by far the weakest link. I seemed to overlook this minor detail and didn’t foresee the toll that it would take on me and on others. I quickly realized that I couldn’t just dance around the pool swimming like a drowning dog. I had a team that was counting on me, and in some weird way, I was counting on myself. Despite being majorly out of my comfort zone, I started to go to the gym a few times a week after school to increase my strength. I worked hard during swim practice and even put in some hours on the weekend. I had never pushed myself like that before, and I was really proud to see what I was capable of.  I may not have gone home with any medals, but by the end of the year, I had increased my speed and had mastered the butterfly stroke. It’s the little things in life, right? My parents also seemed pleased by the fact that I was no longer glued to the couch every day after school. I weirdly found joy in the sport, which was the last thing that I expected to find. I am much more open to trying new things now and have a lot more confidence in myself. 

Prompt category 2 – A Personal History of You Sample Essay

Common app question 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.” It was April of my freshman year of college and all my friends were heading to Cancun, Mexico for the quintessential college Spring break trip. I, on the other hand, was heading to Haiti, to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity for 7 days to rebuild homes that had been destroyed in the hurricane. For some reason that my friends found to be odd, the thought of my pasty white skin frying on the hot Mexican sand alongside hundreds of other college students didn’t quite appeal to me.  I have always been a woman of my own, and have never been one to follow in the footsteps of others. Sometimes that has gotten me into trouble, but more often than not it has made me a strong and independent young woman who isn’t afraid to stand out and be different.  I boarded the plane with my 12 other volunteer mates, with no expectations. I had never volunteered abroad, nor had I ever traveled alone without my family members. Not to mention, I was the only college freshman on the trip. I was looking forward to the wisdom that my elder companions were to impart on me.  Needless to say, the volunteer trip completely changed my outlook on life. While my friends returned with stories of drinking and partying (I’d hardly call that a story), I returned with the deep connections I’d formed with my volunteer mates and a passion for helping communities overcome natural disasters. After coming back from that trip, I decided to double major in emergency management and psychology. It is my dream to one day hold a position in the Red Cross. For now, I will study and absorb as much information as I can, and continue to volunteer around my local community. And, if the opportunity arises for me to take my knowledge and skills abroad, I will gladly do so again . 

Prompt category 3 – Openness to New Ideas Sample Essay

Common App Question 3 – Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?  My mom always told me that happiness is right under your nose. Growing up, despite my privileges, I always dreamed of being elsewhere. My house wasn’t big enough, my clothes weren’t nice enough and my town was boring. I would sift through National Geographic magazines at the library, dreaming of laying on a tropical beach in Bora Bora or walking the cobbled streets of Lisbon. I was always searching for whatever else was out there. I promised myself that as soon as I finished high school, I would skip this boring excuse of a town and get out of here to see the world and find my true calling. Once I started college, I used my newfound freedom to my advantage. The long breaks during school allotted me plenty of time to start seeing the world. I worked hard during the semester, in both my studies and my nannying job, and was able to fund my travels around the world. I saw the Eiffel Tower, walked on the Beijing wall, and was bewildered by the northern lights in Norway. During my junior year of college, I spent six months studying abroad in Barcelona. I binged on paella and Spanish omelets during the week, and on pasta in Italy and schnitzel in Germany over the weekends.  After the semester was over, I extended my visit and did a homestay with a local family in northern Spain. I became part of their family that summer, doing chores around the house and running to buy bread from the local bakery.  Despite loving the experience, after a while,  I found myself missing the sub-par greek salads from the local diner in my hometown and the familiar faces I’d see when I went for Sunday morning bagels. I knew then and there that I was ready to come home.  I returned home with a newfound realization of how massive the world is and how much of it I want to see. But, I also returned finally to understanding what my mom meant when she told me all these years that happiness is right under my nose. True happiness is found when you’re around people who love and care about you. I will definitely keep traveling the world, but I won’t be taking my home for granted any time soon.

Prompt Category 4 – “Your Future Goals” Sample Essay

Describe how you might use what you learn in university in a future career. The admission committee will review this statement as a measure of your awareness, determination, and vision. My name is Billy Meijers and I am a senior at York Secondary School. I plan to pursue my Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. After I finish my bachelor’s degree, my plan and hope is to work as an elementary school teacher in Provo.  I have always known that I wanted to work as a teacher, thanks to my passion for working with children and teaching others. Throughout high school, I volunteered at a local homeless shelter with children and also worked as a day camp counselor during my summer vacations. While teaching and working with children has always come naturally to me (which of course is a strong asset to have as a teacher) these qualities are not enough to make you a successful teacher. A teacher needs to know how to manage their classroom, develop curriculum, and work with a diverse group of students who come with their own unique needs. My desire to develop these skills is what is leading me to study early childhood education in college.  I am happy to say that I have already learned so much in high school. I am fascinated by the childhood development and psychology courses I have taken thus far. It’s so important to understand the psychology of young children to be able to respond to their needs and teach them. Learning about cognitive and behavioral psychology will help me within the classroom setting and I’ll be able to mold my curriculum using these skills.   I can’t wait to continue my studies and acquire more skills. I still have so much to learn about planning curriculum and managing classrooms. Next year I plan to start an internship at a local elementary school as a teacher’s assistant. With any luck, the next 4 years will prepare me to be an amazing teacher where I will be able to make a real difference in the world! 

Prompt Category 5 – “Why This School” Sample Essay 

There are thousands of universities and colleges. Why are you interested in attending Michigan? I always thought that I would follow in my family’s footsteps and go to George Washington University. When I say family, I am referring to my entire family- grandparents, parents, older siblings, cousins, you name it. I was the typical three-year-old child decked out in GW attire from head to toe, and you better believe that there is plenty of photo evidence to prove it.  I never really gave my future much thought, because it seemed set in stone that I would pursue my bachelor’s degree at GW University. My parents were so excited and never shied away from talking about it. However, everything changed for me when I visited the University of Michigan during my junior year of high school with my theater company.  I met several students in the theater department and connected with them right away. They told me all about the program and it instantly felt like a great fit. I had the privilege of seeing several plays during the weekend and my eyes glowed with both admiration and envy. As I looked up at that stage I knew wholeheartedly that that was where I wanted to be.  Upon returning home, I was surprised to find my mind wandering, dreaming of starring in plays at the University of Michigan. How would my family react if I didn’t carry on the GW legacy? I was so scared to share the news with my family and felt a gut-wrenching feeling for betraying our family tradition. But I couldn’t lie to myself- it was so obvious where my heart was.  I shared it with my family and they took the news better than I thought. They were sad that I don’t want to go to GW, but they want me to follow my dreams.  I would be honored to study theater at the University of Michigan. I have so much to learn from the excellent instructors and fellow students, and a lot to share with others. 

Prompt Category 6 – “Creative Prompt” Sample Essay 

By the time you graduate from college, there will be jobs that don’t exist today. Describe one of them and how The University of Chicago might prepare you for it. With technology growing what feels like a million miles per second, and new inventions being created on the regular, it’s hard to know exactly what the future holds. The Institute for the Future predicted that 85% of jobs that students will perform in 2030 don’t exist yet. So, is there even a point in going to university if you’ll end up working in a job that doesn’t exist yet?  Absolutely! University can prepare you to work in a variety of fields, and not only for one specific job. In fact, because the future is so unknown, the best thing you can do for yourself and your future is to get a college degree. Let’s take for example social media influencers. This is a new job that has only become mainstream over the last several years. Many social media influencers went to college and pursued degrees of all sorts. While they may not be directly using the degree they got in college, they definitely gained a lot of valuable skills from their studies, which helped contribute to their success today. College teaches many invaluable skills like critical thinking, writing, and communication. It also teaches you soft skills like teamwork, learning how to live independently, learning how to manage your schedule, and much much more.  Let’s imagine how university courses can prepare anyone for jobs a hypothetical job that doesn’t yet exist. With the heavy presence of social media and technology in all of our lives, you can imagine that many people are rapidly becoming addicted to their devices. Introducing the “digital detox therapist-” a career that is likely to exist by 2030, if not before. While there is currently no academic path to becoming a digital detox therapist, there are plenty of psychology and marketing courses that can prepare students for this career. Digital detox psychologists would need to have a background in addiction, cognitive psychology, and social psychology. They will also need to understand consumerism and marketing. As you can see, while there is no direct way to study for this career, college can still benefit you in the long run and make you a sought-after candidate for this hypothetical career and presumably many others.

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David Tabachnikov is the CEO of ScholarshipOwl. Formerly at Waze and Google, David is an experienced CTO/R&D manager with over 10 years of experience of leading tech teams. David fervently believes that students should have greater access to education, and is passionate about using technology to help them achieve that goal.

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College admissions essays are an important part of your college application and gives you the chance to show colleges and universities your character and experiences. This guide will give you tips to write an effective college essay.

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Two young male students reading and text: Tips for Writing the Berkeley Goldman Personal History Statement

Tips for Writing the Berkeley Goldman Personal History Statement

posted on October 6, 2016

Let’s first look at what the University of California – Berkeley, Goldman School of Public Policy’s website tells us about the Personal History Statement. This is a bit different from what other schools request.  

Personal History Statement (submitted with online application). Please describe how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree . Please include information on how you have overcome barriers to access in higher education, evidence of how you have come to understand the barriers faced by others , evidence of your academic service to advance equitable access to higher education for women, racial minorities, and individuals from other groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education, evidence of your research focusing on underserved populations or related issues of inequality, or evidence of your leadership among such groups. There is no page length requirement for the Personal History Statement. However, this essay is generally 1-2 pages, double-spaced. [ Source ]

Tackle the prompt:

The first part of the prompt is somewhat vague and standard, focusing on “your personal background” and how it “informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree”, so let’s first focus on the rest of the prompt. They very specifically want to hear about barriers you’ve overcome and your understanding of barriers for others. This is likely easier for some of you than others.

If your personal story includes being the first person in your family to go to college, for example, definitely go there. If you haven’t had such obvious barriers, you’ll need to think a bit harder. If you recognize yourself as coming from a high degree of privilege, especially with respect to your access to education, you’ll do better to acknowledge that and name it rather than reaching for imaginary barriers. The admissions committee will see right through that. In this case, focus on the next part of the prompt, about your understanding of barriers faced by others. If you can relate that back to a comparison of your experience, the Statement will read more personal, which is generally a good thing as this is a part of the application (along with your Policy Statement of Purpose)  where you get to establish yourself as a three-dimensional person.

Soul Search:

Before you start writing, do a bit of thinking–even soul-searching–about privilege, barriers, underrepresentation of some populations, etc. What is your personal relationship to these terms and what they represent? What have you done to work for change? The program has a clear focus, so you want to make sure you not only have the tools at the ready to write a compelling Personal History Statement, but also that you truly are a good fit, which is unlikely if you’re unable to write this Statement somewhat easily.

Essay Length: No more than 2 pages

While Goldman says there is not length requirement, since they say most are 1-2 pages, double-spaced this is an indication that they expect your Statement to be double-spaced, and you want to cut down your five-page essay to no more than three pages if 1-2 is the average. Shorter is generally better provided you’re not cutting out critical details or stories, but I’ve found most essays can be cut down by at least 20% to become stronger, more concise pieces. Remember the person reviewing your Statement reads many of these at a time, so the easier it is to skim and get the gist quickly, the more compelling your case to a tired, overworked admissions committee member.

Get an outside perspective:

As always with essays, get at least one outside, objective set of eyes on it to convey the main points they get from it and to assure you’re getting across what you intend.  The Art of Applying is glad to help with this! After content, we read for typos or grammatical errors you may have missed, since you never want an otherwise impressive essay to be tarnished by mistakes. Admissions committee members can easily interpret these mistakes as you being a sloppy candidate who doesn’t care enough to proofread. Start Early: Finally, the best advice I can give on this one is to start early. Don’t put this off until the last minute since this is one that isn’t a given for what you’ll write. Set aside time to think, to brainstorm with a friend, and leave plenty of time to review and edit. You’ve got this!

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Reader Interactions

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October 10, 2016 at 1:28 pm

l would love to study at your college please

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January 9, 2017 at 3:26 pm

Hi Tawanda, The Art of Applying is not a college; it is a business that helps people apply to graduate schools. 🙂

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December 5, 2016 at 8:50 pm

Thank you for the insight. Greatly appreciated.

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August 27, 2017 at 8:12 am

Thank you for the advise! Although, I am not clear whether the essay HAS to be related to barriers to higher education or it can be broader. The last sentence of the prompt states the following: “…evidence of your research focusing on underserved populations or related issues of inequality, or evidence of your leadership among such groups.” Would you say that social volunteer work, unrelated to education would fit into de prompt scope? Thank you!

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November 28, 2018 at 11:15 pm

Thank you, a few words more valuable than 10pages of a blog post!

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October 7, 2019 at 4:13 am

Kaneisha, I would also love to study at your colege please

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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, 177 college essay examples for 11 schools + expert analysis.

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College Admissions , College Essays

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The personal statement might just be the hardest part of your college application. Mostly this is because it has the least guidance and is the most open-ended. One way to understand what colleges are looking for when they ask you to write an essay is to check out the essays of students who already got in—college essays that actually worked. After all, they must be among the most successful of this weird literary genre.

In this article, I'll go through general guidelines for what makes great college essays great. I've also compiled an enormous list of 100+ actual sample college essays from 11 different schools. Finally, I'll break down two of these published college essay examples and explain why and how they work. With links to 177 full essays and essay excerpts , this article is a great resource for learning how to craft your own personal college admissions essay!

What Excellent College Essays Have in Common

Even though in many ways these sample college essays are very different from one other, they do share some traits you should try to emulate as you write your own essay.

Visible Signs of Planning

Building out from a narrow, concrete focus. You'll see a similar structure in many of the essays. The author starts with a very detailed story of an event or description of a person or place. After this sense-heavy imagery, the essay expands out to make a broader point about the author, and connects this very memorable experience to the author's present situation, state of mind, newfound understanding, or maturity level.

Knowing how to tell a story. Some of the experiences in these essays are one-of-a-kind. But most deal with the stuff of everyday life. What sets them apart is the way the author approaches the topic: analyzing it for drama and humor, for its moving qualities, for what it says about the author's world, and for how it connects to the author's emotional life.

Stellar Execution

A killer first sentence. You've heard it before, and you'll hear it again: you have to suck the reader in, and the best place to do that is the first sentence. Great first sentences are punchy. They are like cliffhangers, setting up an exciting scene or an unusual situation with an unclear conclusion, in order to make the reader want to know more. Don't take my word for it—check out these 22 first sentences from Stanford applicants and tell me you don't want to read the rest of those essays to find out what happens!

A lively, individual voice. Writing is for readers. In this case, your reader is an admissions officer who has read thousands of essays before yours and will read thousands after. Your goal? Don't bore your reader. Use interesting descriptions, stay away from clichés, include your own offbeat observations—anything that makes this essay sounds like you and not like anyone else.

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Technical correctness. No spelling mistakes, no grammar weirdness, no syntax issues, no punctuation snafus—each of these sample college essays has been formatted and proofread perfectly. If this kind of exactness is not your strong suit, you're in luck! All colleges advise applicants to have their essays looked over several times by parents, teachers, mentors, and anyone else who can spot a comma splice. Your essay must be your own work, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting help polishing it.

And if you need more guidance, connect with PrepScholar's expert admissions consultants . These expert writers know exactly what college admissions committees look for in an admissions essay and chan help you craft an essay that boosts your chances of getting into your dream school.

Check out PrepScholar's Essay Editing and Coaching progra m for more details!

personal history college essay

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Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We'll learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay that you'll proudly submit to your top choice colleges.

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Links to Full College Essay Examples

Some colleges publish a selection of their favorite accepted college essays that worked, and I've put together a selection of over 100 of these.

Common App Essay Samples

Please note that some of these college essay examples may be responding to prompts that are no longer in use. The current Common App prompts are as follows:

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 encounter can 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. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? 5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that 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.

Now, let's get to the good stuff: the list of 177 college essay examples responding to current and past Common App essay prompts. 

Connecticut college.

  • 12 Common Application essays from the classes of 2022-2025

Hamilton College

  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2026
  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2022
  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2018
  • 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2012
  • 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2007

Johns Hopkins

These essays are answers to past prompts from either the Common Application or the Coalition Application (which Johns Hopkins used to accept).

  • 1 Common Application or Coalition Application essay from the class of 2026
  • 6 Common Application or Coalition Application essays from the class of 2025
  • 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2024
  • 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2023
  • 7 Common Application of Universal Application essays from the class of 2022
  • 5 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2021
  • 7 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2020

Essay Examples Published by Other Websites

  • 2 Common Application essays ( 1st essay , 2nd essay ) from applicants admitted to Columbia

Other Sample College Essays

Here is a collection of essays that are college-specific.

Babson College

  • 4 essays (and 1 video response) on "Why Babson" from the class of 2020

Emory University

  • 5 essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) from the class of 2020 along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on why the essays were exceptional
  • 5 more recent essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on what made these essays stand out

University of Georgia

  • 1 “strong essay” sample from 2019
  • 1 “strong essay” sample from 2018
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2023
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2022
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2021
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2020
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2019
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2018
  • 6 essays from admitted MIT students

Smith College

  • 6 "best gift" essays from the class of 2018

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Books of College Essays

If you're looking for even more sample college essays, consider purchasing a college essay book. The best of these include dozens of essays that worked and feedback from real admissions officers.

College Essays That Made a Difference —This detailed guide from Princeton Review includes not only successful essays, but also interviews with admissions officers and full student profiles.

50 Successful Harvard Application Essays by the Staff of the Harvard Crimson—A must for anyone aspiring to Harvard .

50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays and 50 Successful Stanford Application Essays by Gen and Kelly Tanabe—For essays from other top schools, check out this venerated series, which is regularly updated with new essays.

Heavenly Essays by Janine W. Robinson—This collection from the popular blogger behind Essay Hell includes a wider range of schools, as well as helpful tips on honing your own essay.

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Analyzing Great Common App Essays That Worked

I've picked two essays from the examples collected above to examine in more depth so that you can see exactly what makes a successful college essay work. Full credit for these essays goes to the original authors and the schools that published them.

Example 1: "Breaking Into Cars," by Stephen, Johns Hopkins Class of '19 (Common App Essay, 636 words long)

I had never broken into a car before.

We were in Laredo, having just finished our first day at a Habitat for Humanity work site. The Hotchkiss volunteers had already left, off to enjoy some Texas BBQ, leaving me behind with the college kids to clean up. Not until we were stranded did we realize we were locked out of the van.

Someone picked a coat hanger out of the dumpster, handed it to me, and took a few steps back.

"Can you do that thing with a coat hanger to unlock it?"

"Why me?" I thought.

More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame. Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally. My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed. "The water's on fire! Clear a hole!" he shouted, tossing me in the lake without warning. While I'm still unconvinced about that particular lesson's practicality, my Dad's overarching message is unequivocally true: much of life is unexpected, and you have to deal with the twists and turns.

Living in my family, days rarely unfolded as planned. A bit overlooked, a little pushed around, I learned to roll with reality, negotiate a quick deal, and give the improbable a try. I don't sweat the small stuff, and I definitely don't expect perfect fairness. So what if our dining room table only has six chairs for seven people? Someone learns the importance of punctuality every night.

But more than punctuality and a special affinity for musical chairs, my family life has taught me to thrive in situations over which I have no power. Growing up, I never controlled my older siblings, but I learned how to thwart their attempts to control me. I forged alliances, and realigned them as necessary. Sometimes, I was the poor, defenseless little brother; sometimes I was the omniscient elder. Different things to different people, as the situation demanded. I learned to adapt.

Back then, these techniques were merely reactions undertaken to ensure my survival. But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"

The question caught me off guard, much like the question posed to me in Laredo. Then, I realized I knew the answer. I knew why the coat hanger had been handed to me.

Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose. It's family. It's society. And often, it's chaos. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness. My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence.

What Makes This Essay Tick?

It's very helpful to take writing apart in order to see just how it accomplishes its objectives. Stephen's essay is very effective. Let's find out why!

An Opening Line That Draws You In

In just eight words, we get: scene-setting (he is standing next to a car about to break in), the idea of crossing a boundary (he is maybe about to do an illegal thing for the first time), and a cliffhanger (we are thinking: is he going to get caught? Is he headed for a life of crime? Is he about to be scared straight?).

Great, Detailed Opening Story

More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame.

It's the details that really make this small experience come alive. Notice how whenever he can, Stephen uses a more specific, descriptive word in place of a more generic one. The volunteers aren't going to get food or dinner; they're going for "Texas BBQ." The coat hanger comes from "a dumpster." Stephen doesn't just move the coat hanger—he "jiggles" it.

Details also help us visualize the emotions of the people in the scene. The person who hands Stephen the coat hanger isn't just uncomfortable or nervous; he "takes a few steps back"—a description of movement that conveys feelings. Finally, the detail of actual speech makes the scene pop. Instead of writing that the other guy asked him to unlock the van, Stephen has the guy actually say his own words in a way that sounds like a teenager talking.

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Turning a Specific Incident Into a Deeper Insight

Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.

Stephen makes the locked car experience a meaningful illustration of how he has learned to be resourceful and ready for anything, and he also makes this turn from the specific to the broad through an elegant play on the two meanings of the word "click."

Using Concrete Examples When Making Abstract Claims

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally.

"Unpredictability and chaos" are very abstract, not easily visualized concepts. They could also mean any number of things—violence, abandonment, poverty, mental instability. By instantly following up with highly finite and unambiguous illustrations like "family of seven" and "siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing," Stephen grounds the abstraction in something that is easy to picture: a large, noisy family.

Using Small Bits of Humor and Casual Word Choice

My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed.

Obviously, knowing how to clean burning oil is not high on the list of things every 9-year-old needs to know. To emphasize this, Stephen uses sarcasm by bringing up a situation that is clearly over-the-top: "in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed."

The humor also feels relaxed. Part of this is because he introduces it with the colloquial phrase "you know," so it sounds like he is talking to us in person. This approach also diffuses the potential discomfort of the reader with his father's strictness—since he is making jokes about it, clearly he is OK. Notice, though, that this doesn't occur very much in the essay. This helps keep the tone meaningful and serious rather than flippant.

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An Ending That Stretches the Insight Into the Future

But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"

The ending of the essay reveals that Stephen's life has been one long preparation for the future. He has emerged from chaos and his dad's approach to parenting as a person who can thrive in a world that he can't control.

This connection of past experience to current maturity and self-knowledge is a key element in all successful personal essays. Colleges are very much looking for mature, self-aware applicants. These are the qualities of successful college students, who will be able to navigate the independence college classes require and the responsibility and quasi-adulthood of college life.

What Could This Essay Do Even Better?

Even the best essays aren't perfect, and even the world's greatest writers will tell you that writing is never "finished"—just "due." So what would we tweak in this essay if we could?

Replace some of the clichéd language. Stephen uses handy phrases like "twists and turns" and "don't sweat the small stuff" as a kind of shorthand for explaining his relationship to chaos and unpredictability. But using too many of these ready-made expressions runs the risk of clouding out your own voice and replacing it with something expected and boring.

Use another example from recent life. Stephen's first example (breaking into the van in Laredo) is a great illustration of being resourceful in an unexpected situation. But his essay also emphasizes that he "learned to adapt" by being "different things to different people." It would be great to see how this plays out outside his family, either in the situation in Laredo or another context.

personal history college essay

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Example 2: By Renner Kwittken, Tufts Class of '23 (Common App Essay, 645 words long)

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver. I saw it in my favorite book, Richard Scarry's "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go," and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of driving a giant pickle. Much to the discontent of my younger sister, I insisted that my parents read us that book as many nights as possible so we could find goldbug, a small little golden bug, on every page. I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Then I discovered a real goldbug: gold nanoparticles that can reprogram macrophages to assist in killing tumors, produce clear images of them without sacrificing the subject, and heat them to obliteration.

Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.

I quickly became enveloped by the world of nanomedicine; I scoured articles about liposomes, polymeric micelles, dendrimers, targeting ligands, and self-assembling nanoparticles, all conquering cancer in some exotic way. Completely absorbed, I set out to find a mentor to dive even deeper into these topics. After several rejections, I was immensely grateful to receive an invitation to work alongside Dr. Sangeeta Ray at Johns Hopkins.

In the lab, Dr. Ray encouraged a great amount of autonomy to design and implement my own procedures. I chose to attack a problem that affects the entire field of nanomedicine: nanoparticles consistently fail to translate from animal studies into clinical trials. Jumping off recent literature, I set out to see if a pre-dose of a common chemotherapeutic could enhance nanoparticle delivery in aggressive prostate cancer, creating three novel constructs based on three different linear polymers, each using fluorescent dye (although no gold, sorry goldbug!). Though using radioactive isotopes like Gallium and Yttrium would have been incredible, as a 17-year-old, I unfortunately wasn't allowed in the same room as these radioactive materials (even though I took a Geiger counter to a pair of shoes and found them to be slightly dangerous).

I hadn't expected my hypothesis to work, as the research project would have ideally been led across two full years. Yet while there are still many optimizations and revisions to be done, I was thrilled to find -- with completely new nanoparticles that may one day mean future trials will use particles with the initials "RK-1" -- thatcyclophosphamide did indeed increase nanoparticle delivery to the tumor in a statistically significant way.

A secondary, unexpected research project was living alone in Baltimore, a new city to me, surrounded by people much older than I. Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research. Whether in a presentation or in a casual conversation, making others interested in science is perhaps more exciting to me than the research itself. This solidified a new pursuit to angle my love for writing towards illuminating science in ways people can understand, adding value to a society that can certainly benefit from more scientific literacy.

It seems fitting that my goals are still transforming: in Scarry's book, there is not just one goldbug, there is one on every page. With each new experience, I'm learning that it isn't the goldbug itself, but rather the act of searching for the goldbugs that will encourage, shape, and refine my ever-evolving passions. Regardless of the goldbug I seek -- I know my pickle truck has just begun its journey.

Renner takes a somewhat different approach than Stephen, but their essay is just as detailed and engaging. Let's go through some of the strengths of this essay.

One Clear Governing Metaphor

This essay is ultimately about two things: Renner’s dreams and future career goals, and Renner’s philosophy on goal-setting and achieving one’s dreams.

But instead of listing off all the amazing things they’ve done to pursue their dream of working in nanomedicine, Renner tells a powerful, unique story instead. To set up the narrative, Renner opens the essay by connecting their experiences with goal-setting and dream-chasing all the way back to a memorable childhood experience:

This lighthearted–but relevant!--story about the moment when Renner first developed a passion for a specific career (“finding the goldbug”) provides an anchor point for the rest of the essay. As Renner pivots to describing their current dreams and goals–working in nanomedicine–the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” is reflected in Renner’s experiments, rejections, and new discoveries.

Though Renner tells multiple stories about their quest to “find the goldbug,” or, in other words, pursue their passion, each story is connected by a unifying theme; namely, that as we search and grow over time, our goals will transform…and that’s okay! By the end of the essay, Renner uses the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” to reiterate the relevance of the opening story:

While the earlier parts of the essay convey Renner’s core message by showing, the final, concluding paragraph sums up Renner’s insights by telling. By briefly and clearly stating the relevance of the goldbug metaphor to their own philosophy on goals and dreams, Renner demonstrates their creativity, insight, and eagerness to grow and evolve as the journey continues into college.

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An Engaging, Individual Voice

This essay uses many techniques that make Renner sound genuine and make the reader feel like we already know them.

Technique #1: humor. Notice Renner's gentle and relaxed humor that lightly mocks their younger self's grand ambitions (this is different from the more sarcastic kind of humor used by Stephen in the first essay—you could never mistake one writer for the other).

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver.

I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Renner gives a great example of how to use humor to your advantage in college essays. You don’t want to come off as too self-deprecating or sarcastic, but telling a lightheartedly humorous story about your younger self that also showcases how you’ve grown and changed over time can set the right tone for your entire essay.

Technique #2: intentional, eye-catching structure. The second technique is the way Renner uses a unique structure to bolster the tone and themes of their essay . The structure of your essay can have a major impact on how your ideas come across…so it’s important to give it just as much thought as the content of your essay!

For instance, Renner does a great job of using one-line paragraphs to create dramatic emphasis and to make clear transitions from one phase of the story to the next:

Suddenly the destination of my pickle car was clear.

Not only does the one-liner above signal that Renner is moving into a new phase of the narrative (their nanoparticle research experiences), it also tells the reader that this is a big moment in Renner’s story. It’s clear that Renner made a major discovery that changed the course of their goal pursuit and dream-chasing. Through structure, Renner conveys excitement and entices the reader to keep pushing forward to the next part of the story.

Technique #3: playing with syntax. The third technique is to use sentences of varying length, syntax, and structure. Most of the essay's written in standard English and uses grammatically correct sentences. However, at key moments, Renner emphasizes that the reader needs to sit up and pay attention by switching to short, colloquial, differently punctuated, and sometimes fragmented sentences.

Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research.

In the examples above, Renner switches adeptly between long, flowing sentences and quippy, telegraphic ones. At the same time, Renner uses these different sentence lengths intentionally. As they describe their experiences in new places, they use longer sentences to immerse the reader in the sights, smells, and sounds of those experiences. And when it’s time to get a big, key idea across, Renner switches to a short, punchy sentence to stop the reader in their tracks.

The varying syntax and sentence lengths pull the reader into the narrative and set up crucial “aha” moments when it’s most important…which is a surefire way to make any college essay stand out.

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Renner's essay is very strong, but there are still a few little things that could be improved.

Connecting the research experiences to the theme of “finding the goldbug.”  The essay begins and ends with Renner’s connection to the idea of “finding the goldbug.” And while this metaphor is deftly tied into the essay’s intro and conclusion, it isn’t entirely clear what Renner’s big findings were during the research experiences that are described in the middle of the essay. It would be great to add a sentence or two stating what Renner’s big takeaways (or “goldbugs”) were from these experiences, which add more cohesion to the essay as a whole.

Give more details about discovering the world of nanomedicine. It makes sense that Renner wants to get into the details of their big research experiences as quickly as possible. After all, these are the details that show Renner’s dedication to nanomedicine! But a smoother transition from the opening pickle car/goldbug story to Renner’s “real goldbug” of nanoparticles would help the reader understand why nanoparticles became Renner’s goldbug. Finding out why Renner is so motivated to study nanomedicine–and perhaps what put them on to this field of study–would help readers fully understand why Renner chose this path in the first place.

4 Essential Tips for Writing Your Own Essay

How can you use this discussion to better your own college essay? Here are some suggestions for ways to use this resource effectively.

#1: Get Help From the Experts

Getting your college applications together takes a lot of work and can be pretty intimidatin g. Essays are even more important than ever now that admissions processes are changing and schools are going test-optional and removing diversity standards thanks to new Supreme Court rulings .  If you want certified expert help that really makes a difference, get started with  PrepScholar’s Essay Editing and Coaching program. Our program can help you put together an incredible essay from idea to completion so that your application stands out from the crowd. We've helped students get into the best colleges in the United States, including Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.  If you're ready to take the next step and boost your odds of getting into your dream school, connect with our experts today .

#2: Read Other Essays to Get Ideas for Your Own

As you go through the essays we've compiled for you above, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can you explain to yourself (or someone else!) why the opening sentence works well?
  • Look for the essay's detailed personal anecdote. What senses is the author describing? Can you easily picture the scene in your mind's eye?
  • Find the place where this anecdote bridges into a larger insight about the author. How does the essay connect the two? How does the anecdote work as an example of the author's characteristic, trait, or skill?
  • Check out the essay's tone. If it's funny, can you find the places where the humor comes from? If it's sad and moving, can you find the imagery and description of feelings that make you moved? If it's serious, can you see how word choice adds to this tone?

Make a note whenever you find an essay or part of an essay that you think was particularly well-written, and think about what you like about it . Is it funny? Does it help you really get to know the writer? Does it show what makes the writer unique? Once you have your list, keep it next to you while writing your essay to remind yourself to try and use those same techniques in your own essay.

body-gears-cogs-puzzle-cc0

#3: Find Your "A-Ha!" Moment

All of these essays rely on connecting with the reader through a heartfelt, highly descriptive scene from the author's life. It can either be very dramatic (did you survive a plane crash?) or it can be completely mundane (did you finally beat your dad at Scrabble?). Either way, it should be personal and revealing about you, your personality, and the way you are now that you are entering the adult world.

Check out essays by authors like John Jeremiah Sullivan , Leslie Jamison , Hanif Abdurraqib , and Esmé Weijun Wang to get more examples of how to craft a compelling personal narrative.

#4: Start Early, Revise Often

Let me level with you: the best writing isn't writing at all. It's rewriting. And in order to have time to rewrite, you have to start way before the application deadline. My advice is to write your first draft at least two months before your applications are due.

Let it sit for a few days untouched. Then come back to it with fresh eyes and think critically about what you've written. What's extra? What's missing? What is in the wrong place? What doesn't make sense? Don't be afraid to take it apart and rearrange sections. Do this several times over, and your essay will be much better for it!

For more editing tips, check out a style guide like Dreyer's English or Eats, Shoots & Leaves .

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What's Next?

Still not sure which colleges you want to apply to? Our experts will show you how to make a college list that will help you choose a college that's right for you.

Interested in learning more about college essays? Check out our detailed breakdown of exactly how personal statements work in an application , some suggestions on what to avoid when writing your essay , and our guide to writing about your extracurricular activities .

Working on the rest of your application? Read what admissions officers wish applicants knew before applying .

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Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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Writing the Personal Statement

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This handout provides information about writing personal statements for academic and other positions.

The personal statement, your opportunity to sell yourself in the application process, generally falls into one of two categories:

1. The general, comprehensive personal statement:

This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms.

2. The response to very specific questions:

Often, business and graduate school applications ask specific questions, and your statement should respond specifically to the question being asked. Some business school applications favor multiple essays, typically asking for responses to three or more questions.

Questions to ask yourself before you write:

  • What's special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
  • What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
  • When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
  • How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
  • If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has that work contributed to your growth?
  • What are your career goals?
  • Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre LSAT or GRE scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)?
  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?
  • What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
  • What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?
  • Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school—and more successful and effective in the profession or field than other applicants?
  • What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?

General advice

Answer the questions that are asked

  • If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar.
  • Don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the question being asked.

Tell a story

  • Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.

Be specific

  • Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.

Find an angle

  • If you're like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or a "hook" is vital.

Concentrate on your opening paragraph

  • The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader's attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.

Tell what you know

  • The middle section of your essay might detail your interest and experience in your particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the field. Too many people graduate with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they hope to enter. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it. Since you will have to select what you include in your statement, the choices you make are often an indication of your judgment.

Don't include some subjects

  • There are certain things best left out of personal statements. For example, references to experiences or accomplishments in high school or earlier are generally not a good idea. Don't mention potentially controversial subjects (for example, controversial religious or political issues).

Do some research, if needed

  • If a school wants to know why you're applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. If the school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this might be a factor to mention.

Write well and correctly

  • Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.

Avoid clichés

  • A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements.

For more information on writing a personal statement, see the personal statement vidcast .

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History Personal Statement Examples

Our history personal statement examples, as well as our top rated statements , should inspire you to write your own unique statement, and help you understand how students have successfully applied for history courses in the past.

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What is a history personal statement?

Your history personal statement is a creative piece of writing where you can sell yourself to the admissions tutors and convince them that they should offer you a place on their history course.

This is why we recommend you start writing your personal statement early so you can spend as much time as possible polishing it and making it perfect.

How do I write my history personal statement?

Take a look at some of our many history personal statement examples above for inspiration, as well as our top rated statements . This will give you an idea of how a successful statement is structured.

Then, make a list of your main strengths, skills, work experience, goals and achievements, which you can then use to put your paragraphs together.

Once you have an initial draft, make sure you show it to family, friends and tutors for feedback. Incorporate their comments, and then ask them for more feedback.

It's likely you will go through several rounds of this before you have a final draft you can submit on your UCAS form.

What should I include in my history personal statement?

  • What areas of history interest you most? Try to pick out one topic in partiuclar that you enjoy and think about why you are drawn to it. This is where it's a good idea to look at the course content for each university, so you can make sure you talk about something that is relevant.
  • If you're applying for a joint honours, write your personal statement so that it covers both subjects. For example, history and politics, or history and economics.
  • Include your academic achievements, work experience, and any appropriate hobbies or extracurricular activities.
  • Demonstrate skills that are important in studying history, such as research, analysis, interpretation and chronological thinking. Remember to always show, not tell, so back everything up with examples.

For more help and advice on what to write in your history personal statement, please see:

  • Personal Statement Editing Services
  • Personal Statement Tips From A Teacher
  • Analysis Of A Personal Statement
  • The 15th January UCAS Deadline: 4 Ways To Avoid Missing It
  • Personal Statement FAQs
  • Personal Statement Timeline
  • 10 Top Personal Statement Writing Tips
  • What To Do If You Miss The 15th January UCAS Deadline.

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personal history college essay

  • Personal History Statement

The Personal History Statement helps reviewers learn more about you as a whole person and as a potential graduate student. This may include relevant details on community service, leadership roles, participation in diverse teams, and significant barriers that you overcame to attend graduate school.

The Purdue University Graduate School application allows applicants to select up to three graduate campuses and/or majors per application.  If you are applying to a 2nd or 3rd choice program, you are only required to submit one personal history statement with your application. Be sure your personal history statement is is all-inclusive, and supports your suitability for your enrollment in all the graduate programs listed on your application. 

Required of all applicants:

  • Describe how your background and life experiences contribute to your ability to be both persistent and resourceful in graduate school.
  • Describe how your life experiences have prepared you to contribute to an academic community where scholars with diverse research interests, abilities, backgrounds, and experiences are supported, respected, and valued.
  • Please address concerns that you may have that your academic record does not reflect your true capabilities and discuss mitigating factors that have affected your academic record. Reviewers will be interested in understanding your accomplishments relative to your opportunities.

The Academic Statement of Purpose and the Personal History Statement are two of the most important documents in your graduate school application. The documents should be concise, clear, and free of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. You should have others review your document for content, organization, and to ensure that there are no errors. Information in the Personal History Statement should complement but not duplicate information in the Academic Statement of Purpose.

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Writing a Personal History Paper: Effective Topic Ideas

A personal history essay is simply a task to write about yourself. But it is not as easy as posting pics on Instagram. To create a killer personal history statement, one needs to know and keep in mind the aims the paper targets. Then, it is required to present only those facts from life that will impress the target audience and achieve the set goals.

This kind of document is written when one applies to college or university in general, or when one needs to get a scholarship. Often, students from abroad write about their life, experiences, strengths, and aims in order to participate in a foreign educational program. This task is especially difficult for international students because they have to submit essays in English. These documents should be free from grammar and spelling errors, as well as inappropriate expressions. At the same time, one should adhere to the traditional essay structure. It is no surprise that this work is challenging for many learners. Thus, it is a wise decision to hire a professional writer. For those bold enough to create a personal history essay on their own, our academic writing experts have provided the following helpful tips and ideas on what to include in the paper.

Writing a Personal History Paper: Effective Topic Ideas

What Is a Personal History Statement?

A personal history statement is actually a short and concise summary of who you are. Specifically, you will want to include cultural, social, academic, and some personal experiences that helped you grow into the person you are now. Moreover, you should definitely draw a connection between your background and your academic performance as well as your willingness to pursue an academic degree. The main purpose of this personal history essay is to help the school or admission committee better understand how your background and current habits as well as your lifestyle and life philosophy can help you contribute to the college and add diversity to the studying process.

If you need to submit a personal history paper but you are not sure how to start or organize it, keep in mind that you can have a look at the samples provided on our company’s website. All personal history statements were written by professional writers and they contain information on how one’s experience of working or studying in a multicultural environment would help them promote diversity in the workplace or in the new place of education.

Some Features of Writing a Personal History Statement

  • you should briefly reflect on your background;
  • you need to highlight the link between the decisions you have made in life and your cultural, historical, family, personal or academic background;
  • you should keep in mind the aim of your paper: a personal history statement essay is written in addition to your application essay with an aim of helping the admission committee to know you better;
  • you need to demonstrate how you can promote diversity.

To make sure you are successful at delivering the message of your personal history across, make sure that you adhere to the proper structure of this type of writing. When you have a logical and concise structure, your readers will better connect with your story. If you have already looked through some of the paper samples found on our website, you might have probably noticed that a personal history statement has three main sections:

  • An attention-grabbing introduction. In the opening paragraph, you have to briefly introduce who you are and provide a statement of importance why you are actually writing this personal history of yours.
  • Relevant and logical main body. Be sure to add relevant information about yourself. Do not try to provide a positive impression and list only your strengths. Each person has weaknesses as well, and each person has encountered some failures in life. So, do not pretend as if you have none of these. Be honest about yourself and try to connect all your achievements or failures to specific life experience. Moreover, focus on your hobbies and interests and mention the academic goals you might want to persevere. Make sure you present yourself as a successful candidate for the admission program.
  • A strong and logical conclusion. Make sure you provide a powerful conclusion, where you sum up the whole of your discussion and reflections. Avoid clichéd phrases but rather highlight the most important elements.

If you want to succeed in your personal history statement writing, keep in mind that the paper should actually be your concise personal portrait. Focus on your strengths as well as hard and soft skills, which will help you achieve success in the future and move up the desired career ladder. Be sure to mention why you have decided to enroll in a specific program. What is even more important, make the text of your personal history essay readable and comprehensible. If you are lost in ideas what information to include in your writing or if you do not know what topic to choose, have a look at the following ideas provided by our company’s expert writers:

  • Write about the etymology of your name. What does it mean? Does it bring you some specific personal qualities?
  • Where were you born? Do you still live in that place? How much do you like it?
  • Write about your mother and her influence on your life.
  • Write about your father and how he has influenced you as a person.
  • If you have siblings, write about them and how they have impacted you, specifically your behavior, your life choices, etc.
  • What do you remember about the surrounding where you grew?
  • What was the house like where you lived as a child?
  • What was your hobby when you were a child?
  • What was your favorite place where you liked to be as a child?
  • Did you have many friends as a child? Who were they? How did they influence you?
  • Did you use to travel much when you were a child? What is the role of traveling in your life now?
  • What was your typical day like when you were a teenager?
  • Describe your standard workday.
  • Did you enjoy studying in high school?
  • W hat event was the most significant for you in high school ?
  • Write about your grandmother and your grandfather and how they impacted you.
  • Write about your uncles and aunts and some other relatives if you happened to spend sufficient time with them.
  • What is the most striking school memory of yours?
  • What are the remarkable character traits of your favorite teacher?
  • Your favorite sports activities throughout your life.
  • Can you drive? Who taught you?
  • What did you like to eat when you were a child?
  • Name the most memorable birthday celebration.
  • How do you usually celebrate your birthday now?
  • Name your favorite memory of a holiday. What holiday was that?
  • What is the most challenging aspect about growing up?
  • What is the best part in becoming an adult?
  • What did your parents do for a living when you were a child?
  • When did you leave home for the first time? What can you say about this experience of yours?
  • What was your first job?
  • What is your favorite story that you have heard from your family or close relatives?
  • Do you have an example of a story that has been passed through generations?
  • What were you most proud of when you were a child?

After you have put the last full stop in your personal history statement, set it aside, and relax. Take a break before editing it. As you were using a computer to craft this document, your eyes need rest. Otherwise, you may not notice even the mistakes that MS Word has detected. Your mind also needs some rest. After a significant break, you will be able to find better ways to communicate some of your ideas. Do not forget to save your document before you step away from your PC. Then, come back and edit your work. Substitute all verbose expressions with short phrases. Double-check the paper for spelling, grammar, punctuation, word-choice and sentence structure. It should be flawless. The way your document is written also resembles who you are. You cannot claim that you are attentive to detail in case the essay suffers from typos. Fortunately, solid writing companies provide such additional services as formatting, editing, and proofreading. Thus, keep in mind that you can always ask our writers for help. Lastly, do not be afraid of a submission committee. You’ll do great!

You may find it interesting:

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Writing a Personal History: Tips and Strategies for Successful Application

Writing a personal history

January 23, 2020

Writing a personal history is an inseparable part of the college application process. Usually, students who are enrolling on some educational program abroad can write a personal history statement and attach it to their application essay with the aim of providing more personal information about themselves. A personal history statement is in such case a good means of drawing attention of the admission committee to your personality and your personal strengths. Another situation when students write a personal history statement is when they want to obtain education in English-speaking countries. Therefore, they need to provide solid and convincing reasons why they are applying for a specific program. They may not have fluent English but, with the help of a personal history essay, they can attract attention to their personal history.

When you are writing a personal history statement, you are expected to provide a brief and concise introduction about yourself. Specifically, you may focus on such areas as your upbringing, parents’ influence, cultural surrounding, academic life, and other personal experiences. If you had such valuable experience studying somewhere in a multicultural setting or working abroad, you can definitely include this information in your personal history essay.

At the same time, when writing a personal history statement, keep in mind that it is not an autobiography. So, do not try to fit all information about yourself. Just focus on two or three traits that are most relevant to the academic setting or work and try to reflect on them. Some of the major constituents that your personal history statement should include are the following:

  • provide facts on upbringing, cultural, social, and academic experience that helped you become who you are now;
  • mention about the facts that you consider to be worthy;
  • outline how you can further promote diversity and contribute to the community;
  • you need to briefly explain your professional and personal background.

When writing a personal history, adhere to a clear and logical structure. You need to make sure that the message is delivered effectively and that your target readers can comprehend it properly. If you maintain a proper structure, your readers will become engaged in your story and will be able to connect to you via it. Make sure that each paragraph is a specific section that focuses on a single aspect of your being. Check out the main sections:

  • Attention-grabbing introduction. The success of your personal history essay lies in the fact whether you are able to draw attention of your audience. So, start with a catchy opening sentence: introduce yourself and specifically state why it is important for you to enroll on the named program.
  • Provide the body paragraphs in relation to the program specifics and your main message that you aim to communicate across. Connect your goals to your background and current lifestyle.
  • Strong conclusion. Sum up all ideas in a logical and coherent way.

Remember that a properly written personal history statement should be a clear portrait of yourself: you should describe your soft and hard skills as well as describe your strengths that will help you manage different tasks. Moreover, you should definitely focus on the decisions you had to make and how you benefited from them. Apart from focusing on the content, be sure that you pay attention to the writing style and mechanics. As such, make sure the paper is flawless in terms of sentence organization, grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

If you have no original ideas what to include in your personal history statement, check out the following topics:

  • Write about your name, its meaning, and roots. Do you feel that the choice of name influences on one’s personal qualities?
  • Write about the place where you were born. How did the place and surroundings impact your upbringing and development?
  • Write about the role your Mom plays in your life.
  • Write about the role your Dad plays in your life.
  • Write about the impact of your siblings on you (if any).
  • Write about the impact of your cousins (if you have no siblings).
  • Do you remember the earliest memory of your growing up?
  • What was the house or apartment like as you were growing up?
  • Did you have your own private space, such as your bedroom?
  • Tell about the time when you were a child.
  • Name your favorite place in your childhood?
  • Do you keep staying in touch with the childhood friends? What were they like before?
  • Did you travel much with your parents when you were a small child? What favorite places do you remember?
  • What was your regular day when you were a small child?
  • What was your daily schedule when you were a teenager?
  • What memories do you have of your high school period?
  • What world events do you remember now from your childhood? What is so memorable or striking about them?
  • What role did your grandparent play in your upbringing and shaping yourself as a personality?
  • What about your aunts and uncles? Do you stay in touch with them?
  • Do you keep in contact with your distant relatives? Do they impact you in one way or another?
  • What is the brightest school memory ofyours?
  • Name your favorite school subject. Why did you like it?
  • Tell about your favorite teacher at school? Why did you like him/her?
  • Did you move your house or flat as you were a child? Was it a stressful experience for you?
  • Who taught you to drive a car?
  • What was your favorite dish in childhood?
  • Do you like celebrating birthdays? What is your most memorable birthday celebration?
  • How do you normally celebrate your birthday? Who do you invite?
  • Do you have some special family traditions of celebrating holidays? What holiday is your favorite?
  • What is the best part of growing up?
  • What is the toughest part in becoming an adult?
  • When did you first leave home? What kind of experience was that for you?
  • Are you inspired by what your parents do?
  • What were you most proud of when you were a child?
  • What is the funniest story you have heard from your parents or relatives?
  • Are there any stories or jokes that have been passed in your family from one generation to another?
  • What did you dream to become when you were a child? Did your dream come true?
  • Is there a person you look up to?
  • Where do you draw inspiration from?

Would you like to tell something to your younger self?

Read Our Personal History Essay Example

  My life has taught me many important lessons which would help me work in the chosen field. I would love to be an ultrasound tech in the UCSF, and my personal experience matches my career goals.

I was born in Iran, but came to the United States a long time ago. I have lived here for 16 years already, but thanks to my Iran experience, I am able to see different perspectives and communicate with people of various backgrounds as well. My life has been a struggle of overcoming my fears. For instance, I used to pass out seeing blood, but I was able to deal with my fear. As I was growing up, I took care of my younger sister and that made me a responsible person – the trait I find essential for having a career and taking care of my family, since I am married and have two daughters.

I have a BS in Health Science, and AA in computer graphic. I am a determined and confident person who is able to overcome the obstacles and learn quickly. My short-term goal is to finish the ultrasound program I am participating in, which is directly connected with my long-term goal. Hence, my long-term goal, which has been mentioned earlier, is to get a job as an ultrasound tech at the UCSF. I believe that I am ready for the job since I have the right qualification and experience. I am also learning various things about the position right now. For instance, I would have to work with reagents and maybe prepare animals for the testing. In this case, I have the required education, and I am also not afraid of rats and mice which are being used for testing, and which often stands on the way of many people who think of obtaining this job. At the present moment, I am doing the training which will help me to be as qualified for my chosen career as I can possibly be, so I will be able to perform my duties of preparing the lab perfectly. Hence, I believe that my experience, my goals, and my qualification perfectly match each other.

personal history college essay

Personal History

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Some of my ancestors had money, and some held awful beliefs. I set out to investigate what I once stood to inherit.

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At a dinner party designed to bring back memories, I found myself wishing that my father could have been there.

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September 5, 2023

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sitting at a table behind microphones with a number of people behind him, including Clarence B. Jones

After my friend was killed, I considered taking up arms. But his legacy called me back to a different way of living.

By Clarence B. Jones and Stuart Connelly

July 18, 2023

Growing up in the house of freud.

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My psychoanalyst father wanted to prove the existence of the unconscious in the lab—and at home.

By Gillian Silverman

July 15, 2023

Giving away my twin.

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Twinship evokes deep anxieties about separation and selfhood. Marriage has a similar effect.

By Jean Garnett

July 10, 2023

From belfast to sana’a.

Illustrated portrait of Jane Ferguson

A childhood amid Northern Ireland’s Troubles made me desperate to see the wider world.

By Jane Ferguson

June 22, 2023

My adventures in deconstruction.

An illustration of a man and woman’s faces fractured with scattered academic papers.

A college affair turns coming of age into coming apart.

By Lucinda Rosenfeld

June 9, 2023

Remembering my hijacking, as children, my sister and i were held hostage for six days in the desert. why couldn’t i recall what happened.

By Martha Hodes

May 14, 2023

How i was reborn.

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After my mother’s death, my father plunged the family into evangelicalism, leaving our Jewish faith behind. What, I wondered, would become of our souls?

By Rachel Louise Snyder

April 15, 2023

Remembering maria schneider, the star of “last tango in paris”.

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In a new book, translated by Molly Ringwald, Maria’s cousin recalls the fame and turbulence that followed the release of Bernardo Bertolucci’s controversial film.

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A tutor shares 3 rules for writing college application essays, including how to use ChatGPT the right way

This story is available exclusively to business insider subscribers. become an insider and start reading now..

  • Carter Osborne started a side hustle tutoring students on their college admissions essays in 2017.
  • The Stanford graduate shared his recommendations for students looking to ace their personal essays.
  • He said students could use ChatGPT to brainstorm ideas by inputting their experiences and prompting it to ask questions.

Stanford graduate Carter Osborne started a side hustle tutoring high school students on their college application essays in 2017. He had 50 clients last year and made $114,000 from tutoring in 2023.

He quit his day job earlier this month, which he said he could only do because of his tutoring income.

Osborne shared three tips for students writing their college application essays with Business Insider — including how to use and not use AI chatbots.

1. Students should stick to their personal stories

Osborne told BI the key to writing college essays is making it personal. "What I always encourage my students to do is go off script. Find something personal about your life that nobody else could talk about, or at least an angle on something you've done that feels different," he said.

He added he viewed his job as helping high schoolers "tell compelling, interesting stories that are personal and expressive."

2. An AI chatbot like ChatGPT can help brainstorm — but it can't write it for you

Osborne would never write his students' essays for them, he said. Instead, he suggests revisions or edits based on topics they've discussed in meetings.

"The thought has to have come from my student," he said. "My job is to help them weave those thoughts together in the most compelling way."

If stuck, students could use an AI chatbot to help them develop an idea, Osborne said. "Tell it to pretend that it's a college admissions counselor, and ask it questions about what you should write about for your college essay," he suggested.

He said students could talk to it about their experiences and use it to help them brainstorm ideas for essay topics based on their achievements or experiences. He said they could input some personal information, values, and activities they do and prompt ChatGPT to ask them questions about themselves.

Some colleges have issued guidelines against using AI in the application process, while others have encouraged its use in brainstorming and editing their essays. Many colleges, however, have warned students against copying and pasting content from ChatGPT or other AI models.

Osborne said students should never use ChatGPT or other AI chatbots to write an essay , though, he said.

"It comes out feeling stock and flat. There's no life to it," he said. But AI can provide an outline to help students structure the first draft of their essays, he added.

After figuring out their idea, Osborne suggested students could ask ChatGPT to: "Provide an outline for a 650-word personal statement that's four or five paragraphs, and tell me what each section should be about."

3. A chatbot could also give you ideas for improving the first draft

Once students have written their first draft, if they don't have access to a tutor or an English teacher, they could ask ChatGPT what it thinks about it, he said.

They could prompt it to, "Imagine you're a college admissions counselor and react to this essay. What do you think about it? And provide several specific suggestions about how to improve it," he said.

Osborne said some of its suggestions might be bad, but some could be useful. The important thing is never to take what the AI says as a "firm recommendation" that you should follow but as ideas that you might consider, he added.

"Always bring that critical thinking to the process," he said.

personal history college essay

Watch: Former Princeton admissions director reveals the biggest mistakes applicants make

personal history college essay

  • Main content

2023-2024 Common App essay prompts

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We are pleased to announce that the Common App essay prompts will remain the same for 2023-2024.

It’s not just for the sake of consistency that we have chosen to keep the essay prompts the same for the upcoming application year. Our past research has shown that overall satisfaction with the prompts exceeded 95% across our constituent groups - students, counselors, advisors, teachers, and member colleges. Moving forward, we want to learn more about who is choosing certain prompts to see if there are any noteworthy differences among student populations.

We know some schools are beginning to have conversations with juniors and transfer students about their college options. As we’ve always said, this is not a call for students to begin writing. We hope that by sharing the prompts now, students will have the time they need to reflect on their own personal stories and begin thinking about what they want to share with colleges. As you assist students with their planning, feel free to share our Common App Ready resource on approaching the essay (in English and Spanish ). You can also visit our YouTube channel to view our breakdown of all 7 Common App essay prompts . 

"Moving forward, we want to learn more about who is choosing certain prompts to see if there are any noteworthy differences among student populations." Meredith Lombardi, Director, Education and Training, Common App

Students who are ready to start exploring the application can create their Common App account prior to August 1. With account rollover , we will retain any responses to questions on the Common App tab, including the personal essay.

Below is the full set of essay prompts for 2023-2024.

  • 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.
  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can 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?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • 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?
  • 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.

We will retain the optional community disruption question within the Writing section. 

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The Lasting Value of the Personal Essay

This writing form has a value that goes beyond the college application as it nurtures self-reflection and inspires creativity.

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I still remember my own personal essay that I wrote decades ago during my college admissions process. My essay focused on movies and how movies were a conduit of curiosity. It was also about the death of my father and how movies, in part, had provided a common ground for us—a connection. Although my essay, of course, was not the sole determining factor in my admission, it’s a predominant memory from that time of my life. To this day, I feel it had a persuasive effect on my admittance.

In fact, now looking back, I can’t recall my grade point average or my class rank or the final grade that my English teacher gave me on my literary analysis of Heart of Darkness. Even my exact SAT score, back then a real measure of academic aptitude, remains fuzzy to me all these years later, “shaded in wistful half-lights,” as described by Norman Maclean. I can, however, remember nearly every sentence, if not quite every word, of the personal essay I submitted to my first-choice college, which has undoubtedly, for me, over the years remained one of the most important pieces of writing I have ever produced.

The personal essay is an enduring literary genre and an art form that provides often-challenging material in English classes. In my Advanced Placement Language and Composition course, we frequently read works from an array of authors from various eras, including Michel de Montaigne, Virginia Woolf, E. B. White, Joan Didion, André Aciman, Brian Doyle, Dr. Oliver Sacks. These writers function as exemplars for my students to both analyze and model not only for their rhetorical value but also for their stylistic technique and philosophical ruminations.

Power of Personalization

One of the most predominant rhetorical strategies we recognize in these texts is personalization. And so Woolf’s “The Death of the Moth” has impacted my students throughout the years with its frank depiction of psychological tension, addressing philosophical themes on an existential level that never fail to capture their attention—so much so, that a group of students painted a mural on the wall outside my classroom, a visual interpretation of Woolf’s essay that they titled Memento Mori .

The candor and intimacy of Dr. Oliver Sacks’s depiction of his final days before his death from cancer have engendered numerous touching and insightful comments from my students during our Socratic seminars analyzing his almost unendurably moving personal essay, “My Periodic Table.” 

Students respond viscerally, it seems, to the personal. Sadly, many students have been touched by some of the same tragic subject matter that we analyze through these texts. During our seminars and journal assignments, my students have revealed their own personal connections to some of the personal essays we read in class, connecting, I think, to the shared experiences that we have all had throughout human history. 

Our students often find themselves facing a vortex of standardized tests, AP exams, and benchmarks throughout the school year, which often emphasize the formulaic. The active process of personal choice on topic and subject seems lost. So often my students ask me questions when writing an essay, seeking a particular answer, as if literary analysis were calculus. Missing is the creativity, the exploration of writing free from academic constraints like rubrics and scoring guides. Writer-editor Steve Moyer asserts in  Edsitement , “Nuanced thought... requires a greater gestation period than the nearly instant gratification made possible on Twitter.” I have witnessed this impatience from my own students.

There can be a restlessness in the writing process, a hesitancy for revision or drafting. Personal essays require self-reflection and a free-flowing freedom from rigid form that my students embrace in a way that they don’t with an argument or research-based essay. On more than one occasion during parent-teacher conferences, I have had parents tell me that their child used to love creative writing, but somewhere along the way, the rigor of school seemed to have killed it.

Personal essays, then, restore that creativity, since they encourage a freedom from form. Students can experiment with style and figurative language and syntax in ways that the traditional academic five-paragraph essay often thwarts.

Personal essays also allow teachers to really get to know our students, too. The inherent intimacy of a personal essay, the connection between the writer and the reader—in this case, a student and a teacher—provides insight into the concerns, the dreams, the emotions of our students in addition to allowing us to assess how they exercise their compositional skills, including imagery, syntax, diction, and figurative language. Here, then, a teacher has the best of both worlds. We’re able to both connect to our students on an emotional level and evaluate their learning on an academic level. Personal essays also serve as an emotional outlet. 

There seems to be a common assumption that personal essays for high school students serve only the college application process, so the process begins during their senior year. Personal writing, however, should occur throughout a student’s academic experience. The narrative essays that most elementary school students encounter evolve into the more ruminative, philosophical, and reflective personal writing they will encounter during their senior year from many of Common App essay prompts.

Many teachers implement journal writing in their classrooms that provides a firm foundation for the type of personal writing that the college admissions essay requires. In my own class of juniors, the last assignment we complete for the year is a personal essay. My intent is to help prepare them for the college essay they will write, hopefully, during the summer so that they will have a solid draft before the application process begins. 

Teaching our students this strategy in their own writing benefits them in their futures, not only for the imminent college application process but also for job interviews. For example, I was mentoring a student, a senior who had no desire to go to college, about the job interview process he would soon face after graduation. We rehearsed and practiced the types of questions he might encounter from a future employer. I encouraged him to remember the personal details of his experience, personalizing everything in a way that would allow him to ideally stand out as a job candidate.

Through personal essay writing, my overarching, grand ambition is to instill in my students ultimately a love of reflection, looking back on their experience, reminiscing on significant memories that linger, carefully considering the seemingly little moments that, only upon reflection, have an enormous impact on us.

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Application Process for Readmit Student

Readmit student , submit your application online, application requirements:, official college transcript(s).

Applicants who have attended other institutions after leaving New Jersey City University will need to provide official transcripts to the admissions office before a decision is granted. 

Submit official final transcripts electronically to:   [email protected] or by mail.

Office of Undergraduate Admissions Hepburn Hall, Room 207 2039 John F. Kennedy Boulevard Jersey City, NJ 07305

Personal Essay

The Admissions Office requests that you write and submit an essay, 250 words minimum, explaining your aspiration and motivation for attending NJCU.

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Applicants who have taken the College Board Advanced Placement (AP), College Level Examination Program (CLEP), International Baccalaureate (IB) or Department of Defense Standardize Test (DSST) have the option of sending in their official test scores for additional transfer credits.

  • Use institution code  8427  for score reports from Department of Defense Standardized Test (DSST).
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IMAGES

  1. FREE 7+ Sample Personal History Statement Templates in MS Word

    personal history college essay

  2. FREE 8+ Personal Essay Samples in PDF

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  3. 009 Essay Example How To Write History ~ Thatsnotus

    personal history college essay

  4. How to Write a History Essay (Yale PhD Student)

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  5. How to write a history essay template: Review

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  6. History Essay Examples

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  1. IMPROVE Your College Essay With These 30-SECOND Fixes

  2. How to Choose the BEST College Essay Topic (pt. 1)

COMMENTS

  1. How to Write a Personal Statement (Tips + Essay Examples)

    The personal statement is a great place to discuss critical events or experiences in your life that catalyzed you to become the person you are now, or various aspects of your identity that strongly influence the way you interact with the world around you. It's also an opportunity to introduce readers to your most important interests and values.

  2. 27 Outstanding College Essay Examples From Top Universities 2023

    Personal Statement 27 Outstanding College Essay Examples From Top Universities 2023 One of the best ways to write a successful college essay for your college application is by learning from real college essay examples that worked. I've compiled a few of my favorite essay examples here that cover a variety of college essay topics.

  3. How should I write a "Personal History Statement"

    16 I am hesitating whether to apply to some of the "University of California" universities. The problem is, many of them ask for a "personal history statement": Describe how your background, accomplishments, and life experiences led to your decision to pursue the graduate degree for which you are applying.

  4. PDF Personal Statement Sample #1

    Department of History, Princeton University Personal Statement When I arrived at Princeton, my understanding of "history" was circumscribed and tinged grey by high school courses that involved little more than memorizing a textbook and synthesizing curated snippets of primary sources into short essays. It was

  5. Sample Personal History Statement

    A personal history statement (PHS) provides an insight into your academic and professional endeavors. It should include your notable achievements as well as the challenges you have faced.

  6. Admissions Essays

    UC Davis requires that applicants to all graduate programs submit both a Statement of Purpose and a Personal History and Diversity Statement. Each essay can be no longer than 4,000 characters (including spaces). To allow prospective applicants the opportunity to prepare these essays before starting the application, the prompts for each essay are listed below.

  7. 10 Personal Statement Essay Examples That Worked

    What's Covered: What is a Personal Statement? Personal Statement Examples Essay 1: Summer Program Essay 2: Being Bangladeshi-American Essay 3: Why Medicine Essay 4: Love of Writing Essay 5: Starting a Fire Essay 6: Dedicating a Track Essay 7: Body Image and Eating Disorders Essay 8: Becoming a Coach Essay 9: Eritrea Essay 10: Journaling

  8. PDF A Brief Guide to Writing the History Paper

    Common Types of History Papers History papers come in all shapes and sizes. Some papers are narrative (organized like a story according to chronology, or the sequence of events), and some are analytical (organized like an essay according to the topic's internal logic). Some papers are concerned with history (not just what happened,

  9. How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

    December 14, 2021 HBR Staff/Getty Images/Bulgakova Kristina Post Post Save Print Summary. How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real...

  10. How to Write a Personal Statement

    Insert a quote from a well-known person. Challenge the reader with a common misconception. Use an anecdote, which is a short story that can be true or imaginary. Credibility is crucial when writing a personal statement as part of your college application process. If you choose a statistic, quote, or misconception for your hook, make sure it ...

  11. 7 Steps (And Examples) For Writing a Killer Personal Statement

    Personal statements (also known as college essays) are a major part of both college applications and scholarship applications. ... Prompt category 2 - A Personal History of You Sample Essay. Common app question 1: "Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be ...

  12. Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

    Sample College Essay 2 with Feedback. This content is licensed by Khan Academy and is available for free at www.khanacademy.org. College essays are an important part of your college application and give you the chance to show colleges and universities your personality. This guide will give you tips on how to write an effective college essay.

  13. Completing your Personal History Statement for Goldman

    Personal History Statement (submitted with online application). Please describe how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Please include information on how you have overcome barriers to access in higher education, evidence of how you have come to understand the barriers faced by others, evidence of your ...

  14. 177 College Essay Examples for 11 Schools + Expert Analysis

    177 College Essay Examples for 11 Schools + Expert Analysis Posted by Dr. Anna Wulick College Admissions , College Essays The personal statement might just be the hardest part of your college application. Mostly this is because it has the least guidance and is the most open-ended.

  15. The Personal Statement

    1. The general, comprehensive personal statement: This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms. 2. The response to very specific questions:

  16. History Personal Statement Examples

    History and Politics Personal Statement Example 1 History and politics have had a profound impact on my outlook. From childhood, the tangible history I found in castles, museums and family photographs appealed uniquely to my imagination.

  17. Personal History Statement

    The Personal History Statement helps reviewers learn more about you as a whole person and as a potential graduate student. This may include relevant details on community service, leadership roles, participation in diverse teams, and significant barriers that you overcame to attend graduate school.

  18. 12 Outstanding Personal Statement Examples

    What should a personal statement include? The personal statement should demonstrate the qualities, skills, and values that you've cultivated over your life and how those skills have prepared you for attending college. I (Ethan) have spent the last 15 years answering this question, which you can learn more about in my free 1-hour guide.

  19. Writing a Personal History: Where to Start?

    The main purpose of this personal history essay is to help the school or admission committee better understand how your background and current habits as well as your lifestyle and life philosophy can help you contribute to the college and add diversity to the studying process.

  20. Writing a Personal History for College Application

    January 23, 2020. Writing a personal history is an inseparable part of the college application process. Usually, students who are enrolling on some educational program abroad can write a personal history statement and attach it to their application essay with the aim of providing more personal information about themselves.

  21. Personal History

    Personal History Essays and memoirs. A Question of Legacy. ... A college affair turns coming of age into coming apart. By Lucinda Rosenfeld. June 9, 2023. Remembering My Hijacking.

  22. 14 College Essay Examples From Top-25 Universities (2023-2024

    College essay examples from students accepted to Harvard, Stanford, and other elite schools. Responding effectively to college essay prompts is quite different from other essay writing. The combined challenge of addressing a question in an interesting way while staying focused and making yourself stand out, all within a limited number of words ...

  23. How to Write College Essays, Even With ChatGPT: Stanford Grad, Tutor

    Osborne shared three tips for students writing their college application essays with Business Insider — including how to use and not use AI chatbots. 1. Students should stick to their personal ...

  24. PDF Personal Narrative APSU Writing Center

    Personal Narrative. A personal narrative. significant impact. is a story told by the writer that focuses on real-life events that had a. It offers a way for the writer to tell their story through the first-person point of view in a reflective way. A formula consisting of the writer's life-changing memory plus their struggle with that memory ...

  25. 2023-2024 Common App essay prompts

    February 24, 2023. We are pleased to announce that the Common App essay prompts will remain the same for 2023-2024. It's not just for the sake of consistency that we have chosen to keep the essay prompts the same for the upcoming application year. Our past research has shown that overall satisfaction with the prompts exceeded 95% across our ...

  26. The Importance of the Personal Essay in High School

    The personal essay is an enduring literary genre and an art form that provides often-challenging material in English classes. In my Advanced Placement Language and Composition course, we frequently read works from an array of authors from various eras, including Michel de Montaigne, Virginia Woolf, E. B. White, Joan Didion, André Aciman, Brian Doyle, Dr. Oliver Sacks.

  27. English Essay (Business

    When writing a cohesive psychology essay, students must be familiar with some psychological concepts. We have a wealth of experience under our belt, so we know where they need help. ... If you would like us to write anything from an essay in history to a term paper for you, we'd be happy to oblige. When writing something, there's a precise ...

  28. Application Process for Readmit Student

    Applicants who have attended other institutions after leaving New Jersey City University will need to provide official transcripts to the admissions office before a decision is granted. Submit official final transcripts electronically to: [email protected] or by mail. Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Hepburn Hall, Room 207.