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Essay Examples: 20 Personal Statements That Stand Out + Why They Work


Essay Examples: Writing the Personal Statement Essay

This is your ultimate list of Personal Statement examples.

In this post, you'll learn:

  • What makes a successful Personal Statement
  • How to write an irresistible Personal Statement
  • Ivy League personal essay examples

If you're looking to read and write Personal Statement essays, you've found the right place.

Ryan
by Ryan ChiangUpdated May. 22, 2022

In this post, I'm going to share everything you need to go from zero to having a Personal Statement essay you can be proud of.

This guide will help you get started writing an engaging Personal Statement essay. Or if you already have one, how to make it even better.

What is a Personal Statement Essay?

A personal statement, also called a statement of purpose (SOP) or personal essay, is a piece of creative, personal writing.

The purpose of your personal statement is to express yourself and your ideas. Personal statements usually aren't piece of formal writing, but still should be thoughtful and planned out.

Many applications for colleges, graduate schools, and scholarships require you to write a personal statement.

How to Write a Personal Statement Essay

While there are no rules or guidelines for writing a personal statement, the best ones often have these in common:

Have Strong Ideas:

Having compelling and interesting ideas shows you are a strong thinker.

It isn't necessarily about having all the answers, but asking theright questions.

For personal statement essays, the quality of your ideas matters more than your writing level. Writing interestingly is more important than writing beautifully.

I’ve stopped tripping over my own feet, and it’s led to me not being afraid to connect and interact with patients and customers or present in front of large crowds. Life is just one long Carioca – you might stumble at first, but if you keep pushing, the right feet will find themselves in the right place.

Use Narratives and Story-Telling:

Humans are naturally drawn to stories.

And often the best insights and ideas come from real life experiences.

Telling a story, or many, is the basis for developing your analysis and ideas. Remember, all stories need conflict in order to work.

It can help to think about the different types of conflict.

  • Character vs. Self
  • Character vs. Character
  • Character vs. Nature
  • Character vs. Society

And so on...

Once you've written a meaningful story, getting insights is as simple as answering the question: What did your experiences teach you?

The sounds of my knife striking kale unnerves my cat asleep in the corner. He quickly runs over to examine the situation but becomes instantly uninterested when he sees green and smells bitterness. Unfortunately, my family has this same reaction every day of every week.

Showcase Your Values and Identity:

The purpose of a personal statement is to tell about who you are.

Personal statements are your opportunity to showcase what your values are, and how you would contribute to the school, scholarship opportunity, etc.

Good writers are those who write authentically. Write about your unique ideas and ask interesting questions, even if you don't know the answers.

How Long Should a Personal Statement Be?

A typical personal statement can range in length from 500 to 650 words or more.

For applying to colleges, the Common Application essay personal statement has a word limit of 650 words.

For graduate school programs, the application essay will vary in length, but most schools require a personal statement essay of at least 500 words.

20 Personal Statement Essays That Worked

It can be difficult to understand what makes a great essay without seeing some for yourself.

Here's 20 of our favorite personal statement essays that we've chosen for being unique and high-quality.

There essays were all accepted into some of the most selective schools. And while it isn't the only factor in admissions that matters, having outstanding essays can help tip the scales in your favor.

Table of Contents

Personal Statement Example #1: Uncomfortable Truths

Personal Statement Essay

Common App Prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

250-650 words

People love to ask why. Why do you wear a turban? Why do you have long hair? Why are you playing a guitar with only 3 strings and watching TV at 3 A.M.—where did you get that cat? Why won’t you go back to your country, you terrorist? My answer is…uncomfortable. Many truths of the world are uncomfortable. A couple of examples are that an equal number of pets are euthanized as are adopted each year and that cats roam the streets at night because they are actually looking for owners with better food. One of those statements is a horrible truth and the other is a thought I had in the shower. Either way, the point still stands. Uncomfortable truths are just that, uncomfortable. The answer to ‘Why won’t you go back to your country, you terrorist?’ is the most uncomfortable answer I can give, barring the current status of aboriginal street cats.

Sikhs like myself have borne the brunt of the backlash through our forced subjection to hate crimes, bullying, and job discrimination. In 2012, a misguided gunman took the lives of six Sikhs who were praying peacefully in their house of worship in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Their families, through their tears, asked the nation, like I continue to ask myself, “Why?”

The uncomfortable truth is that as a society, we have not found a solution to the growing trend of extremism and hate crimes—we failed at the whole “freedom of religion” clause in the Bill of Rights. The media tells us that these crimes are carried out by individuals that are ignorant and motivated by hate. I would personally call them losers, but that would solve none of underlying system problems that have grown from anti-immigration rhetoric. When my cousin joined the US Army, he was told that he’d have to cut his beard and hair. Every time I tell that part of the story I can’t help but guffaw at how ridiculous it sounds. My then eleven-year-old angst came to a climactic fruition hearing those words—it was a call to action.

I helped to gather signatures for a petition to Robert Gates, then Secretary of Defense, pleading with him to allow Sikhs to serve without having to cut our hair. We garnered over 15,000 signatories, receiving generous media attention. We called and convinced our local congressional offices to support this issue. I created a Facebook page to help spread awareness, and helped to organize fundraisers to help fight this ban on our articles of faith. Our message is simple. Through service, we can push back against both hate and intolerance. But, if the largest employer in the U.S. does not allow us to serve with our articles of faith, then we will continue to be victimized as outsiders, contrary to the founding principles of our nation.

I’m proud to say my cousin deployed to Afghanistan as the first Sikh to be granted a religious waiver in nearly a generation. He saved countless lives as a doctor on the front lines of war and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his efforts. But, (there’s always a but) Sikhs today still face a presumptive ban. Despite being in perfect—for the army’s sake—physical condition, I cannot join the US Army because of my hair.

So now the uncomfortable story that was the uncomfortable answer to an uncomfortable question comes to an uncomfortable ending. And, like all great uncomfortable answers, I never really answered the main question. I don’t have the answers to why people do the hateful things they do. But by wearing my turban proudly every morning, by answering questions when they come up, by being willing to talk about everything that is wrong, I become a personification of what is right. My solution to the systemic problem starts with me.

(634 words)

About This Personal Essay:

This is a personal statement that worked for Princeton. It is outstanding for many reasons, but most of all because of its ideas and the thoughtfulness put into organizing them.

Why This Essay Works:
  • Central Theme: Having a unifying idea is key to successful personal statements. Find your deepest idea or realization and focus your essay around that.
  • Connects to Accomplishments: Find a way to showcase your achievements while connecting to broader, more universal ideas.
  • Strong Conclusion and Hook: Connecting your ending to your beginning is a powerful way to bring your essay full circle. A great conclusion expands on your ideas introduced earlier, while leaving some room for more to be said.
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Personal Statement Example #2: Film and Theater

Personal Statement Essay

Common App Prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

250-650 words

“One of the parents emailed me, saying their daughter came home terrified because of your lunch-time horror stories.”

I was in third grade, and Mrs. Brewer pulled me aside at lunch. She leaned down - barely, however, as she was already so short - and gently grabbed my shoulder. Her lips were chapped and pink and wisps of her soft gray hair outlined her round face.

Without a mirror, I already knew my cheeks were red. The idea of getting in trouble engulfed my face with heat and tingled the tip of my nose. “It’s okay!” she assured me, with an air that suggested she found the whole situation amusing. “I just wanted to tell you so you could stop. You aren’t in trouble.” I granted a small nod, my mouth drier than the Sahara. She stood and patted my back. “Alright.”

That was the first time a story I created had ever affected anyone else; part of me danced in the sunlight, while a larger part of me ruminated in the dark, worried about the trouble I may have caused because someone’s daughter came home terrified thanks to some chubby, nerdy girl’s ghost stories. However, for that chubby, nerdy girl, those scary campfire stories were her door into the A-list social crowd of the lunchroom; the popular girls in my grade invited me to their table every day. Granted, I knew they only wanted me for entertainment. But, man, it felt good to be wanted, and it still does.

When my films affect other people, I feel joy. For example, “Cardboard Castles” is a drama I co-directed about a father with a terminal illness grappling with the challenges of explaining to his daughter that he is dying. When I watch it with an audience and the audience begins to cry, it means I have successfully conveyed a story that connected deeply with others. There’s not a feeling in the world like it.

From creating make-believe scenarios with dollhouses to Scooby-Doo movies made by my cousins and me to producing my own films, stories follow me like cats follow laser pointers. I feed off of other people’s energy like a new-age carnivore. I am fascinated by the human experience and enjoy thinking, talking, learning, and even complaining about it. With this in mind, it makes sense that I talked to random strangers as a toddler, loved history class, and have participated in student council since I attended a school that offered it.

To build on this, storytelling is one of the most human things we do. As far as we know, humans are the only species who do this. From cave walls to the Globe Theatre to online fanfiction, humans have been telling stories since we could think. Now, I find myself considering a career path, and I have concluded with certainty that I want–no, need–to collaborate with others to celebrate the human experience.

So, here I am, pushing forward with my motivation to become a successful director. I want to influence filmmaking in a revolutionary way. I want to be an auteur. I want little girls to look up to me and see that directing is something they can do. I want to win awards. I want to mentor young filmmakers and help them overcome obstacles. I want to push limits and break glass ceilings. I want to tell stories the world needs to hear. I am so fortunate to have found a profession that combines all of my skills and passions into one expansive field. My leadership, resilience, creativity, and drive are like a delicious soup served at one specific restaurant: the film industry.

(606 words)

About This Personal Essay:

This student's essay was accepted to USC, among other top schools. It's topic is seemingly simple—taking walks—but the author brilliantly shows how even in the mundane there can be meaningful reflections.

Why This Essay Works:
  • Tells a Vivid Story: Using narrative is a great way to introduce your ideas. You can bring the reader into your world by using descriptive language. Remember that all stories need conflict.
  • Connects to Aspirations: Reveal what your ambitions and goals are. What are you trying to achieve in life? By connecting your past experiences to your future ambitions, you can create a compelling character of yourself.

What Could Be Improved:

  • Describe the Indescribable: Feelings are the hardest to capture in words. But the best personal statements try to capture emotions felt in a moment. By sharing those feelings, you immediately relate with the reader and your essay is more personable.
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Personal Statement Example #3: Romanian Heritage

Personal Statement Essay

Common App Prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

250-650 words
Rica nu stia sa zica rau, ratusca, ramurica. I stared at the cracked ceiling of my bedroom in Romania, repeating the eight words under my breath. Rica nu stia sa zica rau, ratusca, ramurica. More than anything, I wanted to roll my r's, to speak Romanian without the telltale American accent. The...
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About This Personal Essay:

This personal statement worked for UMichigan, among many other top schools like MIT, Rice, UNC at Chapel Hill, University of Pittsburgh, UW Madison, and more.

This author is able to vividly bring you into their world using cultural references and descriptive writing. You can practically taste and smell Buni's kitchen through her words.

Why This Essay Works:
  • Shares Their Culture: By using Romanian words and vivid descriptions, the author is able to bring you into their world. Writing about your culture and background will automatically bring a sense of authenticity to your essay.
  • Self-Awareness: Reflecting upon yourself is key to not only get insights, but to show the reader that you're self-aware. As humans, we appreciate when someone acknowledges their strengths, flaws, and how we're perceived by others.
  • Connects to Universal Ideas: Connecting experiences from your life to bigger, more universal ideas is a key way to show why your ideas matter. How do your experiences relate to the universal human experience? And what can you learn from that?

What Could Be Improved:

  • Overuse of Foreign Words: Finding a balance between being stylistic and being understandable by the reader is challenging. And although some Romanian words throughout can bring the reader into their world, it can become confusing when those words aren't explained or their meaning isn't easily inferred.

Personal Statement Example #4: Person of the Woods

Personal Statement Essay

Common App Prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

250-650 words

I am a person of the woods, and every summer when I come back from my canoe tripping camp, I have transformed from the city dweller that defines ten months of my year to the wilderness man my friends jokingly call me. Canoe tripping is so much more than carrying a canoe or a pack, or paddling lakes bigger than my whole city; it’s about the people you’re with, the friendships you create, learning about yourself, and your relationship with your surroundings.

I have spent every summer since I was seven at Camp Pathfinder, building friendships with people who were so different than me each year. Pathfinder has a way of bringing people together from different backgrounds, sides of the continent, even countries, and bonding them for life. I have friends all the way across my continent in Los Angeles, friends who I’d never seen before who actually live on my street, and even friends who live in Spain. Going across the trails with packs half our size and more than half our weight, or canoes sixteen feet, you get to know each other well and deeply. My friends range from seven years old to sixty-three. At Pathfinder, everyone is equal and everyone is in the same boat, or canoe for that matter.

When I first went to camp, I loved being on the island, but hated canoe tripping. Being forced to carry a pack and traveling by canoe was awful. Where was the fun in sleeping in small tents with an absurd amount of mosquitoes and aching after portaging? I came home crying that first summer, but for some odd reason, I was drawn back. It took four years until, finally, I understood. I went on a twelve day canoe trip and it clicked; I had the time of my life, and I was hooked. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate not only learning about the people I am with, but the environment that surrounds me. The sunsets in Algonquin Park are the most beautiful on Earth, seeing water at the end of an arduous portage feels greater than spying land from the lake, the sound of a loon has an unmatched purity, and the fog on the water draws you to it.

My friend Aidan has taught me to push myself harder than I thought possible; Tate taught me there is no rest until we have made the trip as good as it can be for the younger campers; Gabe showed me that laughter is the best way out of any situation. From Rohan I’ve learned there is always a solution, and from Grady I’ve learned that it IS possible to encompass all of the ideals that define each of us. From me, they say they have learned leadership, and I hope that is true.

Anywhere I go, I can meet someone with some strange connection to Pathfinder and this common ground alone allows us to talk on a more intimate level, passing the “get-to-know-you” stage of acquaintances. We bond over past staff, mutual friends, canoe trips, lakes in the park, and our beautiful, red, cedar-strip, canvas canoes. Pathfinder has jokingly been referred to as a cult because of the way we religiously worship our “sacred” island. The scary part is, this is true. We worship the canoes that allow us to travel and we thank the great spirit, who constantly watches over us.

In reality, it is more similar to one large family with thousands who share the one hundred five years of its history. Our days of canoe tripping and pushing each other connects us deeply. When we sit around the fires at the end of the day, we don’t need to talk; we just need to relax and enjoy one another’s company. And as we lay down our heads, on our soft balsam beds, we thank the great spirit that our blood runs Pathfinder red.

(650 words)

About This Personal Essay:

This essay was accepted into Dartmouth College. It is a brilliant example of showing how any experience, even those which originally may have been unpleasant, can be the topic of meaningful reflection.

Why This Essay Works:
  • Finds Meaning in the Ordinary: Great ideas can come from any types of experiences. And it can be quite interesting to delve into seemingly normal or straightforward things, like canoe trips, and show how there is a world to explore within them.
  • Shows Interactions with Others: By revealing how you learn from and collaborate with other people, you show the reader that you benefit groups. Life is not a solo adventure, and people have an impact on our lives. Showing why other people are meaningful creates compelling essays.
  • Shows Transformation and Change: Revealing how you've grown and changed as a person is key. This essay does a great job by showing how canoe tripping went from unpleasant experiences to some of their most meaningful ones.

What Could Be Improved:

  • Simplify Your Hook: Your hook doesn't need to be complicated. And often the best ones are short descriptive statements. Try to capture the essence of your main idea in as few as words as possible. For example, simply: "I am a person of the woods."

Personal Statement Example #5: Beautiful Walks

Personal Statement Essay

Common App Prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

250-650 words

The most beautiful part of my day is when I walk.

Every morning before school, I put on my grandmother’s plush red coat, tie my white Keds, and begin on a fifteen minute journey. The rhythmic motion of my limbs, the caress of the sunlight upon my skin, this is what guides my mind to achieve clarity. My mental acuity allows me to conceive fascinating ideas, to spill through the infinitudes of philosophical reflection, and experience captivating intrigue.

Growing up, walking was used as a means of attaining peace in a time of instability. When it became painful to hear my mother fight with men I was supposed to love, my outdoor solace distracted the pain from amplifying. While gazing upon some classic Virginia evergreens, I questioned.

Why do some stars end up as black holes? What makes my eyes dark blue? How do owls turn their heads all the way back?

I dared to find explanations, letting my tiny fingers tear through pages of astrophysics books and biology encyclopedias. I drowned in documentaries about the stars and studied YouTube videos of violinists playing Paganini. And when my grandparents came to visit me during times of hardship, I asked them about ballet and music and DNA, thirsting to discover my breathtaking world.

As a result of my flourishing inquisitiveness, I inevitably developed a fascination with my family that encouraged me to learn about my family’s walks. These were not walks in the purely literal sense, but rather walks generated by journeying life itself. My mother and grandmother’s encounter with oppression and assault while living in Iran aroused in me a fierce fervor for combating evil. Yet my adoptive father and grandfather’s encounters with plummeting aircrafts and chemical weapon attacks instilled an intense wonder about the psychological and moral implications of war. Moreover, these experiences intensified my thirst for learning and a desire to become a positive contributor to our ever-competitive global society. To quench this thirst, I submerged myself in my own ocean of intellectually invigorating walks.

These walks have provided me invaluable experiences: I have toured the streets of Nuremberg with Hegel, idolizing his ideas on human consciousness. But I have glided across the glossy tiles of Hwa Chong Institute with my Singaporean research partners, latching onto the scientific complexity that drips from their lips. I have trudged past the mud-brick houses of Tehran with my great-uncle, marvelling at the blossoming political intellectualism within Iranian artists. Yet I have shrunk my frame into the dimensions of my pHEMA-VP hydrogel nanoparticles, exploring its polymeric networks with excitement and awe.

My movement has fueled my hunger to learn more about biology, my desire for my cosmetic business to excel, my romance with learning political philosophy. This movement, this is what defines me. Indeed, my walks have also taught me how my intellectual endeavors satiate my love for the journey more than for the destination. For it is the pursuit of knowledge, with all its undulations, which electrifies the lover of wisdom more than the knowledge itself.

In fact, arriving at my destinations have often provided my spirit a sharp, bittersweet sting. Like the stub end of a cucumber, I have tasted the unpleasantness of departing the people who have taught me and the experiences which have coached me: time has grinned at me with a gleam of schadenfreude. But I have also savored the sweet, ironic enlightenment that destinations provide: there is no end to my experiments in life. I will never cease to develop inwardly. My life is one that has converted the pursuit of intellectual endeavors from the machine of my destiny into the servant of my will. Walks have taught me to be patient, but to also live passionately and authentically. With my plush red coat and white Keds, I walk onward, for the wisdom of life is gained by walking through life itself.

(646 words)

Why This Essay Works:
  • Strong Hook: Don't try "too hard" with creating a compelling first sentence. Often, a good hook can be a simple declarative sentence that captures your main idea.
  • Specific in Naming Things: Whenever possible, naming people, places, and things specifically is better than being vague.
  • Connects to Academic Interests: Although not always necessary in personal statements, showing how your experiences relate to your academic pursuits can create a cohesive application. By relating your ideas to your future ambitions, you show what motivates you, and that is always interesting.
  • Strong Conclusion: Connecting back to the beginning and expanding on your ideas is a great way to end your essay. Consider creating an ending that is surprising, but makes sense once you realize it.

What Could Be Improved:

  • Use Simpler Language: Whenever possible, it is better to use a simple word over a fancy one. Don't try to show your intelligence using vocabulary, but rather through your ideas. Clarity of your ideas is far more valuable than eloquent writing.
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Personal Statement Example #6: My Father

Personal Statement Essay

Common App Prompt #2: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

250-650 words

His eyes stared back at me with contentment. Neither he nor I, the baby girl on his lap, are smiling, but there is a sense of peace, of quiet happiness about us. I hold his wrist in one hand, my other grasping a bottle of ketchup. He holds my tiny leg and my waist, propping me up. His wedding band gleams in the midafternoon sunlight.

That same ring catches the light in my bedroom, the bedroom he painted yellow when I was still the baby in the photo. My mother gave it to me for my sixteenth birthday, and it flashes purple when I move my hand. Staring at my reflection in the ring’s surface, I can still see the baby girl in the photo. I have the same round face, the same brown, almond-shaped eyes. For the first time, I have something tangible to remind me of him -- something more substantial than our shared love of puns or 16-year-old photographs that curl at the corners.

That picture has stayed the same for 16 years. My dad passed away before I took my first steps. I have no conscious memories of him. My mother did her best to make my childhood as normal as possible, but my dad’s loss still hurts. It is a strange feeling not to know what my own father’s favorite color was or what foods he liked.

I was most fascinated by my mother’s stories of his career. Driven by a desire to emulate him, I decided I wanted to prosecute corporate tax fraud for the IRS, as he had done. If I was unable to know him, choosing his career path felt like the most substantial connection I had to him. I wanted to make him proud to be my father.

For much of my life, my dad’s most discernible presence came through Social Security survivor benefits or checks from his pension fund, supporting our family and compensating for my mom’s sporadic employment. My health insurance was provided through Medicaid. These programs leveled the socioeconomic playing field so that my family had one less thing to worry about. So we could afford to focus our limited finances on things like extracurricular activities or saving money to further my education.

Slowly, my desire to become an attorney became less about becoming my father. The older I have grown, the more I have realized the necessity of programs like Medicaid and Social Security, how changes in entitlement programs affect the everyday lives of Americans dependent on them: if Medicaid suffered cuts or my pediatrician’s accepted forms of insurance changed, I went months at a time unable to see a doctor. Through this experience, I discovered a passion for civil rights law. I want to aid others in danger of losing the same programs that have been instrumental to my success -- to help those that need additional advantages to gain the same opportunities as their peers.

Even many of my close friends do not ask why I wear the same ring every day; I keep the story personal. Writing about my dad is difficult. I rarely talk about him with anyone, even my family. I prefer my ring to be a silent symbol of our relationship. Our connection is intimate, and sharing the ways that I feel his presence in my day-to-day life makes me feel exposed. I have never written in this much depth about the ways losing my dad has affected me.

Addressing my greatest vulnerability has forced me to think about the example my dad set for me, despite being unable to play the role in my life he deserved. His legacy helped me form my greatest aspirations. Embodied in my story is the story of someone I barely remember, yet has inspired me more than anyone, someone who has given me so many traits that have made me the person I am today.

(651 words)

About This Personal Essay

This personal statement was admitted to Michigan in recent years. It is an outstanding example of how you can write about topics that are often cliché if done poorly, such as the death of a family member.

But unlike other essays, this one works because it has a unique take and genuine approach to the topic that makes it come off as heartfelt.

Why This Essay Works:
  • Descriptive Storytelling: Bring the reader into your world by using stories. Humans are drawn to stories and narratives require conflict, which often allows for meaningful reflection.
  • Vulnerability: Being willing to share personal and intimate details with the reader makes your essay more human. The topics most difficult to talk about are often the ones with the most meaning behind them.
  • Connects to Academic Ambitions: If you have goals for the future, show how your past experiences have led to those ambitions. Revealing what gets you up in the morning is always inspiring to read.

What Could Be Improved:

  • Remove Unnecessary Words: Try to say the most you can in the fewest words possible. Every word of the word limit matters a lot. For each sentence and each word within, ask yourself: "Can I remove it and keep same meaning?"

Personal Statement Example #7: Self-Determination

Personal Statement Essay

Common App Prompt #2: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

250-650 words
My head was contorted to the left in a painful, awkward position in which the tip of my head brushed the top of my chest. It was as if a puppeteer had gained control of my now jerky, wooden-like legs; I could not walk without aid. My whole body was so weak that simple movements like lifting a glass...
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Why This Essay Works:
  • Descriptive Language: Bringing the reader into your world is powerful. But it's important to strike a balance between descriptive storytelling and reflections on your experiences. Aim for an 80/20 split between writing about ideas and descriptions.
  • Overcoming Challenges: Hardship and difficult experiences often can be the most meaningful. Those types of experiences allow for deep reflection, and everyone can relate to going through hardships.
  • Not a Victim, but a Victor: When discussing challenges, don't present yourself as a victim. Rather than trying to gain sympathy, show how those experiences have made you grow. Show how you're a better person because of those hardships.

What Could Be Improved:

  • Explain Unfamiliar Words: Don't assume your reader knows medical terminology such as "dystonia" or other specific lingo. You may be aware of specific jargon and use it frequently, but ask yourself if it's obvious to the reader. If not, give some context to help explain.
  • Shorten Your Introduction: Providing context and backstory is important. But you want to balance between giving context and jumping to the juicy parts. Try to ask yourself, "What parts will the reader want to skip?" and remove or shorten those parts.

Personal Statement Example #8: Game Design Music

Personal Statement Essay

Common App Prompt #2: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

250-650 words

“If you care about your future, you shouldn’t allow yourself to think such things.”

My mom used to tell me this a lot. She’d always disapproved of my passion for the arts.

My dreams are a few sizes too big for me and my parents make sure I’m well aware of it. In an ideal world, I’d have a knack for composing and singing sappy ballads and I’d be well on my way towards making it big in Korea’s music industry.

However, my parents are firmly against my making music for a living. They’d rather have me study a more academically inclined subject, like law or business. I can’t blame them, either -- socially, any career in the arts is looked down upon. It’s true that fine arts careers are not as financially supportive as careers in scientific or mathematical areas of study. Music and arts are usually for consumer enjoyment, while science and math have real world “purpose”. However, without fine arts, our worlds would be empty and monochrome. They hold so much importance in our lives, yet people disregard them and forget that there are people behind these masterpieces of lyrical art, writing songs for a living.

During my more frivolous years, I used to dream of becoming a singer-songwriter. Every time I brought it up with my parents, they’d laugh in my face and ask if I was joking. They’d say that if I truly cared about my future, I shouldn’t allow myself to have such dreams. It’s hard to become successful, they’d say, and compare me to all the people that have tried and failed. It was a little discouraging, to say the least. I hit the looming wall of my dilemma just last year -- how could I reconcile my passions with my parents’ wishes? Was there even a solution out there?

Eventually, I came to understand their viewpoint. It’s hard to deny the fact that careers in STEM are more profitable and sustainable. I still retain my love of music and desire to continue working on my ability, but now I’ve found another outlet of creativity: programming. The way so many components interact and come together to become something as equally as beautiful as song lyrics, albeit in its own way -- a polished mechanism, an aesthetic webpage, an organized and concise block of code. I used to be so reluctant to test the coding waters, content to reside on familiar shores, but it wasn’t difficult to experience the incredible joy of working through and solving problems.

As soon as I stepped into the world of computers, it felt as though a hundred doors had just opened in front of me. I could peek through the doorway of entrepreneurialism or the entryway of graphic design. I could easily get involved with AI and its moral questions, or create my own universe and every character. I could even stir in my passion for music by working with electronic music. And I think I’ve solved my dilemma.

I discovered the concept of game design as an industry during the summer before senior year, when I had the pleasure of speaking to Sheri Graner Ray, a game design veteran. She told me about all of the different divisions -- the programming, the writing, and the audio -- and her own company, Zombie Cat Studios. She told me about her work in gender inclusivity within the industry. And once I kept searching for more, it felt as though the world of game design had been created for me. For the first time outside of music, I felt an incredible excitement to chase after a new dream. Being able to appease my parents was an added plus.

In the end, I don’t count on getting my parents’ approval of my passions any time soon. I hope to be able to prove myself to them eventually.

(646 words)

About This Personal Essay

This essay was admitted into Cornell University. It discusses a common conflict of ideology that comes with pursuing the arts. What the author does brilliantly is show how that conflict was reconciled, as well as how it changed their perspective.

Why This Essay Works:
  • Using Unique Metaphors: Metaphors are a powerful way to express ideas. Phrases like "My dreams are a few sizes too big for me" capture more meaning than just saying "I have big dreams." Follow this rule of thumb for metaphors: if it sounds like you've heard it before, don't use it.
  • Discusses Conflict (of Ideas): Everyone has conflict in their lives, and often conflict of ideas can be the most interesting. Reflecting on conflict allows you to show how you deal with conflict, as well as why those difficult moments are meaningful.
  • Finding Beauty in Mundane: While programming may not seem as artistic as song lyrics on the surface, this author shows how both contain unique elements of beauty. Everything in life is art when looked through this lense. Try turning a seemingly mundane topic into something interesting.

What Could Be Improved:

  • Stronger Conclusion: Your conclusion is what will be remembered from your essay. Try to end on a strong note by connecting to the beginning (i.e. full circle), expanding on your ideas, or leaving it open ended and thought-provoking. However you choose, make sure your last sentence leaves the reader stunned.
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Personal Statement Example #9: Speech and Debate

Personal Statement Essay

Common App Prompt #2: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

250-650 words

I was still high off the competition, poring over ballots by the soft streetlights as we drove. “Are you sure you want to do this?” My Dad was worried about me. Worried about my world crashing down around me, losing friends, being crushed by hate. Scarred by controversy. I laughed it off, and we rode in silence.

Forgive the melodrama: this is a story about being a dissident in an authoritarian regime, but it’s a fun story. From 12 years old, I grew up in the NCFCA—the National Christian Forensics and Communication Association, a homeschool speech and debate league. My friends and I joked that the only difference between fascist Italy and the NCFCA is that in Italy, things at least ran on time. But this is how my political awakening began: a summer debate camp in 2012 that my parents sent me to because I “always argued.” I was hooked.

Politically, the NCFCA is conservative. Not totally homogenous, but Christian and homeschooled. At the same time I was learning debate—how to think—in that context, my Dad and I started watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and talking about its subjects. This duality was key: as I developed my own, left-leaning views, I was surrounded by very smart people who disagreed with me. I had instant access to the best arguments against my beliefs—instant access to the best tools to refine them. Beyond that, though, it imparted empathy: seeing a wide range of views held by people that I liked and respected (and still do) made me want to understand. I loved it.

Fast forward to my second or third year in the league. I wanted to have some fun. I emailed the regional coordinator, asking if there’s a rule against a speech advocating for same-sex marriage.

The answer? “No, but people wouldn’t like it.” That was fine. That was the point.

Why do a persuasive speech if everyone already agrees with you? The first draft of the speech was straightforward: establish the separation of church and state, then outline the secular arguments for gay marriage. Watching everything from disgust to bemusement play across my club members’ faces as I gave the speech, hearing the note of concern that didn’t quite mask the edge creeping into the critique, I tried again. I built a theological argument, established common ground with my audience, and I was going to persuade them. I never got the chance. A couple months before competition season began, we were pulled aside at club. The hushed tones, the guarded expressions—the room was heavy with quiet, administrative displeasure. It wasn’t a two-sided conversation. They told me two things: I couldn’t give the speech in club (because controversy has no place in a debate club!), and the national leadership decided my speech didn’t reflect a Biblical worldview. Meaning? Banned speech.

After writing a flurry of ultimately ineffective emails, I did a speech on why we should embrace theological diversity. That speech wasn’t fueled by spite—though I do enjoy the irony of its birth, and I sarcastically named the word document “HERESY.” Rather, I wanted to make a point. Christian Abolitionism, the Nicene Creed, the doctrine of the Trinity: all once hotly debated products of dissent, iron sharpening iron. Of history’s 40,000+ competing theologies, why assume that you’ve come along and finally gotten the Bible right? I didn’t do well with this speech, but I still won: because I am unbroken—not scarred, but emboldened. I saw intolerance, but I also see hope. To this day, some of my closest friendships are built upon discussions of theology and politics, iron on iron, punctuated by laughter. Hope lives in that laughter, because as it dances between us, it brings with it empathy and wisdom.

(623 words)

Personal Statement Example #10: Finding Answers

Personal Statement Essay

Common App Prompt #3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

250-650 words

The initial sound of a distant ambulance didn’t cause my grandmother any worry as she relaxed and looked out over Eagle Lake in Acadia State Park. She only started to take notice when the third ambulance urgently made its way into the mountains behind them, causing her and her best friend to sit up from their beach chairs. They had been enjoying the afternoon on the beach while my grandfather and his best friend had gone hiking on the popular yet daunting Beehive Loop Trail. Both men were in excellent shape and often found themselves hiking alongside one another.

My grandmother’s concern faded rather quickly as sirens fell distant and time passed.

After about 30 minutes, my grandfather’s friend ran toward the beach. My grandfather was not next to him. He was not there at all. At that moment, my grandma knew.

“Burt...he was with me...he slipped...he fell...I ran down the side of the mountain, off the trail, but I couldn’t find him. The park rangers are looking...” She stopped listening. She could see his lips moving, yet she heard nothing.

My grandfather died that day. As he was only about 5 minutes from the top of the mountain, he lost his balance on a particularly difficult section of the trail and fell over 100 feet. A freak accident. One that could never have been imagined or anticipated. A horrific event which brutalized a man and a family which had been nothing but good to the world.

I never knew my grandfather. He died only 80 days before I was born. But I know the man he was. I know him well. I know that he was a school psychologist, a life he chose so that he could help children who could not help themselves. I know he spent countless hours in the garden so that he could give my grandmother flowers every morning. I know that he spent years with a young boy, the son of a drug addicted mother, taking him to baseball games, bringing him home to dinner, and simply teaching him how to live, despite the poor hand this boy had been dealt.

Most importantly, I know that I did not get to know a man that would have made my life better in every way. I never got to go to baseball games with him. He never was able to cheer for me on the soccer field or basketball court. I know that this great man certainly should have been able to live well past 57, yet he was given an abrupt end. An end that he deserved less than anyone in the world became his reality.

This story has made me question what so many people around me believe is an undeniable truth. Is God real?

I was not raised with religion in my life, despite living in a primarily Christian area. When my friends went to church on Sunday, I watched the Wiggles. I went to many First Communions, cheering on my peers without knowing what I was really celebrating. I have listened to countless prayers and promises made to Jesus, while I sat awkwardly alongside. Sometimes I would feel jealous that I did not have God to look after me, despite not knowing what God was. I never believed or didn’t believe in God, I just never knew.

The story of my Grandfather’s death is what sparked my curiosity in this matter. I’ve always wondered why people believe in God, or what has proven to them the reality of God. I’ve asked myself questions like, “Why, if God is all-powerful, would he end a great man like my grandfather’s life?” “Why wouldn’t he cause this pain to a murderer or rapist?”

My questions are still unanswered, and I’m not educated enough at this point to determine an answer for myself. Maybe as I grow and learn, I can find an answer.

(649 words)

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Personal Statement Example #11: Connecting with Others

Personal Statement Essay

Common App Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

250-650 words

As I sat alone in a crowded airport, I felt both excitement and nervousness. I took my laptop and opened it to the Facebook profile of my third cousin Joey. I remembered how curious I was the first time I learned about his existence. He seemed just like me. I could not have been more excited, for I was on my way to New Jersey to spend spring break at his parents’ house.

It may seem strange that I was so eager to meet a third cousin, as most Americans have minimal contact with relatives as distant as third cousins. As the child of two Russian immigrants, however, I have grown up in a household where family sticks together at all costs to avoid the feelings of displacement experienced by persons leaving their homeland. Meeting distant relatives meant expanding the family tree, forming new connections, and expanding support networks. Setting down new roots by travelling to New Jersey to meet Joey not only felt right but also necessary.

After landing and meeting Joey and his mom Alla, I felt awkward; we had absolutely nothing to discuss. ​Maybe visiting people I have never met was a mistake.

That night Alla explained to me that partner dominos was a family tradition dating back 50 years in the Soviet Union. I had never played dominos with a partner. Absolutely stunned, Alla cried, “YOU HAVE NEVER PLAYED PARTNER DOMINOS? HOW THE HELL IS YOUR MOTHER RAISING YOU?” The rest of the night we played partner dominos, and let me admit, I was awful. Nevertheless, I experienced a strong sense of belonging and connection to my heritage by taking part in an old family tradition. That game broke the ice and made me realize that we share a cultural and personal connection; starting with that game, I actually felt like we were family members. Unsure of what else my mom had neglected, Alla inundated me with an entire rundown of my extended family. I learned that I could travel to almost every continent, knowing there would always be someone to whom I am related. Due to my family’s Russian heritage, I would always be welcome, adept at partner dominos or not.

A week later when I sat waiting for my flight home, I smiled. People whom I had just met, who had their own busy lives to live, took me in and made me feel welcome. At the end of the visit, I felt as if I had known Joey and Alla my entire life. I had to acknowledge that I had underestimated the need for extended family in my life. Furthermore, as I contemplated the transition from stranger to family member, my mind took me further to comprehend that whether related or not, I would live a more fulfilling life if willing to make vital connections. I consider every person with whom I forge a connection part of my “family” network, regardless of how remote. Though I had thought of “family” as merely a support system, I realized now that it is comprised of the people who, through powerful shared experiences, help one find a place in the world.

When I launch into the next phase of my life, I am hoping to forge relationships with roommates, classmates, and professors. As a global citizen, I am also dedicated to connect with others and help them find a place in this world, just like Alla and Joey did for me.

(575 words)

Personal Statement Example #12: Summer Confidence

Personal Statement Essay

Common App Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

250-650 words
As I left home last July to fly nearly 5,000 miles to summer camp in the Pacific Northwest, it felt easier than ever before. Not only had I made the trip each summer since the age of 12, but I had been newly promoted from camper to counselor-in-training (CT), and the prospective change of role...
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Personal Statement Example #13: First Impressions

Personal Statement Essay

Common App Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

250-650 words

First impressions are everything—even in kindergarten.

I was born with Nonsyndromic Aplasia Cutis Congenita. Basically, I have had a scar on my head since birth, and hair couldn't always grow over it. Up until fourth grade, when I underwent two hair transplants that would allow me to slowly grow hair over my scar, it was definitely noticeable.

What I remember vividly about kindergarten is my new peers glaring at my shiny head with a puzzled look. I learned about my classmates through their lunchbox covers and backpack designs; they saw me as the boy with the scar.

It had a nice ring to it, but I wasn’t a fan. Unfortunately, that’s what I imagined everyone saw first, and first impressions stick.

In elementary school, it was still my defining characteristic—what separated me from a sea of collared t-shirts and cargo shorts. As I began first grade, the questions started. In retrospect, they were harmless, but they made me feel alienated. I would try to shrug them off, but the benign inquisitions furthered the self-created idea that I was different than my classmates because of something I couldn’t fix.

The idea of my peers seeing only my bare scalp when they looked at me, whether true or not, was a nightmare I couldn’t shake. It was my most distinct feature, but I didn’t want it to be defining. So, I applied myself to my activities. No matter what it was, I always tried to stand out so I wouldn’t be seen as the boy with the scar anymore. My hair wasn’t something I could control, but my personality was. I wanted to build an identity on my interests and attributes, not have one automatically assigned because of a birth mark.

From art to sports to being one of the only first graders on elementary student council, my desire to distract my peers from my scar was the reason I pushed myself to try new things and work at them, even if it wasn’t for the best reason.

As I grew up with it and found hobbies that I genuinely enjoyed doing and talking about, I slowly became more comfortable with the attention that I once shied away from. I found a way, through my activities and interests, to feel comfortable in my skin, whether there was hair on it or not.

I remember walking out of the operating room after my second surgery with a new sense of self, ready to be a different person with a re-created identity and a full head of hair. That didn’t happen. I went back to school as the same person I was before, and that was exactly what I wanted—I just didn’t know it then. For so long I felt restricted by my scar. It wasn’t until hair started growing when I realized I never really was.

I didn’t have a sudden epiphany about my scar after the surgery, nor did I feel like a new person. By that point in my life, I had figuratively grown into my scar just as I grew into my brother’s hand-me-downs. I found and focused on my interests, and from them I developed an identity that I was proud of, well before I went under the knife.

A caveat of my surgery was that the hair would grow, then one-third would fall off. My scar will never be completely gone, but I no longer feel defined by it like I did in elementary school.

Neither the surgeries or my search for a more redeeming quality completely changed my life, but both experiences made me more confident in my self-perception. I can be whatever I want to be; a scar can’t change that. It just took two surgeries and years of nail biting and pushing myself at my activities, some of which I still partake in and am passionate about today, to realize it.

(646 words)

Personal Statement Example #14: Law Career

Personal Statement Essay

Common App Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

250-650 words

The judge called “the prosecution may begin to question the defendant.” I shuddered quietly to myself as I smoothed my skirt and rose slowly from the chair. As I began to speak, I gained my confidence. My statement rolled off my tongue, as I projected my voice throughout the courtroom. “Would you please provide a rendition of events during this incident?” I asked. But, the testimony given was not in compliance with the pre-court interview notes from the previous weeks. This defendant was sent to Ontario County Youth Court for consuming acid in school. I continued to question cautiously, but finally caught the defendant in a blatant lie. I calmly stated, “You are under oath and by lying, you are committing a federal offense of perjury. I would please ask you to tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so the jury can reach an appropriate sentence.” I could see the defendant squirm during this confrontation. But, I was holding the upper hand, and lying could not undermine my self-assurance. The case progressed with a sense of caution, for the power of prosecution can dampen the mood.

I have always been a searcher; for new opportunities, new friends, and a true passion. I have taken dance classes for fifteen years because I enjoy the creativity of movement, exercise, and my friendships with other dancers. But, dance is not my calling in life or deepest passion. I have taken tennis, golf, skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, sailing, sailboarding, scuba diving, and even sewing lessons. But these are also merely hobbies or interests. Freshman year, after fourteen years of searching, I finally discovered my true passion and calling in life: a career in law.

I live on a dirt road and attend a small, rural school. There is not a single traffic light in the entire school district. But, these factors of seclusion have never hindered my appetite for exploration. One day, I saw a poster hanging in the atrium of my school about an information night regarding Ontario County Youth Court. On a whim, I decided to attend. I have always been an advocate for trying new activities, or else passions can never be unleashed and discovered. Without leaving one’s comfort zone and broadening one’s horizons, we can never grow as people. That evening, I sat in a room with fifteen other strangers and learned about restorative justice principles and careers in law. I was hooked. At that moment, I realized this my calling.

After completing a 20-hour training process, being inducted as a full member of youth court, and religiously attending youth court cases each month, my thirst was still unquenched. Therefore, I became involved in court evaluating. Local court officials are assessed by volunteers to ensure they are fulfilling their duties to the community. Watching judges mandate reprimands for speeding tickets might be dull for some, but I find it fascinating. The legal system has such a vast array of powers and professions. I have continued to expand my knowledge by attending local, district, and circuit courts, along with touring a jail.

While I was first motivated to join Ontario County Youth Court for the sake of self-exploration and serving my community, I discovered my passion for law. By interacting with a vast array of youth offenders, I have had the opportunity to see the world others live in. Now, I have the ability to understand other people’s circumstances and social pressures. Most importantly, I have fully encompassed the value of prioritizing the common good above individual success.

(590 words)

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Personal Statement Example #15: Growing Up Asian

Personal Statement Essay

Common App Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

250-650 words

You are 7 years old. A girl you are trying to befriend tells you that she does not want to be friends with you because your eyes are “ugly and squinty.” Hot tears run down your face because you do not understand the reason for her ugly words.

You are 13 years old. It is Halloween and on Instagram you see two of your classmates dress up as Asians. Their faces are painted yellow and their eyes are pulled back with tape. The caption reads, “can’t find the dogs to eat with our eye slits!” People ask if you are offended. You do not want to be seen as uptight so you laugh it off. Numerous incidents like these dot your childhood. You do not want to be Asian anymore. You hate your hideous Asian face.

I had always been shy as a kid and the environment I was raised in only exacerbated my growing insecurities. My school’s population was 99% white, so I had no friends of my own ethnicity and often faced the brunt of people’s ignorance. In middle school, everyone suddenly started caring about looks. I wanted so badly to look like my Caucasian classmates and worked tirelessly to try to erase my “Asian” features. I bleached my hair and skin. I glued my eyelids into double folds and wore eye-enlarging contacts. I spent countless hours researching plastic surgeons that could “Westernize” my looks. I was utterly obsessed with how others perceived me. My insecurities were loud, and they attracted unwanted attention from other students who bullied me.

At this point I lacked friends in real life and began to find solace on the internet, my getaway from the burdens of real life. People could not judge me based on how I looked, only by my words. I was playing an online game where I met my first Asian friend, Ethan. He had a pride in his ethnicity I never had. After getting to know me better, Ethan asked why I tried so hard to reject my heritage. He wanted to know why I never showed my face. Over time, on the internet, I started to meet more people of my ethnicity who became my role models and cherished friends.

After constant reflection and studying psychology, I began to understand my past in a new light. The ignorant people who ridiculed me faced stress and insecurity in their own lives that spurred their actions. Thereafter, I was able to come to the realization that has since then freed me of my insecurities: every person who passes by me is living a life just as vivid and complex as my own, with their own thoughts and perceptions; everyone has their own image of me in their head, and because none are a fully correct representation of who I am, I should not be concerned with trying to modify them. And what I learned from the hours I resided immersed on the internet was that what defines me is not my looks, but what I have to say. My life was not mine if I cared constantly about what others thought.

The internet was my catalyst for change, and slowly, I started to blossom. Fear of judgement had once stopped me from seeking opportunities, and I sought to change that. I began to branch out and engage with new people. My makeup was no longer a mask, but instead a tool I used to enhance the features that I now love. I am proud of my unique features and refuse to let anyone make me feel the way I used to feel. Though I will never be able to erase the scarred little girl from my past, I would not want to because she has made me strong from what she endured. I want to be Asian.

(638 words)

Personal Statement Example #16: Secrets of Riddles

Personal Statement Essay

Common App Prompt #6: Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

250-650 words
As I was going to St. Ives, Upon the road I met seven wives; Every wife had seven sacks, Every sack had seven cats: Cats, sacks, and wives, How many were going to St. Ives? I have three principles that define my searches for the best riddles: 1) Riddles should be tricky but not impossible. 2...
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Personal Statement Example #17: Rubik's Cube

Personal Statement Essay

Common App Prompt #6: Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

250-650 words

Right, Up, Right inverted, Up inverted was what went through my mind when solving the Rubik’s cube. Years of solving the Rubik’s cube allowed me to hone my skills making the puzzle almost as easy as puzzles from my childhood. I remember when I first started tackling puzzles they were very simple. Word Searches were my favorite and I could do them for hours and hours. Once, I finished a whole book of them in only a few days because I had become so infatuated with them. I slowly made my way to harder puzzles and when I was in 5th grade, my aunt introduced me to a puzzle game on the Nintendo DS called Professor Layton and The Curious Village. I would play the game nonstop trying to solve all the puzzles the game had to offer and often, I would go past my bedtime. It was then that I knew I had a love for puzzles as it challenged my mind and forced me to think differently.

My love for puzzles led me to buying a Rubik’s cube after I saw my friend solve his own. I bought my first Rubik’s cube in 7th grade and it had me perplexed . Learning how to solve a Rubik’s cube was, at the time, a tough challenge for me, as the Rubik’s cube can be mixed up to any of the 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 possible combinations. In the beginning, I was unable to follow the guide that came with the first Rubik’s cube I bought, but then I searched up a tutorial on YouTube and learned by watching. Utilizing my skill of memory, I was able to remember possible patterns that the Rubik’s cube could be after each step, and I was able to perform the correct algorithm to complete the step.

After I learned how to solve a Rubik’s cube and learned that it could be solved many ways, it lead to me memorizing as many of the fifty-seven possible permutations of the third step, and all of the twenty-one permutations of the last step. I memorized the turns of each algorithm and visualized the process in my head, so I would be able to remember how to perform it. I never get tired of solving it, because there are so many combinations that every time I mix it up, there is a different solution.

My outlook of the world changed, as I realized that there is not one concrete solution to everything, but multiple solutions. Being able to see things differently, the ways I solved some problems with multiple solutions were uncommon amongst my classmates. My 10th grade math teacher had acknowledged this when he wrote a comment on my test, saying he had not thought about solving a problem the way I had solved it. At that moment, I gained a new perspective in approaching the challenges of life.

The little puzzles and obstacles that we encounter throughout our lifetime are preparation in order for us to solve the everlasting mystery of life, which is why I love all kind of puzzles. When I was younger, I faced one of these obstacles, which was the divorce of my parents. I wanted to know why my mother left and no longer lived in my house, but I was not able to understand exactly what had happened.

Puzzles became my escape as I knew that all puzzles have an answer; they had unknowingly become a large part of my childhood as they made sense to me unlike what was going on in my life. Now I have come to see that life is a puzzle and that we must find the solution to it. Realizing that life is a puzzle in itself, I now openly accept and embrace the challenge of going through life with a new perspective, as I would any other puzzle.

(643 words)

Personal Statement Example #18: Narrative Diversity

Personal Statement Essay

Common App Prompt #6: Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

250-650 words

I have seen 2017’s Power Rangers exactly five times in theaters, and it was the best 50 dollars I ever spent.

There is nothing extraordinary about a movie filled with gaping plotholes, inconsistent writing, and cheesy cliches: what makes Power Rangers unique is its diversity. The content we consume should properly represent our world, and Power Rangers does just that. The film’s positive representation of marginalized groups is a stepping stone for Hollywood; four out of the five rangers are people of color, one is autistic, and another is queer.

Power Rangers wasn’t the catalyst for my passion regarding diversity, but it demonstrates how eagerly I will consume anything with realistic representation. From as early as elementary school, I knew that, as an Asian girl coming home to watch the Disney Channel, there were few people who looked like me whom I could idolize. My white friends could relate to the shows’ families, yet my household customs never appeared on screen. The few Asians that did appear faded into the background, forgotten by the audience or reduced to racist caricatures.

Ironically, I never realized the harmful effects of this erasure until I discovered proper Asian representation. Believing that my race made me inferior in our white-dominant society, I unconsciously succumbed to the “reserved and quiet” Asian stereotype, purposefully shying away from the spotlight. When I finally saw Asians as protagonists, my craving for diverse media grew, and I sought to learn as much about the importance of minority representation as I could. The countless TED talks and think pieces I discovered, which described the conundrum of marginalization I had encountered, helped me come to terms with the experience, and to recognize the need for change.

Despite the contemporary push for female-driven narratives, I know that Hollywood’s fixation on “white as default” remains (Leia and Rey from Star Wars, Wonder Woman and Black Widow of DC and Marvel Comics). I know that when storylines showcasing cultures of color become popular, producers want to cast white actors for roles - even if whitewashed movies have collectively lost $500 million in revenue over the years. I know that LGBT characters of color are virtually nonexistent. I know that the problem extends beyond actors to people behind the scenes, that most scriptwriters, directors, authors, and producers are still straight white men.

As someone whose identity has historically been ignored by the media, my existence is validated by the rare but increasing presence of Asians in books, movies and TV. Seeing Asian content creators use their platforms to talk about the importance of representation and their firsthand experiences in fighting bigotry inspires me, in turn, to engage in my own brand of activism. I’ve participated in a panel about race relations following a school incident in which we discussed topics ranging from the danger of whitewashing to living life as a minority - ideas I’ve pursued more intensely in my blog. Additionally, I co-founded my school’s first multimedia magazine in the hopes of offering others a means of self-expression. I continuously challenge myself to push past society’s ideals of what I can and cannot accomplish; by using my voice, I strive to educate others while simultaneously educating myself.

With a college education, I hope to further explore the damaging psychological effects a lack of representation or, worse, erasure of representation can cause, and study ways to reverse or even prevent them. Most importantly, we must make it easier for marginalized groups to share their stories. After all, if more people start advocating for more diversity, positive representation will emerge - a recent example being Hidden Figures, whose empowering portrayal of black women was universally praised and inspired people everywhere.

My race and gender will always play a huge part in who I am. So instead of letting the media dictate how people like me are perceived, I am ready to write my own narrative.

(649 words)

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Personal Statement Example #19: Search for Dreams

Personal Statement Essay

Common App Prompt #7: Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

250-650 words

I close my eyes and find myself within a forest of lights.

The diamond leaves of gnarled oak trees throw spectrums of color onto mounds of frosty snow that gleam melancholily under the moonlight. The leaves chime as wind violently rustles them in a haunting melody. I splinter a leaf off its branch and inspect the shard of my illusion, eyes dancing with amusement.

I breathe a cloud into the nipping air and half­consciously crunch through a path of snow as it languorously carves its way through the forest. I walk to the sound of clinking, broken gems as they scratch my ankles, and wonder what circuitry must be alight in my wits to create this particular fantasy. I stumble along in hope of unravelling this enigma, my mind guiding me on its own inclination.

The path opens up at last, and I approach a cabin shrouded by thick fog. The door opens for me and I wonder at the foreboding as I sit in a cherry­wood chair and sip a sparkling chartreuse drink. My feet swing idly as I listen to the forest’s indiscernible whispers, wondering whether my mind would ever allow me to unstitch its knots.

As I dwell in my worries, a cold hand reaches from behind me and taps my shoulder.

I jerk away, fear bubbling in my amygdala as I look into the nonexistent eyes of my intruding visitor.

The moon illuminates a blob of pink squish as it draws back slowly, points its spindly hands towards my drink and asks: “Could I have some of that?”

I wordlessly offer the eerie thing some Mountain Dew. I watch as it eagerly chugs the drink, and think, Ah. My mind is definitely acting strangely today.

The blob wipes its invisible mouth with its nonexistent sleeve. I ask: “What are you?”

It shakes its head, invigorated with soda. “S’pose it’s natural not to recognize me.” The thing smiles ominously and declares itself as my brain.

I stare mutely at the absurd being. I wonder at how I will be able to paint it in my waking state.

The blob tells me to stop looking at it so suspiciously. “I can prove it,” It says. I tell it, please, go ahead.

Suddenly we are back in the glowing forest. “Diamonds? Pah!” The blob dismisses them. Instantly, the leaves turn solid gold, the snow melts, and the wintry world is thrown into a blistering summer.

The blob laughs heartlessly. “Your cortex is under my control,” it says smugly.

I blink under the sudden intensity and acknowledge its greatness, humbled by its supremacy.

“I heard you had a question for me?” It taps its invisible ears knowingly.

This is perfect, I think. Here I was all this time wandering through my mind, searching for the answer, when now I could ask my brain for it directly.

The blob wriggles its invisible brows as it waits.

I open my mouth and ask it my most crucial question.

It smiles that wicked smile. It laughs that sinful laugh. Then that insufferable blob wakes me up.

As I sit up in the dark and rub my bleary eyes, I am vaguely aware of the deep­set unfulfillment settling itself inside me. I yawn and plop back into bed, the soft red glow of my alarm clock indicating that it is still before midnight.

I cover myself with blanket, and drift back into sleep to continue my search.

(573 words)

Personal Statement Example #20: Recipe for Success

Personal Statement Essay

Common App Prompt #7: Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

250-650 words

Step 1: Collect the ingredients

On the Saturday before Chinese New Year, the kitchen counter is cleared of its usual cluttering of letters, cups, flowers, and brochures and replaced with flour, soy sauce, meat, celery, and spices. These are the telltale signs of dumpling making.

Step 2: Marinate the meat

The filling of the dumpling includes a mixture of different ingredients. I learned the importance of balance when I was in 7th grade. I had just transferred from a sixteen person private school to an 800 person public one, going from a school that was about 50% Asian to about 1%. I struggled with my identity, hiding my Chinese culture under a mask of normality. However, in my world history class, we started learning how each culture brings a particular perspective to the world. As I studied numerous different cultures, I slowly learned how to live as a daughter of Chinese immigrants and as an American citizen. I used my unique perspective, living at the edge of both cultures, to share my Chinese heritage with my peers. I opened myself to leading a balanced life—neither fully Chinese or American, but a little bit of both. Like the filling of a dumpling, balance is important in a fruitful life.

Step 3: Wrap the dumplings

The wrapper of the dumpling is the part that the world sees, but it is also the way a person sees the world. I have been privileged enough to travel around the globe, meeting people and learning about their cultures. I also have seen death and pain, and I recognize that they plague this world. When I traveled to New Mexico, I got to work with the Navajo and learn about their stories. I had the opportunity to talk to a lady in her late sixties. She had lost her son to a heart attack and her nephew to suicide a few months prior. Despite her struggles, she looked for the small blessings in life and remained hopeful. Her attitude encouraged me to do the same and look to the bright side of situations. Travel and knowledge have fueled a desire to help others around me. The wrapper of the dumpling is like the lenses someone wears when observing his surroundings. I have chosen to see others in a positive light.

Step 4: Boil or pan-fry?

Dumplings, like many Asian dishes, can be served different ways. The heated water necessary for boiling and the searing oil needed for frying represent the many different trials a person passes through. During my freshman year of high school, one of my closest friends started to shun me. I would pass every hurtful comment off as her response to puberty. I struggled alone for a long time, too ashamed of my weakness to cry for help. Cutting ties with her was hard; we had shared so many happy memories. The ordeal left me guarded. However, through taekwondo, I found my voice in teaching others, training them to respect and mentoring them through emotional trials that I could relate to. I also found strength in sharing my struggles, learning that weakness can be catalyzed into strength. Every trial and every triumph leave marks just like oil leaves a brownish burn on the dumplings and water leaves wrinkles.

Step 5: Share and enjoy!

Every dumpling is unique and so is every person. I am a dumpling that is still in the making. My experiences have added to my filling, fostering a heart for service and a mind open to new possibilities. They have shaped my wrapper, adjusting the lenses through which I see the world. My journey continues as I look down a new road, one that forks and turns with every decision. While the unknown may lead to fear, my previous struggles with balance and transition have taught me to embrace new challenges and allow them to shape me into a better, more flavorful dumpling.

(653 words)

Summary

With these 20 Personal Statement examples, you can get inspired and improve your own essays. If you want to get accepted into selective colleges this year, your essays need to make you stand out.

These 20 examples show how real students got into highly selective schools and teach us several lessons for writing your own successful Personal Statement essay:

  • Write a compelling first sentence that grabs the reader
  • Be specific and reference things by name
  • Tell a meaningful story
  • Reflect on your life and identity. Be self-aware.

If you enjoyed these personal statement examples, check out some of our top Common App Essays, which are also personal statements essays, but for the Common Application.

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