Everything You Need To Know About the College Personal Statement

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Next, Voice. What we call voice is basically two things: a sense of your personality and emotional commitment. In your college personal statement, it’s hugely important to convey a sense of who you are through your words. Your personal statement, as I’ve said, is the human face on your application; the reader wants to get to know you, so convey personality and an awareness that you are communicating with another human being. One way to do this is to anticipate your reader’s questions and answer them. Let’s say you were writing about your hobby, chainsaw juggling. Anticipate your reader’s questions, with something like this: “Now, you’re probably wondering what kind of bonehead would juggle chainsaws, but like anything else in life, the risks are minimal if you know what you’re doing.” Use of personal pronouns like “I, me, my, you, and your” are perfectly appropriate in this kind of essay. Also, it’s OK to use informal words and colloquial phrases so that you convey a sense of your personality. Just remember: a little goes a long way.

The second aspect of voice, emotional commitment, simply means that you are interested in what you’re saying, that you’re saying something you actually care about. Don’t be afraid to write with passion or intensity. Writing on auto-pilot is the quickest way to sound generic and boring.

What, other than yourself, do you really care about? Think about what you really want to say and then say it like you mean it. A former vice-chancellor of admissions at the University of Denver said in a Denver Post article that applicants shouldn’t exaggerate either. Most readers can tell if you’re stretching the truth when you say that that the death of your second-cousin’s stepfather’s uncle caused you to fail Geometry. Part of voice is authenticity, so keep it real; be sincere. Think about what kind of person you are. An admissions director at Texas Christian University said in the Arizona Daily Star that if you’re a serious person, you should write a serious personal statement. If you’re funny, write a funny personal statement. And I think if you’re laid-back, you can be a little laid-back, but also let it peek out that there’s something other than your high score in a video game that you really care about.

Be yourself, but be your best self. Word Choice means using interesting, striking phrases, that sound good when read out loud. Be specific. Don’t say, “My friend and I grew apart and that made me really sad.” Say, “When I finished talking, my friend looked at me blankly, waiting for the punch line, and I realized that she didn’t understand me, that despite our many years together, we were still strangers, that all of us are essentially castaways on separate deserted islands.” Use of metaphors and similes can really add flavor to a bland piece of writing. On the other hand, don’t use words you don’t understand. I call this thesaurus-itis. It means overusing a thesaurus to replace small words with big ones. Don’t do this. It makes you sound dumber, not smarter, because you probably aren’t using all of those words correctly, and it makes you sound ridiculous. It should go without saying, though I know from experience that it doesn’t, that you should thoroughly check and recheck your writing for conventions errors: spelling, punctuation, capitalization, any format requirements the university may have specified.

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