Although it contains only 500 words, it is the essay that can largely determine whether you will be admitted to a university. “Personal essay” allows you to show the admissions committee what makes you stand out and why they should choose you. It provides all the information that your exam results, grades, and extra classes cannot. In it, you can describe your hobbies, tell a story about yourself, or even about your dog – but make sure that the essay will catch the reader’s attention and show that you are unique.
Step one: brainstorming
You should spend a week or two just thinking about potential essay topics. Through this “brainstorming,” you may come up with ideas that no one would have thought of at first. Think through the following questions:
- What are you like?
- What is your strongest character trait? Do you have abilities and skills that set you apart from others? And if so, how did you acquire them, and how did you develop them?
- How would your friends describe you? What would they write about if they had to write the essay for you?
- Think about your favorite books, movies, works of art, etc. Have they influenced you in a significant way? Why did they deserve to be called favorites?
- Have you ever experienced a moment of enlightenment in which you suddenly noticed something you hadn’t noticed before?
- What are your most significant achievements? And why do you think they deserve to be called achievements?
- Have you accomplished anything outside school that demonstrates the qualities universities are looking for? Which accomplishment means the most to you?
- Have you ever struggled, strived hard for something, and succeeded? What made you successful? And when you tried hard but did not achieve your goal, what was your reaction?
- What was the most challenging period in your life? And why? How did your worldview change through these difficulties?
Step two: choosing a topic
As these thoughts come together into a topic, think about the form. What may have sounded good at first may prove impossible to write. What’s more, think about what can be done to make the subject matter original. Even seemingly uninteresting topics can be interesting if they are described creatively. Having already chosen an essay topic, think about the following questions:
Will your topic repeat information already contain in your application? If so, choose a different one. Do not mention your grades or exams in the essay.
Are you able to provide an argument for your topic? If you can’t list a few arguments, you should choose another topic or buy assignments from professional writers with tremendous experience in this field.
Will the admissions committee remember your topic by reading more than a hundred essays daily? And if so, what will it remember from the essay, and, more importantly, what will it remember about you? What kind of impression will you make?
Choose a story
The best essays tell a story about the candidates themselves. “Personal essay” doesn’t have to tell the story of your entire life; rather, it should be a brief snapshot with a more profound, well-illustrated message. An essay by a student accepted to Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, and Stanford University told a familiar story in an unusual, fractious way. In telling simple stories of climbing, he always conveyed his appreciation for science, as well as his dedication to hard work, which is the key to understanding the universe:
“Although the first couple of miles of climbing Mt. Madison did not promise great views, the scenery turned out spectacular as I climbed above the tree line. Just as each step brings the mountain climber closer to the summit, all knowledge brings the scientist closer to full understanding…”
The essay, entitled “Climbing to Understand,” while telling the story of a wandering man, at the same time presents all the author’s values, as well as his interests and philosophy of life. In this way, the essay extraordinarily presents an ordinary subject.
Step three: writing the essay
You need to have two goals in mind. The first is convincing the admissions committee that you are worth accepting. The second is to show that you are an above-average, intriguing person. However, to do this, you must first attract their attention.
Most admissions committee members will spend at most two minutes reading your essay. With this in mind, refine your introduction. One of the “attracting” techniques is to build a mysterious atmosphere, intrigue the reader, or at least not reveal many elements at the very beginning. Convince them to continue reading. The essay “Climbing to Understand” begins as follows:
“Surrounded by thousands of stars, total silence, and majestic mountains, I stood at the top of New Hampshire’s Presidential Range, struck by the beauty of nature.”
The first sentence introduces the reader to the story’s atmosphere and draws him into the world presented but does not yet reveal the theme or thread of the entire essay. To find out what follows, one must read on.
Once the first paragraph has been polished, you must ensure that the body part relates to the introduction. Finding one element or phrase that will appear throughout the research paper is a good idea. In the essay “Climbing to Understand,” the author uses the mountain as a cohesive element:
“Some people climb many small hills throughout their lives. But to see the most accurate picture of the world, I must climb the highest mountains possible. Too often, people stay in the valley, content with the scenery before their eyes. The mountain showed me that I can’t be satisfied with the scenery alone.”
It should be noted that the author uses very simple language. Many students think a good essay must contain complex and sophisticated words; however, it is usually the simple words that best capture the essence of those essential ideas.
Another way to impress the reader is to use specific examples and imagination-stimulating, offbeat images. The essay should show images and be based on your experiences. The best essays are written according to the mantra: “show, don’t describe.” Here is one example:
“As night descended on the peak, I watched the slowly appearing stars until they filled the entire sky. Despite the wind and the sulfurous cold, I could not tear myself away from the view.”
This passage perfectly demonstrates how the description of the stars and cold can introduce us to the landscape and make us see the scenery through the author’s eyes. It can convey the author’s thoughts and emotions without describing them openly.
The ending is your last chance to convince the reader or impress him with your knowledge. The author of the essay “Climbing to Understand” does this flawlessly, developing the description of the scene and revealing the meaning of the scene for himself:
“Watching the rise of Saturn, the cloud of the Milky Way, the swarm of Perseid meteors, I recognized the feeling of insignificance and purpose. Earthly matters are irrelevant to the rest of the universe. However, I felt an irresistible need to understand the origin and consequences of this phenomenon.”
Most likely, just writing the essay will take you many days. Few can write an essay of this type at a reasonable level in a short time. Choosing the perfect structure, vocabulary, and appropriate images takes longer than you might expect. Suppose you have more time; set aside a draft of the essay for a week. When you return, look at it with fresh eyes and correct mistakes or modify certain elements. Ask family and friends for help. They will help you find slight errors you have missed by reading your essay so many times. Perhaps they can even help you answer the question, “What makes this essay memorable?”