The personal statement is a narrative, not a classic
five-paragraph essay. It is your chance to show you are
unique and desirable. Most colleges try to achieve a well-
rounded class; they are not looking for well-rounded
individuals. Do not be afraid to sound unusual and interes-
So, what attributes are they looking for? Most
applicants are intelligent, and their grades and test
scores already reflect their ability. With intelligence as
a given, the single most valued attribute is
WILLINGNESS TO WORK HARD.
Next on the list are creativity and the ability to bring
experience and learning together to develop new
ideas. Also valued are tenacity, altruism, and the
ability to apply knowledge to the real world. Most
schools are looking for do-ers, people who make
things happen. Choose a topic that will allow you to
demonstrate one or more of these attributes.
While telling your story, be sincere. It is easy
to spot fabrications.
1. REMEMBER YOUR AUDIENCE:
ADMISSIONS OFFICERS ARE
INTELLIGENT BUT ALSO TIRED, BORED,
An admissions officer must read thousands of
essays in a short period of time. To fill a class of
5,000, UC Berkeley reads roughly 24,000 essays in
two months. As their deadline draws near, admissions
officers may work all night. After reading the 10,000th
story about a dying grandmother, they become case-
hardened and derisive. They tell jokes about them.
Some have running contests for the sappiest sob
story. These are not bad people, just people pushed
to the edge of sanity with an impossible workload.
You must try to be original, entertaining, and
worth reading at 2:00AM.
2. THE FIRST TWO LINES OF THE
ESSAY ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT
Admissions officers are in a hurry. Unlike your
teachers who attempt to read your every word,
admissions officers do not care about you. If the first
two lines of the essay fail to engage, the reader may
throw it over his shoulder and move on to the next
one. Any essay that begins, “I was b