We have recently written about how important the personal statement and supplemental essays are for your college applications, learn more about that here. Your essays offer your best venue to demonstrate what makes you unique and very special. But how do you express what makes you who you are? Writing the college application essays can be quite challenging for many students because most students have not used this writing style for any high school writing assignments.
The best college application essays require you to write in your “authentic voice.” The definition of voice in writing incorporates a mixture of word choice, syntax, rhythm, sentence structure, tone, punctuation, and more. Think of writing as a craft. But your authentic voice goes a step beyond this. The goal of your authentic voice is to allow the reader to relate to you, and to enable the reader to know you better than before they read what you wrote. You should share what makes you feel vulnerable in such a way that the reader truly gets to know you and understands what makes you “tick.” After the reader reads your essay, the reader should know YOU, and not just the story you told.
To be able to find your authentic voice, you have to have a strong sense of who you are – your identity. You have to understand what makes you special and different from other high school students. You have to know yourself. So, the first step is to look inwards.
Lean into Your Vulnerability
It can be relatively easy to just relate the details of a story or relay the chronology of an experience. But what pushes your personal statement further toward authenticity is to really lean into your vulnerability. But what does this mean? You could write a story of your first day at a new high school. You can include details of how you got lost on the way to your first class, or how you had to sit in the front row of a class because it was the only open seat in the classroom. You can tell the story of how you knew no one in your new school, but saw someone who reminded you of a friend from your old school simply by the way they rode their bike. But these are simply facts about an experience.
Instead, how did you feel when each of these moments happened? This is your opportunity to share your deep, innermost feelings. Did your tears well up as you heard the second bell and you still had not found your classroom? Did you feel like you would rather turn around, leave the classroom, and run home rather than take the front-row seat, in part because you are over 6 feet tall, and in part because you are profoundly shy? Did you suddenly feel a kinship toward the person on the bike who simply held their handlebars in the same way as your old friend did – and that convinced you that you might find new friends at this new school?
This is just an illustration of how to push your story beyond the simple facts of what happened, into the realm of finding your authentic self and your authentic voice in your experiences.
Find a Compelling Story
Some of the best personal statements are not really about anything in particular. Some of the best essays just unpack a single moment, and take the reader with you as you reach some new understanding following a conflict or challenge. The events of the story themselves do not matter as much as the authenticity in how you relay how you felt, and your ability to articulate and share these feelings with the reader.
Other compelling essays can tell a story of a profound challenge you overcame and how you have changed from the experience. While others still can be montages of moments you experienced that reveal a greater understanding of who you are. The best essays move the reader much closer to you. If they did not know you well before they read it, now they know you much better. And if they knew you before they read it, they are now overcome with emotion and a tear is falling down their cheek.
Edit with a Light Hand
Once you have crafted a draft you are happy with, be cautious of letting your teacher or parent edit too heavily. The admissions officers know how 17- or 18-year old students write, and they know when an adult has heavy-handedly edited your essay. Instead, oftentimes a charming or endearing word choice or phrase helps make the essay all the more powerful. While you want to demonstrate that you can write and have excellent grammar knowledge, you do have a little poetic license to bend a few grammar rules. A punchy phrase. A pithy pause. All these can help the reader feel the emotions you intend to share.
What Is NOT Your Authentic Voice: Your Parents’ Words
One thing that is NOT your authentic voice is anything that your parents write for you. They mean well, but this is YOUR essay. Working from start to finish of your college essays can take a lot of effort. But the more energy and heart you put into your writing, the better essays you will create.
First Step: Brainstorming
The first step in crafting your powerful personal statement requires a bit of brainstorming. We at Mindfish have many tools to help you through this first step, and throughout your essay writing. Mindfish offers both a College Essay Bootcamp and individualized College Essay Coaching. Mindfish tutors can help you transform your initial brainstorm into the finished essays, revealing your authentic voice. Our personalized plans are designed to help you write your own compelling story, in your own authentic voice.