Writing your personal statement is actually one of the easiest steps in the college application process.
The key word there, though, is “writing.” Generating the ideas, outline, and flow of the essay is much, much harder. As an example, I recently had a promising student who will likely wind up at a school like Dartmouth or Duke struggle for three weeks to come up with a topic. But as soon as we decided upon one, he had the essay written in less than a week.
There are numerous ways to come up with ideas. The best one, though, is to ask the right questions. Why? Because asking where you can focus yourself will naturally pull you to the appropriate subject for you to write about. Trying to come up with a topic without asking questions is like trying to hike from California to Minnesota without asking for directions. You can do it, but boy will life be much easier with the right questions.
Below are a list of some of the questions I send to all students interested in working with me–you may find inspiration yourself from some of these.
- What moments fundamentally changed you or the path you were on over the last decade?
- What moments in your past trigger strong, almost overwhelming emotions?
- What moments represent the core of who you are?
- What is your most notable failure?
- What motivates you in your daily life?
- How have you changed the most in the last five years? What catalyzed those changes?
- How do you see yourself continuing to grow or change in the next few years?
- Do you have any extenuating circumstances you want the admissions officers to be aware of?