Too many students get frustrated anytime they have to write a personal essay. This is quite understandable — for an inexperienced person, writing about oneself can seem tricky at first. After all, you cannot just research the subject online or in your local library. Of course, on the one hand, a personal paper allows a considerable degree of flexibility. On the other one, though, it is still an academic paper, which means it should follow a specific set of guidelines. Here, we will try to analyze them one-by-one. Here are the main thins you need to remember when writing an essay about yourself.
Always start with a story
The first thing you will have to do is come up with a story. Obviously, it will have to be a story about yourself. The best news is, you are allowed to exaggerate — a bit. But remember that it has to be a real story nonetheless, and it should put you in the best light possible. After all, most personal essays are written for college admission committees, which is why it is up to you to highlight your strengths as an applicant — without too much boasting.
Once again, it may sound tricky at first, but in reality, it’s not that difficult. Just think of an event in your life (big or small) that helped you see yourself in a different light, taught you something, or made you understand things you did not understand before. A personal essay can deal with overcoming the difficulties, accepting your success, or — in many cases — realizing what you want to do in the future. However, remember that the last topic is quite an obvious choice for a personal college admission essay; so, it will be harder to impress the admission officers if you stick to this option.
Keep your goal in mind
Differently from the majority of academic assignments, a personal essay should focus on one subject — that is, conveying your strong personality traits in the most comprehensible manner. Still, this does not mean that you can simply jump from one topic to another (for example, you helping a sick animal and then — you visiting your granny in a nursing home). Remember the first tip — you are to tell a single story. Surely, you are free to use as many details as you need, but you have to make sure the main thought is conveyed clearly.
Depending on a particular topic you choose, it might be possible to start an introduction with a personal anecdote. This should help you hook the reader and make your message easy to understand.
Steer clear of cliches
Even though you are to portray your strong skills and traits, everyone understands that you are still a human being. Try to remember that, too. In other words, don’t try to be high-almighty — while focusing on your strengths, make sure to draw attention to the weaknesses, too. You can easily achieve that through contrast, thus killing two birds with one stone — showing that you are a human being with an adequate self-esteem and giving your essay some style and structure.
Common personal essay topics that highlight both strengths and weaknesses often have to do with failure that eventually leads to success (losing one football game, practicing a lot, and winning another one); unfortunate events (a dead pet and the following extracurricular activities in the local vet clinic); or trips that changed your world outlook (a short mission to a third-world country). Sounds familiar?
Don’t try to cover a vast timeline
Of course, this will mostly depend on the required length of your essay, but you still have to understand that you cannot cram all of your childhood experiences up till the present day into a short academic paper. Ideally, you should choose an event that lasted no longer than a day; or, at least, if the actual chronological timeline is longer than that, you should stay really close to the point you are trying to convey.
If for example, you are talking about your dog’s premature departure, don’t bury the lead — start your paper with the pet dying; don’t start talking about puppy years. This little trick will help to create tension and will get the reader emotionally involved in the story.
Paint, don’t tell
The devil is in the details, and you are to use as many as you can. When dealing with a short personal essay, you can choose quality over quantity. In other words, make sure the details you include are vivid and descriptive.
The best way to achieve this effect is to start brainstorming as soon as you choose the topic. What do you remember about the day in question? What was the weather like? How did you feel? What did your mom look like during breakfast?
Also, remember that an introduction is the most important part of your work, and it should include the most vivid details (to hook the reader). Rather than stating your age, hobbies, and interests, paint a vivid picture with your words. But of course, make sure that this picture is directly related to the story that follows.
Don’t make it chronological
This is not a classic piece of literature, so you do not have to build suspense. In fact, it could be a great idea to start your storyline from the middle or even the end. If for example, your topic is “How I ruined Last Christmas,” do not feel obliged to start with setting up the lights. Instead, you can jump straight to the mess you’ve made or your relatives’ reaction when they saw what you did.
Add every detail to a bigger picture
In the ruined Christmas example above, don’t forget that a fallen tree is not the main point of your story. But what is? Maybe, it’s how you learned to appreciate the people around you? Or maybe that’s when you decided to start volunteering at the homeless kitchen? Whatever it is, make sure every tiny detail you include in a personal essay adds up to a larger picture — that is, the message you need to convey.
Technical writing tips
It might seem that a couple of pages will not take you long, but you still should not spend a lot of time procrastinating. At the very least, brainstorm the topic in advance.
Mind the format
Even though you are working on a personal essay, it does not mean that you can format it any way you like. This is still an academic work, and it should follow academic formatting requirements. When applying to college, make sure to check them out. Pay a special attention to:
- Font (as a rule, Times New Roman is a universally recognized standard)
- Font size (usually 12-point, but once again — it can differ)
- Interval (typically, 2)
- Margins (1-inch is a common academic standard)
Mind the timeframe
Once again — don’t postpone writing a paper. Even if you have chosen a topic well in advance, the writing and editing process is still quite time-consuming. Plus, every school has submission deadlines, right?
Get support from your family
No, it does not mean that mommy should write or proofread the paper for you. Still, when working on a personal essay, it can be very useful to ‘interview’ your relatives. If for example, you have already chosen an event to describe (like that ruined Christmas we talked about), do not be afraid to ask your family members some questions. What do they remember? How did they feel?
Don’t stop looking for inspiration
There is nothing wrong with being inspired by another person. Surely, you can’t steal other people’s ideas, but you can make some of them work in your personal essay. Even a simple Facebook post with a nice hook can sometimes show you great ways of impressing your audience.
Mind university requirements in mind
Even though you are writing an essay about yourself, it still does not mean that you should ignore university requirements completely. Here, it is important to pay attention not only to the format, but also to the qualities each college is looking for in their students. Obviously, it would be a great idea to try and focus on qualities that are relevant for this particular educational establishment. This leads us to the next point — if you are applying to several colleges at once, you will have to tailor your personal essay for each position rather than send out one and the same generic work.
Avoid complex words
It’s ok to be smart, but it does not mean that you should use a thesaurus for every adjective you write. Instead, try to be natural. And, of course, never — ever — use the words you do not really understand.
Pay special attention to introduction
This is the first part anyone will read, and it is crucial to get it right. Once again — remember that your goal here is to hook the reader, and avoid using cliches – they will achieve exactly the opposite. Try to think of something more creative instead — include a quote, some stats, or simply jump straight to the point.
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