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How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application
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.
Where your work meets your life. See more from Ascend here .
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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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 308,731 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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- ↑ 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
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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How to Write a Personal Essay: Your Easy Guide
The power of a well-written personal essay should never be underestimated. Inspiring readers with your experiences, lessons learned from past mistakes, or simply describing the joy you felt from doing a fun activity can literally change people's lives. Take a moment to reflect upon this. How much influence you can have on your audience with just a pen and paper in your hand and thoughts flowing through your head is insane.
To take the reins of your floating thoughts and put them into perspective, you need to know how to write a personal essay. Otherwise defined as a nonfiction narrative story, the personal essay format differs slightly from other kinds of writing with its implicit structure. Once we touch upon those, we will also explore some personal essay topics with our online essay writing service . After reading this article, we promise you'll be so confident writing your personal statement that you might want to craft many personal essays in one go!
When trying to understand what is a personal essay, you must start with the formatting specifics. And no, we didn't mean to scare you off if this sounded too complicated! The format for personal essay can be similar to most academic tasks with just a few distinct aspects. Let's examine the details from our paper writer :
- Font : Unless required to write in a Harvard essay format , you can use any readable fonts - Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri in size 12.
- Margins : Just like in most writings, set your margins to one inch on all sides.
- Spacing : This is a classic! Use double-spacing throughout the essay, including between paragraphs.
- Indentation : Indent the first line of each paragraph by 0.5 inches or use the tab key. This might be a little too specific, but it's a true-and-tried method!
- Page numbers : Include page numbers in the top right corner of each page. You don't have to do this necessarily, but it can add more spark to your paper!
- Title : Include a title that reflects the theme or subject of your essay. Center the title on the page. Did we really have to elaborate on this?
- Header : Include a header with your last name and the page number in the top right corner of each page. After all, it's your personal story; why would you want to miss your name here?
- Length : The length of a personal essay can vary but typically ranges from 500 to 2,000 words. Well, unless you're discussing healing from a generational trauma... Then you'd probably need a few more extra pages.
- Tone : The tone of a personal essay should be conversational, reflective, and sincere. At least, this is what we recommend not to sound dull.
- Personal pronouns : Use first-person pronouns such as 'I,' 'me,' and 'my.' Remember, the spotlight is directed at you as you're the true hero of the story.
Personal Essay Topics
If you have got a lot of exciting stories to tell, your personal essay can shine brightly by interactively engaging the reader. Put in a little extra effort and dig deeper to find a unique or interesting experience or an unusual moment in your life.
Looking at a life lesson from another angle can turn into deep and purposeful subject matter. If you decide to pick a topic from a huge list of personal essay topics that you found in the internet, be precise and careful because not all of them can meet the requirements of your professor.
Personal Narrative Essay Topics
In this type of writing, try to explore a unique experience that creates a sense of conflict in your life. Explore how and why you were confused, annoyed, or hurt by the experience. Imagine your piece of paper as a place where you can freely express your emotions, discuss significant moments, & reflect on their impact on your life. This tip can help you create many really good essay topics, but if you need motivation, you can find some examples below.
- 'One small step that helped me skyrocket in my career!'
- 'Why controlling urges teaches you to master self-control.'
- 'People only learn from their own mistakes.'
- 'Life is not a one-dimensional path: it is curvier than a snake!'
- 'What I learned about conquering my fears.'
- 'The moment when I should have made a better choice.'
- 'The moment I overcame my public speaking fear.'
- 'How I conquered adversity with strength.'
- 'The impact of mentorship: valuable lessons learned from my mentor.'
- 'My journey to finding a place to belong.'
Personal Essay Topics on Specific Emotions
You may also talk about a specific event in your life that left a long-lasting impression on you. Usually, this type of essay reflects an incident that took place in your life and shifted it in some way. Dive deeper into your mind and find an event that is unique and personal to you. The weirder the occurrence, the more likely the essay will be engaging to read.
- 'How I ran away from fear: the power of exercising.'
- 'How I overcame the trauma through painting.'
- 'My quest to reclaim my cultural identity
- 'How I tackled cultural shock while studying abroad.'
- 'The year I went from being an amateur to a professional artist.'
- 'The best solo hike of my life
- 'The moment I beat my eating disorder and learned to love my true self.'
- 'How practicing gratitude helped me find beauty in the ordinary.'
- 'The power of letting go of toxic relationships
- 'How I lived up to my family's legacy.'
If you have not noticed, each of these titles can bring a fascinating vibe to the table. The names grab your attention, but you can only honestly know what they are about when reading them. That is the secret to a provocative title!
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Crafting an Outline for Personal Essay
Like most academic tasks, the personal essay can be easily structured into 5 paragraphs . This is one of the most important steps of personal narrative essay writing at any level. Your outline for personal essay will serve as a navigator, so you don't want to get off track. Understanding how to start a personal essay, what to write in body paragraphs, and how to conclude it appropriately will be important.
How to Start a Personal Essay?
Start your writing with an introductory paragraph. As it gives your reader a clear understanding of what the story will be about. Employ a hook sentence to catch their attention and motivate them to read the rest of the paper with a whimsical thesis statement. It can be a narrative thesis, for example. But it must be written in one concise sentence that will bring the reader to the starting point of your essay.
Don't leave your readers in the dark in the introduction by explaining the important things such as:
- Who are the major characters?
- When and where is it taking place?
- What kind of story is it?
Creating the Personal Essay Body
After creating an introduction, you must formulate three body paragraphs supporting your thesis statement. Each new point should contain its own body paragraph. Don't forget to make transitions from one paragraph to another to make sure that everything flows smoothly.
Usually, the body section is presented in the form of your experiences and your reflections on these events. You should also note the passage of time in your body sections, so make sure that the reader is aware of when and how each specific chapter took place.
How to Write a Conclusion Paragraph for Personal Essay?
Ultimately, it will be essential to wrap everything up and give your audience a sense of completeness by writing a proper conclusion. Restate your thesis, summarize the main points you have stated in body paragraphs, and leave your reader with a specific emotion, depending on the subject of your paper.
Readers should also discover a life lesson by going through the story. It is a moment where you show what you have learned from your experiences or how previous events have changed your life.
Tips for Personal Essay Writing Process
If you think you already possess sufficient knowledge of personal essays, we've yet to supply you with more information. Now let's explore the various stages of personal essay writing. Follow the list of valuable tips and advice without skipping a beat from our service where you can buy personal statement too.
Start with an Engaging Opening Sentence
Open your personal essay with an introductory section that will be engaging and interesting for your reader. In the opening section, introduce the principal characters of the story as well as the central theme or themes. It should also present the fundamental question of the essay.
Write from Your Unique Point of View
You are free to write from your point of view or in your own unique style. In contrast to other types of essays, writing from your perspective or in your personal manner is welcomed. For instance, if you are writing about a trip adventure, you might express your individual writing style by describing the sights and sounds that captured your attention. As a result, your writing will be more interesting and genuine and will better convey your experiences and feelings.
Take the Characters into Account
Be sure to describe your characters from all angles. Even though it is your real-life experience, you should still consider storytelling elements like the plot and characters. Using these ingredients in your writing will keep your reader engaged and help your essay flow smoothly.
Shed Light on a Deep Truth
Discuss your background experience with honesty and curiosity. Don't be afraid to uncover a hidden truth or a truth you didn't know was there at the time. Expose a thing that is uncomfortable or difficult for you to discuss. No matter who will read your essay. Whether it will be a teacher or somebody else, they will definitely appreciate your honesty and strive to share your experience.
Write a Rough Draft & Submit
After you have completed all the previous steps, it's time to write a rough draft. Writing a rough draft lets you get new ideas for a personal essay. Moreover, it's a great place to polish your essay and correct small grammar, spelling, and other types of mistakes. Get a second pair of eyes: No one can rate your writing as well as a neutral party. Once you have checked everything, you can start writing the final paper.
Before submitting your personal essay, double-check everything once again and make sure to present the central theme. After it, go through it and proofread your entire piece. Reading an essay full of grammatical mistakes is somewhat frustrating, which can be easily avoided. You can ask your classmate for help, so in that way, you will save each other. Don't forget to meet the deadline - and you're officially finished!
Personal Essay Examples
In our time it’s much more easier to find things on the Internet, and examples are not an exception. Remember one simple thing: not everything that you can find on the Internet is done correctly. If you need some inspiration to get started, you can find several examples of personal essays below, or you can use our free essay samples to sharpen your skills on any type of writing.
As we scratched the surface of the personal essay writing process and delved deep into the specific stages of creating a flawless paper, we hope you gained some valuable insights. These tips are all you'll ever need to inspire readers or even WOW the admissions officers!
If you want our experienced writers to help you with any writing assignment, whether a persuasive essay , creative nonfiction, or any type of college essay, hit us up with your ' do my homework for me ' request and consider it done with the highest caliber!
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Personal Life Essay Examples
My personal ethics and its influence on my life.
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What I Learned About Myself: My Personal Message
“My life is my message” is a quote by Mahatma Gandhi. This quote can mean anything to anyone but to me it means everything. Every single moment, thought, image, and feeling I have created is my message. Everything I helped, complimented, joked about, and smiled...
Impact of Covid-19 on Personal Life
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on personal lives around the world. From changes in daily routines to the disruption of social interactions, the effects of the virus have been far-reaching. This essay will explore the various ways in which COVID-19 has impacted...
My Hate-love Relationship with Piano
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To start with, this is my life story example where I want share personal experience. To start my example of life story, I lost my father when I was 4 years old. For my optimum upbringing, my mother started her own business of selling female...
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My Autobiography: a Personal Journey to Achieving Goals
Hello everyone, my name is Lina Sha and in my autobiography essay I want to share my autobiography today. My major is hospitality of management, and I am going to transfer to UNLV next year to complete my bachelor's degree. Most of my family members,...
Dear Diary - Examples of Personal Writing
Dear Diary, I have something terrible to tell you. Wait… I haven’t even introduced myself. Let me start over…. Dear Diary, My name is Anna and I have never written in a diary before, I saw dear diary examples how to start writing, but it...
How Do I Want to Live My Life: My Vision for a Meaningful Life
According to Carl Rogers every person could achieve their Goals, Wishes, and Desires in life. It might seem easy to understand at first but, what does it really mean? One must have a deeper understanding in philosophy in order to understand Carl Rogers’ statement. We...
My Life: a Challenging Experience that Changed Me
My life essay: a challenging experience that changed me. An Erie of quiet welcomed my kin and me as we went into my grandma's home one night. As we wandered further into the calm house, scanning each space for my grandma our guiltless interest covered...
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