Writing your personal statement? Learn how recent UPenn admit, Chris, was able to make all 650 words count
When reflecting upon my time at school to devise possible essay topics for my personal statement, a few immediately obvious topics and passions sprung to mind. I considered talking about my achievements, struggles or my family life, where we come from and what makes me different, the crazy things I did on a 6-month outdoor residential program or perhaps my love of surfing.
I had lots of ideas of what I thought would make great topics for the personal statement, but it was so hard to know which were original or interesting and would be relevant to the admissions officers.
My experience of applying within Australia to residential colleges was that I found myself detailing my resume and talking about my experiences in leadership or academic forums. This seemed to be the formula in Australia, however the American essay writing process was much different! That’s where Brian, my essay mentor, was invaluable.
“Rowing” I said “I have so many stories”.
“No,” he replied.
“Music and leading the band” I offered.
“No, not original enough,” he said.
I was shocked. All the things that seemed to count and have major impact on my achievements weren't going to cut it.
That’s when we started a different process of working out what my personality traits were and what I would want to convey about myself. As unusual as it sounded, my first task was to ask my family and friends to describe myself in three words. Brian and I gathered the results and from this we devised three ‘branding words’ that became central to my personal essay.
We got very philosophical and probably for the first time in my life, Brian managed to help me cut through all the layers of achievements to actually unveil the gritty stuff at my centre that makes me tick and motivates me.
I spent a lot of my time then in the hours to follow both at school and at home pondering my true interests and what I had to offer the university of my choice. It was exhausting and consuming. Never before had I ever spent so much time in introspection getting to know myself.
It was at the end of a two-hour conversation very late at night after a string of rejections from Brian that I threw out my last idea – one that was different to the others and that I hadn’t thought would be particularly interesting when Brian said “Yes! Now we’re finally getting somewhere! Think on that and we’ll talk next week."
Having worked out what I wanted to say, the next step was to find an interesting vehicle to put my musings into, one that would hold attention and amuse the reader while still conveying a condensed amount of relevant information about me.
Once I knew I was on the right track, I enjoyed writing my thoughts and ideas. Besides being creative, this exercise was very mathematical as every word needed to count and contribute value to the limited final count.
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