Some Tips on Writing an Essay Columns

The personal essay, whether for admission to a post-secondary program or for a scholarship, is an essential part of the college application process. Chances are, if you don’t have to write a personal statement as part of your admission application, you will likely need to write one when applying for the scholarship. While all parts of your application are important, such as transcripts, test scores, and resumes, paying close attention to the essay is essential for a successful application. For many applicants, the essay can make or break acceptance into a school or receive a scholarship.

At the most basic level, colleges and scholarship committees want to assess your ability to write and clearly communicate your ideas. But beyond that, they ask for personal statements because they want to get a feel for who you are. They want to find out that you are ready for a transformative experience, that you understand your evolution to this point in your life, and that you are ready to face the rigors of post-secondary education. Colleges have a responsibility to build an interesting and well-balanced student body, and they want to better understand what you could bring to their community.

Successful personal statements are written honestly and focus on what is truly meaningful to you. Writing this type of essay is an opportunity for personal reflection and sharing of who you are beyond the test scores and grades. While it may seem intimidating to reveal details about yourself to people you don’t know, give yourself permission to tell personal stories and provide specific examples from your experiences.

If you don’t know where to start, try free writing. Often times, something significant will emerge that you can expand upon. Another way to start is to take fifteen minutes to write your bio in the third person, and then see if anything you’ve written sparks an idea. Stick with that and don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t fall into place right away – it’s a process that deserves a lot of revising. When successful, this process can feel messy and painful as you find out who you are, what is important to you, and how you want to express that to the world.

Admissions and scholarships committees never ask for information they don’t find useful. Admissions officials recommend that you take as much care with the short answers on your application as the main essay. Use these short essays as an opportunity to illustrate your understanding of college or scholarship, your ability to follow directions, and show how you will contribute to campus or advance the values ​​and goals of the scholarship committee.

Give yourself plenty of time before the due date to revise and polish your writing. Watch how you vary the length of your sentence, how you start the sentences, and how you create the rhythm in your writing. Examine carefully for typos and grammatical errors. Ask for comments from trusted readers who will critique the content and help with the editing.

Bridges is here to help. You are welcome to make an appointment before your deadline and we can help you develop essays that will reflect who you are and tell your story. Call (575) 758-5074 or email info@bridgesproject.org to fix a meeting.

Bridges’ mission is to expand access to college and vocational training for people of all ages, with a focus on students who are the first generation in their families to seek higher education. Bridges Project for Education has been providing free college counseling since 1997.


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Tina E. Nichols

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