In your English and history classes, your teachers have endlessly promoted the use of an outline of principal ideas as an aid to writing an essay. On that outline framework, you “hang” the necessary details to complete your writing. Insofar as the college application personal statement is concerned, such outlines could surely help in developing your ideas. Just as you open your school writing assignment with a thesis idea and end the essay by picking up and repeating the main idea thread, your personal statement can do the same. But there are significant differences between practically all school writing and this college entrance task.
We must reiterate to you – because it’s an absolutely essential characteristic of the application essay – that this writing is your vehicle by means of which you reveal several things: your powers of observation, strength of self-reflection, intellectual maturity, and impact of experience. If you think about it, these four qualities, among others, are interrelated. How you develop your story with these qualities in mind will go a long way toward producing a fine essay, uniquely yours.
You are not writing your autobiography. Don’t let our use of the word “story” make you think that your essay must cover a considerable amount of time. While your story could span months or years, it surely doesn’t have to. In fact, your story may communicate reflections gleaned from ten seconds or ten minutes. Observation and reflection, in this case, come from hindsight – your recollection of an especially meaningful experience. What makes or breaks your writing has to do with the level of detail you bring to it. Let’s look at that idea more closely.
Write in a really descriptive way. Let’s review those four qualities beneath the surface of a successful essay:
Typically, you don’t present these four qualities in an explicit, in-your-face way. Rather you suggest them by the very nature of what you choose to focus upon, and by the careful use of detail woven into your essay.
Maturity is about your recognition of growth through the high school years, and a sense that the undergraduate experience will be a remarkable step into a new and different world.
Self-reflection, related to maturity, is that special sense of presence that you convey: “Here’s where I am compared to where I was before. I have grown into the world, and I realize that the more I learn, the more I don’t know.”
About intellectual curiosity: No, you do not write “I am intellectually curious.” Rather, you show in words that you have an abiding interest in the world that surrounds you – in its complexity, fascination, and possibilities. The thread of narrative you create can combine what you have done with what you hope to do (more on that in a future Chapter of this blog).
In our next blog,
Chapter 3: Selecting a Topic, we’ll offer some insight into the nitty-gritty of selecting the subject of your writing.