The Story of You: 5 Things to Include in the Personal Essay

For most people, the idea of completing a lengthy college essay is somewhat intimidating, and when the assigned topic is you—your goals, experiences, and potential—the stress can become overwhelming. But don’t fret! Even if writing isn’t your strong suit, with a little planning your college admissions essay can be an articulate and convincing reflection of you.

Before You Begin

Give yourself plenty of time to research the program. Chances are if you’re gearing up to complete application materials, you already know why you want to attend a particular school or program. You can tighten your understanding of the program—and subsequently, your case for acceptance—by browsing published text, visiting institutional Web sites, and conferring regularly with program representatives.

The Nuts and Bolts of Writing

The personal essay should be a relaxed, confident expression of the factors that make you a good candidate for the program, but these components are meaningless if they’re not presented well. Make sure that your essay is seen by every fresh pair of eyes possible—this includes friends, family members, colleagues, and writing/editing professionals.

Here are the five most important things to cover in your essay:

  1. The big picture. First and foremost, explain to the admissions committee why you’re pursuing their program. Tell them where you see yourself in five, ten, or twenty years, and address the role that they can play in making your dream a reality.
  2. Specifics. Point out the aspects of your field that interest you most and explain why you believe that their school or program will be the best fit. If you considered other schools before applying to this one, tell the admissions board specifically why the others didn’t stack up.
  3. Your “goods.” Though you’ve alluded to them throughout your essay already, take a moment to talk about some of your past accomplishments, both professional and personal, that have led you down this path.
  4. Plan of attack. Your credentials don’t always speak for themselves. In this case especially, it’s important to tell the admissions council precisely how you will succeed in the program. Talk about some of the personal characteristics that you will utilize, and reiterate the fact that your future goals rely on earning this degree certification.
  5. The hook. Possibly the most important thing to remember while writing your admissions essay: Keep it fresh. The review board could be reading several essays at a time, so you don’t want yours to get lost in the shuffle. Supplement your credentials with personal stories, anecdotes, and current-events parallels where it feels comfortable and appropriate to do so.


This article was written by Hannah Purnell

Hannah Purnell is a staff writer for Hannah writes extensively on the topic of undergraduate studies and the college search process.


  1. L. Myers

    This is good advice; will use it to help my students.

  2. D. Klinges

    Some of these points don’t make sense in the context of the Common App, which is what most students use. In the Common App. essay, there is no way to focus on a particular school.

  3. mmm

    this was great and really concise in explainging the focus for my app essay! thank you so much

  4. kang

    Thank you very much for your advice ! It will be a big help to many seniors!!

  5. Summer

    I adore people who can express thei thoughts in pen. The case is I don’t belong to this class of people. I had a great problem enrolling to the university. The one way to solve the issue out was to apply for a help of specialists. I did so at the site. I was pleased with the results of the service, but I wasn’t pleased with myself. So, I reread the ready piece of writing and made it more personal. All in all, I was accepted to the university and now I’m a happy student.

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