College application processes

A student's guide to writing a standout application essay for US colleges

Here's a step-by-step guide to writing a Personal Statement for the US colleges, based on tips shared by a seasoned recruitment professional.

Devika Bhattacharya
August 29, 2022
3 min
A student's guide to writing a standout application essay for US colleges
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A student's guide to writing a standout application essay for US colleges

A personal statement for college application refers to an essay with the student as the subject. It is the only chance that a student has for speaking directly to the recruiting team, and making a positive impression. Hence, the essay must be focused on the interests and skills of the applicant.

In this post, we share some guidelines for writing a personal statement for US universities, based on a webinar by Sarah Blackburn, Assistant Director, International Recruitment & Outreach from Rutgers University - New Brunswick as a part of our Student Summer Workshop

Why is the Personal Statement important?

The personal statement is a student’s unique chance to stand out from the crowd. This special college application essay is called a personal statement for a reason; it is absolutely about the student as a person. Admission representatives pay great attention to the personal Statement to assess applicants and decide whether they will be a good fit for the university. Hence, it must state things relevant to students' personal interests and academic aspirations.

It is essential to plan well in advance, research well, double-check the facts, get feedback, and revise thoroughly before submitting. Students can find essay prompts from over 1000 universities, and even save the essay drafts on the Cialfo platform. The contents of the statement must be original and accurate.  

“The overarching point here is that we want to get to know you. The essay is the only point in the application process where you get a chance to speak for yourself, rather than let your achievements, grades or recommendations speak for you. So take advantage of it.”

Sarah Blackburn, Assistant Director, International Recruitment & Outreach from Rutgers University - New Brunswick

Recruiting teams spend considerable time reviewing the statements and don’t want to go over repetitive content. Hence, students must avoid including information mentioned in the application or any other form of communication with the university. They have to be alert to ensure that there's no plagiarism or falsification. Since universities set certain benchmarks for admission, most students who apply will have similar knowledge and skill sets. Therefore, the personal statement presenting their uniqueness often acts as a deciding factor. 

There are bound to be guidelines prescribed by every university for writing a personal statement, and students need to pay close attention to them.

Steps for writing the Personal Statement

Recruiting teams at US universities consider students' unique skills, achievements, interests, and potential to be the most important factors for admissions decisions. They want to know how the student will contribute to the college culturally and academically. As US universities promote various sports on campus, many aspiring students write essays with sports as the focal point. Liberal arts and social sciences are other spheres colleges encourage. Students can find suggestions for writing the personal statement on the Common App website too. 

Thus, students are encouraged to talk about their passion, beyond academics, and how they can excel in various situations. Here are some steps that will further help to create a personal statement for US universities.

Step 1: Self-analysis

Students should make a note of some facts after self-introspection and answer these questions:

  • What are they proud of?
  • What are they afraid of?
  • What matters the most to them?
  • What do they do well and something that they could have done better?
  • What makes them different from most people their age - unique qualities?

Step 2: Evaluating ideas

Next, students have the task of selecting a few facts or aspects that can be highlighted in the statement, and write a paragraph about each to thrash them out. It has to be a comprehensive statement. For instance, when writing about sports, they ought to include facts that reflect multiple qualities like teamwork and leadership.  

Once the drafts are completed, students can judge which can be the most suitable for the final essay. This review can be done with the help of faculty or parents. 

Step 3: Story building

After choosing the skill, incident, or fact that they find most appealing, students will proceed to create the story structure. The story will be based on these questions:

  • The characters- who are the other characters in the story? It can be parents, faculty, friends, etc. Even if students write about someone who inspires them, the essay must focus on them, rather than the ‘hero’.
  • What is the setting or where does the story take place?
  • The plot of the story.
  • The conflict, problem, or challenge that they faced.
  • What is the resolution and how is it attained?

The essay is a way for recruiters to judge how prepared students are for college life, which brings certain academic and personal challenges. They should not submit the personal statement till it is perfect. It is highly advisable to ask for feedback from teachers, counselors, parents, and even seniors who may have dealt with similar topics. However, students ought to maintain their original voice and consider only the feedback that seems constructive. The language has to be be simple enough for a teenager to comprehend, else it may lose authenticity. Most importantly, students must make the US college essay about themselves and show that they will be a right fit for the college.

Download the Personal Statement Worksheet for US universities for answering the ‘Who AM I?’ part with ease. 

Cialfo is grateful to Sarah Blackburn, Assistant Director, International Recruitment & Outreach from Rutgers University - New Brunswick for conducting the essay workshop. 

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