Tips for Writing Your Personal Statement

A student working on a laptop.

By: Alexa Saylan ‘22

Applying to college can be overwhelming, especially if you plan to be the first in your family to attend a four-year institution. One of the most daunting parts is trying to write about yourself in 650 words or less. Below is our best advice on how to make the personal components of your application shine:

Don’t Write What You Think “They” Want
Admissions officers are human beings and are looking to admit unique students with a variety of interests. Remember, you should never try to fit yourself to Cornell or any university you are applying to. Instead think about what Cornell can do for you on your educational journey instead of what you could do to satisfy Cornell. While you may not think you are unique, you have a story that only you can tell — make sure it comes through.

Don’t Overthink!
While easier said than done, trust your intuition. If you overthink the personal statement, you may end up with a confused statement with many different directions. Trust your gut and tell your story.

Form Connections Between your Commitments, Interests, and Traits
Think outside the box. For example, one student wrote about crocheting and how the patience gained from learning that activity led to them being patient with themselves when tackling new academic challenges. Personally, I wrote about when I first began learning to use the abacus. I was so clumsy at first, but I just keep working at it until it clicked!

Record Spontaneous Thoughts
If you are just getting started on your application or are experiencing writer’s block, find a recording device and answer the application question as if it were an interview. Speaking freely allows certain thoughts and ideas to come out naturally that may not have if you were writing or typing. These “uncut gems” can spark new inspiration for your application.

One applicant didn’t and said, “I tortured students over the summer.” What the applicant meant to say was, “I tutored students over the summer.” Big difference.

Have Multiple People Read Your Essay
Allow two pairs of eyes to read your essay. At least one of these readers needs to be someone you are close to and who can ensure your essay authentically communicates who you are. If they were reading the essay and couldn’t tell it was you, you aren’t being authentic enough. The second reader should look at first impressions, they should be someone you’re less close to, maybe someone from a writing center. Ask them what they would think of you after reading your essay and what kind of impression your words leave. Remember that admissions officers are strangers to you, so they will be unable to fill in any gaps.

Racial/Ethnic Background
If you plan on talking about your ethnic/racial identity, remember that your ethnicity/race are your roots, not your fruits. By this I mean that, yes, our background has a lot to do with who we are, but ask yourself, “What do I plan to accomplish as an individual?” While our roots keep us grounded, our fruits are our choices, and we want to know how the racial/ethnic background you describe impacts your plans and goals.