Below is a pdf link to personal statements and application essays representing strong efforts by students applying for both undergraduate and graduate opportunities. These ten essays have one thing in common: They were all written by students under the constraint of the essay being 1-2 pages due to the target program’s explicit instructions. In such circumstances, writers must attend carefully to the essay prompt (sometimes as simple as “Write a one-page summary of your reasons for wanting to pursue graduate study”) and recognize that evaluators tend to judge these essays on the same fundamental principles, as follows:
- First, you are typically expected to provide a window into your personal motivations, offer a summary of your field, your research, or your background, set some long-term goals, and note specific interest in the program to which you are applying.
- Second, you are expected to provide some personal detail and to communicate effectively and efficiently. Failure to do so can greatly limit your chances of acceptance.
Good writers accomplish these tasks by immediately establishing each paragraph’s topic and maintaining paragraph unity, by using concrete, personal examples to demonstrate their points, and by not prolonging the ending of the essay needlessly. Also, good writers study the target opportunity as carefully as they can, seeking to become an “insider,” perhaps even communicating with a professor they would like to work with at the target program, and tailoring the material accordingly so that evaluators can gauge the sincerity of their interest
Overview of Short Essay Samples
Geological Sciences Samples
In the pdf link below, the first two one-page statements written by students in the geological sciences are interesting to compare to each other. Despite their different areas of research specialization within the same field, both writers demonstrate a good deal of scientific fluency and kinship with their target programs.
Geography Student Sample
The short essay by a geography student applying to an internship program opens with the writer admitting that she previously had a limited view of geography, then describing how a course changed her way of thinking so that she came to understand geography as a “balance of physical, social, and cultural studies.” Despite her limited experience, she shows that she has aspirations of joining the Peace Corps or obtaining a law degree, and her final paragraph links her interests directly to the internship program to which she is applying.
Materials Sciences Student Sample
For the sample from materials sciences, directed at an internal fellowship, the one-page essay has an especially difficult task: The writer must persuade those who already know him (and thus know both his strengths and limitations) that he is worthy of internal funds to help him continue his graduate education. He attempts this by first citing the specific goal of his research group, followed by a brief summary of the literature related to this topic, then ending with a summary of his own research and lab experience.
Teach for America Student Sample
The student applying for the Teach for America program, which recruits recent college graduates to teach for two years in underprivileged urban and rural public schools, knows that she must convince readers of her suitability to such a demanding commitment, and she has just two short essays with which to do so. She successfully achieves this through examples related to service mission work that she completed in Ecuador before entering college.
Neuroscience Student Sample
The sample essay by a neuroscience student opens with narrative technique, telling an affecting story about working in a lab at the University of Pittsburgh. Thus we are introduced to one of the motivating forces behind her interest in neuroscience. Later paragraphs cite three undergraduate research experiences and her interest in the linked sciences of disease: immunology, biochemistry, genetics, and pathology.
Medieval Literature Student Sample
This sample essay immerses us in detail about medieval literature throughout, eventually citing several Irish medieval manuscripts. With these examples and others, we are convinced that this student truly does see medieval literature as a “passion,” as she claims in her first sentence. Later, the writer repeatedly cites two professors and “mentors” whom she has already met, noting how they have shaped her highly specific academic goals, and tying her almost headlong approach directly to the National University of Ireland at Maynooth, where she will have flexibility in designing her own program.
Beinecke Scholarship Student Sample
The Beinecke Scholarship essay is written by a junior faced with stiff competition from a program that awards $34,000 towards senior year and graduate school. This student takes an interesting theme-based approach and projects forward toward graduate school with confidence. This writer’s sense of self-definition is particularly strong, and her personal story compelling. Having witnessed repeated instances of injustice in her own life, the writer describes in her final paragraphs how these experiences have led to her proposed senior thesis research and her goal of becoming a policy analyst for the government’s Department of Education.
Online Education Student Sample
Written during a height of US involvement in Iraq, this essay manages the intriguing challenge of how a member of the military can make an effective case for on-line graduate study. The obvious need here, especially for an Air Force pilot of seven years, is to keep the focus on academic interests rather than, say, battle successes and the number of missions flown. An additional challenge is to use military experience and vocabulary in a way that is not obscure nor off-putting to academic selection committee members. To address these challenges, this writer intertwines his literacy in matters both military and academic, keeping focus on applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), his chosen field of graduate study.
Engineer Applying to a Master’s Program Sample
This example shows that even for an engineer with years of experience in the field, the fundamentals of personal essay writing remain the same. This statement opens with the engineer describing a formative experience—visiting a meat packaging plant as a teenager—that influenced the writer to work in the health and safety field. Now, as the writer prepares to advance his education while remaining a full-time safety engineer, he proves that he is capable by detailing examples that show his record of personal and professional success. Especially noteworthy is his partnering with a government agency to help protect workers from dust exposures, and he ties his extensive work experience directly to his goal of becoming a Certified Industrial Hygienist.
Click here to download a pdf of ten short essay samples.
Content of this article
- Writing a personal essay
- List of topics for writing
- Tips for good writing
- Do/don`t for writing
- Examples of writing
1. Writing a personal essay
Colleges and universities require personal essays that reveal more about an individual, their thoughts, experiences, perspective and personality. Ideally, one should include examples and specific details in the personal essay that relate to who a person is. Through highlighting elements of individuality and creativity, a writer is able to show things that have significantly influenced their life. In writing the personal essay it is necessary to be oneself rather than trying too much to impress by creating too much falsehoods as one will appear inauthentic. At the same time, one has to address the topic if it has been identified while considering the requirements. This paper will highlight the top topics for personal essays, the personal essay structure, how to reference and tips for effective personal essay.
2. Topics for personal essay writing
When selecting a personal essay topic it is necessary to consider the topics that are personal and not impersonal, as the readers seek to know more about the author/writer. The supporting evidence provided what strengthens the claims made and ideas, without repeating the information. There are also personal essay prompts providing general topics to choose from, while they also encourage self-reflection. The personal essay titles are included as they include relevant information. Good personal essay topics are easy to follow, and choosing a bad topic is potentially problematic as such writing is less likely to be reader friendly. Additionally, the choice of a topic influence the writing and when the writers choose an interesting topic that they are comfortable with, they are more likely to use creativity to highlight their personal strengths.
- What have you learned from failure?
- Describe an event that has changed you?
- An experience that has shaped your life.
- How have you overcome fear in your life?
- How has your transition from childhood to adulthood been?
- What memories do you cherish from your early childhood?
- Does power change people, or reveal who they are?
- What is your most memorable holiday?
- What animal best represents you?
- Who do you think is the greatest person to have ever live?
- A lesson to remember.
- What have you done to succeed?
- How have you changed compared to 5 years ago?
- What is the place of ethics and morality?
- How do you describe yourself?
- What experience has changed your perspective on life?
- Does your bedroom represent your personality?
- What would you like to change about your neighborhood?
- How do you relate with neighbors?
- Which famous person would you like to meet and why?
- What is your motivation in life?
3. Personal essay structure
There are various strategies on how to start a personal essay, but the key is to make the opening paragraph memorable with vivid description. Readers have expectations based on the introduction and how the essay unfolds, as this part frames the story. When deciding how to end a personal essay, it is necessary to consider what has already been highlighted and link the conclusion with the introduction. Even when the last paragraph has many related points and material in other sections, few or no information is introduced unless it addressed what had already been discussed.
Like other essays, the personal essay structure contains the personal essay introduction, body and conclusion. The personal essay definition is one in which the writer uses creativity to focus on a personal experience, opinion event or perspective in a way that the reader can understand. In the introduction section the writer sets the stage for the personal essay with emphasis on a hook that gets the attention of the readers. This is closely tied to the scene, where the writer highlights the important information that connects the introduction to the body and conclusion. The personal essay thesis statement in the introduction section ties the main ideas of the essay and guides the writing as the statement summarizes the main points, and the readers then understand what the writing is about.
In the body paragraphs, the writer should emphasize more including details and descriptions rather than simply telling. Writers are best understood when their writing can connect with the readers, and adding details is one such strategy to engage the readers. Additionally, the narrative is supported with evidence that support the main ideas and thesis of the personal essay. The body contains the biggest portion of the writing, and the writer then needs to highlight the significance of the events, experiences or perspectives of the essay. The body paragraph also has the beginning, middle and end action, with details and proper transition.
3.1 Writing a thesis statement
- Important to note that the thesis statement should be framed in such a way that it is an argument or rather in a manner that suggests that it is debatable;
- It should be framed in such a way that it is clear to readers;
- A thesis statement should be placed in place where it is visible, at the end of the introduction;
- It should be relevant to what the essay is discussing;
- Thesis statements should always be interesting;
- It should be specific;
- It should be brief.
After deciding or choosing the topic, it s necessary to write the rough draft. The case for this is to address the main ideas and general theme, where the principal points and supporting evidence are made. In the first draft of the personal essay, the concluding paragraph also summarizes the main ideas. After this is the need for reviewing the rough draft, there are corrections and revisions to rewrite the first draft, and submitting the reading to another person helps improves the writing when they provide unbiased opinions. In the second draft, grammar, spelling and punctuation are all considered when reviewing and writing a personal essay.
Like other articles and writing texts, the writer focuses on one subject, while the events and story are written chronologically if the personal essay is to make sense. Even in cases when there is no time element, organization and order are considered through the use of transition words is a top priority to support the logical flow of information. When the paragraph change to focus on subtopics of the main ideas, the transition words are used to connect the paragraphs. Similar to other essays, the main points are first covered and other points then highlighted in each of the paragraphs.
In the personal essay conclusion, the personal essay summarizes the ideas covered and may also highlight the way forward. Since the conclusion sums up the overall ideas, the last paragraph ought to reinforce the thesis. Other than reiterating the main ideas, the conclusion highlights the value of the ideas discussed in the personal essay. Ideally, the conclusion should not include new ideas, but the section may connect the essay within a larger context.
4. How to reference
When citing a source either through using the APA or MLA format there are few differences in the in-text citation and referencing. The general format of the APA referencing style is Author, First Initial, Middle Name initial (Year). Title of article/ website/book.
Gonchar, M. (2014, Nov 13). 500 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing. The Learning Network- The New York Times. Retrieved 21 December 2016, from http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/13/500-prompts-for-narrative-and-personal-writing/?_r=0
Moore, D. W. (2010). Crafting The Personal Essay: A Guide for Writing and Publishing Creative Non-Fiction. Cincinnati: F+W Media.
In the case of MLA referencing a book this is Last name, First name. Title. City: Publisher, Year, and for a website it is Last name, First name. Title page. Web. Date Accessed.
Gonchar, Michael. “500 Prompts for Narrative And Personal Writing”. The Learning Network.- The New York Times N.p., 2014. Web. 21 Dec. 2016.
5. Tips for effective personal essay
One of the most important aspects in the personal essay writing is choosing the topic, since the essay reflects the topic. Even when the topics have already been picked, it is necessary to focus on the unique features or the writer’s own perspectives. Even as people may have similar experiences they hold different perspective, and when there are unexpected perspectives this sets a writer apart from the others. On the other hand, if one were to choose a boring topic, the essay will also be boring and any attempt to reveal about oneself will not be fascinating to the readers.
After picking the topic it is necessary to prepare a personal essay outline that map out the ideas to be covered in the personal essay. The case for this is that it allows the writer to connect the ideas, linking those that support these ideas with evidence, and preparing the outline is also necessary to organize the essays without repeating the ideas. Even as brainstorming can yield useful results, it may be necessary to seek personal essay help to identify and connect the ideas. Additionally, outlining the ideas focuses on the overall picture making it easier to eliminate the irrelevant parts as the personal essay will then flow more smoothly.
Providing details in personal writing is necessary to remove the vague and abstract references makes it easier for the readers to pay attention to the essay as they can easily understand the anecdotes and their relations to the essay. The anecdotes illustrate the meaning of the details in the personal essay. In shaping the experiences that identify the unique writing, the concrete details are necessary to achieve this. Nonetheless, care is exercised when using the descriptive material and concrete material to avoid melodrama, since the aim is to present the essay in a way that is easily understood by the readers.
Connecting the personal essay within the context and larger meaning helps in developing the writing and connect with the readers. Even as the writing the personal essay focuses on the personal elements in life, the written essay has meaning within certain contexts. The theme of the personal essay goes beyond the essay’s specific details, where the author gives meaning. When the readers come across the personal essay they are left thinking about the meaning of such essays. Since the personal essays reveals and highlights more details about the other, the ability to use anecdotes is necessary to make connection of the ideas.
6. Things “to do” and “not do” during personal essay writing
- Do focus on personal aspects and not the impersonal ones;
- Do tell the truth to be authentic;
- Do focus on the positives;
- Do pick topics that interest the readers;
- Be specific and detailed;
- Do not repeat the same information;
- Do not choose topics simply because other people have picked this;
- Do not use outside sources without acknowledging this.