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5 Tips for Your College Personal Statement

This is a guest post from Yael Redelman-Sidi, who has helped hundreds of students get into their dream schools and programs. She is an expert in essay editing and coaching high school students on their college personal statements. Visit her website at admit2college.net.

You’ve heard it before, and it’s true – the personal statement has a significant impact on your admissions chances at top programs nationwide. With an increased number of applications per student, as well as a higher number of applications from international students, getting into your dream college seems to get more difficult every year. In 2014, Stanford admitted only 5% of its applicant pool; even the admissions director mentioned how difficult it is to differentiate between these who get in and those who don’t.

Here are 5 easy tips that will help you get started on your personal statement:

1. Don’t wait for inspiration

Maybe you’re hoping that one day you’ll just wake up and have an amazing idea of what to write, or that you’ll meet someone who will give you the best advice ever on a topic. Forget about it. This doesn’t happen to 99% of applicants, so you shouldn’t count on it. Start by creating a note on your phone, a piece of paper or your computer, with some ideas. Don’t criticize them yet – just collect them—anything from talking about that basketball game your team lost (or won), to your love of tacos, to what it means to have very small feet (or red hair). Collect ideas.

2. Ask your friends and family for ideas

Ask your friends who have already written (or at least started contemplating) their essays what they are going to talk about  – hobbies, school, family? Not everyone will feel comfortable sharing their stories, either because they are shy or because they don’t want someone else to use their idea, but by hearing others’ stories you will be inspired and feel comfortable with more concepts, formats and approaches.

3. Find out more about colleges and universities

By doing your research on your target schools, you are likely to come across topics you are excited about – whether it’s a semester abroad, living in Boston, or moving out of the suburb you’ve lived in for the last 18 years.

4. Read something good (or at least some sample essays)

There are numerous books out there for students, if you are really not sure about what to do or what makes a strong essay, get one of them from the library, or just sit at a local bookstore and read them for a few hours.  These books can be a little overwhelming, especially if you feel that these applicants would have gotten in anyhow (they had already saved the rain forest at 16 and cured cancer by 17), but try not to let them stress you out. Instead, when you read these essays, think (and take notes) about what you liked and disliked about them, so you can refer to these guidelines when you write your own version.

5. Don’t be shy about seeking help

Sometimes it’s easier to speak with someone than to sit down and write a full-length essay. Find a friend, family member or a professional admissions counselor who can brainstorm with you and help you identify potential topics. Talking to yourself is great, but having an outsider give you feedback on what’s interesting (or not), what’s unique (or just standard) is paramount. Acknowledging the fact that you would benefit from guidance is a first step in taking ownership of your education. Talk to your friends and family and see who helped them with writing and editing their college applications

There are so many factors that are out of your control when you apply to college, but the personal statement is NOT – this is the place where you have 100% control of the outcome, from the content to the format to when you are ready to submit it. Enjoy it as much as you can – after all, it’s about you, your dreams, and what matters most to you.