An effective personal essay may change someone’s life because telling a compelling story can profoundly impact readers’ lives.1 It’s crazy how much power you have over your audience when all you have to offer them is a pen and paper and the words in your mind. We are certain that after reading this article, you will feel so prepared to write a personal essay that you may even want to crank out a bunch of personal statements at once.
Definition: Personal essay
- The purpose of a personal essay is to examine a subject through the lens of the author’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It is often a reflective and creative piece of writing that provides insights into the author’s personality, values, beliefs, and goals. The personal essay differs from others, such as research papers, because it is more informal and allows the author’s voice and personality to shine through.
- A personal essay is often required as part of a graduate school application because it allows applicants to showcase their personal qualities and experiences. As a result, it makes them unique and valuable candidates for the program.2 Admissions committees use the essays to evaluate an applicant’s writing ability, critical thinking skills and personal characteristics not reflected in other application materials, such as transcripts and test scores.
- Therefore, a personal essay is essential to a graduate school application because it helps admissions committees better understand applicants beyond their academic achievements and qualifications.
Personal Essay: Make it successful
It’s important to incorporate key elements that engage readers and create a lasting impact to write a successful essay. Here is what you should consider.
The most effective personal essays are honest and true to the writer’s voice and experiences. This means being vulnerable and sharing personal stories, thoughts, and emotions.
A successful personal essay should evoke an emotional response from the reader, whether that’s laughter, tears, or a feeling of connection.
Any good personal essay aims to make the reader feel like they know the author and can understand their thoughts and feelings.
You should take the time to reflect on your experiences and share insights that you have gained from them. This not only adds depth to your essay but helps readers connect with you on a more profound level.
You can create a powerful and engaging piece that resonates with readers long after they have finished reading by incorporating these elements into your personal essay writing.
Personal Essay: Before writing
The first step is understanding what is required before you begin writing. The most significant part of a personal essay is a direct response to an issue or suggestion from the application.
For example, you may be asked to write about how you came into your own as a person, how you overcame adversity or why you want to pursue a certain line of work.3 This will guide where you put most of your effort, but you need to develop your spin on the question to succeed.
There is no one way to write a personal essay; here is your opportunity to express yourself uniquely. However, there are methods you may use to create a tale that is interesting and coherent.
Personal Essay: Structure
While essays are often subjective, they require a clear and logical structure to effectively convey the writer’s message. Here is a basic structure that can be followed when writing a personal essay:
The tone and narrative you wish to communicate should be introduced naturally in the opening paragraph of your personal essay.
Creating a setting that reflects your personality and hobbies is a great technique to hook the reader. Consider a life event that altered your worldview, a tale about your ancestors, influential education or instructive experience and an odd meeting when at a loss. If you want to write a believable scenario, you need to do more than just describe the setting. You need to hook the reader with a phrase that makes them want to keep reading and you need to fill in the blanks with specifics.
Similarly, you can start by discussing why you are interested in the field you want to enter or the job you are applying for; this will demonstrate your motivation and dedication. It’s not enough to just claim interest. Identifying your motivation for entering this area is the first step.
- Is this a new interest or have you always had a thing for this?
- Is it something you have always been good at or have you had to practise?
- Where does it fall inside your larger scheme of things?
- What do you believe it does for people in general?
Putting the introduction last makes sense. Do not worry about coming up with a great introduction if you are having trouble writing the remainder of the personal essay; just note any interesting thoughts that come to mind as you go.
Avoid starting sentences with “Ever since I was a child…” or “For as far back as my memory serves me…”
After introducing the overarching ideas explored in your statement, you may go into the details of your background and aspirations. Many other approaches exist for organizing the main content of your personal essay.
Give an Account of How You Changed Throughout Time:
Explaining in a timeline the major life event that has led up to your graduate school application is a simple but effective tactic. Do not try to fit in everything you have ever done; instead, focus on the achievements that will help your application stand out. Create an engaging story that highlights your growth and development.
Take Responsibility for Your Difficulties:
You may frame your personal essay as a narrative of success over adversity if getting into graduate school has not been a walk in the park. Is there a lack of people from your social, cultural or economic background in the industry? Demonstrate how you will bring a fresh viewpoint using your experiences. Avoid dwelling on your weaknesses and instead utilise them as opportunities to shine a light on your many admirable traits. Your strength of character, creativity and determination make you an excellent choice for graduate school.
Show off your expertise by providing concrete examples:
If you are applying to a PhD or other research-focused programme, demonstrating your knowledge of the subject matter and the department is essential. In your personal statement, you might elaborate on your interest in and dedication to the field in which you want to pursue further study. Examine the major concerns that have guided your research. For what reason do you find them appealing? Please do not treat the personal essay as a research project; instead, use it to demonstrate your interest in and the ability for the area and your ability to think creatively and independently.
Talk About Where You See Your Career Headed:
Focusing on realistic objectives and how the programme can help you accomplish them is especially important when applying to a more professionally focused programme. Do more than just name the job you want to get. Show that you have considered your future in this field and prove that you will be a good fit for the profession.
Transform your claims into narratives, such as describing an internship where you took the initiative to launch a new project rather than just stating that you are hardworking and self-motivated.
Do not just repeat your CV by attempting to sum up all you have done. The personal essay is not for listing your educational or professional experience but for commenting, assessing and connecting it to larger issues.
Your conclusion should circle back to the program and your goals for participating, whether those goals focus on gaining practical skills or examining philosophical topics.4 Highlight how this program aligns with your goals and interests to convince the admissions committee that you are the ideal candidate.
When applying to a programme with a stronger academic or research emphasis, leave the reader intrigued by explaining what you intend to learn and why you believe this is the ideal location to do it. You may use this space to share your excitement for any courses or instructors you look forward to taking advantage of.
Try to show the larger context in which your personal goals fit within the context of your town, area of study or the larger society.
Just restate the key points you made. A personal essay is a small assignment, so make every word count.
Personal Essay: Revising
You should give yourself enough time to review and polish the content, since you will be required to perform many writing tasks in graduate school. While a more formal tone than is common in academic writing is not required, you should still aim for clarity, conciseness and coherence in your work. Check for coherence using transitions and subject phrases to link paragraphs and provide logical progression.
Please do not be reluctant to make as many changes to the text and its organisation as you see fit. Due to a personal statement’s flexible framework, you may try several approaches and rearrange elements to find what works best.
For graduate school applications, a personal statement should be 500 to 1,000 words long.
A personal essay is a piece of writing that explores a particular topic or experience from the author’s point of view. It often reflects on personal experiences, observations and feelings.
Begin by choosing a topic that is important to you and brainstorming ideas. Consider the audience you are writing for and the purpose of your essay. Create an outline to organize your thoughts and start writing.
A personal essay should include a clear introduction that sets up the topic, a body that explores the topic in detail with supporting evidence and a conclusion that summarizes the main points and leaves a lasting impression on the reader. It should also include the author’s personal voice and unique perspective.
1 Allen, Amy. “How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application.” Harvard Business Review, December 14, 2021. https://hbr.org/2021/12/how-to-a-personal-essay-for-your-college-application.
2 Morrison, Gabriel. “Personal Statements | Writing Center,” February 10, 2018. https://writingcenter.uconn.edu/personal-statements/.
3 Pippen, Carolyn. “How To: Write Your Personal Essay.” Vanderbilt University. Vanderbilt University, September 11, 2013. https://admissions.vanderbilt.edu/vandybloggers/2013/09/how-to-write-your-personal-essay/.
4 Learn – GlobalGiving. “Tell the Story Only You Can Tell: Personal Essay Tips.” Accessed April 16, 2023. https://www.globalgiving.org/learn/personal-essay-tips/.