The personal essay or personal statement, often requested by many educational institutions, is a unique piece of writing that allows students to involve themselves in self-disclosure as well as a deep analysis of life events and occurrences. Though the personal essay
is only a portion of any admissions package, its the one component that people often experience difficulty with. And often times the biggest obstacle is the question - What to write about?
When thinking about your life events, whether graduation, moving, or marriage, many of them can easily be put into a few basic categories. The first and probably the most popular of them being; personal triumphs and victories.
*Please note that the categories mentioned can easily be applied to any personal essay, whether college-related or not.
Personal triumphs & victories
Happy endings are simply enjoyable to read and write. Many students decide to share personal triumphs in their essays or statements as an example of some of the praiseworthy qualities they possess; such as courage, wit, drive, or commitment. Triumph stories provide genuine experiences that are key to helping students or writers 'stand out from all the rest.' They also look good on paper and are great for highlighting those special and unique characteristics of each person.
Different types of success
Below are a few examples of some personal triumphs worth writing about.
- Academic success: This may include receiving a writing or math award; a consistently high GPA for a certain period or being on the principal or dean's list.
- Leadership success: An example of this could be a time in which you were (a) the leader on a particular project that went well or (b) when you stepped up to take over a particular task and the outcome was positive and so on.
- Career or employment success: This can include any type of raise at your job or advancement in your career; self-employment ventures may also be included as well.
- Marriage or another type of personal success: Along with marriage, other examples of personal success may include the birth of a child or losing a large amount of weight etc.
Personal triumphs are not complete without a bit of adversity. So the next category, which is very closely connected to triumph is 'overcoming the odds' or 'getting pass troubled times.' By definition a triumph is to be victorious over a particular challenge or obstacle; so sharing some personal challenges and how you overcame them would also be ideal for a personal essay
. Though in some cases you may find that a writer will write about a troubled situation that they are still experiencing, rather than one that they overcame-this is fine too.
Consider poverty for instance; a writer may share information about their particular impoverished situation even if things have not changed for them. This type of information may be beneficial as it also provides a context for certain events and may help the reviewer get a better idea of the candidate's overall background.
Overcoming the odds - Getting pass troubled times
Whenever sharing negative news, especially for academic purposes, be careful to not allow it to consume your paper (for ex. avoid the 'pity plea' syndrome). Likewise try not to share information that is too graphic, personal, or could possibly be offensive to the reviewer. Difficult circumstances or life events should be placed tastefully in the context of the essay and show a clear connection to the overall theme as well as some benefit that has been obtained from the situation.
Staying with the example of poverty, a writer, for instance, can explore the many lessons learned and valuable qualities obtained from having restricted finances (for example, patience, creativity and ingenuity, gratitude and fairness).
Examples of overcoming the odds
- Experiencing poverty or restricted financial resources
- Experiencing any type of abuse
- Overcoming racial discrimination
- Enduring a mental or physical disability
- Experiencing a strenuous or unusually difficult family situation
- Living through a natural disaster or casualty
These, along with many other situations, may be suitable to include in a personal essay to illustrate to the reader a unique characteristic that you developed by experiencing whatever it is that you experienced. For someone that may have dyslexia for example, how they got through school with the disability and the many hardships they faced may work well into a personal statement by reflecting on a person's determination to succeed.
Along with the first two categories, another intriguing topic for a personal statement would be to analyze one or two meaningful relationships that have greatly affected the writer's life.
Meaningful relationships/influential people
We all have that one teacher, friend, relative or parent that really made a great impact on the way we see things or on how we choose engage in certain activities. For instance, you may have had a teacher that greatly discouraged cheating and strove hard to teach you the value of an honest word-until this day your honesty and integrity distinguishes you from your fellow
Examples of meaningful relationships
- One of your parents that had a great impact on your academic or personal development
- A family member or friend that assisted you and believed in you when you failed to believe in yourself
- Someone that taught you a very valuable life lesson
- A person that consistently encouraged you with good and gave you positive reinforcements
- Someone that you admired and carefully observed even if they never knew it
When writing about meaningful relationships sometimes negative ones may also come to surface. There may be certain people that negatively impacted your life such as a neglectful parent or bully. These types of stories may be better categorized under the second category of overcoming the odds as you may address how you dealt with that particular relationship and what you learnt from it etc.
Additionally all of the categories mentioned entail some form of personal growth. In some cases the personal growth an individual experiences is small compared to other events but in other cases it may be quite significant. In situations such as this you may choose to focus your essay
primarily on the personal growth that you experienced; which is one of the other important categories you may choose to focus on.
Other important categories
Personal growth generally involves some form of betterment whether it is in a person's talents, qualities, or realization of self. Personal growth stories are excellent to share in such formats because they allow for a combination of several different themes. For instance, you may showcase a theme of self-discovery along with triumph and tragedy; which can all seamlessly be crafted under the umbrella of personal growth.
And lastly major decisions may also be an important category to expand upon in a personal essay. Examples of major life decisions may be choosing a particular field or school to satisfy certain goals or choosing to leave one's family, relocate, or to sacrifice something dear and special. Ultimately this category and the others mentioned can be combined in a multitude of ways to produce a well-rounded and suitable personal essay.