what to write about for personal essay

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How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

what to write about for personal essay

What does it take to land in the “accept” (instead of “reject”) pile?

How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Start early.  Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay.
  • Keep the focus narrow.  Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
  • Be yourself.  Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, use the narrative to be vulnerable and honest about who you are. Use words you would normally use. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
  • Be creative.  “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece.
  • Make a point. As you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had.

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We’ve all heard about the dreaded “college essay,” the bane of every high school senior’s existence. This daunting element of the college application is something that can create angst for even the most accomplished students.

  • AA Amy Allen is a writer, educator, and lifelong learner. Her freelance writing business,  All of the Write Words , focuses on providing high school students with one-on-one feedback to guide them through the college application process and with crafting a thoughtful personal essay. A dedicated poet, Amy’s work has also been published in several journals including  Pine Row Press ,  Months to Years,  and  Atlanta Review .

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110 Personal Essay Topics

Though written from a lived experience, personal essay topics can be tricky to come up with because they have to be universal enough for other people to relate to.

Since the skill of writing a good essay is being able to paint an image with words, students must choose a topic that will get others interested in the story and what it has to say about life, society, or themselves.

In essence, personal essays are written from a personal point of view and express a writer’s own insights, opinions, and feelings on a particular topic. Additionally, these types of essays lead to an overall point, lesson, realization, or revelation.

Most commonly, personal essays are written by high school students as part of their college applications. However, there are many other reasons that a personal essay may be assigned or written, including:

  • Scholarship applications
  • Job interview
  • Writing contest
  • Grad school admission

Students and others struggling with a valuable personal essay topic can choose from any of the 110 personal essay topics on this list to help them get started.

How to Write a Personal Essay

Writing a personal essay will require you to follow a traditional essay’s guidelines, structure, and format. However, you will also need to ensure that your essay is personal or tells a story about yourself rather than being entirely academic.

For example, you might want to explain an experience that changed how you saw the world or share an opinion on something important to you – even if the rest of the world doesn’t agree with it.

It often helps to make a list of experiences that you may want to share before starting with the writing aspect of the personal essay.

Introduction

The introduction to your personal essay will set the scene for the reader. Therefore, your personal essay needs to start with a compelling hook that will draw the reader in and make them want to read more.

This hook statement could be a humorous or poignant anecdote related to your topic or a line of questioning that the reader will be interested in following. For example, some possible opening lines for a personal essay could start with:

  • “I remember exactly where I was when I first realized …”
  • “What would you do if you knew the world was going to end tomorrow?
  • “So, I once had this problem …”

These beginning lines will often create questions in the reader’s mind, which is an excellent way to capture their interest and keep them reading. Following this initial opening sentence, you can introduce other details as you build up the main point of the story.

Your introduction should end with a thesis statement that verbalizes the general direction the story will go.

Body Paragraphs

Generally, a personal essay will have no less than three body paragraphs that detail your experience in chronological order. Each section should discuss one part of the story, including the events leading up to it, what happened during the experience, and what you learned from it.

Body paragraphs may also include examples of feelings, emotions, or arguments that support your experience. The goal of a personal essay is to share a compelling story and teach the reader something about life or themselves by using specific details and language.

Consider this formatting when creating the body paragraphs of your personal essay:

1st Paragraph

  • Beginning of the story that answers questions related to “Who?” and “Where?”
  • Initial attitudes, moods, feelings, and assumptions about the event or experience about to take place

2nd Paragraph

  • Middle of the story
  • Details that show how the situation evolved over time, including any changes in mood or assumption on your part

3rd Paragraph

  • Ending of the story/resolution
  • The final analysis on overall feelings, emotions, and mood

By sticking to this formatting for the body paragraphs, students can ensure that they are telling the story correctly and including every key detail as it happens.

Conclusion Paragraph

The conclusion of a personal essay is optional and depends on what you want to accomplish with the telling of your story. If you want to leave the reader feeling inspired or emotionally moved, then focus on summarizing the main points in a short paragraph that ends on a positive note.

However, if this was a darker story, you may want to use the concluding paragraph to sum up your feelings after the experience has ended or explore any unanswered questions that remain.

In any event, your conclusion does need to include an overall moral or lesson of how the writer:

  • overcame hardship
  • rose to the occasion
  • identified new traits or abilities that they never realized existed
  • turned defeat into success
  • followed their instincts and made the right choice
  • came to appreciate something about life after the experience took place

Any of these statements can stand alone as a powerful lesson learned. However, when combined in one concluding paragraph, you will leave your reader with a profound impression.

Using any of these 110 personal essay topics will ensure that you have a strong and interesting story to tell.

Personal Essay Topics About Relationships

  • What was a time when you made a friend?
  • What would your worst enemy say about you?
  • Talk about the death of a friend.
  • How did it feel to be bullied in school?
  • The time when you had to get along with a sibling despite being different ages
  • What you learned from your first relationship
  • Why marriage isn’t important to you
  • How you discovered polyamory, and how it changed your view of relationships
  • How your best friend made you a better person
  • The lesson you learned from being catfished
  • The first time you experienced heartbreak
  • A funny story about how technology ruined a relationship.
  • How did you learn to recognize love?
  • Who would you consider your soulmate? What makes them that person specifically for you?
  • What was your most embarrassing moment as a boyfriend or girlfriend, and what did you learn from it?

Personal Essay Topics About Hardships

  • The worst thing that ever happened to me
  • The roughest time in my family’s life
  • The hardest challenge I’ve ever had to overcome
  • How did you deal with the stress of moving?
  • What was your most embarrassing moment as a kid?
  • What are some reasons that I am grateful for my disability/illness/condition?
  • When have you had an “Aha!” moment in life?
  • What’s something terrible that happened to you that turned into something good?
  • What’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from my failures?
  • The time when it almost felt like the world was against me
  • How did I handle/recover from a severe illness/injury/accident?
  • When was the first time I realized that life isn’t fair?
  • What was the biggest struggle I went through in my teens?
  • The most challenging situation I faced in high school
  • When was a time when I made a negative impact on someone else?
  • The first time I got caught stealing
  • The most embarrassing mistake I ever made with money
  • What was the most challenging thing about getting sober/clean/overcoming addiction?
  • When did I realize that life is short and that nobody is promised tomorrow?
  • How did you learn to persevere through tough times?

Personal Essay Topics About Success & Achievements

  • Best moment in my sports career
  • My greatest success story
  • The time I overcame my fear and found strength I didn’t know I had.
  • What’s the happiest day of my life?
  • How did I learn to overcome failure?
  • The time I knew that dreams really do come true
  • My greatest triumph over adversity – and what it taught me about myself.
  • What made you realize that you have to work hard in order to achieve something meaningful in life?
  • When did I know that I had made it in life?
  • When was the first time you were acknowledged for your achievements?
  • The night when my hard work truly paid off
  • My most powerful moment after overcoming a setback
  • How did I become successful?
  • What are some defining moments in my career?
  • How did I make it through a difficult time in college/university?
  • What motivated me to become the person I am today?

Personal Essay Topics About Personal Growth & Self-Reflection

  • Whose lifelong encouragement helped make me who I am today
  • The first time I took responsibility for my own actions
  • What gave me the courage to be myself?
  • The most valuable life lesson I’ve ever received. Who taught it to me, and what was the context?
  • How did I get through a difficult childhood/adolescence/teenage years?
  • What did I learn from becoming a yoga master?
  • How has meditation helped me overcome anger issues?
  • How did I recover from using drugs and alcohol?
  • What’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from quitting my job?
  • When did I realize that life is too short to hate someone?
  • The moment when I knew it was time for a change
  • I made a mistake – and this is how I bounced back
  • How did I overcome depression/anxiety/mental illness?

Personal Essay Topics About Passions & Hobbies

  • How did learning a skill change my life?
  • Why exercise makes me a better person
  • My passion for writing
  • What’s the best advice I’ve ever received? Who gave it to me, and in what situation?
  • The moment when I realized my true calling in life
  • The importance of keeping a journal and how it has helped me become a better person
  • My biggest bucket list dream and why it’s so important to me
  • What is my vision for the future?
  • How did I find peace, contentment, and happiness?
  • The time when I truly lived outside of my comfort zone
  • When was the moment when I felt like I “got” meditation?
  • My journey towards becoming vegan. What inspired me to make this change, and what were the challenges I faced?
  • What lessons have been easy for me to learn, and which ones have been harder?
  • The time when travel changed my life

Personal Essay Topics About Challenges & Failures

  • The low point of my life and how I got through it
  • How did an illness/injury/death in the family affect me?
  • Why did I decide to stop going on blind dates?
  • What were the consequences of losing my temper, and how did I make amends?
  • The time when I was broken. What happened, who got hurt, and how did it affect me? How did I overcome this experience?
  • When was the moment when I realized that my words carry weight?

Personal Essay Topics About Family & Childhood Memories

  • The time when my family showed me what unconditional love means
  • My most vivid childhood memory and how it has affected me as an adult
  • How did I learn to be patient and kind?
  • What was the moment that sparked a change in my life? What caused this change, and what happened after the changes took place?
  • The moment when I realized the true meaning of friendship
  • What lessons did growing up teach me about life?
  • My childhood dream and what it taught me about myself
  • How do I feel about my hometown after living in three different places?
  • Why is it important to visit your birthplace/hometown during holidays/vacations?
  • My family’s most influential life lesson and how it has affected me
  • What was the moment when I realized that my parents had their own struggles?
  • The time when I learned about my family history. What happened, why did this happen, and how did it affect me? How did things change after this event?
  • What do I know about family traditions now that I didn’t understand as a child?
  • Why are your family memories vital to you?

Personal Essay Topics About Cultural Heritage & Identity

  • What does being bilingual/multilingual mean to me? Why is it unique?
  • My first interaction with someone from another culture
  • What’s wrong with cultural appropriation, and how did I learn to stop?
  • The moment when I became aware of my race/ethnicity
  • My culture’s most influential life lesson and how it has affected me
  • How I learned to not be afraid of my cultural differences
  • Why is diversity important in my community? In what ways do I contribute?
  • The moment I realized that I am proud of my culture
  • How has the immigrant/refugee experience shaped who you are today?
  • How traditions have changed the way I view my family

Personal Essay Topics About Childhood Dreams & Aspirations

  • What were my childhood dreams, and how have they changed over the years?
  • How did I make peace with the fear of growing up?

Any of these 110 personal essay topics are perfect for students struggling to find a topic that will impress a college admission officer or any other person with whom you’re trying to connect with on a personal level through storytelling.

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Personal Essay Topics

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A personal essay is an essay about your life, thoughts, or experiences. This type of essay will give readers a glimpse into your most intimate life experiences and life lessons. There are many reasons you may need to write a personal essay , from a simple class assignment to a college application requirement . You can use the list below for inspiration. Consider each statement a starting point, and write about a memorable moment that the prompt brings to mind.

  • Your bravest moment
  • How you met your best friend
  • What makes your mom or dad special
  • How you overcame a fear
  • Why you will succeed
  • Why you made a difficult choice
  • A special place
  • A place you try to avoid
  • When a friend let you down
  • An event that changed your life
  • A special encounter with an animal
  • A time when you felt out of place
  • An odd experience that didn't make sense at the time
  • Words of wisdom that hit home and changed your way of thinking
  • A person that you do not like
  • A time when you disappointed someone
  • Your fondest memory
  • A time when you saw your parent cry
  • The moment when you knew you were grown up
  • Your earliest memory of holiday celebrations in your home
  • Times when you should have made a better choice
  • A time when you dodged a dangerous situation
  • A person you will think about at the end of your life
  • Your favorite time period
  • A failure you've experienced
  • A disappointment you've experienced
  • A surprising turn of events
  • What you would do with power
  • What superpower you would choose
  • If you could switch lives with someone
  • How money matters in your life
  • Your biggest loss
  • A time when you felt you did the wrong thing
  • A proud moment when you did the right thing
  • An experience that you've never shared with another person
  • A special place that you shared with a childhood friend
  • A first encounter with a stranger
  • Your first handshake
  • Where you go to hide
  • If you had a do-over
  • A book that changed your life
  • Words that stung
  • When you had the desire to run
  • When you had the urge to crawl into a hole
  • Words that prompted hope
  • When a child taught you a lesson
  • Your proudest moment
  • If your dog could talk
  • Your favorite time with family
  • If you could live in another country
  • If you could invent something
  • The world a hundred years from now
  • If you had lived a hundred years earlier
  • The animal you'd like to be
  • One thing you'd change at your school
  • The greatest movie moment
  • The type of teacher you would be
  • If you could be a building
  • A statue you'd like to see
  • If you could live anywhere
  • The greatest discovery
  • If you could change one thing about yourself
  • An animal that could be in charge
  • Something you can do that robots could never do
  • Your most unfortunate day
  • Your secret talent
  • Your secret love
  • The most beautiful thing you've ever seen
  • The ugliest thing you've seen
  • Something you've witnessed
  • An accident that changed everything
  • A wrong choice
  • A right choice
  • If you were a food
  • How you'd spend a million dollars
  • If you could start a charity
  • The meaning of color
  • A close call
  • Your favorite gift
  • A chore you'd do away with
  • A secret place
  • Something you can't resist
  • A hard lesson
  • A visitor you'll never forget
  • An unexplained event
  • Your longest minute
  • An awkward social moment
  • An experience with death
  • Why you'll never tell a lie
  • If your mom knew, she'd kill you
  • A kiss that meant a lot
  • When you needed a hug
  • The hardest news you've had to deliver
  • A special morning
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Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

Tips for writing an effective college essay.

College admissions essays are an important part of your college application and gives you the chance to show colleges and universities your character and experiences. This guide will give you tips to write an effective college essay.

Want free help with your college essay?

UPchieve connects you with knowledgeable and friendly college advisors—online, 24/7, and completely free. Get 1:1 help brainstorming topics, outlining your essay, revising a draft, or editing grammar.

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Writing a strong college admissions essay

Learn about the elements of a solid admissions essay.

Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes

Learn some of the most common mistakes made on college essays

Brainstorming tips for your college essay

Stuck on what to write your college essay about? Here are some exercises to help you get started.

How formal should the tone of your college essay be?

Learn how formal your college essay should be and get tips on how to bring out your natural voice.

Taking your college essay to the next level

Hear an admissions expert discuss the appropriate level of depth necessary in your college essay.

Student Stories

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Student Story: Admissions essay about a formative experience

Get the perspective of a current college student on how he approached the admissions essay.

Student Story: Admissions essay about personal identity

Get the perspective of a current college student on how she approached the admissions essay.

Student Story: Admissions essay about community impact

Student story: admissions essay about a past mistake, how to write a college application essay, tips for writing an effective application essay, sample college essay 1 with feedback, sample college essay 2 with feedback.

This content is licensed by Khan Academy and is available for free at www.khanacademy.org.

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How to Write About Yourself in a College Essay | Examples

Published on September 21, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on May 31, 2023.

An insightful college admissions essay requires deep self-reflection, authenticity, and a balance between confidence and vulnerability. Your essay shouldn’t just be a resume of your experiences; colleges are looking for a story that demonstrates your most important values and qualities.

To write about your achievements and qualities without sounding arrogant, use specific stories to illustrate them. You can also write about challenges you’ve faced or mistakes you’ve made to show vulnerability and personal growth.

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Table of contents

Start with self-reflection, how to write about challenges and mistakes, how to write about your achievements and qualities, how to write about a cliché experience, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about college application essays.

Before you start writing, spend some time reflecting to identify your values and qualities. You should do a comprehensive brainstorming session, but here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What are three words your friends or family would use to describe you, and why would they choose them?
  • Whom do you admire most and why?
  • What are the top five things you are thankful for?
  • What has inspired your hobbies or future goals?
  • What are you most proud of? Ashamed of?

As you self-reflect, consider how your values and goals reflect your prospective university’s program and culture, and brainstorm stories that demonstrate the fit between the two.

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Writing about difficult experiences can be an effective way to show authenticity and create an emotional connection to the reader, but choose carefully which details to share, and aim to demonstrate how the experience helped you learn and grow.

Be vulnerable

It’s not necessary to have a tragic story or a huge confession. But you should openly share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences to evoke an emotional response from the reader. Even a cliché or mundane topic can be made interesting with honest reflection. This honesty is a preface to self-reflection and insight in the essay’s conclusion.

Don’t overshare

With difficult topics, you shouldn’t focus too much on negative aspects. Instead, use your challenging circumstances as a brief introduction to how you responded positively.

Share what you have learned

It’s okay to include your failure or mistakes in your essay if you include a lesson learned. After telling a descriptive, honest story, you should explain what you learned and how you applied it to your life.

While it’s good to sell your strengths, you also don’t want to come across as arrogant. Instead of just stating your extracurricular activities, achievements, or personal qualities, aim to discreetly incorporate them into your story.

Brag indirectly

Mention your extracurricular activities or awards in passing, not outright, to avoid sounding like you’re bragging from a resume.

Use stories to prove your qualities

Even if you don’t have any impressive academic achievements or extracurriculars, you can still demonstrate your academic or personal character. But you should use personal examples to provide proof. In other words, show evidence of your character instead of just telling.

Many high school students write about common topics such as sports, volunteer work, or their family. Your essay topic doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, but do try to include unexpected personal details and your authentic voice to make your essay stand out .

To find an original angle, try these techniques:

  • Focus on a specific moment, and describe the scene using your five senses.
  • Mention objects that have special significance to you.
  • Instead of following a common story arc, include a surprising twist or insight.

Your unique voice can shed new perspective on a common human experience while also revealing your personality. When read out loud, the essay should sound like you are talking.

If you want to know more about academic writing , effective communication , or parts of speech , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

Academic writing

  • Writing process
  • Transition words
  • Passive voice
  • Paraphrasing

 Communication

  • How to end an email
  • Ms, mrs, miss
  • How to start an email
  • I hope this email finds you well
  • Hope you are doing well

 Parts of speech

  • Personal pronouns
  • Conjunctions

First, spend time reflecting on your core values and character . You can start with these questions:

However, you should do a comprehensive brainstorming session to fully understand your values. Also consider how your values and goals match your prospective university’s program and culture. Then, brainstorm stories that illustrate the fit between the two.

When writing about yourself , including difficult experiences or failures can be a great way to show vulnerability and authenticity, but be careful not to overshare, and focus on showing how you matured from the experience.

Through specific stories, you can weave your achievements and qualities into your essay so that it doesn’t seem like you’re bragging from a resume.

Include specific, personal details and use your authentic voice to shed a new perspective on a common human experience.

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

Courault, K. (2023, May 31). How to Write About Yourself in a College Essay | Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved February 15, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/college-essay/write-about-yourself/

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Photograph of blank Microsoft Word document titled "The Most Awesome College Essay Ever"

Unlike the rest of your application, which primarily consists of filling in boxes, the personal essay gives you the freedom to essentially write about whatever you want. No rules! Show who you are! Which sounds pretty cool, until you’re sitting there looking at a blank Word document.

Photograph of blank Microsoft Word document titled "The Most Awesome College Essay Ever"

While the personal essay is a great opportunity to infuse your voice into the application, I think some people (cough, me, cough) can get overwhelmed by it to the point where they don’t know how to begin. What do I write about? What makes me stand out? How can I explain all of this in only a few hundred words?

Well, as someone who eventually managed to get some words down on that blank document and turn out a decent college essay, here are a few words of advice.

1. Start by writing something.

I know, that sounds really obvious. But sometimes the hardest part of writing is just getting started – if you spend too much time criticizing your ideas before you write anything down, you won’t get anywhere. Write a few sentences, jot down some random ideas, note a couple anecdotes that might be interesting… just get something on paper that you can look back to. Maybe one of those ideas will catch, and BOOM you have an essay – or maybe you’ll look back to this list after a few weeks and think of something else that you would rather write about. That’s fine! The beginning of the creative process involves coming up with ideas, judging them comes later. Trust me, I took a class on this (really: it was a psych class called “Creativity: Madmen, Geniuses, and Harvard Students.”)

2. Think about something that has some significance to you.

Many students feel like they have to write about some huge, life-changing, important event in their lives. If you have something like this that you want to write about, that’s great! However, you can also write an awesome essay about something other than The Most Important Thing Ever. It can be the littlest things, if you explain their significance well, that actually stand out. In my case, somewhere in my essay I mentioned that I got up at 5:37am (rather than 5:30 or 5:45) because I liked prime numbers – and the first thing my admissions officer said when I walked into the room for my interview was, “So, prime numbers, huh?” That being said, remember that this is a college essay, so keep this audience and goal in mind as you write. When they finish reading, what do you want the admissions officers to know about you? Does this essay demonstrate something about who you are and what you care about? If not, you might want to go back to the drawing board.

3. Don’t be afraid to start over.

After finishing my first draft, I was glad to have something, but I wasn’t completely happy with it either. A week or two later, as I was reading over my essay again, I had an idea for a totally different topic - so I opened another document and completely started over. The second attempt was so much better, and I felt happy with how it turned out. It can be hard to scrap an initial attempt after spending so much time on it, but think of that time as just part of the process of getting to what you really want to write about.

4. Get an outside perspective.

One of the most useful things I did while working on my college essay was asking a couple people to read it over. At the time, I had two drafts that I was choosing between, and I wasn’t sure which one captured “me” better. When I asked my parents and teacher what they thought, they unanimously picked one option over the other. In the end, it’s important to have an essay that you are happy with – but sometimes having a fresh set of eyes can help you see what that is.

This is an important step! Both you, and perhaps someone who knows you well, should read over your essay and make sure it is in tip-top shape before you turn it in. There should be no grammatical or spelling mistakes – that gives the impression that you did not take your time on it. I know you’ve spent a long time on it by this point, but those last edits are super important!

The personal essay is a snippet of who you are and where you’re coming from – a snapshot for the admissions officers to look at as they read your application. It will never be able to capture everything about you, but you want to make sure that you’re giving them your best angle. So sit down, smile, and get to writing!

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How To: Write Your Personal Essay

Posted by Carolyn Pippen on Wednesday, September 11, 2013 in Application Process , General Information , The College Essay .

While we still have a few more days until the official beginning of fall, around here it feels a lot like the season has already begun. Classes are back in session , the leaves are falling off the trees, and most of our counselors have departed for the two-month marathon of flights, high school visits, and college fairs that we call travel season.

what to write about for personal essay

In addition, thousands of high school seniors across the country have begun the process of filling out college applications. Regardless of whether or not one of your applications will be submitted to Vanderbilt, we would like to offer you a few nuggets of the expertise we have acquired working with students and evaluating applications over years.

Thus we give you: The “How To” Series. Over the next several weeks, we will be posting lists of tips concerning various pieces of the application that we hope will make this process a little less overwhelming for all of you. Today’s tips focus on the personal essay.

  • Be thoughtful, but not fretful. As a senior, most of the accomplishments that will make up the bulk of your application – academic performance, test scores, and extracurricular involvement – are said and done. In a sense, the only part of the application over which you have complete control right now is the essay. Don’t let this scare you! While the essay is a valuable tool that we use to understand you better, it is rarely if ever a “make or break” component of your application.
  • Keep the “personal” in personal essay. The Common Application presents six different prompts for you to choose from when writing your essay. To be honest, we don’t really care that much what you write about, as long as you’re writing about you. In other words, don’t spend the entire essay detailing the life of your favorite and most accomplished family member, but rather focus on how that person has affected you and your life decisions. Don’t give us a detailed narrative of your favorite community service trip, but instead tell us what you learned from that trip and how it has changed your outlook on the world. This is one time when it’s okay to be self-centered – more than anything, we want to know about you!
  • Don’t try to guess what the reader wants to hear. If you ask a hundred different admissions counselors what their favorite kind of essay is, you will likely get a hundred different answers. Trying to figure out what topic will get us most excited is like trying to guess which outfits the judges of Project Runway are going to like the most – no matter how many times we watch, Heidi always manages to confound. Instead of trying to game the system, focus on the things that get you excited. If nothing else, I promise that passion will show through.
  • Feel free to be funny or creative – but don’t overreach. If your friends tell you that you’re the funniest person in the class, use that skill to your advantage. If your creativity is what sets you apart from your peers, let that innovation guide the structure and content of the essay. On the other hand, if every joke you make at the cafeteria table falls flatter than a pancake in a Panini press, don’t try to fake it. Figure out what your personal strengths are, and stick with them.
  • Tell us something we don’t already know. When writing your essay, be sure to keep in mind all of the other pieces of your application we already have in front of us while we’re reading it. Do not use this space to summarize your extracurricular involvement or your academic achievements if we’ve already seen these things in your resume and transcript. We know that there is more to you than just test scores and leadership roles, so tell us more!
  • Ask for input (but not too much). Your parents, friends, guidance counselors, coaches, and teachers are great people to bounce ideas off of for your essay. They know how unique and spectacular you are, and they can help you decide how to articulate it. Keep in mind, however, that a 45-year-old lawyer writes quite differently from an 18-year-old student, so if your dad ends up writing the bulk of your essay, we’re probably going to notice.
  • Edit, proof, polish, and breathe. Beyond gaining insight into your personal psyche, the purpose of the essay is also to showcase your written communication skills. Treat this essay just like any class assignment – write it early, proof and revise, keep an eagle eye out for spelling and grammatical errors, and make sure it is presented in a clean and polished way. That being said, do not call our office in a panic if you discovered a missing article or a misused “its” after you hit submit. Because of our holistic selection process , no student will be denied based on one element of his or her application; this includes typos.

Tags: academic credentials , breathe , college applications , Common Application , essay writing , extracurricular activities , Heidi Klum , how to apply , personal essay , Project Runway

November 11th, 2013

Hi Carolyn, students get stressed regarding writing college admission essays. Your tips are going to help them a lot.

November 30th, 2013

thanks it helped me write a good essay

July 22nd, 2015

Thanks for the informative tips on short essay writing .

January 20th, 2016

Hello, I am applying to a liberal arts college and am sort of stuck up on the essay. Should I be completely honest and mention my shortcomings. I am pretty much introverted and not a good conversationalist. Should I or should I not mention these

January 27th, 2016

Your essay should help to give better, deeper insight into you as a person. As the post mentions, your essay should supplement the other parts of your application to help us understand you better. That said, you don’t have to include anything about yourself that you don’t feel comfortable sharing.

April 25th, 2016

Great tips!

September 3rd, 2016

Is there a specific place to write the essay and is there a prompt, the common app doesn’t have a location to attach a personal essay.

September 6th, 2016

Thank you for your question. The Common Application gives students the option to choose one of five essay prompts. You can read the essay promts on the Common Application site at http://www.commonapp.org/whats-appening/application-updates/common-application-announces-2016-2017-essay-prompts

Again, thanks for your question and your interest in Vanderbilt.

September 17th, 2016

so Vanderbilt does not have additional or supplemental essays?

September 20th, 2016

Thank you for your question – you are correct, there are no supplements for Vanderbilt.

September 21st, 2016

Hi! I’m just adding the final touches to my application and I’m ready to send it off. I’m very excited! Just a clarification: when you say there aren’t any supplements for Vanderbilt, does it mean that the activity essay/expansion isn’t required or is that not classified as a supplement? Thank you!

September 22nd, 2016

Hi Hannah, thanks for your question (and congratulations on finishing up your application). This can vary depending on the specific application method you are using. I think you may be asking about the Common App, and in that case the short answer about activities is required to submit your application. We don’t consider that a supplement because it is a part of the Common Application. If you have more questions, please feel free to follow up.

Thank you for the clarification!

September 23rd, 2016

I made a mistake..3 actually! I submitted my application today and after looking back through my pieces of writing, I realized that I accidentally wrote a word twice in my personal statement and forgot a period, and I also failed to include a small word in my topic sentence for my activities essay on the common app. Apparently, I was far too excited to hit submit. I would hate to have my admission chances suffer because of this. I’ve emailed my admissions counselor, but in the meantime, is there anything that can be done? Thank you!

September 30th, 2016

Hi Hannah, thank you for checking in on this. Emailing your admissions counselor is absolutely the right course of action, and I am sure they will handle it from here. Don’t worry about it! And thanks for your enthusiasm about Vanderbilt!

April 13th, 2017

Thanks for tips, right now i’m in the middle of essay writing, so your article is just what i needed. Start to get more and more worried each day, seems like now i know what to do

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100+ Personal Essay Topics For College And Writing Tips

Jared Houdi

Table of Contents

70 Great Personal Essay Topics for College

Looking for interesting personal essay writing ideas? We’ve got a bunch…

A personal essay is a typical assignment for high-school and college students. It’s a type of non-fiction that incorporates a variety of writing styles. Personal essay topics usually include real stories, experiences, and opinions of people.

Writers need to give an account of their own experience and express their thoughts on the subject of a paper. The key to success is to make an attempt to combine narration and opinion together. In this article, you will find a short writing guide and 100+ engaging personal essay topic ideas.

How to write personal essays?

Keep in mind that personal writing is always subjective. It is based on the writer’s observation, feelings, opinion, and experience. You are the speaker, so it’s quite natural to use such pronouns as I, my, me, we, and our.

First of all, most essay writing websites will say that you need to find a compelling topic. College personal essay topics include a lot of things.

Students may be asked to

  • state their opinion about an issue
  • document what they observed
  • share a story
  • give a description of an object, event, place, person
  • relate a specific subject to their own life

Whatever theme you choose, it’s crucial to start an introduction of your paper with a strong hook to capture the audience’s attention. Introduce the subject in the first paragraph. Think about the main idea you want to communicate.

In the body of your paper, inform readers about the subject. It’s better to create an outline before to start writing. It will help you organize your thoughts, stay focused, and write clearly and concisely. Start each paragraph with a new idea. Show, don’t tell. Use strong verbs and include a lot of sensory details.

End with a thought-provoking conclusion. You need to explain what lesson you have learned, how your experience contributed to your development as a person and shaped your personality.

Why choose personal persuasive essay topics for writing

When writing on personal persuasive essay topics, writers must state their position or opinion on an issue and try to persuade people to accept their point of view, telling stories and appealing to their feelings and emotions.

That differs from elaborating on personal argumentative essay topics, when students have to support their point of view with strong arguments, reasons, relevant examples, appropriate illustrations, etc.

These types of papers are not easy to write as well as papers on personal cause and effect essay topics.

But there are important reasons why you may want to do that.

  • You’ll improve communication and critical thinking skills .
  • Challenging themes can help you stand out from the crowd.
  • You will be able to demonstrate your creativity and ability to apply persuasive techniques.

… Can’t decide what idea to choose?

Here we have gathered a wide variety of moving ideas for your inspiration. Whether you need personal experience essay topics or personal narrative essay topics, we’ve got you covered.

Personal essay topics: what are they about?

You may write on any subject. Popular themes include hobbies, nature, childhood, illness, travel, making a difficult choice, learning something new, friends, family, and relationships.

You may use some personal challenge essay ideas and tell about overcoming an obstacle. Or you can buy argumentative essay if you don’t have time to work on college tasks tonight.

Actually, the subject is not as important as you think. Readers want to see your point of view that reveals your unique personality.

  • How you met a special person in your life?
  • A person you admire most.
  • The best place in the local area.
  • A place where you would like to live your whole life.
  • Works of art you admire.
  • The job of your dream.
  • Your biggest disappointment.
  • Books that made a great impression on you.
  • What annoys you?
  • Your family traditions.
  • Are you addicted to technology?
  • What modern songs inspire you?
  • Could you live without money?
  • Do you like commercials?
  • What is your best method of studying?

Personal narrative essay topics

  • Tell about your first trip abroad.
  • The most unfortunate event ever happened to you.
  • What happened during your first day at school?
  • What is your first childhood memory?
  • What is your most memorable family event?
  • Did you experience failure?
  • What games did you play when you were a child?
  • The biggest challenge you have overcome.
  • Do you remember your first birthday party?
  • Tell how you learn something new.
  • Have you ever encountered a wild animal?
  • Tell about the first time you were home alone.
  • How you cooked a meal for the first time?
  • Tell how you helped someone.
  • How you overcame fear?

Personal experience essay topics

  • What things make you feel happy?
  • How you came to healthy eating habits?
  • How did you celebrate Christmas?
  • Did you bring a stray animal home?
  • How did you learn to drive?
  • How you met a famous person?
  • How did you learn something from enemies?
  • Describe the accidents you witnessed.
  • How you got hurt?
  • Describe disastrous trips or vacations.
  • Fantastic concerts you attended.
  • Describe terrifying nightmares.
  • Your reaction when provoked.
  • Experience of being a leader.
  • A friendship breakup experience.

Personal argumentative essay topics

  • What could you live without?
  • Why are you concerned about environmental issues?
  • How much money do you need for happiness?
  • What does your ethnic identity mean to you?
  • Significance of personal growth.
  • Male and female roles in your family.
  • Your attitude to feminism.
  • Explain what does it mean to be a Human.
  • Most precious moments of your life.
  • What is more critical: wealth or happiness?
  • Your attitude to getting a tattoo.
  • Is it important to be crazy about fashion?
  • Your opinion on cosmetics surgery.
  • Significance of healthy lifestyle choices.
  • Your favourite holiday destinations.

College personal essay topics

  • Have you been in love with someone?
  • What is your life’s goal?
  • What does success mean to you?
  • How freedom matters in your life?
  • How you leave the comfort zone?
  • Things you appreciate in life.
  • What things do you hate?
  • How you met college roommates?
  • Your plans on spending a gap year.
  • How you got your first job?
  • Describe intellectual challenges you would like to solve.
  • What did you learn from failures?
  • Outdoor activities you like most.
  • Explain your commitments.
  • What motivates you?

Personal persuasive essay topics

  • Your opinion of distant learning and online education.
  • Can listening to music help complete your homework faster?
  • Can hobbies help in a future career?
  • Is it ethical to buy products tested on animals?
  • Why is volunteering important?
  • Should drugs be banned?
  • Your favourite restaurant everyone should visit.
  • Things to do to help our world survive.
  • How can we make the world a better place?
  • Is it possible to avoid stress?
  • Should zoos be forbidden?
  • How online shopping makes me spend more money?
  • Why I don’t smoke.
  • Things I want to be doing when I become 85.
  • Why do I recommend students to study abroad?

Personal cause and effect essay topics

  • Why I don’t watch TV.
  • Reasons I go in for sports.
  • Effects of social media on the daily routine.
  • How my failures make me stronger?
  • Books that changed my world view.
  • Reasons why I study computer science.
  • Influence of my parents on my life choices.
  • Importance of learning math for my future career.
  • Effect of being a single child.
  • How my pets make me a better person?
  • Influence of regular exercise on my health and wellbeing.
  • What makes me rebel against my parents?
  • How did my parents help me to study?
  • Why going to college made me an independent person?
  • What caused my burn out?

Feel free to use our good personal essay topics for creating amazing pieces that will make a powerful impression on your readers and get you high grades.

Can’t grab your thoughts together and come up with a perfect personal essay? No worries! Our writers will do all the writing, while you enjoy your free time. Psst, it takes a few clicks only…

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How to Write a Personal Essay

Last Updated: February 2, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Jake Adams . Jake Adams is an academic tutor and the owner of Simplifi EDU, a Santa Monica, California based online tutoring business offering learning resources and online tutors for academic subjects K-College, SAT & ACT prep, and college admissions applications. With over 14 years of professional tutoring experience, Jake is dedicated to providing his clients the very best online tutoring experience and access to a network of excellent undergraduate and graduate-level tutors from top colleges all over the nation. Jake holds a BS in International Business and Marketing from Pepperdine University. There are 10 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 308,686 times.

A good personal essay can move and inspire readers. It can also leave the reader unsettled, uncertain, and full of more questions than answers. To write an effective personal essay, you will need to first understand the structure of a personal essay. You will then need to brainstorm ideas for the personal essay so you are ready when it is time to sit down and craft your essay.

Starting Your Personal Essay

Step 1 Find an angle for your essay.

  • For example, maybe you want to write about an experience where you learned about failure. You may think the time you failed a pop quiz in class. Though the quiz may have seemed insignificant to you at the time, you realized later that failing the pop quiz forced you to reassess your goals and motivated you to get a passing grade. Seen from a certain angle, your small failure became a gateway to perseverance and determination.

Jake Adams

  • This could be a seemingly small moment that ended up having a profound influence on you later, such the first time you experienced disgust as a child or the look on your mother’s face when you told her you were gay. Try to really dig into why you were hurt or compelled to overcome a challenge in this moment in your essay.
  • Remember that moments charged with strong emotion will often be more engaging to readers. Having a strong reaction to a specific moment will allow you to write passionately about it and keep your reader interested in your essay.

Step 3 Discuss a specific event that triggered an emotional response.

  • For example, you may focus on the day you found out your father cheated on your mother, or the week you mourned the death of a loved one. Think about a heavy experience in your life that shaped who you are today.
  • You may also decide to write about a seemingly light topic or event, such as your first ride on a roller coaster, or the first time you went on a cruise with your partner. No matter what event you choose, make sure it is an event that triggered a strong emotional response, ranging from anger to confusion to unabashed joy.

Step 4 Think of a person in your life that you have difficulty with in some way.

  • For example, you may think about why you and your mother stopped speaking years ago or why you are no longer close to a childhood friend. You may also look at past romantic relationships that failed and consider why they did not succeed or a relationship with a mentor that went sour.
  • This could also be about someone that you're close with. For example, you could write about a moment that tested your relationship with a close friend.

Step 5 Respond to a current event.

  • Ask yourself questions about the current event. For example, how does the current event intersect with your own experiences? How can you explore a current social issue or event using your personal thoughts, experiences, and emotions?
  • For example, you may have an interest in writing about Syrian refugee camps in Europe. You may then focus your personal essay on your own status as a refugee in America and how your experiences a refugee have shaped the person you are now. This will allow you to explore a current event from a personal perspective, rather than simply talk about the current event from a distant, journalistic perspective.

Step 6 Create an outline.

  • The introductory section should include “the hook”, opening lines where you catch the reader’s attention. It should also have some sort of narrative thesis, which is often the beginning of an important event in the piece or a theme that connects your experience to a universal idea.
  • The body sections should include supporting evidence for your narrative thesis and/or the key themes in your piece. Often, this is in the form of your experiences and your reflections on your experiences. You should also note the passage of time in your body sections so the reader is aware of when and how certain events occurred.
  • The concluding section should include a conclusion to the events and experiences discussed in the essay. You should also have a moral of the story moment, where you reflect on what you learned from your experiences or how your experiences changed your life.
  • In the past, it was advised to have five paragraphs total, one paragraph for the introductory section, three paragraphs for the body section, and one paragraph for the concluding section. But you can have more or less than five paragraphs for your personal essay as long as you have all three sections.

Writing the Personal Essay

Step 1 Begin with an engaging opening scene.

  • Don't begin with a line that explains exactly what is going to be discussed in, such as, “In this essay, I will be discussing my fraught relationship with my mother." Instead, draw your reader into your piece and still provide all the information needed in your opening line.
  • Start instead with a specific scene that contains the key characters of the essay and allows you discuss the central question or theme. Doing this will allow you to introduce the reader to the characters and the central conflict right away.
  • For example, if you are writing about your fraught relationship with your mother, you may focus on a specific memory where you both disagreed or clashed. This could be the time you and your mother fought over a seemingly insignificant item, or the time you argued about a family secret.
  • Try to use an active voice instead of a passive voice as much as possible when you're writing your essay.

Step 2 Write from your unique voice or perspective.

  • This writing voice may be conversational, much like how you might speak to a good friend or a family member. Or, the writing voice may be more reflective and internal, where you question your own assumptions and thoughts about the subject of the essay.
  • Many personal essays are written in the first person, using “I”. You may decide to write in the present tense to make the story feel immediate, or past tense, which will allow you to reflect more on specific events or moments.
  • Include vivid sensory descriptions in your essay to help the reader connect with your unique perspective. Describing touch, smell, taste, sight, and sound can help the reader invest in your story and feel like they're there with you.

Step 3 Develop the characters so they are well-rounded and detailed.

  • You can also include lines of dialogue spoken by your characters, based on your memory of the event. However, you should limit dialogue to only a few lines a page, as too much dialogue can start to veer away from personal essay and more toward fiction.

Step 4 Include plot in your essay.

  • You may use a plot outline to organize your essay. The plot points should act as supporting evidence for the central question or issue of the essay.

Step 5 Focus on uncovering a deeper truth.

  • It’s important to remember that though an experience may appear to have all the drama necessary to make a good personal essay, it may be a drama that is too familiar to the reader already. Be wary of experiences that are familiar and filled with pathos that a reader may have experienced before.
  • If you are writing about the sudden death of a loved one, for example, it may feel important and deep to you. But the reader will likely know what to expect of an essay about a dead loved one, and may not relate to your essay because they did not know the loved one like you did.
  • Instead, you may try to uncover a truth that is deeper than “I am sad my loved one died.” Think about what the loved one meant to you and how the loved one affected your life, in positive and negative ways. This could lead to the uncovering of a deeper truth and a stronger personal essay.

Polishing Your Essay

Step 1 Try out different literary techniques and forms.

  • For example, you may use metaphor to describe the experience of telling your mother you are gay. You may describe your mother’s face as “impenetrable, a sudden wall”. Or you may use a simile, such as “my mother’s reaction was silent and stunned, as if she had been struck by lightning.”

Step 2 Read the essay out loud.

  • As you read it out loud, you should highlight any sentences that are confusing or unclear as well as sentences that do not appear as strong as the rest of the draft. You should also make sure your characters are well developed and your essay follows some kind of structure or sense of plot. Consider if you are hitting a deeper truth in your draft and what you can do to get there if it is not yet on the page.Revising your essay will only make it that much stronger.

Step 3 Proofread and revise the essay.

  • When you are revising, you should consider if your content is really worth writing about, if you are writing about a topic or subject you are passionate about, and if your reader will understand your writing. You want to avoid confusing your reader, as this can turn her off from reading to the end of your essay.
  • You should also make sure the focus and themes of the essay are clear. Your experiences should center around a central question, issue, or theme. This will ensure your personal essay is well written and concise.
  • Avoid relying on spellcheck to catch all of the spelling and grammar errors in your essay.

Expert Q&A

Jake Adams

Video . By using this service, some information may be shared with YouTube.

  • To get a better sense of the genre, you should read highly crafted examples of personal essay. There are several known personal essays that are often taught in academia, including "Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin, “The Death of a Moth” by Virginia Woolf, “Shipping Out” by David Foster Wallace, “The White Album” by Joan Didion, and “We Do Abortions Here” by Sallie Tisdale. Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0
  • Ask yourself several questions as you read the examples, such as: How does the writer introduce the subject of their essay? How does the writer explore the subject for a personal perspective? What are the key themes in the essay? How does the writer connect their personal experiences to a universal theme or idea? How does the writer use humor or wit in the essay? What is the concluding moral of the essay? Does the end of the essay leave you satisfied, unsettled, curious, or all of the above? Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0

Sample Essay and Template

what to write about for personal essay

You Might Also Like

Write a Personal Narrative

  • ↑ https://owl.excelsior.edu/writing-process/thesis-sentence/thesis-sentence-angles/
  • ↑ Jake Adams. Academic Tutor & Test Prep Specialist. Expert Interview. 20 May 2020.
  • ↑ https://courses.lumenlearning.com/englishcomp1/chapter/writing-a-narrative-or-personal-essay/
  • ↑ https://www.grammarly.com/blog/personal-essay/
  • ↑ https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/how-to-write-a-personal-essay
  • ↑ https://stlcc.edu/student-support/academic-success-and-tutoring/writing-center/writing-resources/point-of-view-in-academic-writing.aspx
  • ↑ https://www.grammarly.com/blog/story-plot/
  • ↑ https://www.grammarly.com/blog/literary-devices/
  • ↑ http://admissions.vanderbilt.edu/vandybloggers/2013/09/how-to-write-your-personal-essay/
  • ↑ http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/revising-drafts/

About This Article

Jake Adams

To write a personal essay, start by deciding on an experience that affected your life in some way, such as how failing a pop quiz in class made you change your goals. Next, draft an outline containing the points you want to make, and including an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. When writing, start your essay with an engaging scene that introduces the characters and main theme, then develop the characters in the body section so they're well-rounded. Conclude by summing up what you learned from the experience. For tips on how to include a plot in your essay and how to proofread your work, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Module 4: Writing in College

Writing a personal essay, learning objectives.

  • Describe techniques for writing an effective personal essay

How to Write a Personal Essay

One particular and common kind of narrative essay is the personal narrative essay. Maybe you have already written one of these in order to get to college or for a scholarship. The personal essay is a narrative essay focused on you. Typically, you write about events or people in your life that taught you important life lessons. These events should have changed you somehow. From this choice will emerge the theme (the main point) of your story. Then you can follow these steps:

Someone writing on sticky notes and in a notebook.

Figure 1 . Brainstorming the details of a personal experience can help you to write a more complete story with elements like vivid details, dialogue, and sufficient character development.

  • Once you identify the event, you will write down what happened. Just brainstorm (also called freewriting). Focus on the actual event. You do not need to provide a complete build-up to it. For example, if you are telling a story about an experience at camp, you do not need to provide readers with a history of your camp experiences, nor do you need to explain how you got there, what you ate each day, how long it lasted, etc. Readers need enough information to understand the event.
  • Use descriptions/vivid details.
  • “Nothing moved but a pair of squirrels chasing each other back and forth on the telephone wires. I followed one in my sight. Finally, it stopped for a moment and I fired.”
  • Passive voice uses the verb “to be” along with an action verb: had been aiming, was exhausted.
  • Even though the “characters” in your story are real people, your readers won’t get to know them unless you describe them, present their personalities, and give them physical presence.
  • Dialogue helps readers get to know the characters in your story, infuses the story with life, and offers a variation from description and explanation. When writing dialogue, you may not remember exactly what was said in the past, so be true to the person being represented and come as close to the actual language the person uses as possible. Dialogue is indented with each person speaking as its own paragraph. The paragraph ends when that person is done speaking and any following explanation or continuing action ends. (If your characters speak a language other than English, feel free to include that in your narrative, but provide a translation for your English-speaking readers.)
  • Remember, if it is a personal narrative, you are telling the story, so it should be in first person. Students often worry about whether or not they are allowed to use “I.” It is impossible to write a personal essay without using “I”!
  • Write the story in a consistent verb tense (almost always past tense). It doesn’t work to try to write it in the present tense since it already happened. Make sure you stay in the past tense.

Sample Personal Statement

One type of narrative essay you may have reason to write is a Personal Statement.

Many colleges and universities ask for a Personal Statement Essay for students who are applying for admission, to transfer, or for scholarships. Generally, a Personal Statement asks you to respond to a specific prompt, most often asking you to describe a significant life event, a personality trait, or a goal or principle that motivates or inspires you. Personal Statements are essentially narrative essays with a particular focus on the writer’s personal life.

The following essay was responding to the prompt: “Write about an experience that made you aware of a skill or strength you possess.” As you read, pay attention to the way the writer gets your attention with a strong opening, how he uses vivid details and a chronological narrative to tell his story, and how he links back to the prompt in the conclusion.

Sample Student Essay

Alen Abramyan Professor X English 1101-209 2/5/2022

In the Middle of Nowhere Fighting Adversity

A three-punch combination had me seeing stars. Blood started to rush down my nose. The Russian trainers quietly whispered to one another. I knew right away that my nose was broken. Was this the end of my journey; or was I about to face adversity?

Ever since I was seven years old, I trained myself in, “The Art of Boxing.”  While most of the kids were out playing fun games and hanging out with their friends, I was in a damp, sweat-filled gym. My path was set to be a difficult one. Blood, sweat, and tears were going to be an everyday occurrence.

At a very young age I learned the meaning of hard work and dedication. Most kids jumped from one activity to the next. Some quit because it was too hard; others quit because they were too bored. My father pointed this out to me on many occasions. Adults would ask my father, ” why do you let your son box? It’s such a dangerous sport, he could get hurt. My father always replied, “Everyone is going to get hurt in their lives, physically, mentally and emotionally. I’m making sure he’s ready for the challenges he’s going to face as a man. I always felt strong after hearing my father speak that way about me. I was a boy being shaped into a man, what a great feeling it was.

Year after year, I participated in boxing tournaments across the U.S. As the years went by, the work ethic and strength of character my father and coaches instilled in me, were starting to take shape. I began applying the hard work and dedication I learned in boxing, to my everyday life. I realized that when times were tough and challenges presented themselves, I wouldn’t back down, I would become stronger. This confidence I had in myself, gave me the strength to pursue my boxing career in Russia.

I traveled to Russia to compete in Amateur Boxing. Tournament after tournament I came closer to my goal of making the Russian Olympic Boxing team. After successfully winning the Kaliningrad regional tournament, I began training for the Northwest Championships. This would include boxers from St. Petersburg, Pskov, Kursk and many other powerful boxing cities.

We had to prepare for a tough tournament, and that’s what we did. While sparring one week before the tournament, I was caught by a strong punch combination to the nose. I knew right away it was serious. Blood began rushing down my face, as I noticed the coaches whispering to each other. They walked into my corner and examined my nose,” yeah, it’s broken,” Yuri Ivonovich yelled out. I was asked to clean up and to meet them in their office. I walked into the Boxing Federation office after a quick shower. I knew right away, they wanted to replace me for the upcoming tournament. “We’re investing a lot of money on you boxers and we expect good results. Why should we risk taking you with a broken nose?” Yuri Ivonovich asked me. I replied, “I traveled half-way around the world to be here, this injury isn’t a problem for me.” And by the look on my face they were convinced, they handed me my train ticket and wished me luck.

The train came to a screeching halt, shaking all the passengers awake. I glanced out my window, “Welcome to Cherepovets,” the sign read. In the background I saw a horrific skyline of smokestacks, coughing out thick black smoke. Arriving in the city, we went straight to the weigh ins. Hundreds of boxers, all from many cities were there. The brackets were set up shortly after the weigh ins. In the Super Heavyweight division, I found out I had 4 fights to compete in, each increasing in difficulty. My first match, I made sure not a punch would land; this was true for the next two fights. Winning all three 6-0, 8-0 and 7-0 respectively. It looked like I was close to winning the whole tournament. For the finals I was to fight the National Olympic Hope Champion.

The night before the finals was coincidentally the 200th anniversary of the city. All night by my hotel, I heard screams of laughter and partying. I couldn’t sleep a wink. The morning of the fight I was exhausted but anxious. I stepped into the ring knowing that I was tired. I fell behind in points quickly in the first round. I felt as if I were dreaming, with no control of the situation. I was going along for the ride and it wasn’t pleasant. At the end of the second round, the coach informed me that I was far behind. “?You’re asleep in there,” he yelled out to me, confirming how I felt. I knew this was my last chance; I had to give it my all. I mustered up enough strength to have an amazing round. It was as if I stepped out and a fresh boxer stepped in. I glanced at my coaches and see a look of approval. No matter the outcome, I felt that I had defeated adversity. My opponent’s hand was raised , he won a close decision, 6-5. After I got back to my hotel, I remembered Yuri Ivonovich telling me they expected good results. “How were my results,” I asked myself. In my mind, the results were great, with a broken nose and with no sleep, I came one point shy of defeating the National Olympic Hope Champion.

Even from a very young age, I knew that when my back was against the wall and adversity was knocking on my door, I would never back down. I became a stronger person, a trait my family made sure I would carry into my adult years. No matter what I’m striving for; getting into a University; receiving a scholarship; or applying for a job, I can proudly say to myself, I am Alen Abramyan and adversity is no match for me.

Link to Learning

Sandra Cisneros offers an example of a narrative essay in “Only Daughter”  that captures her sense of her Chicana-Mexican heritage as the only daughter in a family of seven children.

Do Personal Essays have Thesis Statements?

While many personal essays include a direct statement of the thesis, in some personal essays the thesis may be implied, or suggested, rather than stated outright.

Imagine, for example, that in your personal essay you decide to write about the way someone influenced you. The influential individual could be a relative, a friend or classmate, an employer or a teacher. As you shape your essay, you would not simply assemble a collection of miscellaneous observations about the person; instead, you would be selective and focus on details about this person that show his or her impact upon you.

Let us say that the person who influenced you is a grandparent. You may know a lot about this individual: personality traits, family and marital history, medical history, educational background, work experience, military experience, political and religious beliefs, hobbies, tastes in music, etc. As you shape your essay, you wouldn’t try to catalog all that you know. Instead, you would try to create a dominant impression by including details that guide your reader toward the idea that is central to the essay.

For example, if you developed certain habits and attitudes as you and your grandparent worked together on a project, that experience might provide the focus for the essay. If you chose details consistent with that focus, then you wouldn’t need to state that this was the point of the essay. Your readers would understand that that was the governing idea based on the details you had so carefully chosen.

Whether the thesis is stated outright or implied, then, the personal essay will have a governing idea—an idea that is “in charge” of what you decide to include in the essay in terms of content, vocabulary, sentence structure, and tone. In short, the personal essay may not have a thesis statement, but it  will  have a thesis.

Consider a personal essay in which a student was asked to write about a person she admired, and she wrote about her cousin. She wrote:

  • I admired my cousin’s decision to enlist because she had to withstand criticism from people who thought women shouldn’t be in the army and because in basic training she had to stand up to physical and mental challenges that I don’t think I could face.

The thesis statement provides guidance for both writing and reading the essay. Writer and reader alike are able to see what the subject of the essay is and what is being stated about the subject and how the essay should be organized. No matter how many body paragraphs there are, this thesis implies that the paper will be divided into two sections. One section will group together the paragraphs on this topic: cousin “had to withstand criticism from people who thought women shouldn’t be in the army.” Another section will group together the paragraphs on this second topic: “in basic training she had to stand up to physical and mental challenges.”

Are Narratives Persuasive?

In a personal essay, you may not think of your thesis as “arguable” in the same way as a claim in a persuasive essay would be arguable, but in fact, you can think of it as something that should need to be demonstrated—backed up through explanations and illustrations. Usually, the idea that should be demonstrated is that you are a thoughtful, reflective person who has learned from the events and people in your life.

If the thesis does  not   need to be demonstrated, then there may not be much purpose in writing the essay. For, example, a statement that “George W. Bush was the forty-third president” or the statement that “Senior proms are exciting” would not be considered arguable by most people and likely would not spark a reader’s interest to make them want to keep reading.

On the other hand, the thesis statements below would need to be explained and illustrated. In that sense, these personal essay thesis statements are equivalent to claims that are “arguable.”

  • The evening was nearly ruined because parents acting as dress-code vigilantes threw several people out of the prom.
  • My team spent hours planning the prom and managed to head off a repeat of the after-prom drinking that caused some parents to question whether the prom should be held this year.
  • Everyone was able to attend the prom proudly because our prom committee got several stores to loan outfits to make certain everyone would feel like they fit in.
  • I opted to attend an alternative prom because the principal refused to allow a same-sex couple to attend.

Keep in mind that the actions or events in your essay do not have to make you look heroic. You could write a convincing and powerful essay about how you attended the school-sponsored prom, even though the principal refused to allow a same-sex couple to attend. Your essay, in this case, might, for example, focus on your regret over your decision and your subsequent understanding of how you think you can best challenge the status quo in the future. In other words, you can write an effective personal essay about a moment of regret.

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what to write about for personal essay

10 Personal Statement Essay Examples That Worked

What’s covered:, what is a personal statement.

  • Essay 1: Summer Program
  • Essay 2: Being Bangladeshi-American
  • Essay 3: Why Medicine
  • Essay 4: Love of Writing
  • Essay 5: Starting a Fire
  • Essay 6: Dedicating a Track
  • Essay 7: Body Image and Eating Disorders
  • Essay 8: Becoming a Coach
  • Essay 9: Eritrea
  • Essay 10: Journaling
  • Is Your Personal Statement Strong Enough?

Your personal statement is any essay that you must write for your main application, such as the Common App Essay , University of California Essays , or Coalition Application Essay . This type of essay focuses on your unique experiences, ideas, or beliefs that may not be discussed throughout the rest of your application. This essay should be an opportunity for the admissions officers to get to know you better and give them a glimpse into who you really are.

In this post, we will share 10 different personal statements that were all written by real students. We will also provide commentary on what each essay did well and where there is room for improvement, so you can make your personal statement as strong as possible!

Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 

Personal Statement Examples

Essay example #1: exchange program.

The twisting roads, ornate mosaics, and fragrant scent of freshly ground spices had been so foreign at first. Now in my fifth week of the SNYI-L summer exchange program in Morocco, I felt more comfortable in the city. With a bag full of pastries from the market, I navigated to a bus stop, paid the fare, and began the trip back to my host family’s house. It was hard to believe that only a few years earlier my mom was worried about letting me travel around my home city on my own, let alone a place that I had only lived in for a few weeks. While I had been on a journey towards self-sufficiency and independence for a few years now, it was Morocco that pushed me to become the confident, self-reflective person that I am today.

As a child, my parents pressured me to achieve perfect grades, master my swim strokes, and discover interesting hobbies like playing the oboe and learning to pick locks. I felt compelled to live my life according to their wishes. Of course, this pressure was not a wholly negative factor in my life –– you might even call it support. However, the constant presence of my parents’ hopes for me overcame my own sense of desire and led me to become quite dependent on them. I pushed myself to get straight A’s, complied with years of oboe lessons, and dutifully attended hours of swim practice after school. Despite all these achievements, I felt like I had no sense of self beyond my drive for success. I had always been expected to succeed on the path they had defined. However, this path was interrupted seven years after my parents’ divorce when my dad moved across the country to Oregon.

I missed my dad’s close presence, but I loved my new sense of freedom. My parents’ separation allowed me the space to explore my own strengths and interests as each of them became individually busier. As early as middle school, I was riding the light rail train by myself, reading maps to get myself home, and applying to special academic programs without urging from my parents. Even as I took more initiatives on my own, my parents both continued to see me as somewhat immature. All of that changed three years ago, when I applied and was accepted to the SNYI-L summer exchange program in Morocco. I would be studying Arabic and learning my way around the city of Marrakesh. Although I think my parents were a little surprised when I told them my news, the addition of a fully-funded scholarship convinced them to let me go.

I lived with a host family in Marrakesh and learned that they, too, had high expectations for me. I didn’t know a word of Arabic, and although my host parents and one brother spoke good English, they knew I was there to learn. If I messed up, they patiently corrected me but refused to let me fall into the easy pattern of speaking English just as I did at home. Just as I had when I was younger, I felt pressured and stressed about meeting their expectations. However, one day, as I strolled through the bustling market square after successfully bargaining with one of the street vendors, I realized my mistake. My host family wasn’t being unfair by making me fumble through Arabic. I had applied for this trip, and I had committed to the intensive language study. My host family’s rules about speaking Arabic at home had not been to fulfill their expectations for me, but to help me fulfill my expectations for myself. Similarly, the pressure my parents had put on me as a child had come out of love and their hopes for me, not out of a desire to crush my individuality.

As my bus drove through the still-bustling market square and past the medieval Ben-Youssef madrasa, I realized that becoming independent was a process, not an event. I thought that my parents’ separation when I was ten had been the one experience that would transform me into a self-motivated and autonomous person. It did, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t still have room to grow. Now, although I am even more self-sufficient than I was three years ago, I try to approach every experience with the expectation that it will change me. It’s still difficult, but I understand that just because growth can be uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not important.

What the Essay Did Well

This is a nice essay because it delves into particular character trait of the student and how it has been shaped and matured over time. Although it doesn’t focus the essay around a specific anecdote, the essay is still successful because it is centered around this student’s independence. This is a nice approach for a personal statement: highlight a particular trait of yours and explore how it has grown with you.

The ideas in this essay are universal to growing up—living up to parents’ expectations, yearning for freedom, and coming to terms with reality—but it feels unique to the student because of the inclusion of details specific to them. Including their oboe lessons, the experience of riding the light rail by themselves, and the negotiations with a street vendor helps show the reader what these common tropes of growing up looked like for them personally. 

Another strength of the essay is the level of self-reflection included throughout the piece. Since there is no central anecdote tying everything together, an essay about a character trait is only successful when you deeply reflect on how you felt, where you made mistakes, and how that trait impacts your life. The author includes reflection in sentences like “ I felt like I had no sense of self beyond my drive for success, ” and “ I understand that just because growth can be uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not important. ” These sentences help us see how the student was impacted and what their point of view is.

What Could Be Improved

The largest change this essay would benefit from is to show not tell. The platitude you have heard a million times no doubt, but for good reason. This essay heavily relies on telling the reader what occurred, making us less engaged as the entire reading experience feels more passive. If the student had shown us what happens though, it keeps the reader tied to the action and makes them feel like they are there with the student, making it much more enjoyable to read. 

For example, they tell us about the pressure to succeed their parents placed on them: “ I pushed myself to get straight A’s, complied with years of oboe lessons, and dutifully attended hours of swim practice after school.”  They could have shown us what that pressure looked like with a sentence like this: “ My stomach turned somersaults as my rattling knee thumped against the desk before every test, scared to get anything less than a 95. For five years the painful squawk of the oboe only reminded me of my parents’ claps and whistles at my concerts. I mastered the butterfly, backstroke, and freestyle, fighting against the anchor of their expectations threatening to pull me down.”

If the student had gone through their essay and applied this exercise of bringing more detail and colorful language to sentences that tell the reader what happened, the essay would be really great. 

Table of Contents

Essay Example #2: Being Bangladeshi-American

Life before was good: verdant forests, sumptuous curries, and a devoted family.

Then, my family abandoned our comfortable life in Bangladesh for a chance at the American dream in Los Angeles. Within our first year, my father was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He lost his battle three weeks before my sixth birthday. Facing a new country without the steady presence of my father, we were vulnerable — prisoners of hardship in the land of the free. We resettled in the Bronx, in my uncle’s renovated basement. It was meant to be our refuge, but I felt more displaced than ever. Gone were the high-rise condos of West L.A.; instead, government projects towered over the neighborhood. Pedestrians no longer smiled and greeted me; the atmosphere was hostile, even toxic. Schoolkids were quick to pick on those they saw as weak or foreign, hurling harsh words I’d never heard before.

Meanwhile, my family began integrating into the local Bangladeshi community. I struggled to understand those who shared my heritage. Bangladeshi mothers stayed home while fathers drove cabs and sold fruit by the roadside — painful societal positions. Riding on crosstown buses or walking home from school, I began to internalize these disparities. During my fleeting encounters with affluent Upper East Siders, I saw kids my age with nannies, parents who wore suits to work, and luxurious apartments with spectacular views. Most took cabs to their destinations: cabs that Bangladeshis drove. I watched the mundane moments of their lives with longing, aching to plant myself in their shoes. Shame prickled down my spine. I distanced myself from my heritage, rejecting the traditional panjabis worn on Eid and refusing the torkari we ate for dinner every day. 

As I grappled with my relationship with the Bangladeshi community, I turned my attention to helping my Bronx community by pursuing an internship with Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda. I handled desk work and took calls, spending the bulk of my time actively listening to the hardships constituents faced — everything from a veteran stripped of his benefits to a grandmother unable to support her bedridden grandchild.

I’d never exposed myself to stories like these, and now I was the first to hear them. As an intern, I could only assist in what felt like the small ways — pointing out local job offerings, printing information on free ESL classes, reaching out to non-profits. But to a community facing an onslaught of intense struggles, I realized that something as small as these actions could have vast impacts. Seeing the immediate consequences of my actions inspired me. Throughout that summer, I internalized my community’s daily challenges in a new light. I began to stop seeing the prevalent underemployment and cramped living quarters less as sources of shame. Instead, I saw them as realities that had to be acknowledged, but could ultimately be remedied. I also realized the benefits of the Bangladeshi culture I had been so ashamed of. My Bangla language skills were an asset to the office, and my understanding of Bangladeshi etiquette allowed for smooth communication between office staff and its constituents. As I helped my neighbors navigate city services, I saw my heritage with pride — a perspective I never expected to have.

I can now appreciate the value of my unique culture and background, and of living with less. This perspective offers room for progress, community integration, and a future worth fighting for. My time with Assemblyman Sepulveda’s office taught me that I can be a change agent in enabling this progression. Far from being ashamed of my community, I want to someday return to local politics in the Bronx to continue helping others access the American Dream. I hope to help my community appreciate the opportunity to make progress together. By embracing reality, I learned to live it. Along the way, I discovered one thing: life is good, but we can make it better.

This student’s passion for social justice and civic duty shines through in this essay because of how honest it is. Sharing their personal experience with immigrating, moving around, being an outsider, and finding a community allows us to see the hardships this student has faced and builds empathy towards their situation. However, what really makes it strong is that they go beyond describing the difficulties they faced and explain the mental impact it had on them as a child: Shame prickled down my spine. I distanced myself from my heritage, rejecting the traditional panjabis worn on Eid and refusing the torkari we ate for dinner every day. 

The rejection of their culture presented at the beginning of the essay creates a nice juxtaposition with the student’s view in the latter half of the essay and helps demonstrate how they have matured. They use their experience interning as a way to delve into a change in their thought process about their culture and show how their passion for social justice began. Using this experience as a mechanism to explore their thoughts and feelings is an excellent example of how items that are included elsewhere on your application should be incorporated into your essay.

This essay prioritizes emotions and personal views over specific anecdotes. Although there are details and certain moments incorporated throughout to emphasize the author’s points, the main focus remains on the student and how they grapple with their culture and identity.  

One area for improvement is the conclusion. Although the forward-looking approach is a nice way to end an essay focused on social justice, it would be nice to include more details and imagery in the conclusion. How does the student want to help their community? What government position do they see themselves holding one day? 

A more impactful ending might look like the student walking into their office at the New York City Housing Authority in 15 years and looking at the plans to build a new development in the Bronx just blocks away from where the grew up that would provide quality housing to people in their Bangladeshi community. They would smile while thinking about how far they have come from that young kid who used to be ashamed of their culture. 

Essay Example #3: Why Medicine

I took my first trip to China to visit my cousin Anna in July of 2014. Distance had kept us apart, but when we were together, we fell into all of our old inside jokes and caught up on each other’s lives. Her sparkling personality and optimistic attitude always brought a smile to my face. This time, however, my heart broke when I saw the effects of her brain cancer; she had suffered from a stroke that paralyzed her left side. She was still herself in many ways, but I could see that the damage to her brain made things difficult for her. I stayed by her every day, providing the support she needed, whether assisting her with eating and drinking, reading to her, or just watching “Friends.” During my flight back home, sorrow and helplessness overwhelmed me. Would I ever see Anna again? Could I have done more to make Anna comfortable? I wished I could stay in China longer to care for her. As I deplaned, I wondered if I could transform my grief to help other children and teenagers in the US who suffered as Anna did.

The day after I got home, as jet lag dragged me awake a few minutes after midnight, I remembered hearing about the Family Reach Foundation (FRF) and its work with children going through treatments at the local hospital and their families. I began volunteering in the FRF’s Children’s Activity Room, where I play with children battling cancer. Volunteering has both made me appreciate my own health and also cherish the new relationships I build with the children and families. We play sports, make figures out of playdoh, and dress up. When they take on the roles of firefighters or fairies, we all get caught up in the game; for that time, they forget the sanitized, stark, impersonal walls of the pediatric oncology ward. Building close relationships with them and seeing them giggle and laugh is so rewarding — I love watching them grow and get better throughout their course of treatment.

Hearing from the parents about their children’s condition and seeing the children recover inspired me to consider medical research. To get started, I enrolled in a summer collegelevel course in Abnormal Psychology. There I worked with Catelyn, a rising college senior, on a data analysis project regarding Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Together, we examined the neurological etiology of DID by studying four fMRI and PET cases. I fell in love with gathering data and analyzing the results and was amazed by our final product: several stunning brain images showcasing the areas of hyper and hypoactivity in brains affected by DID. Desire quickly followed my amazement — I want to continue this project and study more brains. Their complexity, delicacy, and importance to every aspect of life fascinate me. Successfully completing this research project gave me a sense of hope; I know I am capable of participating in a large scale research project and potentially making a difference in someone else’s life through my research.

Anna’s diagnosis inspired me to begin volunteering at FRF; from there, I discovered my desire to help people further by contributing to medical research. As my research interest blossomed, I realized that it’s no coincidence that I want to study brains—after all, Anna suffered from brain cancer. Reflecting on these experiences this past year and a half, I see that everything I’ve done is connected. Sadly, a few months after I returned from China, Anna passed away. I am still sad, but as I run a toy truck across the floor and watch one of the little patients’ eyes light up, I imagine that she would be proud of my commitment to pursue medicine and study the brain.

This essay has a very strong emotional core that tugs at the heart strings and makes the reader feel invested. Writing about sickness can be difficult and doesn’t always belong in a personal statement, but in this case it works well because the focus is on how this student cared for her cousin and dealt with the grief and emotions surrounding her condition. Writing about the compassion she showed and the doubts and concerns that filled her mind keeps the focus on the author and her personality. 

This continues when she again discusses the activities she did with the kids at FRF and the personal reflection this experience allowed her to have. For example, she writes: Volunteering has both made me appreciate my own health and also cherish the new relationships I build with the children and families. We play sports, make figures out of playdoh, and dress up.

Concluding the essay with the sad story of her cousin’s passing brings the essay full circle and returns to the emotional heart of the piece to once again build a connection with the reader. However, it finishes on a hopeful note and demonstrates how this student has been able to turn a tragic experience into a source of lifelong inspiration. 

One thing this essay should be cognizant of is that personal statements should not read as summaries of your extracurricular resume. Although this essay doesn’t fully fall into that trap, it does describe two key extracurriculars the student participated in. However, the inclusion of such a strong emotional core running throughout the essay helps keep the focus on the student and her thoughts and feelings during these activities.

To avoid making this mistake, make sure you have a common thread running through your essay and the extracurriculars provide support to the story you are trying to tell, rather than crafting a story around your activities. And, as this essay does, make sure there is lots of personal reflection and feelings weaved throughout to focus attention to you rather than your extracurriculars. 

Essay Example #4: Love of Writing

“I want to be a writer.” This had been my answer to every youthful discussion with the adults in my life about what I would do when I grew up. As early as elementary school, I remember reading my writing pieces aloud to an audience at “Author of the Month” ceremonies. Bearing this goal in mind, and hoping to gain some valuable experience, I signed up for a journalism class during my freshman year. Despite my love for writing, I initially found myself uninterested in the subject and I struggled to enjoy the class. When I thought of writing, I imagined lyrical prose, profound poetry, and thrilling plot lines. Journalism required a laconic style and orderly structure, and I found my teacher’s assignments formulaic and dull. That class shook my confidence as a writer. I was uncertain if I should continue in it for the rest of my high school career.

Despite my misgivings, I decided that I couldn’t make a final decision on whether to quit journalism until I had some experience working for a paper outside of the classroom. The following year, I applied to be a staff reporter on our school newspaper. I hoped this would help me become more self-driven and creative, rather than merely writing articles that my teacher assigned. To my surprise, my time on staff was worlds away from what I experienced in the journalism class. Although I was unaccustomed to working in a fast-paced environment and initially found it burdensome to research and complete high-quality stories in a relatively short amount of time, I also found it exciting. I enjoyed learning more about topics and events on campus that I did not know much about; some of my stories that I covered in my first semester concerned a chess tournament, a food drive, and a Spanish immersion party. I relished in the freedom I had to explore and learn, and to write more independently than I could in a classroom.

Although I enjoyed many aspects of working for the paper immediately, reporting also pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I am a shy person, and speaking with people I did not know intimidated me. During my first interview, I met with the basketball coach to prepare for a story about the team’s winning streak. As I approached his office, I felt everything from my toes to my tongue freeze into a solid block, and I could hardly get out my opening questions. Fortunately, the coach was very kind and helped me through the conversation. Encouraged, I prepared for my next interview with more confidence. After a few weeks of practice, I even started to look forward to interviewing people on campus. That first journalism class may have bored me, but even if journalism in practice was challenging, it was anything but tedious.

Over the course of that year, I grew to love writing for our school newspaper. Reporting made me aware of my surroundings, and made me want to know more about current events on campus and in the town where I grew up. By interacting with people all over campus, I came to understand the breadth of individuals and communities that make up my high school. I felt far more connected to diverse parts of my school through my work as a journalist, and I realized that journalism gave me a window into seeing beyond my own experiences. The style of news writing may be different from what I used to think “writing” meant, but I learned that I can still derive exciting plots from events that may have gone unnoticed if not for my stories. I no longer struggle to approach others, and truly enjoy getting to know people and recognizing their accomplishments through my writing. Becoming a writer may be a difficult path, but it is as rewarding as I hoped when I was young.

This essay is clearly structured in a manner that makes it flow very nicely and contributes to its success. It starts with a quote to draw in the reader and show this student’s life-long passion for writing. Then it addresses the challenges of facing new, unfamiliar territory and how this student overcame it. Finally, it concludes by reflecting on this eye-opening experience and a nod to their younger self from the introduction. Having a well-thought out and sequential structure with clear transitions makes it extremely easy for the reader to follow along and take away the main idea.

Another positive aspect of the essay is the use of strong and expressive language. Sentences like “ When I thought of writing, I imagined lyrical prose, profound poetry, and thrilling plot lines ” stand out because of the intentional use of words like “lyrical”, “profound”, and “thrilling” to convey the student’s love of writing. The author also uses an active voice to capture the readers’ attention and keep us engaged. They rely on their language and diction to reveal details to the reader, for instance saying “ I felt everything from my toes to my tongue freeze into a solid block ” to describe feeling nervous.

This essay is already very strong, so there isn’t much that needs to be changed. One thing that could take the essay from great to outstanding would be to throw in more quotes, internal dialogue, and sensory descriptors.

It would be nice to see the nerves they felt interviewing the coach by including dialogue like “ Um…I want to interview you about…uh…”.  They could have shown their original distaste for journalism by narrating the thoughts running through their head. The fast-paced environment of their newspaper could have come to life with descriptions about the clacking of keyboards and the whirl of people running around laying out articles.

Essay Example #5: Starting a Fire

Was I no longer the beloved daughter of nature, whisperer of trees? Knee-high rubber boots, camouflage, bug spray—I wore the garb and perfume of a proud wild woman, yet there I was, hunched over the pathetic pile of stubborn sticks, utterly stumped, on the verge of tears. As a child, I had considered myself a kind of rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees, who could glide through tick-infested meadows and emerge Lyme-free. I knew the cracks of the earth like the scars on my own rough palms. Yet here I was, ten years later, incapable of performing the most fundamental outdoor task: I could not, for the life of me, start a fire. 

Furiously I rubbed the twigs together—rubbed and rubbed until shreds of skin flaked from my fingers. No smoke. The twigs were too young, too sticky-green; I tossed them away with a shower of curses, and began tearing through the underbrush in search of a more flammable collection. My efforts were fruitless. Livid, I bit a rejected twig, determined to prove that the forest had spurned me, offering only young, wet bones that would never burn. But the wood cracked like carrots between my teeth—old, brittle, and bitter. Roaring and nursing my aching palms, I retreated to the tent, where I sulked and awaited the jeers of my family. 

Rattling their empty worm cans and reeking of fat fish, my brother and cousins swaggered into the campsite. Immediately, they noticed the minor stick massacre by the fire pit and called to me, their deep voices already sharp with contempt. 

“Where’s the fire, Princess Clara?” they taunted. “Having some trouble?” They prodded me with the ends of the chewed branches and, with a few effortless scrapes of wood on rock, sparked a red and roaring flame. My face burned long after I left the fire pit. The camp stank of salmon and shame. 

In the tent, I pondered my failure. Was I so dainty? Was I that incapable? I thought of my hands, how calloused and capable they had been, how tender and smooth they had become. It had been years since I’d kneaded mud between my fingers; instead of scaling a white pine, I’d practiced scales on my piano, my hands softening into those of a musician—fleshy and sensitive. And I’d gotten glasses, having grown horrifically nearsighted; long nights of dim lighting and thick books had done this. I couldn’t remember the last time I had lain down on a hill, barefaced, and seen the stars without having to squint. Crawling along the edge of the tent, a spider confirmed my transformation—he disgusted me, and I felt an overwhelming urge to squash him. 

Yet, I realized I hadn’t really changed—I had only shifted perspective. I still eagerly explored new worlds, but through poems and prose rather than pastures and puddles. I’d grown to prefer the boom of a bass over that of a bullfrog, learned to coax a different kind of fire from wood, having developed a burn for writing rhymes and scrawling hypotheses. 

That night, I stayed up late with my journal and wrote about the spider I had decided not to kill. I had tolerated him just barely, only shrieking when he jumped—it helped to watch him decorate the corners of the tent with his delicate webs, knowing that he couldn’t start fires, either. When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.

This student is an excellent writer, which allows a simple story to be outstandingly compelling. The author articulates her points beautifully and creatively through her immense use of details and figurative language. Lines like “a rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees,” and “rubbed and rubbed until shreds of skin flaked from my fingers,” create vivid images that draw the reader in. 

The flowery and descriptive prose also contributes to the nice juxtaposition between the old Clara and the new Clara. The latter half of the essay contrasts elements of nature with music and writing to demonstrate how natural these interests are for her now. This sentence perfectly encapsulates the contrast she is trying to build: “It had been years since I’d kneaded mud between my fingers; instead of scaling a white pine, I’d practiced scales on my piano, my hands softening into those of a musician—fleshy and sensitive.”

In addition to being well-written, this essay is thematically cohesive. It begins with the simple introduction “Fire!” and ends with the following image: “When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.” This full-circle approach leaves readers satisfied and impressed.

There is very little this essay should change, however one thing to be cautious about is having an essay that is overly-descriptive. We know from the essay that this student likes to read and write, and depending on other elements of her application, it might make total sense to have such a flowery and ornate writing style. However, your personal statement needs to reflect your voice as well as your personality. If you would never use language like this in conversation or your writing, don’t put it in your personal statement. Make sure there is a balance between eloquence and your personal voice.

Essay Example #6: Dedicating a Track

“Getting beat is one thing – it’s part of competing – but I want no part in losing.” Coach Rob Stark’s motto never fails to remind me of his encouragement on early-morning bus rides to track meets around the state. I’ve always appreciated the phrase, but an experience last June helped me understand its more profound, universal meaning.

Stark, as we affectionately call him, has coached track at my high school for 25 years. His care, dedication, and emphasis on developing good character has left an enduring impact on me and hundreds of other students. Not only did he help me discover my talent and love for running, but he also taught me the importance of commitment and discipline and to approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running. When I learned a neighboring high school had dedicated their track to a longtime coach, I felt that Stark deserved similar honors.

Our school district’s board of education indicated they would only dedicate our track to Stark if I could demonstrate that he was extraordinary. I took charge and mobilized my teammates to distribute petitions, reach out to alumni, and compile statistics on the many team and individual champions Stark had coached over the years. We received astounding support, collecting almost 3,000 signatures and pages of endorsements from across the community. With help from my teammates, I presented this evidence to the board.

They didn’t bite. 

Most members argued that dedicating the track was a low priority. Knowing that we had to act quickly to convince them of its importance, I called a team meeting where we drafted a rebuttal for the next board meeting. To my surprise, they chose me to deliver it. I was far from the best public speaker in the group, and I felt nervous about going before the unsympathetic board again. However, at that second meeting, I discovered that I enjoy articulating and arguing for something that I’m passionate about.

Public speaking resembles a cross country race. Walking to the starting line, you have to trust your training and quell your last minute doubts. When the gun fires, you can’t think too hard about anything; your performance has to be instinctual, natural, even relaxed. At the next board meeting, the podium was my starting line. As I walked up to it, familiar butterflies fluttered in my stomach. Instead of the track stretching out in front of me, I faced the vast audience of teachers, board members, and my teammates. I felt my adrenaline build, and reassured myself: I’ve put in the work, my argument is powerful and sound. As the board president told me to introduce myself, I heard, “runners set” in the back of my mind. She finished speaking, and Bang! The brief silence was the gunshot for me to begin. 

The next few minutes blurred together, but when the dust settled, I knew from the board members’ expressions and the audience’s thunderous approval that I had run quite a race. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough; the board voted down our proposal. I was disappointed, but proud of myself, my team, and our collaboration off the track. We stood up for a cause we believed in, and I overcame my worries about being a leader. Although I discovered that changing the status quo through an elected body can be a painstakingly difficult process and requires perseverance, I learned that I enjoy the challenges this effort offers. Last month, one of the school board members joked that I had become a “regular” – I now often show up to meetings to advocate for a variety of causes, including better environmental practices in cafeterias and safer equipment for athletes.

Just as Stark taught me, I worked passionately to achieve my goal. I may have been beaten when I appealed to the board, but I certainly didn’t lose, and that would have made Stark proud.

This essay effectively conveys this student’s compassion for others, initiative, and determination—all great qualities to exemplify in a personal statement!

Although they rely on telling us a lot of what happened up until the board meeting, the use of running a race (their passion) as a metaphor for public speaking provides a lot of insight into the fear that this student overcame to work towards something bigger than themself. Comparing a podium to the starting line, the audience to the track, and silence to the gunshot is a nice way of demonstrating this student’s passion for cross country running without making that the focus of the story.

The essay does a nice job of coming full circle at the end by explaining what the quote from the beginning meant to them after this experience. Without explicitly saying “ I now know that what Stark actually meant is…” they rely on the strength of their argument above to make it obvious to the reader what it means to get beat but not lose. 

One of the biggest areas of improvement in the intro, however, is how the essay tells us Stark’s impact rather than showing us: His care, dedication, and emphasis on developing good character has left an enduring impact on me and hundreds of other students. Not only did he help me discover my talent and love for running, but he also taught me the importance of commitment and discipline and to approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running.

The writer could’ve helped us feel a stronger emotional connection to Stark if they had included examples of Stark’s qualities, rather than explicitly stating them. For example, they could’ve written something like: Stark was the kind of person who would give you gas money if you told him your parents couldn’t afford to pick you up from practice. And he actually did that—several times. At track meets, alumni regularly would come talk to him and tell him how he’d changed their lives. Before Stark, I was ambivalent about running and was on the JV team, but his encouragement motivated me to run longer and harder and eventually make varsity. Because of him, I approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running.

Essay Example #7: Body Image and Eating Disorders

I press the “discover” button on my Instagram app, hoping to find enticing pictures to satisfy my boredom. Scrolling through, I see funny videos and mouth-watering pictures of food. However, one image stops me immediately. A fit teenage girl with a “perfect body” relaxes in a bikini on a beach. Beneath it, I see a slew of flattering comments. I shake with disapproval over the image’s unrealistic quality. However, part of me still wants to have a body like hers so that others will make similar comments to me.

I would like to resolve a silent issue that harms many teenagers and adults: negative self image and low self-esteem in a world where social media shapes how people view each other. When people see the façades others wear to create an “ideal” image, they can develop poor thought patterns rooted in negative self-talk. The constant comparisons to “perfect” others make people feel small. In this new digital age, it is hard to distinguish authentic from artificial representations.

When I was 11, I developed anorexia nervosa. Though I was already thin, I wanted to be skinny like the models that I saw on the magazine covers on the grocery store stands. Little did I know that those models probably also suffered from disorders, and that photoshop erased their flaws. I preferred being underweight to being healthy. No matter how little I ate or how thin I was, I always thought that I was too fat. I became obsessed with the number on the scale and would try to eat the least that I could without my parents urging me to take more. Fortunately, I stopped engaging in anorexic behaviors before middle school. However, my underlying mental habits did not change. The images that had provoked my disorder in the first place were still a constant presence in my life.

By age 15, I was in recovery from anorexia, but suffered from depression. While I used to only compare myself to models, the growth of social media meant I also compared myself to my friends and acquaintances. I felt left out when I saw my friends’ excitement about lake trips they had taken without me. As I scrolled past endless photos of my flawless, thin classmates with hundreds of likes and affirming comments, I felt my jealousy spiral. I wanted to be admired and loved by other people too. However, I felt that I could never be enough. I began to hate the way that I looked, and felt nothing in my life was good enough. I wanted to be called “perfect” and “body goals,” so I tried to only post at certain times of day to maximize my “likes.” When that didn’t work, I started to feel too anxious to post anything at all.  

Body image insecurities and social media comparisons affect thousands of people – men, women, children, and adults – every day. I am lucky – after a few months of my destructive social media habits, I came across a video that pointed out the illusory nature of social media; many Instagram posts only show off good things while people hide their flaws. I began going to therapy, and recovered from my depression. To address the problem of self-image and social media, we can all focus on what matters on the inside and not what is on the surface. As an effort to become healthy internally, I started a club at my school to promote clean eating and radiating beauty from within. It has helped me grow in my confidence, and today I’m not afraid to show others my struggles by sharing my experience with eating disorders. Someday, I hope to make this club a national organization to help teenagers and adults across the country. I support the idea of body positivity and embracing difference, not “perfection.” After all, how can we be ourselves if we all look the same?

This essay covers the difficult topics of eating disorders and mental health. If you’re thinking about covering similar topics in your essay, we recommend reading our post Should You Talk About Mental Health in College Essays?

The short answer is that, yes, you can talk about mental health, but it can be risky. If you do go that route, it’s important to focus on what you learned from the experience.

The strength of this essay is the student’s vulnerability, in excerpts such as this: I wanted to be admired and loved by other people too. However, I felt that I could never be enough. I began to hate the way that I looked, and felt nothing in my life was good enough. I wanted to be called “perfect” and “body goals,” so I tried to only post at certain times of day to maximize my “likes.”

The student goes on to share how they recovered from their depression through an eye-opening video and therapy sessions, and they’re now helping others find their self-worth as well. It’s great that this essay looks towards the future and shares the writer’s goals of making their club a national organization; we can see their ambition and compassion.

The main weakness of this essay is that it doesn’t focus enough on their recovery process, which is arguably the most important part. They could’ve told us more about the video they watched or the process of starting their club and the interactions they’ve had with other members. Especially when sharing such a vulnerable topic, there should be vulnerability in the recovery process too. That way, the reader can fully appreciate all that this student has overcome.

Essay Example #8: Becoming a Coach

”Advanced females ages 13 to 14 please proceed to staging with your coaches at this time.” Skittering around the room, eyes wide and pleading, I frantically explained my situation to nearby coaches. The seconds ticked away in my head; every polite refusal increased my desperation.

Despair weighed me down. I sank to my knees as a stream of competitors, coaches, and officials flowed around me. My dojang had no coach, and the tournament rules prohibited me from competing without one.

Although I wanted to remain strong, doubts began to cloud my mind. I could not help wondering: what was the point of perfecting my skills if I would never even compete? The other members of my team, who had found coaches minutes earlier, attempted to comfort me, but I barely heard their words. They couldn’t understand my despair at being left on the outside, and I never wanted them to understand.

Since my first lesson 12 years ago, the members of my dojang have become family. I have watched them grow up, finding my own happiness in theirs. Together, we have honed our kicks, blocks, and strikes. We have pushed one another to aim higher and become better martial artists. Although my dojang had searched for a reliable coach for years, we had not found one. When we attended competitions in the past, my teammates and I had always gotten lucky and found a sympathetic coach. Now, I knew this practice was unsustainable. It would devastate me to see the other members of my dojang in my situation, unable to compete and losing hope as a result. My dojang needed a coach, and I decided it was up to me to find one.

I first approached the adults in the dojang – both instructors and members’ parents. However, these attempts only reacquainted me with polite refusals. Everyone I asked told me they couldn’t devote multiple weekends per year to competitions. I soon realized that I would have become the coach myself.

At first, the inner workings of tournaments were a mystery to me. To prepare myself for success as a coach, I spent the next year as an official and took coaching classes on the side. I learned everything from motivational strategies to technical, behind-the-scenes components of Taekwondo competitions. Though I emerged with new knowledge and confidence in my capabilities, others did not share this faith.

Parents threw me disbelieving looks when they learned that their children’s coach was only a child herself. My self-confidence was my armor, deflecting their surly glances. Every armor is penetrable, however, and as the relentless barrage of doubts pounded my resilience, it began to wear down. I grew unsure of my own abilities.

Despite the attack, I refused to give up. When I saw the shining eyes of the youngest students preparing for their first competition, I knew I couldn’t let them down. To quit would be to set them up to be barred from competing like I was. The knowledge that I could solve my dojang’s longtime problem motivated me to overcome my apprehension.

Now that my dojang flourishes at competitions, the attacks on me have weakened, but not ended. I may never win the approval of every parent; at times, I am still tormented by doubts, but I find solace in the fact that members of my dojang now only worry about competing to the best of their abilities.

Now, as I arrive at a tournament with my students, I close my eyes and remember the past. I visualize the frantic search for a coach and the chaos amongst my teammates as we competed with one another to find coaches before the staging calls for our respective divisions. I open my eyes to the exact opposite scene. Lacking a coach hurt my ability to compete, but I am proud to know that no member of my dojang will have to face that problem again.

This essay begins with an in-the-moment narrative that really illustrates the chaos of looking for a coach last-minute. We feel the writer’s emotions, particularly her dejectedness, at not being able to compete. Starting an essay in media res  is a great way to capture the attention of your readers and build anticipation for what comes next.

Through this essay, we can see how gutsy and determined the student is in deciding to become a coach themselves. She shows us these characteristics through their actions, rather than explicitly telling us: To prepare myself for success as a coach, I spent the next year as an official and took coaching classes on the side.  Also, by discussing the opposition she faced and how it affected her, the student is open and vulnerable about the reality of the situation.

The essay comes full circle as the author recalls the frantic situations in seeking out a coach, but this is no longer a concern for them and their team. Overall, this essay is extremely effective in painting this student as mature, bold, and compassionate.

The biggest thing this essay needs to work on is showing not telling. Throughout the essay, the student tells us that she “emerged with new knowledge and confidence,” she “grew unsure of her own abilities,” and she “refused to give up”. What we really want to know is what this looks like.

Instead of saying she “emerged with new knowledge and confidence” she should have shared how she taught a new move to a fellow team-member without hesitation. Rather than telling us she “grew unsure of her own abilities” she should have shown what that looked like by including her internal dialogue and rhetorical questions that ran through her mind. She could have demonstrated what “refusing to give up” looks like by explaining how she kept learning coaching techniques on her own, turned to a mentor for advice, or devised a plan to win over the trust of parents. 

Essay Example #9: Eritrea

No one knows where Eritrea is.

On the first day of school, for the past nine years, I would pensively stand in front of a class, a teacher, a stranger  waiting for the inevitable question: Where are you from?

I smile politely, my dimples accentuating my ambiguous features. “Eritrea,” I answer promptly and proudly. But I  am always prepared. Before their expression can deepen into confusion, ready to ask “where is that,” I elaborate,  perhaps with a fleeting hint of exasperation, “East Africa, near Ethiopia.”

Sometimes, I single out the key-shaped hermit nation on a map, stunning teachers who have “never had a student  from there!” Grinning, I resist the urge to remark, “You didn’t even know it existed until two minutes ago!”

Eritrea is to the East of Ethiopia, its arid coastline clutches the lucrative Red Sea. Battle scars litter the ancient  streets – the colonial Italian architecture lathered with bullet holes, the mosques mangled with mortar shells.  Originally part of the world’s first Christian kingdom, Eritrea passed through the hands of colonial Italy, Britain, and  Ethiopia for over a century, until a bloody thirty year war of Independence liberated us.

But these are facts that anyone can know with a quick Google search. These are facts that I have memorised and compounded, first from my Grandmother and now from pristine books  borrowed from the library.

No historical narrative, however, can adequately capture what Eritrea is.  No one knows the aroma of bushels of potatoes, tomatoes, and garlic – still covered in dirt – that leads you to the open-air market. No one knows the poignant scent of spices, arranged in orange piles reminiscent of compacted  dunes.  No one knows how to haggle stubborn herders for sheep and roosters for Christmas celebrations as deliberately as my mother. No one can replicate the perfect balance of spices in dorho and tsebhi as well as my grandmother,  her gnarly hands stirring the pot with ancient precision (chastising my clumsy knife work with the potatoes).  It’s impossible to learn when the injera is ready – the exact moment you have to lift the lid of the mogogo. Do it too  early (or too late) and the flatbread becomes mangled and gross. It is a sixth sense passed through matriarchal  lineages.

There are no sources that catalogue the scent of incense that wafts through the sunlit porch on St. Michael’s; no  films that can capture the luminescence of hundreds of flaming bonfires that fluoresce the sidewalks on Kudus  Yohannes, as excited children chant Ge’ez proverbs whose origin has been lost to time.  You cannot learn the familiarity of walking beneath the towering Gothic figure of the Enda Mariam Cathedral, the  crowds undulating to the ringing of the archaic bells.  I have memorized the sound of the rains hounding the metal roof during kiremti , the heat of the sun pounding  against the Toyota’s window as we sped down towards Ghinda , the opulent brilliance of the stars twinkling in a  sky untainted by light pollution, the scent of warm rolls of bani wafting through the streets at precisely 6 o’clock each day…

I fill my flimsy sketchbook with pictures from my memory. My hand remembers the shapes of the hibiscus drifting  in the wind, the outline of my grandmother (affectionately nicknamed a’abaye ) leaning over the garden, the bizarre architecture of the Fiat Tagliero .  I dice the vegetables with movements handed down from generations. My nose remembers the scent of frying garlic, the sourness of the warm tayta , the sharpness of the mit’mt’a …

This knowledge is intrinsic.  “I am Eritrean,” I repeat. “I am proud.”  Within me is an encyclopedia of history, culture, and idealism.

Eritrea is the coffee made from scratch, the spices drying in the sun, the priests and nuns. Eritrea is wise, filled with ambition, and unseen potential.  Eritrea isn’t a place, it’s an identity.

This is an exceptional essay that provides a window into this student’s culture that really makes their love for their country and heritage leap off the page. The sheer level of details and sensory descriptors this student is able to fit in this space makes the essay stand out. From the smells, to the traditions, sounds, and sights, the author encapsulates all the glory of Eritrea for the reader. 

The vivid images this student is able to create for the reader, whether it is having the tedious conversation with every teacher or cooking in their grandmother’s kitchen, transports us into the story and makes us feel like we are there in the moment with the student. This is a prime example of an essay that shows , not tells.

Besides the amazing imagery, the use of shorter paragraphs also contributes to how engaging this essay is. Employing this tactic helps break up the text to make it more readable and it isolates ideas so they stick out more than if they were enveloped in a large paragraph.

Overall, this is a really strong essay that brings to life this student’s heritage through its use of vivid imagery. This essay exemplifies what it means to show not tell in your writing, and it is a great example of how you can write an intimate personal statement without making yourself the primary focus of your essay. 

There is very little this essay should improve upon, but one thing the student might consider would be to inject more personal reflection into their response. Although we can clearly take away their deep love and passion for their homeland and culture, the essay would be a bit more personal if they included the emotions and feelings they associate with the various aspects of Eritrea. For example, the way their heart swells with pride when their grandmother praises their ability to cook a flatbread or the feeling of serenity when they hear the bells ring out from the cathedral. Including personal details as well as sensory ones would create a wonderful balance of imagery and reflection.

Essay Example #10: Journaling

Flipping past dozens of colorful entries in my journal, I arrive at the final blank sheet. I press my pen lightly to the page, barely scratching its surface to create a series of loops stringing together into sentences. Emotions spill out, and with their release, I feel lightness in my chest. The stream of thoughts slows as I reach the bottom of the page, and I gently close the cover of the worn book: another journal finished.

I add the journal to the stack of eleven books on my nightstand. Struck by the bittersweet sensation of closing a chapter of my life, I grab the notebook at the bottom of the pile to reminisce.

“I want to make a flying mushen to fly in space and your in it” – October 2008

Pulling back the cover of my first Tinkerbell-themed diary, the prompt “My Hopes and Dreams” captures my attention. Though “machine” is misspelled in my scribbled response, I see the beginnings of my past obsession with outer space. At the age of five, I tore through novels about the solar system, experimented with rockets built from plastic straws, and rented Space Shuttle films from Blockbuster to satisfy my curiosities. While I chased down answers to questions as limitless as the universe, I fell in love with learning. Eight journals later, the same relentless curiosity brought me to an airplane descending on San Francisco Bay.

“I wish I had infinite sunsets” – July 2019

I reach for the charcoal notepad near the top of the pile and open to the first page: my flight to the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes. While I was excited to explore bioengineering, anxiety twisted in my stomach as I imagined my destination, unsure of whether I could overcome my shyness and connect with others.

With each new conversation, the sweat on my palms became less noticeable, and I met students from 23 different countries. Many of the moments where I challenged myself socially revolved around the third story deck of the Jerry house. A strange medley of English, Arabic, and Mandarin filled the summer air as my friends and I gathered there every evening, and dialogues at sunset soon became moments of bliss. In our conversations about cultural differences, the possibility of an afterlife, and the plausibility of far-fetched conspiracy theories, I learned to voice my opinion. As I was introduced to different viewpoints, these moments challenged my understanding of the world around me. In my final entries from California, I find excitement to learn from others and increased confidence, a tool that would later allow me to impact my community.

“The beauty in a tower of cans” – June 2020

Returning my gaze to the stack of journals, I stretch to take the floral-patterned book sitting on top. I flip through, eventually finding the beginnings of the organization I created during the outbreak of COVID-19. Since then, Door-to-Door Deliveries has woven its way through my entries and into reality, allowing me to aid high-risk populations through free grocery delivery.

With the confidence I gained the summer before, I took action when seeing others in need rather than letting my shyness hold me back. I reached out to local churches and senior centers to spread word of our services and interacted with customers through our website and social media pages. To further expand our impact, we held two food drives, and I mustered the courage to ask for donations door-to-door. In a tower of canned donations, I saw the value of reaching out to help others and realized my own potential to impact the world around me.

I delicately close the journal in my hands, smiling softly as the memories reappear, one after another. Reaching under my bed, I pull out a fresh notebook and open to its first sheet. I lightly press my pen to the page, “And so begins the next chapter…”

The structuring of this essay makes it easy and enjoyable to read. The student effectively organizes their various life experiences around their tower of journals, which centers the reader and makes the different stories easy to follow. Additionally, the student engages quotes from their journals—and unique formatting of the quotes—to signal that they are moving in time and show us which memory we should follow them to.

Thematically, the student uses the idea of shyness to connect the different memories they draw out of their journals. As the student describes their experiences overcoming shyness at the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes and Door-to-Door Deliveries, this essay can be read as an Overcoming Obstacles essay.

At the end of this essay, readers are fully convinced that this student is dedicated (they have committed to journaling every day), thoughtful (journaling is a thoughtful process and, in the essay, the student reflects thoughtfully on the past), and motivated (they flew across the country for a summer program and started a business). These are definitely qualities admissions officers are looking for in applicants!

Although this essay is already exceptionally strong as it’s written, the first journal entry feels out of place compared to the other two entries that discuss the author’s shyness and determination. It works well for the essay to have an entry from when the student was younger to add some humor (with misspelled words) and nostalgia, but if the student had either connected the quote they chose to the idea of overcoming a fear present in the other two anecdotes or if they had picked a different quote all together related to their shyness, it would have made the entire essay feel more cohesive.

Where to Get Your Personal Statement Edited

Do you want feedback on your personal statement? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

Next Step: Supplemental Essays

Essay Guides for Each School

How to Write a Stellar Extracurricular Activity College Essay

4 Tips for Writing a Diversity College Essay

How to Write the “Why This College” Essay

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

what to write about for personal essay

How to Write a Personal Essay: Topics, Structure, & Examples

Even though a personal essay seems like something you might need to write only for your college application, people who graduated a while ago are asked to write it. Therefore, if you are a student, you might even want to save this article for later!

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A personal essay is a first-person narrative that describes a writer’s life experience and its influence . You may think that writing such an essay is easy-peasy. There is so much freedom regarding the topic, isn’t it? However, soon enough, you realize that it’s more of a curse than a blessing. Custom-writing.org experts understand it’s super confusing as you don’t know where to start. But this simple yet comprehensive guide on how to write a personal essay is here to help you out!

❔ What Is a Personal Essay?

🚦 how do you start a personal essay.

  • 🙋 Essay Topics
  • 📑 Personal Essay Types

🔗 References

A personal essay is just what you think it is: a piece of writing that presents some experience from your perspective . It doesn’t need to be extraordinary, but it has to show how you changed thanks to the experience you got. Such an essay also creates a feeling of intimacy.

A typical personal essay consists of a 1-paragraph introduction, a 3-paragraph body, and a 1-paragraph conclusion.

Long story short, it is a first-person narrative that describes a writer’s life experience and its influence. This type of essay allows you to use any writing style you want and usually has an informal tone. It helps the reader to gain a connection with you.

There is a wide variety of topic options: you may want your writing to be inspiring or, on the contrary, warning so that others could avoid your mistakes. However, the most important thing is sticking to the general guidelines.

The most popular personal essay outline would consist of three parts:

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  • Start with an introduction . It should include only one paragraph
  • Continue with the main body . It should be at least three paragraphs long
  • Write a conclusion . Don’t make it too long, one paragraph is enough

Let’s also note that typically you would write a personal essay as a part of the college application process. However, it’s not rare that this type of writing can help employers understand if the candidate meets the job requirements.

👀 Personal Essay Examples

To give you some inspiration, we included a list of excellent examples ranked as the most successful personal essays by The New York Times , The New Yorker , and America’s top universities.

The first and the most important thing you need to do when you are about to write a personal essay is to determine its purpose . When you know your audience, it becomes easier to find an appropriate topic for your writing. After that, you can draft an outline, which is the foundation of your future essay!

🙋 Personal Essay Topics

By now, you might have understood the idea of the personal statement. Your goal is to show off your personality from the good side. However, there is an endless amount of options on how to do it. The most popular way is to tell the story from the past. It can be either something you achieved or an obstacle you managed to overcome. Either way, it needs to highlight the lesson you learned.

Next, you can make your writing even more inspirational by revealing your future goals, showing that you have potential and determination. But remember to focus on things that the whole community can benefit from because just getting rich is a lame objective!

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Last but not least, be yourself and use creativity! Show your potential employers and college administration how much you can contribute to their development. You should convince them that it can be a mutually beneficial experience.

Here, we prepared some of the best personal essay topics for you:

  • How did the most significant loss of your life make you stronger?
  • Who would you like to switch live with, and why?
  • The time when you think you made the wrong choice.
  • How would you spend a million dollars?
  • Is there anything you have never shared with anyone?
  • A special friend that influenced your life.
  • One morning that has changed your life forever.
  • The time when you had to deliver devastating news.
  • A near-death experience and how it felt.
  • Describe the longest minute of your life.
  • Something you can’t resist and keep doing.
  • A meaningful event that is hard to explain.
  • Would you start a charity foundation if you could?
  • The most precious gift you ever received.
  • The wrong choice you never regret making.
  • A secret place that gives you peace of mind.
  • Something you’ve seen and wish you could forget.
  • A hidden talent no one knows you have.
  • A day when you felt like the unluckiest person in the world.
  • The most beautiful thing you’ve seen.
  • A skill you have that robots will never learn to do.
  • What is the one thing you want to change about yourself?
  • Where would you like to live?
  • The most important discovery you made.
  • What if you were a teacher?
  • The most fantastic movie scene that changed the world.
  • What would you like to change in schools?
  • Describe something you love about yourself and why.
  • Where do you see yourself in ten years?
  • Time with your family that you cherish the most.
  • The achievement you’re proud of.
  • Describe the time when you learned something from a child.
  • The words that made you hopeful again.
  • Write about the time when you were at the bottom.
  • A stranger that had an influence on you.
  • What would you do if you could go back in time?
  • Would you like to redo something in your life, would you?
  • The superpower you wish you had.
  • The person you would be grateful to at the end of your life.
  • The time when you avoided danger.
  • Family celebrations, and what do they mean to you?
  • Write about the time when you saw your mother crying.
  • Did you disappoint anyone?
  • Is there anyone you are not fond of?
  • A place that you try to keep away from.
  • How did you overcome your fear?
  • The most challenging choice you had to make.
  • The time you felt like an outsider.
  • When did you realize you’re not a child anymore?
  • Why does your hobby interest you?

📑 Personal Essay about Yourself: Main Types

Personal essays on hobbies.

Writing an essay on a hobby is not as easy as it seems. Take a look at any hobbies essay sample, and you will be likely to see a widespread thing: these essays can be boring, which is an easy way to get a low grade.

Below are some common problems with hobby essays (and their solutions).

No matter what, make sure the focus is on you. When you are writing about a personal hobby, you should aim to make yourself the star by essentially telling your reader about yourself through an interest of yours.

Get an originally-written paper according to your instructions!

Life-changing Experience Essays

The purpose of a life-changing experience essay is obvious: simply put, you need to tell the reader about a specific event that changed your life . Note that it also works for a closely related type of essay, the personal narrative essay .

Three essential elements should be clear to readers of any life-changing experience writing:

  • The reader should understand the event — both what happened and how it made you feel at the time.
  • The reader should understand what the event changed about you. It is best to tell the reader about your condition before the event and after it. However, this depends on the essay’s length.
  • The reader should understand how you feel about the event now.

If you need personal experience essay ideas, focus on events that you can write about to meet the three above criteria. If your assignment is very free form, take a look at a list of prompts for personal writing.

Education Essays

As a student, you will be asked to write an education essay eventually. It is important to remember that personal writing is about setting yourself apart. Tell the reader what made your educational experience unique.

How can you make your educational essay stand out? First, go beyond generic stories of overcoming an academic weakness by avoiding essays that take the following form: “I was terrible at subject X, but through hard work, I became quite excellent at subject X!”

Instead, focus on an assignment or subject that captured your attention — the more unusual the situation, the better. Use storytelling to enhance your essay. The best education essays can be essays about life-changing education experiences; for example, many great educational stories focus on the teacher or class that changed the author’s life.

Biographies

Writing a short biography is easy. All you need to do is to use a very basic biography template. But first: remember that you need to keep the attention of your reader. Tell a good story about yourself ! Learning how to write a biography is about learning how to tell a good story .

A Biography Template

A solid biography is a solid story. For this reason, the biography template is essentially the template of a well-crafted story, which is typically divided into three specific parts:

  • Establish the characters. In this case, these are people that play important roles in your life. For example, if your autobiographical essay includes family members, you need to describe them briefly before anything exciting happens.
  • Build tension. If you write about your family, you can describe a problem that exists there.
  • Describe a resolution. Not that it is not the same thing as a problem being solved. For example, when a loved one dies, there is no solution to that problem. Instead, you grieve and learn to live without that person in your life.

If your biography manages to achieve all three of these elements, you will indeed have one of the class’s strongest essays.

Personal Statements

The last type of personal writing is probably the most important. When faced with their first college application, most students go to the web to find a personal statement format.

If you learn from examples, the best thing to do is check out several strong personal statement examples. As mentioned in the second section, many universities post essays from accepted students. Or perhaps you should read a breakdown of portions of a personal statement. The point is, read what others have done for inspiration.

Sometimes colleges offer personal statement templates. However, they often use freeform personal statements to identify focused, articulate students. Thus, the top tip for these is to write a clear thesis statement . A thesis statement for an essay without a prompt should be so clear that it sounds like it addresses a writing prompt. When there is no prompt, this is the time you should specifically use the standard 5-paragraph essay . Your discipline will impress your readers, which is exactly what you want.

However, an open-ended essay prompt is sometimes just too much to handle in time, but that is alright. It happens to everyone, and our writing experts can help, luckily. You can work with one of their expert writers or editors to create the perfect personal essay.

  • Personal Essays – Georgia Tech Admissions
  • The Personal Statement // Purdue Writing Lab
  • Application Essays – UNC Writing Center
  • How To: Write Your Personal Essay
  • Essays | Penn Admissions
  • Writing the Personal Statement | Berkeley Graduate Division
  • Personal Insight Questions – UCLA Undergraduate Admission
  • Essay Topics | Yale College Undergraduate Admissions
  • Complete Your Application: Indiana University Bloomington
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At 82, I am assuredly a ‘mature student.’ However, I wanted to thank you for being the most helpful resource I have discovered on ‘google’ to look at how I can consider writing an autobiography to perhaps leave my children.

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Telling the Story of Yourself: 6 Steps to Writing Personal Narratives

Jennifer Xue

Jennifer Xue

writing personal narratives

Table of Contents

Why do we write personal narratives, 6 guidelines for writing personal narrative essays, inspiring personal narratives, examples of personal narrative essays, tell your story.

First off, you might be wondering: what is a personal narrative? In short, personal narratives are stories we tell about ourselves that focus on our growth, lessons learned, and reflections on our experiences.

From stories about inspirational figures we heard as children to any essay, article, or exercise where we're asked to express opinions on a situation, thing, or individual—personal narratives are everywhere.

According to Psychology Today, personal narratives allow authors to feel and release pains, while savouring moments of strength and resilience. Such emotions provide an avenue for both authors and readers to connect while supporting healing in the process.

That all sounds great. But when it comes to putting the words down on paper, we often end up with a list of experiences and no real structure to tie them together.

In this article, we'll discuss what a personal narrative essay is further, learn the 6 steps to writing one, and look at some examples of great personal narratives.

As readers, we're fascinated by memoirs, autobiographies, and long-form personal narrative articles, as they provide a glimpse into the authors' thought processes, ideas, and feelings. But you don't have to be writing your whole life story to create a personal narrative.

You might be a student writing an admissions essay , or be trying to tell your professional story in a cover letter. Regardless of your purpose, your narrative will focus on personal growth, reflections, and lessons.

Personal narratives help us connect with other people's stories due to their easy-to-digest format and because humans are empathising creatures.

We can better understand how others feel and think when we were told stories that allow us to see the world from their perspectives. The author's "I think" and "I feel" instantaneously become ours, as the brain doesn't know whether what we read is real or imaginary.

In her best-selling book Wired for Story, Lisa Cron explains that the human brain craves tales as it's hard-wired through evolution to learn what happens next. Since the brain doesn't know whether what you are reading is actual or not, we can register the moral of the story cognitively and affectively.

In academia, a narrative essay tells a story which is experiential, anecdotal, or personal. It allows the author to creatively express their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and opinions. Its length can be anywhere from a few paragraphs to hundreds of pages.

Outside of academia, personal narratives are known as a form of journalism or non-fiction works called "narrative journalism." Even highly prestigious publications like the New York Times and Time magazine have sections dedicated to personal narratives. The New Yorke is a magazine dedicated solely to this genre.

The New York Times holds personal narrative essay contests. The winners are selected because they:

had a clear narrative arc with a conflict and a main character who changed in some way. They artfully balanced the action of the story with reflection on what it meant to the writer. They took risks, like including dialogue or playing with punctuation, sentence structure and word choice to develop a strong voice. And, perhaps most important, they focused on a specific moment or theme – a conversation, a trip to the mall, a speech tournament, a hospital visit – instead of trying to sum up the writer’s life in 600 words.

In a nutshell, a personal narrative can cover any reflective and contemplative subject with a strong voice and a unique perspective, including uncommon private values. It's written in first person and the story encompasses a specific moment in time worthy of a discussion.

Writing a personal narrative essay involves both objectivity and subjectivity. You'll need to be objective enough to recognise the importance of an event or a situation to explore and write about. On the other hand, you must be subjective enough to inject private thoughts and feelings to make your point.

With personal narratives, you are both the muse and the creator – you have control over how your story is told. However, like any other type of writing, it comes with guidelines.

1. Write Your Personal Narrative as a Story

As a story, it must include an introduction, characters, plot, setting, climax, anti-climax (if any), and conclusion. Another way to approach it is by structuring it with an introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction should set the tone, while the body should focus on the key point(s) you want to get across. The conclusion can tell the reader what lessons you have learned from the story you've just told.

2. Give Your Personal Narrative a Clear Purpose

Your narrative essay should reflect your unique perspective on life. This is a lot harder than it sounds. You need to establish your perspective, the key things you want your reader to take away, and your tone of voice. It's a good idea to have a set purpose in mind for the narrative before you start writing.

Let's say you want to write about how you manage depression without taking any medicine. This could go in any number of ways, but isolating a purpose will help you focus your writing and choose which stories to tell. Are you advocating for a holistic approach, or do you want to describe your emotional experience for people thinking of trying it?

Having this focus will allow you to put your own unique take on what you did (and didn't do, if applicable), what changed you, and the lessons learned along the way.

3. Show, Don't Tell

It's a narration, so the narrative should show readers what happened, instead of telling them. As well as being a storyteller, the author should take part as one of the characters. Keep this in mind when writing, as the way you shape your perspective can have a big impact on how your reader sees your overarching plot. Don't slip into just explaining everything that happened because it happened to you. Show your reader with action.

dialogue tags

You can check for instances of telling rather than showing with ProWritingAid. For example, instead of:

"You never let me do anything!" I cried disdainfully.
"You never let me do anything!" To this day, my mother swears that the glare I levelled at her as I spat those words out could have soured milk.

Using ProWritingAid will help you find these instances in your manuscript and edit them without spending hours trawling through your work yourself.

4. Use "I," But Don't Overuse It

You, the author, take ownership of the story, so the first person pronoun "I" is used throughout. However, you shouldn't overuse it, as it'd make it sound too self-centred and redundant.

ProWritingAid can also help you here – the Style Report will tell you if you've started too many sentences with "I", and show you how to introduce more variation in your writing.

5. Pay Attention to Tenses

Tense is key to understanding. Personal narratives mostly tell the story of events that happened in the past, so many authors choose to use the past tense. This helps separate out your current, narrating voice and your past self who you are narrating. If you're writing in the present tense, make sure that you keep it consistent throughout.

tenses in narratives

6. Make Your Conclusion Satisfying

Satisfy your readers by giving them an unforgettable closing scene. The body of the narration should build up the plot to climax. This doesn't have to be something incredible or shocking, just something that helps give an interesting take on your story.

The takeaways or the lessons learned should be written without lecturing. Whenever possible, continue to show rather than tell. Don't say what you learned, narrate what you do differently now. This will help the moral of your story shine through without being too preachy.

GoodReads is a great starting point for selecting read-worthy personal narrative books. Here are five of my favourites.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen, the author of 386 books, wrote this poetic story about a daughter and her father who went owling. Instead of learning about owls, Yolen invites readers to contemplate the meaning of gentleness and hope.

Night by Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel was a teenager when he and his family were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. This Holocaust memoir has a strong message that such horrific events should never be repeated.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

This classic is a must-read by young and old alike. It's a remarkable diary by a 13-year-old Jewish girl who hid inside a secret annexe of an old building during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in 1942.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

This is a personal narrative written by a brave author renowned for her clarity, passion, and honesty. Didion shares how in December 2003, she lost her husband of 40 years to a massive heart attack and dealt with the acute illness of her only daughter. She speaks about grief, memories, illness, and hope.

Educated by Tara Westover

Author Tara Westover was raised by survivalist parents. She didn't go to school until 17 years of age, which later took her to Harvard and Cambridge. It's a story about the struggle for quest for knowledge and self-reinvention.

Narrative and personal narrative journalism are gaining more popularity these days. You can find distinguished personal narratives all over the web.

Curating the best of the best of personal narratives and narrative essays from all over the web. Some are award-winning articles.

Narratively

Long-form writing to celebrate humanity through storytelling. It publishes personal narrative essays written to provoke, inspire, and reflect, touching lesser-known and overlooked subjects.

Narrative Magazine

It publishes non,fiction narratives, poetry, and fiction. Among its contributors is Frank Conroy, the author of Stop-Time , a memoir that has never been out of print since 1967.

Thought Catalog

Aimed at Generation Z, it publishes personal narrative essays on self-improvement, family, friendship, romance, and others.

Personal narratives will continue to be popular as our brains are wired for stories. We love reading about others and telling stories of ourselves, as they bring satisfaction and a better understanding of the world around us.

Personal narratives make us better humans. Enjoy telling yours!

what to write about for personal essay

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Love writing? ProWritingAid will help you improve the style, strength, and clarity of your stories.

Jennifer Xue is an award-winning e-book author with 2,500+ articles and 100+ e-books/reports published under her belt. She also taught 50+ college-level essay and paper writing classes. Her byline has appeared in Forbes, Fortune, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Business.com, Business2Community, Addicted2Success, Good Men Project, and others. Her blog is JenniferXue.com. Follow her on Twitter @jenxuewrites].

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Writing the Personal Statement

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This handout provides information about writing personal statements for academic and other positions.

The personal statement, your opportunity to sell yourself in the application process, generally falls into one of two categories:

1. The general, comprehensive personal statement:

This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms.

2. The response to very specific questions:

Often, business and graduate school applications ask specific questions, and your statement should respond specifically to the question being asked. Some business school applications favor multiple essays, typically asking for responses to three or more questions.

Questions to ask yourself before you write:

  • What's special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
  • What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
  • When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
  • How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
  • If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has that work contributed to your growth?
  • What are your career goals?
  • Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre LSAT or GRE scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)?
  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?
  • What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
  • What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?
  • Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school—and more successful and effective in the profession or field than other applicants?
  • What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?

General advice

Answer the questions that are asked

  • If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar.
  • Don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the question being asked.

Tell a story

  • Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.

Be specific

  • Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.

Find an angle

  • If you're like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or a "hook" is vital.

Concentrate on your opening paragraph

  • The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader's attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.

Tell what you know

  • The middle section of your essay might detail your interest and experience in your particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the field. Too many people graduate with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they hope to enter. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it. Since you will have to select what you include in your statement, the choices you make are often an indication of your judgment.

Don't include some subjects

  • There are certain things best left out of personal statements. For example, references to experiences or accomplishments in high school or earlier are generally not a good idea. Don't mention potentially controversial subjects (for example, controversial religious or political issues).

Do some research, if needed

  • If a school wants to know why you're applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. If the school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this might be a factor to mention.

Write well and correctly

  • Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.

Avoid clichés

  • A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements.

For more information on writing a personal statement, see the personal statement vidcast .

  • Our Mission

The Lasting Value of the Personal Essay

This writing form has a value that goes beyond the college application as it nurtures self-reflection and inspires creativity.

Teenager working on a laptop while looking out a window

I still remember my own personal essay that I wrote decades ago during my college admissions process. My essay focused on movies and how movies were a conduit of curiosity. It was also about the death of my father and how movies, in part, had provided a common ground for us—a connection. Although my essay, of course, was not the sole determining factor in my admission, it’s a predominant memory from that time of my life. To this day, I feel it had a persuasive effect on my admittance.

In fact, now looking back, I can’t recall my grade point average or my class rank or the final grade that my English teacher gave me on my literary analysis of Heart of Darkness. Even my exact SAT score, back then a real measure of academic aptitude, remains fuzzy to me all these years later, “shaded in wistful half-lights,” as described by Norman Maclean. I can, however, remember nearly every sentence, if not quite every word, of the personal essay I submitted to my first-choice college, which has undoubtedly, for me, over the years remained one of the most important pieces of writing I have ever produced.

The personal essay is an enduring literary genre and an art form that provides often-challenging material in English classes. In my Advanced Placement Language and Composition course, we frequently read works from an array of authors from various eras, including Michel de Montaigne, Virginia Woolf, E. B. White, Joan Didion, André Aciman, Brian Doyle, Dr. Oliver Sacks. These writers function as exemplars for my students to both analyze and model not only for their rhetorical value but also for their stylistic technique and philosophical ruminations.

Power of Personalization

One of the most predominant rhetorical strategies we recognize in these texts is personalization. And so Woolf’s “The Death of the Moth” has impacted my students throughout the years with its frank depiction of psychological tension, addressing philosophical themes on an existential level that never fail to capture their attention—so much so, that a group of students painted a mural on the wall outside my classroom, a visual interpretation of Woolf’s essay that they titled Memento Mori .

The candor and intimacy of Dr. Oliver Sacks’s depiction of his final days before his death from cancer have engendered numerous touching and insightful comments from my students during our Socratic seminars analyzing his almost unendurably moving personal essay, “My Periodic Table.” 

Students respond viscerally, it seems, to the personal. Sadly, many students have been touched by some of the same tragic subject matter that we analyze through these texts. During our seminars and journal assignments, my students have revealed their own personal connections to some of the personal essays we read in class, connecting, I think, to the shared experiences that we have all had throughout human history. 

Our students often find themselves facing a vortex of standardized tests, AP exams, and benchmarks throughout the school year, which often emphasize the formulaic. The active process of personal choice on topic and subject seems lost. So often my students ask me questions when writing an essay, seeking a particular answer, as if literary analysis were calculus. Missing is the creativity, the exploration of writing free from academic constraints like rubrics and scoring guides. Writer-editor Steve Moyer asserts in  Edsitement , “Nuanced thought... requires a greater gestation period than the nearly instant gratification made possible on Twitter.” I have witnessed this impatience from my own students.

There can be a restlessness in the writing process, a hesitancy for revision or drafting. Personal essays require self-reflection and a free-flowing freedom from rigid form that my students embrace in a way that they don’t with an argument or research-based essay. On more than one occasion during parent-teacher conferences, I have had parents tell me that their child used to love creative writing, but somewhere along the way, the rigor of school seemed to have killed it.

Personal essays, then, restore that creativity, since they encourage a freedom from form. Students can experiment with style and figurative language and syntax in ways that the traditional academic five-paragraph essay often thwarts.

Personal essays also allow teachers to really get to know our students, too. The inherent intimacy of a personal essay, the connection between the writer and the reader—in this case, a student and a teacher—provides insight into the concerns, the dreams, the emotions of our students in addition to allowing us to assess how they exercise their compositional skills, including imagery, syntax, diction, and figurative language. Here, then, a teacher has the best of both worlds. We’re able to both connect to our students on an emotional level and evaluate their learning on an academic level. Personal essays also serve as an emotional outlet. 

There seems to be a common assumption that personal essays for high school students serve only the college application process, so the process begins during their senior year. Personal writing, however, should occur throughout a student’s academic experience. The narrative essays that most elementary school students encounter evolve into the more ruminative, philosophical, and reflective personal writing they will encounter during their senior year from many of Common App essay prompts.

Many teachers implement journal writing in their classrooms that provides a firm foundation for the type of personal writing that the college admissions essay requires. In my own class of juniors, the last assignment we complete for the year is a personal essay. My intent is to help prepare them for the college essay they will write, hopefully, during the summer so that they will have a solid draft before the application process begins. 

Teaching our students this strategy in their own writing benefits them in their futures, not only for the imminent college application process but also for job interviews. For example, I was mentoring a student, a senior who had no desire to go to college, about the job interview process he would soon face after graduation. We rehearsed and practiced the types of questions he might encounter from a future employer. I encouraged him to remember the personal details of his experience, personalizing everything in a way that would allow him to ideally stand out as a job candidate.

Through personal essay writing, my overarching, grand ambition is to instill in my students ultimately a love of reflection, looking back on their experience, reminiscing on significant memories that linger, carefully considering the seemingly little moments that, only upon reflection, have an enormous impact on us.

Essay #1 Personal Influences:  Who or What Has Shaped You?  ...

Personal Influences:  Who or What Has Shaped You?

Background:

"My family, my surroundings, and most especially my beloved pets influence my life and shape my writing.  They are the well of my creative soul."

-- Beatrix Potter (author of Peter  Rabbit and Mother Goose , etc.)

Many writers will tell you that they have special people and places in their lives that shape their writing, and they share their stories with a mutual purpose:  the pleasure of a good story and a feeling of connection with the writer—a shared experience.

Your Assignment:

Write an essay about a significant place, event or person in your life as if you were sharing this essay with your fellow classmates (They are your audience) .  Choose the place, event or person with your readers in mind.  The subject should be one that you feel comfortable presenting to others and that will lead these high school seniors to reflect on their own lives or on the differences between their personal experiences and your own.  Present your experience dramatically and vividly so that readers can imagine what the place or event was like for you or how the person you choose to write about has shaped your life.  Work hard to show- -not merely tell-- your readers why this person, place or event has been so influential.  Through a careful choice of words and details, convey the meaning and importance in your life so that your readers (your peers) will feel the importance of the message that you are sharing.  How can you inspire them with your words?

Requirements:

  • Your final draft should be approximately 1,000 words (4 - 4 1/2 pages).
  • Your essay must be typed, in 12 point Times New Roman font and in MLA format.
  • Please save your essay in doc, docx, pdf or rtf formats only!
  • On a separate page at the end of your essay complete The Rhetorical Square for your essay.

Answer & Explanation

Title: The Empowering Journey: Finding Solace in Nature's Embrace

In the serene landscape of my childhood, there exists a hidden sanctuary that has profoundly shaped my perspective on life. Nestled amidst the verdant embrace of towering trees and the symphony of chirping birds lies the enchanted forest behind my grandmother's house. This sacred haven, a mere stone's throw away from the bustling city, has been my refuge, my muse, and my sanctuary since I was a child.

The enchanted forest holds a special place in my heart, not merely as a physical location but as a source of profound inspiration and spiritual growth. Stepping into its ethereal realm, I am greeted by the rhythmic rustle of leaves underfoot, the crisp scent of pine permeating the air, and the gentle caress of the breeze against my skin. It is a place where time seems to stand still, where the worries and cares of the world melt away, and where I can truly be at peace with myself and the world around me.

As a child, I spent countless hours exploring every nook and cranny of this mystical woodland, my imagination running wild amidst the towering trees and babbling brooks. Each tree seemed to possess its own unique personality, each rock telling a tale of ancient wisdom passed down through the ages. In the heart of the forest, there stands a majestic oak tree, its gnarled branches reaching towards the heavens like outstretched arms. It was beneath the shade of this venerable oak that I sought refuge during times of uncertainty, its sturdy trunk offering solace and reassurance in the face of life's tumultuous storms.

But it was not only the natural beauty of the forest that captivated my soul; it was the profound sense of interconnectedness that permeated every aspect of this sacred space. Here, amidst the towering trees and babbling brooks, I learned the importance of harmony and balance in the intricate tapestry of life. I witnessed firsthand the delicate dance of predator and prey, the symbiotic relationships between flora and fauna, and the immutable cycle of birth, growth, decay, and rebirth that defines the natural world.

Yet, amidst the tranquil beauty of the forest, I also encountered the harsh realities of life. I witnessed the devastation wrought by deforestation, pollution, and climate change, and felt the weight of responsibility upon my shoulders to protect and preserve this fragile ecosystem for generations to come. It was amidst the verdant embrace of nature's sanctuary that I found my purpose, my calling to become a steward of the earth and an advocate for environmental justice.

In the embrace of nature's sanctuary, I found the courage to confront my fears, the strength to persevere in the face of adversity, and the wisdom to embrace the ever-changing tapestry of life with open arms. The enchanted forest behind my grandmother's house has been more than a mere backdrop to my childhood; it has been my greatest teacher, my steadfast companion, and my eternal source of inspiration.

As I stand amidst the towering trees and babbling brooks of my beloved forest, I am reminded of the words of John Muir: "In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks." Indeed, in the quiet solitude of nature's embrace, I have found the true essence of life itself - a boundless wellspring of beauty, wisdom, and infinite possibility.

In conclusion, the enchanted forest behind my grandmother's house has been a constant source of inspiration and solace throughout my life. Through its tranquil beauty and profound wisdom, I have learned the importance of harmony, balance, and interconnectedness in the intricate tapestry of life. As I embark on the next chapter of my journey, I carry with me the lessons learned amidst the towering trees and babbling brooks - a testament to the enduring power of nature to heal, inspire, and transform the human soul.

As I reflect on the impact of the enchanted forest on my life, I am reminded of the countless moments of joy, wonder, and introspection that I have experienced within its hallowed confines. From the first time I stepped foot into its verdant embrace to the present day, the enchanted forest has been a constant source of solace and inspiration, a sanctuary where I can escape the chaos of the world and reconnect with the natural rhythms of life.

In the tranquil depths of the forest, I have discovered the true essence of peace - a profound sense of tranquility that transcends the boundaries of time and space. Here, amidst the towering trees and babbling brooks, I have found a refuge from the pressures of modern life, a place where I can quiet the restless chatter of my mind and commune with the silent wisdom of nature.

But perhaps more importantly, the enchanted forest has taught me valuable lessons about the interconnectedness of all living things and the importance of stewardship and conservation. As I have watched the delicate balance of the ecosystem play out before my eyes, I have come to appreciate the fragility of the natural world and the urgent need to protect and preserve it for future generations.

As I wander through the sun-dappled glades and moss-covered paths of the enchanted forest, I am filled with a profound sense of gratitude for the gifts that nature has bestowed upon me. From the gentle rustle of the leaves to the melodious chirping of the birds, every aspect of this magical realm fills me with a sense of wonder and awe, reminding me of the infinite beauty and complexity of the natural world.

In the quiet solitude of the forest, I have found a sanctuary where I can reconnect with my true self and rediscover the magic of the world around me. It is here, amidst the towering trees and babbling brooks, that I feel most alive, most connected, most at peace.

As I emerge from the enchanted forest and return to the hustle and bustle of everyday life, I carry with me the lessons and memories of my time spent in its sacred embrace. And though I may physically leave its verdant confines behind, the spirit of the forest will forever dwell within me, guiding me on my journey and reminding me of the profound interconnectedness of all living things.

In the end, the enchanted forest behind my grandmother's house is more than just a place; it is a living, breathing testament to the beauty and power of the natural world. It is a sanctuary where I can escape the chaos of the world and reconnect with the quiet wisdom of nature. And it is a reminder of the importance of stewardship and conservation in preserving the delicate balance of the ecosystem for future generations to enjoy.

The Rhetorical Square for "The Empowering Journey: Finding Solace in Nature's Embrace"

  • Subject : The essay explores the significance of a natural sanctuary, the enchanted forest behind the author's grandmother's house, in shaping the author's perspective on life and their role as a steward of the environment.
  • Audience : The essay is written for high school seniors, aiming to engage them with vivid imagery and personal reflection, encouraging them to reflect on their own experiences and consider the importance of nature in their lives.
  • Purpose : The purpose of the essay is to convey the transformative power of nature and the profound impact it can have on an individual's life. Through personal anecdotes and descriptive language, the author aims to inspire readers to appreciate the beauty of the natural world and become advocates for environmental conservation.
  • Tone : The tone of the essay is reflective, reverent, and impassioned. The author's reverence for nature is evident in their descriptive language and heartfelt anecdotes, inviting readers to share in their appreciation for the enchanted forest and its role in shaping their worldview.

Approach to solving the question: Your feedback and rating are well appreciated. Thank you!

Detailed explanation:

Key references:

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The Day I Put $50,000 in a Shoe Box and Handed It to a Stranger

I never thought i was the kind of person to fall for a scam..

Portrait of Charlotte Cowles

On a Tuesday evening this past October, I put $50,000 in cash in a shoe box, taped it shut as instructed, and carried it to the sidewalk in front of my apartment, my phone clasped to my ear. “Don’t let anyone hurt me,” I told the man on the line, feeling pathetic.

“You won’t be hurt,” he answered. “Just keep doing exactly as I say.”

Three minutes later, a white Mercedes SUV pulled up to the curb. “The back window will open,” said the man on the phone. “Do not look at the driver or talk to him. Put the box through the window, say ‘thank you,’ and go back inside.”

The man on the phone knew my home address, my Social Security number, the names of my family members, and that my 2-year-old son was playing in our living room. He told me my home was being watched, my laptop had been hacked, and we were in imminent danger. “I can help you, but only if you cooperate,” he said. His first orders: I could not tell anyone about our conversation, not even my spouse, or talk to the police or a lawyer.

Now I know this was all a scam — a cruel and violating one but painfully obvious in retrospect. Here’s what I can’t figure out: Why didn’t I just hang up and call 911? Why didn’t I text my husband, or my brother (a lawyer), or my best friend (also a lawyer), or my parents, or one of the many other people who would have helped me? Why did I hand over all that money — the contents of my savings account, strictly for emergencies — without a bigger fight?

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When I’ve told people this story, most of them say the same thing: You don’t seem like the type of person this would happen to. What they mean is that I’m not senile, or hysterical, or a rube. But these stereotypes are actually false. Younger adults — Gen Z, millennials, and Gen X — are 34 percent more likely to report losing money to fraud compared with those over 60, according to a recent report from the Federal Trade Commission. Another study found that well-educated people or those with good jobs were just as vulnerable to scams as everyone else.

Still, how could I have been such easy prey? Scam victims tend to be single, lonely, and economically insecure with low financial literacy. I am none of those things. I’m closer to the opposite. I’m a journalist who had a weekly column in the “Business” section of the New York Times. I’ve written a personal-finance column for this magazine for the past seven years. I interview money experts all the time and take their advice seriously. I’m married and talk to my friends, family, and colleagues every day.

And while this is harder to quantify — how do I even put it? — I’m not someone who loses her head. My mother-in-law has described me as even-keeled; my own mom has called me “maddeningly rational.” I am listed as an emergency contact for several friends — and their kids. I vote, floss, cook, and exercise. In other words, I’m not a person who panics under pressure and falls for a conspiracy involving drug smuggling, money laundering, and CIA officers at my door. Until, suddenly, I was.

That morning — it was October 31 — I dressed my toddler in a pizza costume for Halloween and kissed him good-bye before school. I wrote some work emails. At about 12:30 p.m., my phone buzzed. The caller ID said it was Amazon. I answered. A polite woman with a vague accent told me she was calling from Amazon customer service to check some unusual activity on my account. The call was being recorded for quality assurance. Had I recently spent $8,000 on MacBooks and iPads?

I had not. I checked my Amazon account. My order history showed diapers and groceries, no iPads. The woman, who said her name was Krista, told me the purchases had been made under my business account. “I don’t have a business account,” I said. “Hmm,” she said. “Our system shows that you have two.”

Krista and I concurred that I was the victim of identity theft, and she said she would flag the fraudulent accounts and freeze their activity. She provided me with a case-ID number for future reference and recommended that I check my credit cards. I did, and everything looked normal. I thanked her for her help.

Then Krista explained that Amazon had been having a lot of problems with identity theft and false accounts lately. It had become so pervasive that the company was working with a liaison at the Federal Trade Commission and was referring defrauded customers to him. Could she connect me?

“Um, sure?” I said.

Krista transferred the call to a man who identified himself as Calvin Mitchell. He said he was an investigator with the FTC, gave me his badge number, and had me write down his direct phone line in case I needed to contact him again. He also told me our call was being recorded. He asked me to verify the spelling of my name. Then he read me the last four digits of my Social Security number, my home address, and my date of birth to confirm that they were correct. The fact that he had my Social Security number threw me. I was getting nervous.

“I’m glad we’re speaking,” said Calvin. “Your personal information is linked to a case that we’ve been working on for a while now, and it’s quite serious.”

He told me that 22 bank accounts, nine vehicles, and four properties were registered to my name. The bank accounts had wired more than $3 million overseas, mostly to Jamaica and Iraq. Did I know anything about this? “No,” I said. Did I know someone named Stella Suk-Yee Kwong? “I don’t think so,” I said. He texted me a photo of her ID, which he claimed had been found in a car rented under my name that was abandoned on the southern border of Texas with blood and drugs in the trunk. A home in New Mexico affiliated with the car rental had subsequently been raided, he added, and authorities found more drugs, cash, and bank statements registered to my name and Social Security number. He texted me a drug-bust photo of bags of pills and money stacked on a table. He told me that there were warrants out for my arrest in Maryland and Texas and that I was being charged with cybercrimes, money laundering, and drug trafficking.

My head swam. I Googled my name along with “warrant” and “money laundering,” but nothing came up. Were arrest warrants public? I wasn’t sure. Google led me to truthfinder.com, which asked for my credit-card information — nope. “I’m in deep shit,” I texted my husband. “My identity was stolen and it seems really bad.”

Calvin wanted to know if I knew anyone who might be the culprit or if I had any connections to Iraq or Jamaica. “No,” I said. “This is the first I’m hearing about any of this, and it’s a lot to take in.” He asked if I had ever used public or unsecured Wi-Fi. “I don’t know. Maybe?” I said. “I used the airport Wi-Fi recently.”

“Ah,” he said. “That’s unfortunate. It’s how many of these breaches start.” I was embarrassed, like I’d left my fly unzipped. How could I have been so thoughtless? But also — didn’t everyone use the airport Wi-Fi?

Calvin told me to listen carefully. “The first thing you must do is not tell anyone what is going on. Everyone around you is a suspect.”

I almost laughed. I told him I was quite sure that my husband, who works for an affordable-housing nonprofit and makes meticulous spreadsheets for our child-care expenses, was not a secret drug smuggler. “I believe you, but even so, your communications are probably under surveillance,” Calvin said. “You cannot talk to him about this.” I quickly deleted the text messages I had sent my husband a few minutes earlier. “These are sophisticated criminals with a lot of money at stake,” he continued. “You should assume you are in danger and being watched. You cannot take any chances.”

I felt suspended between two worlds — the one I knew and the one this man was describing. If I had nothing to do with any of these allegations, how much could they truly affect me? I thought of an old This American Life episode about a woman whose Social Security card was stolen. No matter how many times she closed her bank accounts and opened new ones, her identity thief kept draining them, destroying her credit and her sanity. (It turned out to be her boyfriend.) I remembered another story about a man who got stuck on a no-fly list after his personal information was used by a terrorist group. It dawned on me that being connected to major federal offenses, even falsely, could really fuck up my life.

Calvin wanted to know how much money I currently had in my bank accounts. I told him that I had two — checking and savings — with a combined balance of a little over $80,000. As a freelancer in a volatile industry, I keep a sizable emergency fund, and I also set aside cash to pay my taxes at the end of the year, since they aren’t withheld from my paychecks.

His voice took on a more urgent tone. “You must have worked very hard to save all that money,” he said. “Do not share your bank-account information with anyone. I am going to help you keep your money safe.” He said that he would transfer me to his colleague at the CIA who was the lead investigator on my case and gave me a nine-digit case number for my records. (I Googled the number. Nothing.) He said the CIA agent would tell me what to do next, and he wished me luck.

what to write about for personal essay

If it was a scam , I couldn’t see the angle. It had occurred to me that the whole story might be made up or an elaborate mistake. But no one had asked me for money or told me to buy crypto; they’d only encouraged me not to share my banking information. They hadn’t asked for my personal details; they already knew them. I hadn’t been told to click on anything.

Still, I had not seen a shred of evidence. I checked my bank accounts, credit cards, and credit score; nothing looked out of the ordinary. I knew I should probably talk to a lawyer or maybe call the police, though I was doubtful that they would help. What was I going to say — “My identity was stolen, and I think I’m somehow in danger”? I had no proof. I was also annoyed that my workday had been hijacked. It was 2 p.m., and I had already pushed back one deadline and postponed two work calls. I had to get myself out of this.

The next man who got on the line had a deeper voice and a slight British accent flecked with something I couldn’t identify. He told me his name was Michael Sarano and that he worked for the CIA on cases involving the FTC. He gave me his badge number. “I’m going to need more than that,” I said. “I have no reason to believe that any of what you’re saying is real.”

“I completely understand,” he said calmly. He told me to go to the FTC home page and look up the main phone number. “Now hang up the phone, and I will call you from that number right now.” I did as he said. The FTC number flashed on my screen, and I picked up. “How do I know you’re not just spoofing this?” I asked.

“It’s a government number,” he said, almost indignant. “It cannot be spoofed.” I wasn’t sure if this was true and tried Googling it, but Michael was already onto his next point. He told me the call was being recorded, so I put him on speaker and began recording on my end, too. He wanted to know if I had told anyone what was going on.

I admitted that I had texted my husband. “You must reassure him that everything is fine,” Michael said. “In many cases like this, we have to investigate the spouse as well, and the less he knows, the less he is implicated. From now on, you have to follow protocol if you want us to help you.”

“I don’t think I should lie to my husband,” I said, feeling stupid.

“You are being investigated for major federal crimes,” he said. “By keeping your husband out of this, you are protecting him.” He then repeated the point Calvin had made about my phone and computer being hacked and monitored by the criminals who had stolen my identity.

By that point, my husband had sent me a series of concerned texts. “Don’t worry. It will be okay,” I wrote back. It felt gross to imagine a third party reading along.

Michael snowed me with the same stories Calvin had. They were consistent: the car on the Texas border, the property in New Mexico, the drugs, the bank accounts. He asked if I shared my residence with anyone besides my husband and son. Then he asked more questions about my family members, including my parents, my brother, and my sister-in-law. He knew their names and where they lived. I told him they had nothing to do with this. In fact, I was now sure I wanted to consult a lawyer.

“If you talk to an attorney, I cannot help you anymore,” Michael said sternly. “You will be considered noncooperative. Your home will be raided, and your assets will be seized. You may be arrested. It’s your choice.” This seemed ludicrous. I pictured officers tramping in, taking my laptop, going through our bookshelves, questioning our neighbors, scaring my son. It was a nonstarter.

“Can I just come to your office and sort this out in person?” I said. “It’s getting late, and I need to take my son trick-or-treating soon.”

“My office is in Langley,” he said. “We don’t have enough time. We need to act immediately. I’m going to talk you through the process. It’s going to sound crazy, but we must follow protocol if we’re going to catch the people behind this.”

He explained that the CIA would need to freeze all the assets in my name, including my actual bank accounts. In the eyes of the law, there was no difference between the “real” and the fraudulent ones, he said. They would also deactivate my compromised Social Security number and get me a new one. Then, by monitoring any activity under my old Social Security number and accounts, they would catch the criminals who were using my identity and I would get my life back. But until then, I would need to use only cash for my day-to-day expenses.

It was far-fetched. Ridiculous. But also not completely out of the realm of possibility. “Do I have any other options?” I asked.

“Unfortunately, no,” he said. “You must follow my directions very carefully. We do not have much time.”

He asked me how much cash I thought I would need to support myself for a year if necessary. My assets could be frozen for up to two years if the investigation dragged on, he added. There could be a trial; I might need to testify. These things take time. “I don’t know, $50,000?” I said. I wondered how I would receive paychecks without a bank account. Would I have to take time off from work? I did some mental calculations of how much my husband could float us and for how long.

“Okay,” he said. “You need to go to the bank and get that cash out now. You cannot tell them what it is for. In one of my last cases, the identity thief was someone who worked at the bank.”

Michael told me to keep the phone on speaker so we would remain in contact. “It’s important that I monitor where this money goes from now on. Remember, all of your assets are part of this investigation,” he said. Then he told me that one of his colleagues would meet me at my apartment at 5 p.m. to guide me through the next steps.

“You can’t send a complete stranger to my home,” I said, my voice rising. “My 2-year-old son will be here.”

“Let me worry about that,” he said. “It’s my job. But if you don’t cooperate, I cannot keep you safe. It is your choice.”

It’s impossible to explain why I accepted this logic. But I had been given marching orders and a deadline. My son would be home soon, and I had to fix this mess. I put on sneakers in case I needed to run. I brought a backpack for the cash. I felt both terrified and absurd.

It was jarring to see trick-or-treaters in my Brooklyn neighborhood, people going about their lives. The air was crisp, and dead leaves swirled on the ground. I was on high alert for anyone who might be following me. At one point, a man in sunglasses and a hoodie trailed me for a few blocks. At Michael’s suggestion, I ducked into a parking garage until he passed.

When I reached the bank, I told the guard I needed to make a large cash withdrawal and she sent me upstairs. Michael was on speakerphone in my pocket. I asked the teller for $50,000. The woman behind the thick glass window raised her eyebrows, disappeared into a back room, came back with a large metal box of $100 bills, and counted them out with a machine. Then she pushed the stacks of bills through the slot along with a sheet of paper warning me against scams. I thanked her and left.

Michael was bursting with praise. “You did a great job,” he said. “I have to go for a moment to see about the details of your case; I’m going to have you speak to my colleague if you have any questions.” He put a woman on the line. She was younger, with an accent I couldn’t identify. She told me to go home and await further instructions.

As I walked back to my apartment, something jolted me out of my trance, and I became furious. No government agency would establish this as “protocol.” It was preposterous. “I need to speak with Michael,” I told the woman on the phone. He got on right away. “I don’t even believe that you’re a CIA agent,” I said. “What you’re asking me to do is completely unreasonable.”

He sighed. “I’m sending you a photo of my badge right now,” he said. “I don’t know what else to tell you. You can trust me, and I will help you. Or you can hang up and put yourself and your family in danger. Do you really want to take that risk with a young child?”

My Two Cents

How to protect yourself against scams, what charlotte cowles wishes she’d known..

I waited for a stoplight at a busy intersection. I could see my apartment window from where I stood. My son was playing inside with a neighbor’s daughter and their nanny. A picture of Michael’s badge appeared on my phone. I had no way of verifying it; it could easily have been Photoshopped. “I don’t trust you at all,” I said to Michael. “But it doesn’t seem like I have any other choice.”

When I got home, Michael told me to get a box, put the cash in it, take a picture of it, then tape it shut. I found a floral-printed shoe box that had once contained a pair of slippers I’d bought for myself — a frivolous purchase that now seemed mortifying. Michael told me to label it with my name, my case number, my address, a locker number he read to me, and my signature. Then he directed me to take another picture of the labeled box and text it to him.

“My colleague will be there soon. He is an undercover CIA agent, and he will secure the money for you,” he said. What exactly would that entail? I asked. “Tonight, we will close down your Social Security number, and you will lose access to your bank accounts,” he explained. “Tomorrow, you’ll need to go to the Social Security office and get a new Social Security number. We’ll secure this money for you in a government locker and hand-deliver a Treasury check for the same amount. You can cash the check and use it for your expenses until the investigation is over.”

“Why can’t I just use this cash?” I asked. “Why do you have to take it and give me a check?”

“Because all of your assets under your current identity are part of the investigation,” he said. “You are being charged with money laundering. If we secure this cash and then issue you a government check under your new Social Security number, that will be considered clean money.”

“I’ll need to see your colleague’s badge,” I said. “I’m not just going to give $50,000 of my money to someone I don’t know.”

“Undercover agents don’t carry badges,” he said, as if I’d asked the CIA to bring me a Happy Meal. “They’re undercover. Remember, you are probably being watched. The criminals cannot know that a CIA agent is there.”

In a twisted way, this made some amount of sense to me. Or maybe I had lost my grip on reality so completely that I was willing to resign myself to this new version of it. Most important, I didn’t know what else to do. Even if Michael wasn’t working for the CIA (which struck me as more and more likely), he was sending a man to our address. I felt a sickening dread that he might ask to come inside. If giving him this money would make him go away, I was ready to do it. I’d been on the phone for nearly five hours. I wanted to take my son trick-or-treating. I was exhausted.

Michael seemed to sense that I was flagging and asked if I’d had lunch. I hadn’t. He told me to eat something but keep him on the line; his agent was on the way to my address but running late. “You can meet him outside if that would make you more comfortable,” Michael said, and I felt relieved. While I gnawed on a granola bar at my desk, he got chatty and asked about my job. I told him I was going to Washington, D.C., later that week. “Oh, great. You could come to my office in Langley,” he said. “Where are you staying?”

A little after 6 p.m., Michael told me to go downstairs. His colleague was arriving. My husband had just come home from work and was reading to our son. “What’s going on? Is everything okay?” he asked as I put my coat on. I motioned to the phone and shushed him. Then I whispered, “I have to go downstairs and meet a guy who’s helping with the identity-theft case. I’ll explain more later.” He frowned and silently mouthed, “What?” I told him I had to go.

I met the SUV at the curb and put the money in the back seat. It was 6:06 p.m. Even if I’d tried to see who was driving, the windows were tinted and it was dusk. He maybe wore a baseball cap. When I turned around, I could see the backlit faces of my husband and son watching from our apartment nine stories above.

As I walked back inside, Michael texted me a photo of a Treasury check made out to me for $50,000 and told me a hard copy would be hand-delivered to me in the morning. He was working on setting up my appointment with the Social Security office. “You will receive a confirmation text shortly,” he said. “Stay on the line until you do.” I felt oddly comforted by this. An appointment would give me something legitimate, an actual connection to a government agency.

I took my son trick-or-treating, my phone on speaker in my pocket. I felt numb, almost in a fugue state, smiling and chatting with my neighbors and their kids. At one point, I checked to see if Michael was still there; his female colleague answered and said he’d be back soon. Then, when we got home and I checked again, the line was dead. I panicked and called back. The woman answered. “Michael is busy,” she said. “He’ll call you in the morning.”

I was confused. Did this mean I didn’t have a Social Security number at all anymore? I pictured myself floating, identity-less. “Do I have an appointment at the Social Security office?” I asked.

“Michael will call you tomorrow,” she repeated. “He hasn’t been able to secure your appointment yet. The Social Security office is closed now.”

I went into my bedroom and shut the door, feeling my face grow hot. I had a physical sensation of scales falling from my eyes; the room shimmered around me, spots raining from the ceiling. I saw the whole day peel away, like the layers of an onion — Michael, the FTC officer, the Amazon call — revealing my real life, raw and exposed, at the center. “Oh my God,” I said, my hands tingling. “You are lying to me. Michael was lying. You just took my money and I’m never getting it back.” That wasn’t true, the woman said. She understood that I was upset. She was sorry. Everything would be fine. “You’re a fucking liar,” I hissed, and hung up.

Through choking sobs, I told my husband what had happened. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked, incredulous. “I would have stopped you.” That I’d been trying to protect him suddenly seemed so idiotic I couldn’t even say it out loud. Our son looked on, confused. “Mama’s sad,” he announced, clinging to my leg. We put him to bed and then I called my parents and my brother. At their urging, I called 911. Around 10:30 p.m., three police officers came over and took my statement. I struggled to recount what I’d done; it seemed like a bad dream. I felt like a fool.

“No government agency will ever ask you for money,” one cop informed me, as if I’d never heard it before. I wanted to scream, “I know. ” Instead, I said, “It didn’t really feel like he was asking.”

The police told me not to worry; the scammers wouldn’t be back. “They got what they wanted,” another officer said, as though it would reassure me. I gave them the photos and recordings I had. They promised to check traffic cameras for the car that had taken the money.

When I woke up the next morning, a few seconds passed before I remembered the previous day. I was my old self, in my old bed, milky dawn light on the walls. Then it all came crashing back, a fresh humiliation, and I curled into the fetal position. I felt violated, unreliable; I couldn’t trust myself. Were my tendencies toward people-pleasing, rule following, and conflict aversion far worse than I’d ever thought, even pathological? I imagined other people’s reactions. She’s always been a little careless. She seems unhinged. I considered keeping the whole thing a secret. I worried it would harm my professional reputation. I still do.

In the days that followed, I kept revisiting the fake world of that afternoon, slipping through a portal into an alternate life. I would get paranoid that someone was reading my texts, watching me as I took my son to school, or using my Social Security number to wire money and rent cars. It was a relief that I wasn’t actually in trouble with the law, but then again — I’d lost $50,000 and I wasn’t getting it back. I checked my accounts and credit cards obsessively. I called my bank. They gave me instructions to freeze my credit, file reports with the FBI and FTC, and run anti-virus software on my laptop to check for malware, which I did. I cried a lot. My husband felt helpless; he still doesn’t like to talk about it. Instead, he researched new locks for our doors and looked into security cameras. One night I shook him awake, convinced that someone was trying to break in. “It’s only the wind,” he said. “We’re safe.”

Fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money. It took me years to save, stashing away a few thousand every time I got paid for a big project. Part of it was money I had received from my grandfather, an inheritance he took great pains to set up for his grandchildren before his death. Sometimes I imagine how I would have spent it if I had to get rid of it in a day. I could have paid for over a year’s worth of child care up front. I could have put it toward the master’s degree I’ve always wanted. I could have housed multiple families for months. Perhaps, inadvertently, I am; I occasionally wonder what the scammers did with it.

Because I had set it aside for emergencies and taxes, it was money I tried to pretend I didn’t have — it wasn’t for spending. Initially, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to afford my taxes this year, but then my accountant told me I could write off losses due to theft. So from a financial standpoint, I’ll survive, as long as I don’t have another emergency — a real one — anytime soon.

When I did tell friends what had happened, it seemed like everyone had a horror story. One friend’s dad, a criminal-defense attorney, had been scammed out of $1.2 million. Another person I know, a real-estate developer, was duped into wiring $450,000 to someone posing as one of his contractors. Someone else knew a Wall Street executive who had been conned into draining her 401(k) by some guy she met at a bar.

I felt a guilty sense of consolation whenever I heard about a scam involving someone I respected. If this could happen to them, maybe I wasn’t such a moron. As a journalist, it’s my instinct to research and talk to experts, so I dove into books and podcasts about scams, desperate to make sense of my own. I had known that fraud was on the rise but was shocked to learn the numbers — financial losses ballooned by more than 30 percent in 2022. I read that self-laceration is typical; half of victims blame themselves for being gullible, and most experience serious anxiety, depression, or other stress-related health problems afterward. I heard about victim support groups. I went to therapy.

When I discovered that Katie Gatti Tassin, a personal-finance expert who writes the popular Money With Katie newsletter, lost $8,000 five years ago to a grandmotherly-sounding woman pretending to call from Tassin’s credit union, I called her to ask how she’d coped. “Everyone was so patronizing,” she told me. “The response was basically ‘It’s your fault that this happened.’”

If I had to pinpoint a moment that made me think my scammers were legitimate, it was probably when they read me my Social Security number. Now I know that all kinds of personal information — your email address, your kids’ names and birthdays, even your pets’ names — are commonly sold on the dark web. Of course, the scammers could also have learned about my son from a 30-second perusal of my Instagram feed.

It was my brother, the lawyer, who pointed out that what I had experienced sounded a lot like a coerced confession. “I read enough transcripts of bad interrogations in law school to understand that anyone can be convinced that they have a very narrow set of terrible options,” he said. When I posed this theory to Saul Kassin, a psychology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who studies coerced confessions, he agreed. “If someone is trying to get you to be compliant, they do it incrementally, in a series of small steps that take you farther and farther from what you know to be true,” he said. “It’s not about breaking the will. They were altering the sense of reality.” And when you haven’t done anything wrong, the risk of cooperating feels minimal, he added. An innocent person thinks everything will get sorted out. It also mattered that I was kept on the phone for so long. People start to break down cognitively after a few hours of interrogation. “At that point, they’re not thinking straight. They feel the need to put an end to the situation at all costs,” Kassin said.

I wondered how often scammers are caught and about the guy who’d driven the car to my apartment. But when I asked experts, they doubted he’d be a meaningful lead. One pointed out that he might have been a courier who was told to come pick up a box.

I still don’t believe that what happened to me could happen to anyone, but I’m starting to realize that I’m not uniquely fallible. Several friends felt strongly that if the scammers hadn’t mentioned my son, I would never have fallen for this. They’re right that I’d be willing to do — or pay — anything to protect him. Either way, I have to accept that someone waged psychological warfare on me, and I lost. For now, I just don’t answer my phone.

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Krystal

How to Travel and Write an Essay

T raveling to new places and having new experiences can provide wonderful inspiration for writing essays. Immersing yourself in different cultures, interacting with new people, and exploring unfamiliar terrain engages your creative mind. Using your travel adventures as essay topics allows you to share your insightful reflections. Reading reviews of essay writing services can give you ideas on engaging writing styles and techniques to make your travel essay compelling. Here are some tips for traveling and gathering material to write a compelling essay.

Pick a Focused Travel Goal 

Rather than trying to do everything, pick a particular aspect of travel on which to focus your essay. This could involve food, architecture, nature, art, history, or interacting with locals. Choosing a specific emphasis will help shape your travels and give your essay direction. For example, if you want to write about regional cuisine, plan your itinerary around visiting iconic restaurants and food markets. Or if exploring national parks is your priority, design your trip to hike various trails and take in diverse landscapes. Picking a travel concentration spotlights what matters most for your essay topic.

Keep Detailed Notes and Media

Be sure to keep notes about your travel experiences, as memory alone is unreliable. Use your phone or a notebook to write descriptions of key places and events. Capture telling details, snippets of overheard conversations, interesting quotes from people you meet, and your personal reactions. In addition, take ample photos and videos to add visual elements and jog your memory later when writing your essay. Gathering detailed sensory information, verbatim conversations, and media will enable you to vividly convey your travels.

Get Off the Beaten Path 

While tourist hotspots yield common experiences many travelers share, explore lesser-known areas for fresh essay material. Wandering side streets and alleys or chatting with shop owners away from crowds provides unique perspectives. Hiking secluded trails showcases wilderness most never experience. Seeking out locals’ haunts and hidden gems exposes you to rare sights, sounds, and people unlikely to appear in standard travelogues. Venturing off the predictable beaten path unveils captivating topics to distinguish your essay.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone 

Challenge yourself on your travels by trying things outside your comfort zone, which will give you intriguing insights to inform your writing. Sample exotic cuisine with ingredients you can’t identify. Learn basic phrases in the native language. Navigate public transportation on your own. Talk to strangers from very different backgrounds. Accept an invitation to an unusual cultural event. Pushing past familiar habits and fears boosts opportunities for uncommon experiences, stimulating reflections to share in your essay. Facing uncertainty and discomfort allows you to access a fuller, richer range of travel moments.

Reflect on Your Interior Journey 

While cataloguing external places and events, also focus inward on your inner terrain. Note how travel affects you emotionally and psychologically along with the physical destinations and activities. Record when you feel wonder, irritation, joy, sadness, connection, isolation. Analyze what triggers these responses. Ponder how unfamiliar surroundings surface unanticipated reactions, or how you apply filters and assumptions unconsciously. Consider if this self-discovery challenges or reinforces your worldviews. Examining your interior shifts alongside exterior impressions provides deeper insight. Reading an Academized review reinforced the importance of weaving together outer and inner dimensions to craft a multi-layered essay.

Find Themes and Connections

As you travel and gather essay material, look for overarching themes that emerge. Do certain ideas or patterns recur as you journey? Do you keep learning similar lessons? Find common threads to tie together diverse experiences for a unified essay focusing on key themes. Or spotlight thought-provoking contrasts revealed through your travels. Additionally, consider connections between your voyage and broader context. How do your observations reflect historical, social or cultural phenomena? Can you compare and link your individual trip to larger collective issues? Identifying meaningful themes and links helps shape a compelling, impactful essay.

Craft a Strong Essay Structure 

Once you return from travels filled with observations, memories, artifacts and inspiration, it’s time to organize everything into a structured essay. First, revisit all your travel documentation and media, inventorying the best highlights to develop your central idea. Craft an introduction hooking readers’ interest while overviewing essay themes. Use each subheading to structure key travel experiences into engaging sections reinforced with vivid details, quotes, and examples. Analyze how these experiences interrelate and what insights they reveal associated with your themes. End with a powerful conclusion synthesizing main points and their significance. Edit carefully to refine language, verify facts, streamline structure while intensifying descriptions. Follow this process to translate your travel discoveries into an engaging, insightful essay.

Adding organization through focused subheadings provides natural breaks allowing readers’ eyes to rest while you emphasize key sections. Incorporating variable sentence types creates welcome rhythm and pacing variation. Contrasting longer complex sentences with shorter punchy ones, and trading sentences brimming with adjectives for straightforward construction alternates language patterns to maintain reader interest. Using low perplexity sentences when suitable enhances comprehension. Integrating these creative writing techniques keeps your travel essay lively, clear and compelling from start to finish.

So captivate readers with an essay unveiling your travel adventures and realizations. Immerse in cultural curiosities, venture off script, expand beyond your comfort zone and analyze what you uncover. Then organize intriguing experiences into an engaging essay emphasizing unforgettable impressions that reveal broader insights. With planning and attention, your travels can form the basis for a memorable, meaningful essay.

The post How to Travel and Write an Essay appeared first on Sunny Sweet Days .

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COMMENTS

  1. How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

    Print Summary. How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here are some tips to get you started. Start early. Do not...

  2. 110 Personal Essay Topics

    In essence, personal essays are written from a personal point of view and express a writer's own insights, opinions, and feelings on a particular topic. Additionally, these types of essays lead to an overall point, lesson, realization, or revelation.

  3. 7 Helpful Tips on How to Write A Memorable Personal Essay

    A personal essay is a short work of autobiographical nonfiction characterized by a sense of intimacy and a conversational manner. Also called a personal statement. A type of creative nonfiction, the personal essay is 'all over the map,' according to Annie Dillard. 'There's nothing you can't do with it.

  4. What Should I Write My College Essay About? How to Brainstorm + Examples

    Here's a useful way to understand and reframe college essay topics: Essentially, your "topic" (e.g. Home or Light) is just an excuse— your topic is always you. Who you are, what you value, what you bring to a campus and community. So this is the place to fill in the gaps by being personal and specific.

  5. Personal Essay Topics and Prompts

    A personal essay is an essay about your life, thoughts, or experiences. This type of essay will give readers a glimpse into your most intimate life experiences and life lessons. There are many reasons you may need to write a personal essay, from a simple class assignment to a college application requirement.

  6. Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

    Sample College Essay 2 with Feedback. This content is licensed by Khan Academy and is available for free at www.khanacademy.org. College essays are an important part of your college application and give you the chance to show colleges and universities your personality. This guide will give you tips on how to write an effective college essay.

  7. How to Write About Yourself in a College Essay

    How to write about a cliché experience. Many high school students write about common topics such as sports, volunteer work, or their family. Your essay topic doesn't have to be groundbreaking, but do try to include unexpected personal details and your authentic voice to make your essay stand out. To find an original angle, try these techniques:

  8. How To Write a Personal Essay in 8 Simple Steps (With Tips)

    How to write a personal essay in 8 steps Here are eight steps you can follow when writing a personal essay to ensure it engages your reader and encourages them to learn more about you. Make preparations. Get organized. Choose your topic. Consider your tone. Include a lesson or moral. Write the introduction. Write the body. Write the conclusion. 1.

  9. How to Write a Personal Essay: 6 Tips for Writing Personal Essays

    Last updated: Sep 9, 2021 • 3 min read People write personal essays for a number of reasons. High school students write them for college admissions and writers use them to share personal stories with others. A personal narrative essay can enlighten and inspire an audience with information gained from real life experiences.

  10. The Personal Essay

    The Personal Essay Student Voices Halie Alumni November 11, 2016 Share Unlike the rest of your application, which primarily consists of filling in boxes, the personal essay gives you the freedom to essentially write about whatever you want. No rules! Show who you are!

  11. How to Write a Personal Statement (Tips + Essay Examples)

    There's no "right" essay topic to write about, as you'll see from the range of essay topics in this post. Students have written successfully on topics ranging from: I Shot My Brother, to Home, to Being Pooped on by Animals. Oh, and btw, we'd recommend not reading too many sample essays before you've done some brainstorming of your own first.

  12. How To: Write Your Personal Essay

    Be thoughtful, but not fretful. As a senior, most of the accomplishments that will make up the bulk of your application - academic performance, test scores, and extracurricular involvement - are said and done. In a sense, the only part of the application over which you have complete control right now is the essay. Don't let this scare you!

  13. 100+ Personal Essay Topics For College And Writing Tips

    Personal essay topics usually include real stories, experiences, and opinions of people. Writers need to give an account of their own experience and express their thoughts on the subject of a paper. The key to success is to make an attempt to combine narration and opinion together.

  14. How to Write a Personal Essay

    1 Find an angle for your essay. Your life may not be littered with exciting stories, or intense drama, but that's okay. Your personal essay can still be engaging for your reader if you focus on finding an angle for your essay. You should try to find a unique or interesting take on an experience, or moment in your life.

  15. How to Write a Personal Statement

    Personal statements typically: Permit you to share things that don't fit on your resume, such as personal stories, motivations, and values Offer schools a chance to see why you're interested in a particular field of study and what you hope to accomplish after you graduate

  16. Writing a Personal Essay

    Figure 1. Brainstorming the details of a personal experience can help you to write a more complete story with elements like vivid details, dialogue, and sufficient character development. Once you identify the event, you will write down what happened. Just brainstorm (also called freewriting). Focus on the actual event.

  17. How to Write a College Essay Step-by-Step

    Step 2: Pick one of the things you wrote down, flip your paper over, and write it at the top of your paper, like this: This is your thread, or a potential thread. Step 3: Underneath what you wrote down, name 5-6 values you could connect to this. These will serve as the beads of your essay.

  18. 10 Personal Statement Essay Examples That Worked

    Personal Statement Examples. Essay 1: Summer Program. Essay 2: Being Bangladeshi-American. Essay 3: Why Medicine. Essay 4: Love of Writing. Essay 5: Starting a Fire. Essay 6: Dedicating a Track. Essay 7: Body Image and Eating Disorders. Essay 8: Becoming a Coach.

  19. How to Write a Personal Essay: Topics, Structure, & Examples

    A personal essay is a first-person narrative that describes a writer's life experience and its influence. You may think that writing such an essay is easy-peasy. There is so much freedom regarding the topic, isn't it? However, soon enough, you realize that it's more of a curse than a blessing.

  20. How to Write a Personal Essay

    Parts of an Essay. Most essays have three parts: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Think of the organization of an essay like this: Intro - Tell your reader what you're going to write about. Body - Write about it. Conclusion - Tell them what you wrote about. Let's go through each part of a personal essay.

  21. How to Write a Personal Narrative: Steps and Examples

    However, like any other type of writing, it comes with guidelines. 1. Write Your Personal Narrative as a Story. As a story, it must include an introduction, characters, plot, setting, climax, anti-climax (if any), and conclusion. Another way to approach it is by structuring it with an introduction, body, and conclusion.

  22. Writing the Personal Statement

    1. The general, comprehensive personal statement: This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms. 2. The response to very specific questions:

  23. What Is a Personal Essay in Writing?

    What Are Essential Elements of a Personal Essay? There are a few main ingredients most successful personal essays include a compelling hook, engaging story, interesting characters, immersive setting, and meaningful point. Compelling hook. A personal essay is a story.

  24. The Importance of the Personal Essay in High School

    The personal essay is an enduring literary genre and an art form that provides often-challenging material in English classes. In my Advanced Placement Language and Composition course, we frequently read works from an array of authors from various eras, including Michel de Montaigne, Virginia Woolf, E. B. White, Joan Didion, André Aciman, Brian Doyle, Dr. Oliver Sacks.

  25. Essay #1 Personal Influences: Who or What Has Shaped You?

    Write an essay about a significant place, event or person in your life as if you were sharing this essay with your fellow classmates (They are your audience). Choose the place, event or person with your readers in mind.

  26. How I Fell for an Amazon Scam Call and Handed Over $50,000

    I've written a personal-finance column for this magazine for the past seven years. I interview money experts all the time and take their advice seriously. ... He said he was an investigator with the FTC, gave me his badge number, and had me write down his direct phone line in case I needed to contact him again. He also told me our call was ...

  27. How to Travel and Write an Essay

    Integrating these creative writing techniques keeps your travel essay lively, clear and compelling from start to finish. So captivate readers with an essay unveiling your travel adventures and ...