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an example of parallel structure

College Prep Writing

Personal Essays

A personal essay or personal statement for a university entrance or scholarship application requires the same components as an essay for an English class. A personal essay must have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The personal essay must also have a clear main idea sentence, relevant support, and sentences that are interesting and concise. Perhaps the only difference between a class essay and a personal essay for an application is that the personal essay had better be the best essay you have ever written. The stakes are high.

What a teacher looks for in an essay may not be the same that a reader for university admissions or a scholarship fund hopes to find. First of all, the admissions reader expects no mistakes in grammar, spelling, or punctuation. In fact, these elements are in many cases the most important criteria for a successful personal essay. So proofread your paper carefully, and then do it again and again.

Follow Directions

Another very important criterion is how well you followed instructions. If your essay exceeds the length requirement, your admissions reader will notice that. If you have written off-topic, that will also reduce the quality of your paper in the eyes of the reader. For that reason, it is not advisable to submit to one university an essay that you have written for another institution, even if the topics sound similar. Admissions readers will be able to know; they read hundreds of essays—many more than they care to.

Make It Interesting

For that reason, readers appreciate an essay that is interesting. Write an introduction that "grabs the reader's attention," "that pulls the reader into your essay." You have heard those clichés before, but the fact is, essay readers are human, and an essay that is unique will have them believe that the applicant is unique, and that is the kind of student most universities want. The writer, however, should eschew clichés— the worn out expressions that have long lost their effectiveness and often sound insincere.

Consider These Suggestions

Consider these additional suggestions when you write your personal essay:

• Generally, avoid controversial topics.

• Try to show that you have thought carefully about higher education and have a plan for a career.

• In a cover letter for a job, it is always good to show that you know something about the company that might surprise the reader. Try to do the same with a personal essay, and show also you know something about the field you hope to enter as a career. Has your interest in your prospective college major informed your life in some way? Try to work that in.

• Include skills or personal attributes that others, in particular your family, have told you that you have.

• Do not put padding in your essay to make it longer. If you have run out of ideas, seek advice from a friend or a family member whose opinion you trust.

• Do not repeat information already provided elsewhere in your application.

It may not be possible to work all of those suggestions into an essay; topic or length requirements may not permit it. Whatever your write, however, do it with sincerity—one of the most important qualities of an admissions essay that is easy to identify.

Requirements for application essays may vary—some ask for two or three short statements, and others want the applicant to write a single more lengthy essay. The purpose of these expressions of your ideas and opinions are the same, however: the college wants to know who you really are.

Sample Essays

Personal essay one

personal essay one

Personal essay two

personal essay two a

personal essay two b