750 words. 4500 characters. 300 words. No matter the amount your word count limit is, when you first read the prompt and the space available, a personal statement word count seems like an endless amount to fill. However, I rarely work with applicants looking to expand their essays. Far and away, applicants need help in sorting out ideas and trimming an essay down. They’re panicked. They have a great essay that they can’t submit, and they need help. However, there is a better way. Follow these steps to create a college app essay that fits the requirements and gets noticed.
Brainstorm outside the box
Those big accomplishments that made your teachers and parents so proud? Unfortunately, there’s probably a lot of applicants who have similar or nearly identical accomplishments. In my experience, applicants frequently want to use those anecdotes anyway but include a lengthy explanation about why their experience was so unique. The essay runs over the limit, way over, and the applicant is left with the choice of starting from scratch or trimming the essay so that it is ho-hum and blends in with the crowd.
Considering there’s a limit anyway, why not write about something not so mainstream? Writing about smaller accomplishments but making a clear case for why they were significant in preparing you for the challenges of college life will make your personal statement unique while also demonstrating that you are a mature person who can gain value from a variety of experiences. Remember, the point of the personal statement isn’t to list your accomplishments. That belongs in another part of the application package. Use the essay to show who you are as an individual.
Stick with Structure
Keep in mind that the admissions officers don’t know you personally. They want to know you. That’s why they’ve asked and are taking the time to read the essay. A strong structure helps the reader keep mental track of what’s going on in the story. Moreover, structure will help you stay within the word count. Therefore, after brainstorming ideas, make an outline that includes approximately even word counts for each paragraph. During this process, you may find that your original idea simply isn’t going to fit. That’s okay. Look to other ideas that you have brainstormed. Finding the best idea isn’t enough. It has to be the best idea that also fits the school’s requirements.
All about Action
While it will be necessary to provide some background information to the admissions officers so that they can understand the context of the story, choose anecdotes where you can jump right away into the action of the story. This is especially true for shorter essays (fewer than 500 words). The admissions officers are letting you know that they want to read a punchy personal statement that gets to the point quickly.
Make the Meaning Memorable
This is the part of any personal statement where applicants struggle most. However, the reasons applicants tend to struggle with this is because they’re choosing anecdotes that they think will impress others rather than the experiences that were most significant to them personally. Remember that this is your opportunity to introduce yourself, not your GPA or test scores, to the admissions officers. Use the personal statement word count available to let the admissions officers know how this experience helped shape the person you are today.
Focus on the Finale
The personal statement conclusion is the Harry Potter of essays with word count limits. No, you can’t make it live under the stairs. It has special powers. You need it if you want to succeed in your quest. To avoid the anxiety of figuring out what to trim from an essay, applicants sometimes try to skimp on the conclusion or skip it completely. If a paragraph gets way out of hand, don’t look to the conclusion to make cuts. Regardless of how mind blowing the rest of the paragraphs are, it is the conclusion that will give the admissions officers a sense of resolution and the final ‘take away’ feelings that they will have about your personal statement.
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