Writing the Personal Statement: How to Create a Winning College Application

Created: January 3, 2019
Last Updated: July 16, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (Jan. 3, 2019)—You’ve completed all the online form fields asking for your details. You’ve compiled the list of your extracurriculars. You’ve talked to your guidance counselor and have your transcripts ready to go. There’s just one thing left, and it’s the big one: writing your personal statement.

Anyone who has filled out a college application has faced this mountain. At W&J, our admission requirements say that, “the personal statement provides insight into an applicant that cannot be learned from any other document a student submits. It should be approximately 250-500 words, well-written, and tell a story that is distinct to that student.” But even we can admit those instructions can leave the best students scratching their heads as they try to come up with the perfect essay to make their application stand out.

If you’re one of these students, we feel your pain—and we’re here to help. So how exactly should you tackle this challenge? We’ve got some tips.

 1. Write about something you care about.

Remember how W&J’s guidelines say that you should provide information that can’t be learned from another document? Your passion is something we won’t learn from a form! Plus, the more interested you are in a topic, the better your writing will be.

2. Be Yourself!

Don’t tell us what you think we want to hear; you aren’t doing yourself any favors by pretending to be something you’re not. Being authentically you will help application reviewers get to know what makes you unique, and you’ll find the right place for you. In addition, it’s always easier to write what you know, so this takes some of the pressure off!

3. Make your words count—read it aloud!

How many times have you started listening to someone tell a story but then lost track of where it was going because they couldn’t keep their narrative straight? Sometimes when we’re writing, we’ll lose track of our original purpose and that narrative gets sloppy. Reading it aloud helps you hear your essay and know if what you’re trying to say is getting across to the application reviewer.

4. Take your time to write and proofread.

Have you ever typed a text and hit send, only to be hit with immediate regret because of an autocorrect or misspelling that you should have caught? You can avoid mistakes like these in your personal statement by taking your time with it and giving it a once-over before you submit. Little things like this are important in portraying yourself well. If you’re afraid you won’t catch everything, try swapping your essay with a friend! A fresh set of eyes might be just what your (and their) essay needs.

5. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself!

We know it feels like a lot is riding on this, but it’s just one aspect of your application package. Feelings of stress or nervousness are normal, but this is not the end all, be all for you, and you don’t have to go through it alone. If you’re having trouble, ask for help!

We hope those tips help. And remember, at the end of the day, the most important person’s thoughts on your personal statement are your own. If you feel pleased with your work and think it represents you well, chances are we’ll love it too!

Ready to take the next steps? Apply to W&J through our Leadership Application here. The regular decision deadline is March 1.

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.

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