Written by Mereat Askander
We all get stuck when we’re hit with this question, whether it’s for an interview, a college application, or an introduction to a potential mentor. Here’s the secret formula to answering this question: know who your audience is, identify the character traits or qualities they would like to see, and pinpoint genuine experiences that showcase these character traits.
- Know your audience
Who is your audience? Who’s listening to you answer this question? If it’s a college admission board, then find out more about what the school values by taking a look at their mission statement. These days, most schools have similar (if not identical) mission statements. However, every now and then, you will catch small differences. For example, one college might emphasize diversity as one of their main missions, while another school throws out the word excellence. Adjust your personal statement based on these buzzwords.
For the example school that emphasizes diversity, think about what it means to be a diverse student. This could mean involvement in a unique community or volunteering experience within a diverse group. Also consider the character traits and qualities typically associated with those mission statement buzzwords. If you’re trying to write a personal statement for the school that emphasizes excellence, for example, consider how excellence relates to the qualities of dedication, focus, or grit.
- Identify the character traits they’re seeking
Once you’ve identified who your audience is and what is important to them, continue thinking deeply about the kind of student who fits their needs. This is important to identify, because an open-ended question like “Tell me about yourself” can lead you into a black hole of endless stories about when you were six years old. But the college isn’t looking for six-year-old you! They want to know about who you are now. Because we are social, everchanging people, though, we have many character traits and many experiences. How can you offer a focused answer with all of these experiences in mind?
Building an image of a college’s ideal student will guide your writing to something specific, powerful, and concise. You don’t want to go on a tangent that will make it seem like you’re the jack of all trades but a master of none. You want to show them in your storytelling that you are cognizant and aware of the kind of student they are looking for.
- Back it up with experience
Next, think about specific events, leadership roles, and volunteer experiences that align with these values and qualities. Build your story around a specific event, experience, role, or subject. This way, a college admissions counselor can walk in your shoes for a few paragraphs and develop some curiosity about you. You don’t need to give a detailed play-by-play of your essay subject! Focus instead on the impact of what you’re discussing and how it shaped you as a person. When you are able to keep your storytelling concise and direct, the reader will have an easier time following your story and seeing what kind of an individual you are.
There you have it! Follow these three simple steps when you begin writing your personal statement and you will be golden. You can even use these steps in an interview. Good luck!