Everyone’s got an opinion on what makes for good college application personal statements. Why not hear directly from admissions officers? In this post, you will get a high-level view of what various colleges have to say about writing those apps!
This blog post takes inspiration from the fact that one of the Johns Hopkins University “essays that worked” is about...fried rice! Read on:
The only true fried rice recipe is no recipe at all. There are no measurements, no exact instructions, no timer for how long something should sizzle in the pan. There are only smells and feelings and memories. I learned to cook fried rice on the rickety stool covered in Blues Clues stickers, surrounded by the scents of my nainai’s Minnie Mouse apron, my yéyé’s cashmere sweater, or my mama’s Pantene shampoo; in the comfort of our cozy condo and our sweltering Hángzhou apartment...We used...a combination of anything and everything or nothing sitting in the fridge.
You might wonder...why would they be interested in reading about that? Well, they explain!
What we learn about Jess from her essay is a willingness to experiment, to take risks and find failure, and to learn from the past—whether it is from her parents and grandparents or just her own experiences. Her essay is clever and well written, but more importantly, it shows us her willingness to try different things, to embrace the different interests and aspects of her own personality, and to approach different things with a positive attitude.
Imagine - the admissions officers can glean clues about your cleverness, risk-taking, and positivity - all from an essay about...fried rice? Yes, they can-do! Remember - this is from an essay that “worked” - as in, the person was successfully admitted into JHU. What topics might you overlook, in your zeal to look impressive?
The University of California asks you to do a thought experiment when answering the Personal Insight Questions - to think of speaking person to person - on your app:
Imagine UC was a person. If we met face-to-face, what would you want us to know about you? These personal insight questions allow you to tell us. You could write about your creative side. Your thoughts on leadership. A challenge you’ve faced. Whatever questions you answer, make sure you show us your personality—just as you would in real life.
In their list of writing tips, they recommend that you write persuasively:
Making a list of accomplishments, activities, awards or work will lessen the impact of your words. Expand on a topic by using specific, concrete examples to support the points you want to make.
In other words - don’t write a resume as a response to the PIQs. Instead, tell carefully chosen STORIES to communicate with your reader.
The Yale admissions office’s blog reminds you to consider voice and individuality:
I do have favorite essays that I can remember, but they have no particular topic in common. Instead, they are the ones where at the end I have a grasp on what it might be like to have a conversation with the writer, to be in the same room as them. This is what we mean when we talk about voice. Revise and edit, but be sure not to lose the sense of individuality that only you can put into words.
The University of Chicago prizes quirkiness so much that it invites you to submit your own prompt:
In the spirit of adventurous inquiry (and with the encouragement of one of our current students!) choose one of our past prompts (or create a question of your own). Be original, creative, thought-provoking. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun!
This is one the U Chicago office received from 2018:
Little pigs, French hens, a family of bears. Blind mice, musketeers, the Fates. Parts of an atom, laws of thought, a guideline for composition. Omne trium perfectum? Create your own group of threes, and describe why and how they fit together.
“Remember that admissions officers are people too. And people get bored. Don’t let them. Give them something fresh....Steer clear of the theasaurus!”
Perhaps best of all is when the host of the video reminds us that punctuation matters - that “Let’s eat Grandma” is not OK (whereas “Let’s eat, Grandma” is very OK!
They also remind you:
We’ve observed most students write a polished formal essay, yet submit a more casual short response. Give every part of the writing responses to your best effort, presenting yourself in standard, formal English.
Don’t be fooled by short word requirements! Putting your best foot forward on all parts of an application is always a good idea.
Enlighteens Education Perspective
Our deep experience with the college admissions landscape includes not only includes the latest trends that affect your academic plans but also classic, concrete problems that 12th graders must address every year. We hope you enjoyed this short excursion to the perspectives that college admissions personnel apply when reading your application materials - so that you understand a little more about getting to that YES!