How Personal Is Too Personal In Your Application Essays?

By - May 17, 05:00 AM Comments [0]

The personal statement is your chance to stand out and make an impression on the admissions committees. How can you make your essay original? How much should you tell? And at what point are you crossing the line into TMI?

When I applied to college, I wrote a personal statement describing some challenging family circumstances I’d had while growing up. But my best friend warned me that it was too risky and intense to write about the situation, so I went back to the essay and asked myself, “What did I learn from this experience? Does it speak to my strengths and individual qualities, or is it something meant for a therapist’s office or a private journal?”

I studied my essay carefully and made sure that it gave the reader a good sense of who I really was and wasn’t just about the people in my family. I was careful to focus on what I had learned from the challenges I’d faced and how the experiences had made me into a more independent and compassionate person.

I decided to submit the essay after all, and I was accepted. In fact, one admissions counselor even wrote me a personal note about my essay! So in that case, taking the leap was well worth it. But, in some cases, it is not.

What are the adcoms looking for?

All admissions committees want to accept a wide range of interesting and talented applicants – a diverse group of smart, motivated, and innovative individuals who can come together to create a dynamic and richly layered community. They seek candidates with integrity who will get along with others and enhance the campus community in a variety of ways. They are also interested in applicants who are resilient, stable, and confident and who have already achieved important things in their lives.

How do you choose an essay topic that is personal, but not too personal ?

Prepare to write your personal statement by making a list of the most meaningful and significant events in your life. Which experiences really changed you, influenced you, and made you the person you are today? You can write about your passion for the subject you are applying to study. Tell them why you find it fascinating. Talk about your motivation for and commitment to the subject by using evidence from your past experiences – work, academic, or volunteering. Discuss any research or reading you’ve done into the subject, too, and why you’ve found it interesting.

Here are some questions you might want to address that would offer lively and distinctive essay material:     

  • Do you have a passion or interest that gives meaning to your life?
  • What have you had to work really hard at?
  • When have your values been challenged, and how did you respond?
  • When have you had to take a risk? What was at stake?
  • Have you had to overcome a personal challenge?
  • Did you grow up overseas?
  • Do you speak several languages?
  • Are you from a cultural background that might make you stand out or has enriched your life in a special way?
  • Do you have a handicap that has made you stronger?
  • Do you love to cook Thai food, run marathons, and play the piano?

The situations you describe can be personal, but only up to a point: beware of revealing too much that is emotionally intimate. Ask yourself, “Do these experiences make me sound emotionally unstable, ambivalent, or insecure?” If so, don’t bring them to the admissions committee. However, if the topic you’re considering has helped you become stronger and wiser, it could be considered a feasible option.

Tips for sharing personal stories

Here are additional tips to help you determine whether your personal statement is too personal or just right for displaying your inner truths and ambitions:

  1. Always be honest, but avoid overdramatization. Admissions committees can smell exaggeration from a mile away!
  2. Don’t focus your anecdotes on resentment, anger, or other feelings of ill will. Instead, focus on strength, recovery, and growth – in short, resilience.
  3. Don’t give details about your current or past romantic relationships. This is information to share with your therapist or best friend, but not the adcom!

With these guidelines in mind, start your creative engines and begin to write! Be authentic, be yourself, and show how your life experiences have helped you grow.

The expert advisors at Accepted can help you with your application essays, from choosing a topic (and making sure it’s an appropriate one!) to putting the final touches and making it ready to submit. Schedule a free consultation and we’ll match you with a personal admissions coach who will help you GET ACCEPTED.

Dr. Sundas Ali has more than 15 years of experience teaching and advising students, providing career and admissions advice, reviewing applications and conducting interviews for the University of Oxford’s undergraduate and graduate programs. In addition, Dr. Ali has worked with students from a wide range of countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, India, Pakistan, China, Japan, and the Middle East. Want Sundas to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch! 

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