MAKE OR BREAK- Why Your Personal Statement is the Gatekeeper for Getting Into the College of Your Dreams


The Sather Gate is the passage to the campus University of California at Berkeley from the surrounding neighborhood

As a student, there are times when you feel like nothing more than a number, or sum of numbers, to be exact. You’re a Student ID number, a class ranking determined by your GPA, a standardized test score, a massive quantity of extracurricular activities. Man, that’s a lot of digits hanging over your head.

Remember that Aristotle quote, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”? When it comes to college applications, this concept couldn’t be more relevant. YOU know that are more than just a collection of numbers, rankings, and activities that follow you through your academic career. But, how do you show THAT to the admissions officers? (Drumroll pleeeease…..)

Your college application essay, or personal statement, is where colleges get to know you as a person, not a number.

Let’s take a look at this statement from University of California, Berkeley admissions page:

“While grades and test scores are important and our applicant pool is highly competitive, we read each application individually—looking beyond the numbers—for students who can add to the extraordinary educational atmosphere at Berkeley.”

Yes, your dream college wants to know that you are a capable student and are able to perform academically. However, they are just as interested in knowing:

1) Who you are

2) What makes you unique

3) What you have to contribute to their university.

Consider this… in a sea of applicants with comparable scores and endless extracurricular activities, the only place where admissions officers can distinguish your application from the rest of the pack is your personal statement. You have the opportunity (in just a few hundred words) to separate yourself from the crowd. Even in schools that might be a reach for you because of your GPA or SAT/ACT’s, an outstanding personal statement may make up for the difference and push your application over the edge into the “accepted” promised-land.

That’s right, my dear student… your future is riding on an essay.

Don’t panic!!!

Before you get overwhelmed, (because we’ve been there… we feel your pain), take a few deep breaths and remember that you CAN write an awesome personal statement with the right tools. By drawing from real-life experiences, showing personal growth, and displaying insightful thinking, you can write a relatable, powerful essay. 

Here are 5 quick tips for a better personal statement:

1) Hook admissions officers from the beginning with a specific, focused anecdote. Use sensory imagery to describe a moment (focus on most important or significant part) of the experience that you’ve chosen as the basis of your essay.  Make sure that the opening line of your personal statement grabs the reader’s attention; use an element of suspense, intrigue or pose a rhetorical question to gain interest.

2) Expand your anecdote to reveal the deeper meaning, or “greater truth” behind it.  This may sound abstract, but it’s a key element to a powerful essay! College admissions officers are seeking candidates that have initiative, drive, and strength of character. You should develop you anecdote to reveal the “greater truth”, or lessons you gained from the experience that you will carry with you into college and beyond.

3) Show a clear progression of logic throughout your personal statement. This may seem obvious, but many students struggle with conveying a clear flow of ideas.  Starting with your anecdote, developing why the experience was impactful enough to share it, and finally concluding on how this has made you better prepared for college… without beating your reader over the head with it!

4) Don’t be afraid to take a risk on your personal statement!  Admissions officers consider thousands of essays, you don’t want yours to be lost in the pile. Be creative with the topic you choose, or attempt to view it from a different perspective so that you can provide a unique spin on an otherwise predictable topic.

5) Remember, this is not your standard, 5-paragraph essay. This isn’t the time or place to cram as many SAT words in as possible to “sound smart” or take up space with filler words. Using overly flowery words will make you sound stuffy, and you don’t have the real estate to waste space in this essay. Above all else, write clearly and from the heart. Admissions officers want to know the real you!

With all that in mind, if you still need some extra help, please check out out complete online course on how to write a killer personal statement. We cover all these topics and more to ensure your best chances of getting into the college of your dreams!


Liz and Allison, Co-Founders of CES