The College Personal Statement


By Jessica Brauser, M.A., LSW

The college personal statement is like a vampire. It can deplete energy from anything it encounters. Some students spend months, weeks, and dare I say years, agonizing about what to write and they are often left with a messy essay. They let the search for the perfect topic get the best of them, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Just recently I watched Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark. There’s a scene where Dreamy Professor Jones is teaching a class, and one of his female students is staring lovingly at him as he tries to explain an important archeology topic. Dr. Jones is distracted, and so is the student.  The student is not learning anything, and Dr. Jones struggles to focus on his teaching materials, at the expense of the other students in the room who are trying to listen.

In some ways, this is the best cautionary “allegory” for college admissions. University admission readers are looking for students who can focus. They don’t care what you concentrate on per se, but they do want to know that you can enter a college classroom and engage at a high level that stimulates both you and the other individuals around you, including your peers and professors. College learning is bidirectional. Your education is not just about what you can gain, it is also about what you can offer. Professors are there for many purposes, including their own academic interests, and they need students who can contribute to the holistic learning process.

Therefore, what you write in your college personal statement is often irrelevant. That’s because it’s how you write, not what you say.  

Read more here:  What Goes Into A Great College Essay

My advice is simple: Make sure your college personal statement illustrates a complete thought. You need to use 650 words or less to construct and communicate a well-organized, idea from your brain. I often tell my students that you can write an essay about staring at the wall and get accepted to even the most selective of universities. As long as it makes sense, you will be successful.

While this might all seem like obvious advice, many adolescents have trouble expressing a deep, complete thought; I see it often in first drafts and hear it in college counseling sessions. They interrupt themselves, stop short, or use words that don’t adequately represent their intentions.  Every student has various strengths and talents. Some students are stronger with their expressive communication, others with their receptive communication. Unfortunately for the latter, as it is today, U.S. college admissions is based heavily on expressive speech. The chance to impress an admission review committee partially lies in the student’s ability to use 650 words to share a complete thought.

As you prepare to write your college personal statement, I encourage you to focus less on your theme, and more on the descriptive adjectives and proper nouns that can illuminate your thoughts and inner vision. Colleges want students who simply know how to express themselves and being able to do it on paper is a major requirement.