Personal Statement Structure: How to Organize Your Essay
July 1, 2020
Personal Statement Structure: How to Organize Your Essay
If you’re about to be a high school senior, you’ve probably heard this many times by now — the personal statement can make or break your application. Using just 650 words, you have to demonstrate who you are, what makes you unique, and what you’re passionate about in a way that impresses admissions officers. Once you’ve found the perfect topic, the question then becomes, what is the right personal statement structure?
High school students are used to writing a traditional five-paragraph essay. The Common App essay doesn’t follow that pattern. Your personal statement structure needs to highlight the core of your personality and character with more of a “bang.” So, you can’t necessarily go on philosophical tangents or drag out introductions. In this blog, I’ve elaborated on ways to organize your essay so that you can captivate admissions officers at your top choice colleges and sets yourself apart from the other applicants.
How to Organize Your Essay
No matter what you’re writing about, your essay needs to be well organized and flow smoothly. Admissions officers will not appreciate a haphazard piece of writing that seemingly tells no story or where the narrative is all over the place. As you figure out personal statement structure, you need to keep 3 key aspects in mind: the introduction, the evidence, and the ending. Let’s take a closer look at each of these elements.
An exceptionally important step in your personal statement structure is your introduction. Obviously, this is the first thing that admissions officers will read, so you have to make a memorable impression with your opening statement and paragraph. Remember that these officers read hundreds of applications - and essays - each day, so it’s crucial that you start your story off in a unique way so that you grab and keep their attention.
- Hook: The hook of your essay is a catchy phrase or sentence that should capture the reader’s attention immediately as they start your essay. Your hook can include a quote (for a personal statement, quotes are better suited if they’re a dialogue from real life rather than from a famous person), a fact that might startle your audience, or a vivid description of something unique and makes the admissions reader say, “That’s interesting!” and want to keep going.
Example of a hook: It hit me when I was twelve years old: I had a problem. I hated taking showers.
- Problems: Once you’ve got your hook, you can build on it by outlining the problem, or issue that you faced. Because many essays often tell stories of growth in an individual or how the writer worked on something they’re passionate about, there’s often a conflict that stands in the way. As you work on your personal statement structure, consider whether you faced any obstacle that could go hand in hand with your hook.
Example problem: No, it had nothing to do with the warm water, fragrant hair products, or the time spent alone, but rather with how I spent my time afterward. For a little over a year, I blow-dried and straightened my hair after every shower, turning what should have been a fifteen minute affair into an hour-long ordeal. Why did I do this? It was a symptom of what I call ‘The Curly Hair Teenage Angst Syndrome.’
- Solution or Thesis: You’ve probably heard the word “thesis” when it comes to your English class essay. This is the main point, the purpose of your essay. What do you want to convey to the reader in the next few paragraphs? As you introduce your essay, you want the reader to know that this is a story of personal development or hard work and determination. So, take advantage of the introduction to provide a picture of exactly what you’ll be covering in your response — how did you get to the solution? This gives the admissions officer an idea of what to expect as they continue reading.
Example thesis: My hair was perfectly straight, but I hated it. I hated succumbing to my vanity, continuing to do something that the reasonable part of my brain knew was silly. Deep down I could acknowledge that I was blow-drying my hair only for external approval and that ultimately, my curly hair was just fine by me.
Once you’ve introduced the topic or theme of your essay, it’s time to get into the more nitty gritty details. Next up in the personal statement structure: the evidence. If your story is about your amateur wrestling career or how you founded your own company, it’s time to let the admissions officer know about the specifics. Because this essay is one of the most effective ways to let the colleges of your choice get a picture of who you are, making careful choices here is very important. You want your personality to shine through by using captivating dialogue, vivid descriptions, and subtle tone techniques. The reader should come out of this experience knowing what makes you unique and different from other candidates.
You don’t have to use overly flowery language. The point is clarity and vividness. The more concrete your depiction of events, the better the admissions officers can picture it, and understand why this topic is important to you. And of course, as cliche as it sounds - remember to show, not tell.
Example evidence: As a lifelong artist and self-proclaimed craft aficionado, I decided to bring my cache of crafting supplies to the hospital the next day: colored-paper, yarn, fabric, beads, and more. My grandma and I spent hours weaving bracelets and debating color combinations. By the time it got dark, my grandma, satisfied from an unexpectedly eventful day, fell asleep quickly, unbothered by her back pain. I went home, eager to brainstorm new crafting ideas. I scrolled through blogs, scoured YouTube compilation videos, and scribbled down crafting plans in my sketchbook.
Once you’ve fleshed out your plot and descriptions, you’ve arrived at the final part of understanding the personal statement structure. Just as it’s crucial to start your essay in a catchy manner, it’s essential that your ending is memorable as well. There are a few ways you can end your response. Your conclusion can refer back to your opening paragraph — especially if you’d started with an anecdote — and talk about it in light of the things you mention as part of the evidence. You could choose the expansion route and reflect on a personal or universal truth, and how you’ll focus on events or similar situations moving forward. You could also take it back to your thesis — talk about your growth, and how you’ve changed or how your life may have shifted. Or, you could be more creative and take less of a traditional path and end in a quote or ellipses.
Example ending: In addition to establishing a meaningful friendship, this experience seeded a mentality that will continue guiding my actions, attitudes, and interactions. It showed me the value of being empathetic and considering others' perspectives. I learned to view my setbacks and predispositions as mere short-term obstacles that can be overcome with a growth mindset - truly believing that anybody can do anything.
Now that you have a clearer understanding of personal statement structure, it’s time to start brainstorming. Once you have a topic, think carefully about the best ways to approach it through your essay. Write multiple drafts to figure out the best way to convey your story so that you can stand out among the competition. Good luck!