The personal statement is pivotal, since it goes out with every single application you submit through the common app. It’s also infamously open ended. The prompts come out each year late into the summer, but don’t worry too much about waiting for these to arrive - you can begin to brainstorm before you have the questions, especially since the final one allows students to submit an essay about a topic of their choice.
Selecting a subject to write about is the hardest part. A great essay can truly be about anything, and I mean anything: a moment, hobby, or lifelong experience are good starting points. With our experience having seen countless college essays, we can help select a topic that the admissions office will be receptive of, as the wrong subject for the personal statement can sometimes be unrecoverable for an applicant. It’s also useful to try writing generally, since you will have to be able to write a ton about your final topic. If you write about 2000 words about your favorite topics, it will be clear which you find the most natural to share. Don’t worry about useful writing. Most of what you produce at first will never even make it to the rough draft, but the common app essay is a very specialized piece. This means writing it will take a lot of practice.
Once you’ve figured out what to write about, start talking to people about it. If you’re writing about your backpacking trip in the mountains, speak to the friend you went with. If you want to explore your lifelong career as a fisherman, spend some time reminiscing with the person who taught you to reel in a catch. These conversations will not only make it easier to write, but they will reveal what’s most important to you.
As you finally get to writing, don’t be critical of yourself. Sit and type for 30 minutes a day on your topic, and cut later. This will allow you recognize your best work. When you feel ready to start editing down to a draft, think about what you want to convey and start to cobble these pieces together into a single text. Since you have so much to draw from, it shouldn’t be too hard to find stuff to tie in. Then, repeatedly go over the draft until the deadline arrives. It can also help to have a friend or relative who knows you well. Better yet, our team of advisors can read over your draft to make sure it’s perfect.
A final tip: do not try and write about what you think the admissions team wants to hear. Unless you are the next Hemingway (and likely not even then), you won’t be able to produce your best work about something you don’t care about. The personal statement must be personal, and this is where you show who you are. Failing to do so can fatally damage your entire application.