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A few tips on essay writing | Columns

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The personal essay, whether for admission to a postsecondary program or for a scholarship, is a critical piece of the college application process. Chances are, if you don’t have to write a personal statement as part of your admission application, you will most likely need to write one when applying for scholarships. While all parts of your application are important, such as transcripts, test scores, and resumes, paying careful attention to the essay is essential for a successful application. For many applicants, the essay can make or break acceptance to a school or receiving a scholarship.

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At the most basic level, colleges and scholarship committees want to assess your ability to write and communicate your ideas clearly. But beyond that, they ask for personal statements because they want to get a sense of who you are. They are interested in finding out that you are ready for a transformative experience, you understand your growth up to this point in your life, and you are ready to take on the rigors of postsecondary education. Colleges are tasked with the responsibility of building an interesting, well-rounded student body and they want to better understand what you might contribute to their community.

Successful personal statements are written honestly and focus on what is truly meaningful to you. Writing this type of essay is an opportunity for self-reflection, and to share who you are beyond test scores and grades. While it may feel intimidating to reveal details about yourself to people you don’t know, give yourself permission to tell personal stories and provide specific examples about your experiences.

If you’re not sure how to begin, try free writing. Often, something meaningful will pop up that you can expand upon. Another way to get started is to take fifteen minutes to write your biography in the third person and then see if anything you’ve written sparks an idea. Stay with it and don’t feel discouraged if it doesn’t come together right away — this is a process that merits many revisions. When successful, this process can feel messy and painful because you are discovering who you are, what you care about and how you want to articulate this to the world.

Admissions and scholarship committees never ask for information they don’t find useful. Admissions representatives recommend that you give the short answers on your application as much care as you do the main essay. Use these short essays as an opportunity to illustrate your understanding of the college or scholarship, your ability to follow the prompt, and show how you will contribute to the campus or further the values and goals of the scholarship committee.

Give yourself enough time before the due date to review and polish your writing. Look at how you vary your sentence length, how you begin sentences and how you create rhythm in your writing. Review carefully for typos and grammatical errors. Ask for feedback from trusted readers who will critique content and assist with editing. 

Bridges is here to help. You are welcome to set up an appointment in advance of your deadline and we can help you develop essays that will reflect who you are and tell your story. Call (575) 758-5074 or email info@bridgesproject.org to set up an appointment.

Bridges’ mission is to expand access to college and vocational training for people of all ages, with an emphasis on students who are the first generation in their families seeking higher education. Bridges Project for Education has been providing free college counseling since 1997.



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