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Writing an eye-catching personal statement

College student uses time management skills to study productively in Pacific library.

Writing a personal statement can be one of the most intimidating steps in an application process. It requires effort and creativity, but it’s worth it because an effective essay can help you stand out from your peers.  

If you’re feeling stressed or lost, here are some tips to help you write a college essay that will be sure to impress your admission counselors.   

Why is a personal statement important?

Admission teams learn about you through your test scores, classes and transcripts. But these documents do not always tell the full story. Your personal statement allows universities to learn more about you. It’s the perfect opportunity to share your interests and passions as well as challenges you’ve overcome, to stand out from other applicants.  

Before you start writing your entire life story, consider these personal statement tips from Pacific’s director of first-year admission, Vivian Chan Rendon: “Focus on one topic, organize your essay, be concise and value quality over quantity.”  

FACT: If you think no one will read your personal statement, think twice. Pacific’s admission counselors read every applicant’s personal statement.  

What are admission counselors looking for in a personal statement?

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact criteria you need to include to write a personal statement that will stand out. Admission counselors are subject to their own opinions and biases, so the best strategy to grab their attention is to be authentic and impactful.   

“A strong opening makes us curious to read further,” Rendon said. “Sharing true feelings or thoughts and heartfelt stories will make your essay stand out more.”  

Here’s what to leave out:  

  • Avoid discussing topics that can be found on your application and transcript like extracurricular activities and grades. It’s unnecessary and does not allow the counselors to learn more about you. 
  • Rather than waste space in your personal statement, if you want to explain pandemic impacts and/or other circumstances or qualifications not addressed in your application, you can type your responses in the essay spaces provided in the “additional information” section on the Common App. If you’re applying with Pacific’s application, you can type “additional information” at the end of your personal statement to create a separate section and then upload your essay and responses together. 

Getting started on your personal statement

If you’re looking for topic ideas or guidance, here are four Common App essay prompts to help you get started: 

  • Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you
  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?  
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.   
  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?  

FICTION: I’m only allowed to write about one of the university’s prompts.   

You have the freedom to choose what you write about in your personal statement. Start a brainstorming session to get your ideas flowing. Use these prompts as a starting point or create your own.  

The U.S. Supreme Court ended Affirmative Action in admission decisions last year, so all colleges in the country are prohibited from using race as a consideration in admission. Colleges in California have been barred from asking about race in the admission process since 1998. However, if you believe your experiences due to your race and/or ethnicity are worth mentioning, you are free to use your personal statement to address them.   

Vivian provided advice for students who choose to write about their backgrounds: “Admission counselors are more interested to see how you overcome your personal challenges. Focus on your perseverance, personal strengths, persistence and pride in your personal identity and how your personal qualities can contribute to the Pacific community.” 

Structuring a good personal statement

Because good personal statements are concise and impactful, organization and structure are important factors to consider when crafting your essay. 

To make sure readers are immediately drawn to your theme, start off with a strong opening or “hook” to grab their attention.   

It can be difficult to keep your essay short (between 250 and 650 words), especially when you have a lot to say. Outlining your personal statement can help you determine the key points you want to mention and in what order.  

The traditional five-paragraph format is not required. Choose the number of paragraphs that will do the best job of showcasing your ideas, and ensure each paragraph contributes to the theme of your story.   

Before submitting your personal statement

There are a few final steps you should take before submitting your personal statement. As I’m sure you’ve heard from your numerous English teachers over the years, you should proofread and get feedback on your essay:  

  • You can use proofreading tools like Grammarly to help catch any grammar, usage, punctuation or spelling mistakes you have made.   
  • Once you think you’re done with your essay, send it to a trusted source for feedback. They may offer suggestions you might not have considered to improve your writing.  
  • Finally, after revising and reviewing your personal statement, submit it!   

Pacific allows you to submit your personal statement at the same time as your application or later if you need more time

If you have any additional questions about applying to Pacific, reach out to our admission team at 209.946.2211 or  

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