Seniors: Writing the Personal Essay

By Lisa Nelson and Sally Walsh


Throughout high school, students have been taught the importance of writing a clear and logical essay for many of their academic courses. Students learn the value of revealing their thesis early in the essay and then, logically and with evidence, proving their thesis throughout the body paragraphs and then restating it in the conclusion, perhaps with some new insight.  While the exact essay format may differ between schools and teachers, learning how to write a clear essay is important now and throughout college.

Certainly, writing clearly and using vivid language to capture the purpose of the essay is also essential in the Personal Essay. Using evidence to support an idea, applying correct grammar, and proofreading carefully matter as much in the Personal Essay as they do in an essay for any academic course.  However, while the academic essay strives to be objective and impersonal, the Personal Essay is, well, just that, personal. It’s purpose is to express who you are and should show the reader personal insight.  So, when you begin writing the Personal Essay, use those good writing techniques, but remember that the purpose of this essay is to reveal the authentic YOU so do not be afraid to stray from a strict academic format.

Suggestions on writing a great Personal Essay:

1.  Ask yourself, “What do I want admissions officers to know about me that they cannot learn from my transcript and scores?”

2.  Make sure the opening sentences draw the reader into your essay right away.  Specific, sensory details can help the reader want to read more.  Then, using first person narrative, show rather than tell your story.  And, as you wrap up the essay, connect what you are writing about to who you are now and who you want to be.  Show your core values.

3.  Admissions readers want to read about your growth from an experience. Write not only about the “what” of that experience, but also about how you grew from this experience and what you learned.

4.  Sometimes writing about something ordinary can be extraordinary if you show through details why it is important to you.

5.  More than anything, be yourself and don’t concern yourself with trying to present a perfect person.