6 Steps to a Polished Personal Statement (Plus Free Downloadable Guide)

With under a week remaining to submit Early Decision and Early Action applications, you are likely feverishly compiling various parts of your application, asking yourself, perhaps again and again: Is the Activities List completed and thorough? Are my reference letters and SAT Subject test scores in?  

You are also likely putting the final tweaks (or major tweaks, no judgement) on your Personal Statement and early school supplementary essays. 

We’re here to help. A few essay tutors here at Ivy Global decided to come together and write a six-step guide for taking your applications essay from the rough draft stage to a ready-to-submit, polished piece. Here’s a taste of Step 1 in the essay revising process, addressing structural Issues: 

Step 1: Address Structural Issues

While drafting your personal statement, you contemplated the ​narrative ​of your essay. You may have wrestled with questions like, “What ​story​ am I telling?” and, “What is the topic​ of my essay?” As you revise your statement, consider your story’s ​structure​: the arrangement of events, details, and examples on the page.

Let’s say you wrote your essay about your passion for playing the piano and the significance of music to your identity. You know your topic and understand why it matters to you. But as you think about the structure of your essay, you may realize that your reader doesn’t need to know that you practice for precisely 4 hours, 14 minutes, and 44 seconds 4 days a week, or that you’ve been honored with international, national, state, regional, local, school, and household prizes (all of which your parents have posted with pride on the decidedly-cluttered fridge).

Or maybe you feel like you’ve already narrowed down your topic to a specific memory that illustrates how much piano means to you. Trouble is, you’re nervous that the sequence of events on the page won’t make sense to someone who doesn’t know your entire life story, and you know that the admissions officer is ​very​ unlikely to be your mom or your best friend.

Figure out your story’s “big picture” before you get to the fine details.

Your essay probably doesn’t (and shouldn’t!) follow the classic five-paragraph structure mandated for some high school English classes, but it should still have a clear beginning, middle, and end. When you’re figuring out how to frame the different parts of your statement, it’s helpful to think about the scope of your story.

So how do you make an essay flow logically if you’re not following a pre-existing template (like the aforementioned five-paragrapher)?

You might find some of these questions useful:

  • Have you included examples that felt vitally important while brainstorming, but no longer seem to drive the narrative engine of your story? Maybe you thought the reader just had to know that you adopted a pet chinchilla growing up to contextualize how utterly unprepared you felt for the recent summer you spent in a college dorm. Is the detail that you once forgot to feed said chinchilla really the best way to convey your struggle with routines?
  • Would your essay still make sense if you ditched an entire paragraph or event? Can you eliminate narrative or conceptual repetition? Perhaps you had the brilliant idea to structure your essay as a “map” of the world, walking your reader through particular places you’ve visited as a metaphor for an internal journey you’ve taken. But as it turns out, the Prague paragraph repeats the same thematic message as the Paris part.· For those events you’re certain you want to include, have you provided clear markers (​last summer​, ​in freshman year​, ​the following morning​) to indicate when the events happened? Reread your essay and see if you have an “oops” moment,such as unintentionally suggesting your AP Chemistry exam, your sister’s wedding, and your first marathon ​all​ happened last Saturday?
  • Did you strive to hook your reader at the beginning and hold their attention until the end? This is all about gradually building suspense. Have you given away too much in your first paragraph, spoiling the plot twist that your wallet was in your pocket all along? While you want to set up the main theme and possibly a pivotal incident early on, you also want to establish a sense of mystery to pique the reader’s curiosity. Dedicate extra time to revising and re-revising your opening and closing paragraphs. These paragraphs can really make your piece stand out.

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