In our last post, we wrote about 4 Must-Answer Questions Before Brainstorming Personal Statement Topics. If you haven’t read that and answered those questions yet, you’ll need to do so before moving on to this post.
Now that you’ve answered these vital questions, you’re ready to come up with the best personal statement topics.
This is no easy task, and it should not be taken lightly.
Remember, in one short essay, you need to tell a complete stranger something personal about you that they wouldn’t learn from looking at your college application. You also need to address and squash any doubt or red flags, be interesting, and tell them why you’re excited about their school or program.
Wow, that’s a lot to cover! That’s why it’s vital that you brainstorm personal statement topics before setting out to write your personal statement. You need to ensure that you have a topic that will encompass all of these things.
Don’t worry. With your lists and answers to the questions from our previous post, you’re well on your way to narrowing down some awesome personal statement topics. Let’s get started!
To make this blog series as real and actionable as possible, I’ll be using myself as a case study.
In September 2009, I was preparing to apply to law schools. Looking back on my own essay writing process, I answered our four vital personal statement questions and made my own lists.
Here are my lists of descriptive adjectives, passions, and red flags:
Now that we have our lists, let’s combine them so that all of our 3’s, 2’s, and 1’s are grouped together with one another like this:
You can see that we’ve subtly fleshed out three potential personal statement topics. Here are my options:
- Personal Statement Topic #1: Tell a story about how I’m a caring, responsible guy that enjoys writing and the law — but this sounds a little bland.
- Personal Statement Topic #2: Tell a story about an athletic, competitive runner who is also quite analytical — this sounds a little more interesting, but still feels like it’s missing the mark.
- Personal Statement Topic #3: Tell a story about a passionate poker player who also enjoys finance, is driven, and intelligent — now, that sounds like it could be interesting!
Now that you know the basic theme of your personal statement and the key points you’ll want to hit on, work through this simple exercise to better flesh out your ideas.
I’m a (descriptive adjective #1) and (descriptive adjective #2) person who enjoys (passion #1) and (passion #2). I remember the first time I (choose one of your passions). I… (write a few sentences describing your first experience or encounter with this passion). In college, (address your red flag(s) in a sentence or two). I’m excited about your program because (explain what the program can offer you and what you can offer to the program).
Your rough, short write-up should look something like this:
I’m a driven and intelligent person who enjoys poker and finance. I remember when Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker. I was randomly watching the tournament on TV and I was immediately intrigued by the game. In a few days, I was playing online poker and immediately found I had a knack for it. In just one year, I had built up a pretty nice bankroll and was traveling the world playing poker tournaments and making a living from the game. In college, I did the bare minimum to get by with decent grades. I never thought I would want to continue my education, but I’ve matured a lot since then and realize how short-sighted I was. I’m excited about your program because it will allow me to take my education seriously and I’ll be able to contribute my analytical skills.
Once you have this written out, you’ll find it easier to elaborate and fill in the rest of your personal statement.
Remember, this is the framework of your entire personal statement and you should take some time thinking about each of your passions and deciding which one you really want to showcase.
In an ideal world, the type of school you are applying to is also one of your deep passions. Although when I was applying to law school I realized it was not a passion of mine. While crafting my personal statement, I had a difficult, if not impossible, time answering question number four: why I wanted to go to law school.
If you find yourself in a similar predicament, you should seriously rethink your career path. While I was still able to write a personal statement that was well tailored to my characteristics, I never addressed the issue of why I wanted to become a lawyer.
However, I was lucky enough to have my law school application process lead me down the road to entrepreneurship.
After completing this exercise, you will have an excellent springboard for writing your personal statement. Once your statement is drafted, don’t forget to have your favorite editor run through it! Admissions officers admit that just as important as having a strong topic, good written English is critical to a successful personal statement.