How Personal is Personal in a College Admission Essay?

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Miranda Lee
Miranda Lee

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Surely we’ve all been told that the more unique our story is, the better chances we have of standing out during the application process. Unique and personal often go hand-in-hand. But exactly how personal do you get in a college admission essay? Does this mean you need to talk about the time you were embarrassed when you had a costume mishap during your fifth grade Christmas play? Or should you mention the time you almost died when you came into contact with peanuts? Basically, how much of your life should you be telling others?

Is there enough to tell for a whole essay?

First of all, figure out how much you can extend your story. Is it better for a short answer, or is it important enough for a full 500-word essay? Think about how pertinent your tale is to the prompt at hand. Try and see how much you can write on your topic before you hit the word limit. If it’s easy to spin a tale of your coming of age, then it might be good to use it for your personal essay.

What does it show about my personal character?

Next, consider what people will learn about you from your essay. Did you learn anything? Have you changed as a person? How different are you from others? These are key points that should be hinted at or stated in your essay. Show your character and personality traits through your essay and any lessons you picked up.

Also consider your history and background. Maybe you had a rough childhood with separated parents or a lost grandparent you were close with. If you feel comfortable enough to discuss these topics, then feel free to go in depth about the impacts that these events had on you. You had to mature early on, you had to step up in your family role and take care of your siblings, etc. This can display your strong familial ties or your protective characteristics, however you decide to tell your story.

Are you actually comfortable sharing the information with a college?

However, there can be a boundary between opening up and letting too much information out. Remember, these are admissions officers you’re talking to, and they may share different views than you do. Topics about sexuality and religion might be touchy subjects and can lead to bias and prejudice. It can be risky to write about these, which is why many applicants tend to avoid these topics, but it can pay off if you are eloquent, passionate, and well-versed. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable telling a trusted mentor, it’s too personal in a college admission essay.

Think about it this way:

Try to find essay topics that you can relate back to the present to show your development as a person over time. (Bonus points if you extend yourself into the future and mention how your development has prepared you for life at a certain school). Keep in mind that you are trying to stand out in a pool of applicants, and any quirkiness can play an advantage in your application.

In the end, only you can write your story because it is unique to you. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing much about your personal life, then consider writing about school life or other extracurriculars. These are topics that can showcase your leadership abilities and interests.

Visit our website to see more about what colleges look for so you can peruse potential essay topics as well as consider getting help from one of our qualified college consultants.

Questions? Let us know!