Notepad surrounded by crumpled up discarded drafts.
Steve Johnson via Unsplash

The personal statement can be intimidating. For many students, it’s one of the first times they attempt expository writing about their own lives and ambitions. And it’s not a low-stakes matter: how you approach the essay really does matter. 

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be an excruciating process, and can even be enlightening. Remind yourself that it’s not terribly different from any other writing assignment, take a deep breath, and follow your writing process:

    • Brainstorm: Some students may feel like they “don’t have a story” to tell in their personal statement. However, diligent and creative brainstorming will always uncover rich, interesting topics. You can write it down or talk it out, you can use whiteboards or sticky notes, but do not neglect the brainstorming.
    • Draft: Let that rough draft be rough. Editing too early, or worrying about phrasing and spelling when you’re still trying to get your ideas down, is something even professional writers struggle with, but it’s worth it. 
    • Revise: Students should expect to revise and polish their essays repeatedly. Six or eight revisions are common. It can help to have a friend, family member, or one of the coaches from A Starting Line review and make suggestions. We also recommend reading your essay aloud, to make sure you know it sounds like your voice.

As you choose your topic, be sure to consider why the college is asking you to write this essay, and what your response shows (not tells!) about the kind of student you’ll be.

Adapted from an article by A Starting Line coach Karen Droisen.