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Getting Ready to Write

Before you even open the window on the application form, there are two things you should do to prepare yourself to produce an excellent personal statement.

  • Read!

Read examples of good essays in books with titles such as “50 Successful Harvard Application Essays” or “Writing an Outstanding College Application Essay” which are available at the library or most local bookstores. (You can Google or check on for other similar titles) You’re reading these not to get content ideas for what you should write about, but to calibrate your brain, and set the bar for the kind of essay you can write about your own experiences.

That type of book is generally geared toward high school students who will be applying as Freshman candidates, but transfer students will also benefit from examining the overall style, and approach to writing a compelling opening sentence regardless of content.

If you are a transfer candidate, especially if you are looking to transfer within California, a really excellent book to study on the process is: “Nothing Can Stop Me – An Open Book on Transfer Application Essays” by Marcie Wald

  • Brainstorm!

Use the following suggestions to just sit down and allow “stream of consciousness” to take over your brain. Write down whatever comes to mind without worrying at all about spelling, complete sentences, whether an idea is “right” or whether it will even be useful to you in an essay.

Freshman candidates can brainstorm:

  • What are your strengths?
  • What excites you?
  • What has made you proud of yourself?
  • In what ways are you special?
  • What are your skills and talents?
  • Why do your friends like you?
  • Why do your teachers like you?
  • What has it been like growing up where you live?
  • What has it been like going to your school?
  • What are you hoping to get out of the college experience?

Transfer candidates might focus on:

  • 10 things you are good at
  • Five things that are important to you in life
  • What do you hope to be doing ten years from now?
  • Five people who have made a difference in your life (why, what did you learn from them)
  • Why are you choosing your intended major? (Hint: “I can’t think of anything better/desire to make money/parents have always wanted me to” are not the best possible answers for this one!)
  • Five qualities you think a professor teaching a course in your major would appreciate seeing in a student
  • Five desirable characteristics for someone working in this field
  • What have you already done to prepare yourself for this major? (If you have had no actual experience in the field, then when did the light bulb go off – what made you decide this was the direction you want to go in life? What intellectual exposure have you had to the field — books, magazines, discussion around the dinner table, internship, lab assistant, job shadowing?)
  • What do you expect to do with it after you graduate?

If you make these lists before you start to write a single word of your essay, regardless of the prompt to which you are responding, I guarantee you will have less trouble with this assignment than if you just sit down and try to think of something to write the first time you look at an application.

Quick Tip:

Having trouble or feeling embarrassed trying to think of all your good qualities? Try this! Right before you start brushing your teeth every night, look straight at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself one good thing you did that day – one thing that made you feel good about yourself – and see if you can associate a one or two-word quality with that action or experience. “Generous” “Helpful” “Creative” “Resourceful” – those are the kind of things you might come up with. Write it down right away before you forget, and also write down the event associated with it. At the end of a week, you will have identified seven great characteristics about yourself, and examples to go with them that you can use to show (not just tell) someone what kind of person you really are.

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