Don’t show anyone anything you have written yet. And don’t reread it immediately. Let all that you’ve written sit, latent, so you’re not tempted to edit it right off the bat. Why? Allowing your writing to breathe away from you can prevent you from committing one of the cardinal sins of personal statement-writing—but also all writing!—trying to force the story into what you think it should be instead of what it is. To get more concrete: let’s say Michael wrote about his grandfather teaching him to surf in answer to several of those prompts—about a crucial summer, and an important person to him. But now he’s so excited about that that he immediately wants to turn it into his draft. As he’s writing, he gets self-conscious, thinking: why am I writing about surfing when I’m not a competitive surfer, and when it’s only something I do occasionally? Or say Michael shows it to an English teacher, who gets distracted by the quality of Michaels prose—which was meant to be free and unedited—and tells him to choose another topic, since this one isn’t “singing” yet. Respect your process and let these things sit.

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This is a picture-perfect response to a university-specific essay prompt. What makes it particularly effective is not just its cohesive structure and elegant style but also the level of details the author uses in the response. By directly identifying the specific aspects of the university that are attractive to the writer, the writer is able to clearly and effectively show not only his commitment to his studies but – perhaps more importantly – the level of thought he put into his decision to apply. Review committees know what generic responses look like so specificity sells.
Before you begin to write, brainstorm some ideas. Most likely, the university gave you a prompt or a choice of prompts to write about. Take your time to carefully consider each prompt. If you feel yourself drawn to a particular prompt, think about why you’re being drawn to it. Reflect on your life to find any personal anecdotes that work well with that prompt.
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