The following is a personal statement example that I have worked on. Identifying information has been changed. My thoughts are written in bold after some paragraphs.
“You homeless bum, get yourself a job and make yourself useful for once!”
(When it comes to quotes, it really depends to me on why you’re using it. In general, I don’t like starting an essay with a quote by a famous person, as it’s taking someone else’s words to open your essay that should be your words. However, if the quote is from a situation you encountered, that’s a little different, because it’s an experience you went through and can relate to. I also like this quote because it really jumps out as a first line and raises a bunch of questions–who is saying this? Why are they saying it? Why would the person open an essay like this? Had they started with some lofty quote from a public figure they’d never met, that would be boring–but this is exciting and provokes interest.)
As a student at UNC Charlotte, I frequently walked to class through uptown, a public space where hundreds of homeless people congregate to seek shelter and to ask for assistance. When I heard a businessman shout these words—plus several profanities—it left me literally nauseous.
Hate, malice, disrespect, false accusations, unwarranted arrests for “disturbing the peace,” curses, verbal abuse—the homeless population in uptown encounter these problems daily. The homeless man might’ve become jaded to the businessman’s words, but I had had enough. I walked up to the homeless man and asked him if he needed help, taking a genuine curiosity in his needs.
(Some generalized description can help set the stage, as this first line in the second paragraph does. But it’s important to remember that a specific narrative will play much better than a general description of an event, so it’s great to see this writer return to the narrative with the last line in the second paragraph.)
He stated he had to take the CATS train by a certain time to get to his destination but needed some cash to buy a ticket. I had the money to help him, and while I eventually gave it to him, I knew from looking into his eyes I could give him something invaluable—human connection. I walked with him to the train station, discussing the path of life and how while things can get almost unfathomably bad, they can also turn for the better over time. When I left him at the train station, he thanked me for my time, noting how almost everyone ignored him or berated him. Even the ones who gave him money, he said, did so for their self-benefit or to fulfill volunteer duties.
(I really like that the writer doesn’t just describe what he saw, but what he felt. I speak all the time about the importance of narrative, but a narrative by itself doesn’t do enough. You have to reflect some on the narrative, and I like that the writer reflects on what he saw in the homeless man’s eyes.)
I could not forget that moment even as classes, social life, and time threatened to bury it in my memory. I made it a habit to speak to other homeless individuals in the area and did some research on the area. Once the recession hit, the homeless population had to utilize it for shelter. Since that time, the homeless dealt with the problems that man faced.
I knew I wanted to make a true difference. Treating them as the humans they are with friendly conversation would lift their spirits, but I could not help everyone by myself. Fortunately, I had some friends who felt the same way I did, and we founded HelpTheHomeless.
HelpTheHomeless brings together people of a variety of backgrounds to befriend the homeless. We don’t just feed their stomachs—we feed their hearts with supportive words, active listening, and extended hands to lift them up from where they’ve fallen.
(This is a case where good writing can make an essay stand out. “We don’t just feed their stomachs–we feed their hearts” is a great sentence with great structure that will bring a smile to the reader’s face. If you can get a visible reaction from a reader with your final product, you’re doing something right.)
Our club makes every effort to better their lives with opportunities as well. For example, we met a woman who had terrific business management skills but terrible luck in her life. We got her and several other homeless folks to attend a closed-door job fair, landing many of them jobs. We also managed to secure sponsorship for a man to take classes on Udemy after he expressed great passion for engineering and programming. Others receive social welfare, financial, and exercise classes to get them physically and mentally fit.
We haven’t stopped at uptown, either. We’ve expanded our efforts to other areas in Charlotte densely populated with the homeless. Furthermore, we are in talks with the city government to sponsor weekly events to help those in need get jobs or receive valuable education.
I know my work affects just one part of one city in one state, but I believe the steps we’ve taken have already improved the lives of many for the better. Recently, on a walk through uptown, I encountered the same man who inspired me to start HelpTheHomeless. We only spoke for a brief moment, but he expressed profound gratitude and offered three words that I will always take to heart.
“Keep it up.”
(I like that he closes the essay by bringing up the first homeless man once more. I always believe in an essay of this length [about 650 words, the typical length of a personal statement], you should do your best to bring an essay full circle in your conclusion.
OVERALL: This essay hits a lot of the key points I like to stress to my clients. It has a truly strong opening, it has a reflective narrative, it builds to an accomplishment or moment they take pride in, and it comes full circle. Every essay can always use more detail, but there’s also the reality that 650 words just isn’t enough to get everything you want in. If I were the student who wrote this essay, I would submit this feeling very confident that it bolsters my chances of admission to the school I’m applying for.
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