h t t p : / / u w p . a a s . d u k e . e d u / w s t u d i o
College Application Essays and Personal Statements
Application essays and personal statements allow you to tell a narrative about your experiences,
interests, and/or expectations for the future. They give admissions and scholarship committees a
more complete view of your qualifications than an application form, resumé, or transcript can
provide. They also allow the committee to evaluate your writing skills—your ability to engage
readers, to convey personality, and to organize, develop, and communicate ideas clearly. Prompts
range from general (e.g. “Please write an essay that demonstrates your ability to develop and
communicate your thoughts”) to specific (e.g. “Tell us more about one of your extracurricular,
volunteer, or employment activities”).
Questions to ask
• What experiences have you had that make you unique? Can you describe—or better yet,
demonstrate in your writing itself—characteristics that would make you a valuable
member of the college or university community for the next four years?
• Have you overcome any obstacles in your educational career? Or, have you hit any
speedbumps (failed courses, problems with the law, etc.) that you need to explain?
• What is “missing” from your application file? Think from the perspective of your readers.
What information do they already have about you? If they have a transcript, there is no
reason to waste words telling them about your high grades. If they have a list of your
awards and activities, there is no need to simply relist them here. You want everything in
the personal statement to ADD information to your file. Is there something special about
one of your activities that doesn’t come through in a list alone?
Actions to take
• Read the prompt. Although many schools require the Common Application or Universal
College Application, some schools may have additional essay questions. Read each
prompt carefully, answer its questions specifically, and follow its guidelines a