|How to Write a Winning College Personal Statement: Sample Personal Statements and Critiques
By Karen Wolf — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on May 1, 2014
The personal statement below is an actual student essay, which are printed in their entirety. Following each essay is a critique to determine if the essay lived up to the standards of a winning personal statement, as discussed in the previous sections. Keep in mind that the remarks in the critiques are subjective; readers are free to disagree.
The student who wrote this Personal Statement now attends an Ivy League institution. The student is interested in the field of English and creative writing. The expectations for his essay would be high, as you would anticipate his essay to be creative and well written. You can judge for yourself.
There comes a time in every man’s life when he must answer a character-defining question: If you could have a super power, what would it be? This hypothetical subject has been debated among underage heroes for centuries; it has been heard on playgrounds, in tree houses, and under manholes all over the planet. Its answers come as varied as transliterated spellings of “Hanukkah.”
There are a few timeless responses: flight, invisibility, pyrokinesis, and mind control are oft-mentioned favorites. Man has longed to possess these four since the Stone Age to tackle his most fundamental problems—moving, hunting, keeping warm, and reproducing, respectively. Luckily, these powers still come in handy for our present-day needs, such as rescuing damsels from the tops of tall buildings, sneaking past bouncers at no-goodniks’ exclusive clubs, breaking into evildoers’ ice-palace lairs, and infiltrating enemy brains to prevent the release of kittens with laser eyes upon our helpless country.
But my ideal super power is something far more unexpected and subtle in its, well, superness, than the usual examples. If I could have a super power, I would choose the ability to turn into a zebra.
Now you may be thinking, “What do zebras have that a lion or a gorilla or a great white shark doesn’t?” If this were based on raw power alone, I concede that the zebra would not have been my first choice. But I’m no teeth-and-muscle purist: The reason I’d choose zebras isn’t for their incredible stamina, or their vicious bites and fatal kicks, or their binocularlike vision and incredible hearing, or their clever form of camouflage, or the way they zigzag to escape from predators, or even their excellent parenting. I’d choose zebras for a certain element called style that is simply lacking in other animals.
When a zebra glides into a room, all creatures present stop what they’re doing, be they human, giraffe, or even fellow zebra. The lion may be king of the jungle, but the zebra is its soul. The mere sight of a zebra has led some to preposterous ends: Equids of all types mate with zebras to get that telltale “z” in their child’s name, producing endless combinations of zebroids—zorses, zonies, zeebrasses, and even zeedonks are recorded in Darwin’s raunchiest annals. Lord Rothschild was known to ride a zebra-drawn carriage through London to boost his reputation as a noble eccentric. It is a well-regarded opinion among music historians that zebras were the driving force behind jazz.
While the last claim may not be true, the zebra has such silent singularity that it stands out in any list of mammals. This quiet uniqueness reminds me of myself in some ways—it’s nary a peculiar day to see me in a public space wearing a black sock on one foot and a white on the other, or a pirate hat on my head, or a plush snake in my shirt pocket, or a cape around my neck. I suppose it’s my desire to stand out, to zigzag like the zebra instead of bolting straight ahead, that so attracts me to that noble animal.
So the next time there are wrongs to right and you need a fantastic alter ego to change into, don’t opt for the same old superfast, superstrong Human 2.0 we’ll probably evolve into soon enough anyway: Turn into someone stripier than ordinary. Who said justice wasn’t black and white?
Personal Statement Critique
The “zebra” essay was used as a model in English classes and was passed around the school as an example of an outstanding essay. It is very creative and well written. The opening is clever and encourages the reader to continue reading. Posing a question and answering it is a good strategy. The writer uses very descriptive words and great visual imagery, as well as actual details about a zebra. The reader gets a very good idea that the writer is a colorful, independent, and zany individual. It is enjoyable to read, and in addition to writing, it is clear that the student also enjoys animals, science, and history. There is a 17-year-old voice present, although the student is a sophisticated writer. The reader comes away with a sense that the writer is very talented with a potentially very bright future.
Although doing so only briefly, the writer does relate the zebra to himself. Other essays may be more direct about the student’s career interests. It is very clear that we have learned something new about the student, and that he is a passionate and creative writer. Without any doubt, he did the job he needed to do!
The student who wrote this Personal Statement is attending an honors program in a medium-sized public college. She has self-identified as being a candidate for a dietetics program, which is science oriented. While the student could write about any topic, she chose to focus on why she is interested in pursuing a career in dietetics.
Science Honor Society was a goal I wished to fulfill during my junior year of high school. I had the grades and hard work, yet I still needed an extra science-related activity to become eligible for admittance. I decided to volunteer at a nearby hospital. At first, I was a little nervous, since I did not know what the experience would be like or the type of work I would be doing. However, after only a couple of weeks on the job, I learned the ropes of the hospital and became comfortable in its environment. As a volunteer, I am a messenger, responsible for picking up patients’ prescriptions at the pharmacy, getting blood from the blood bank, or doing any other favor that a nurse or hospital employee needs. On some days, I work in medical records, sorting patients’ files accordingly, while on other days, I visit patients, bringing them magazines to read or assisting in the discharge process in helping the patients begin a safe trip home. I not only see how important it is to have people willing to help others, but I see how everyone working in the hospital is a family of people who work day in and day out making the lives of patients more comfortable and secure and knowing that their health is in good hands.
There are some volunteers at the hospital who have been working for nearly twenty years. I see these individuals as being dedicated, which I too have gained from this experience through my 80 hours and 7 months of work thus far. This drive to help others and succeed in a task is something I will bring with me in whatever situations I encounter in the future. When I graduate from college, I intend to be a part of this magic of working in the health profession as a dietician, making meal plans to meet patients specific needs and teaching patients how to eat right in order to remain healthy, become healthy if not already, and live a life of longevity. I have been interested in nutrition for the past few years. It is important to me that I know which foods are healthy and which are deleterious, so I can in turn eat right, be healthy, and remain this way for the rest of my life. I have and will continue to pass on good habits to my family and eventually to my patients as well.
Working in the hospital allows me to see the type of environment I will be working in when I get older, since the hospital is one sector in which dieticians work. Even though I began volunteering at the hospital to meet a requirement for Science Honor Society, I now see that volunteering is rewarding to experience the joy of a day’s work, a place of camaraderie to make new friends with people who want to help others just as I do, and it is a way for me to look at my future and see that I will be helping others. It is not just spending time out of the house after school and during the summer, but an adventure that I will treasure forever.
Personal Statement Critique
This Personal Statement is a very focused essay, which provides the reader with the rationale in applying to a very specific program. The message is clear, and it is written in the voice of a 17 year old. It is persuasive, and definitely written from the heart. It conveys the impact working in a hospital had on the student and that the student is passionate about her prospective field. Although her opening sentence could have been more hard-hitting and some of her images more vivid, this Personal Statement is a strong essay that definitely answered the question about the writer’s interest in the dietetics field.
This Personal Statement is another career-oriented essay, which states why the student is interested in business as a college major. The student is attending an honors program in a small, private university.
When I was thirteen, the thing I wanted most in life was a limited edition, glow-in-the-dark Power Rangers snow globe. The local hobby shop charged an astronomical amount for the snow globe because it was such a rare piece; there were only 100 in the world. As I would later learn, the shop’s individuality in selling Power Rangers paraphernalia to my neighborhood effectively gave it a monopoly over the product, and thus allowed it to inflate its price at will. To my younger, naïve self, that didn’t matter; I was ready to spend whatever was necessary to make sure I obtained this collector’s item. I was just about to squander all of my saved-up money and fulfill my desire when a friend told me about a company called eBay. From that moment my life changed forever.
My eyes were opened when I first logged on to eBay. I found millions of items being sold at the same time from places all over the world. I was simply amazed by the potential that was available for both buyers and sellers. Although I knew that there were a lot of items being traded, I didn’t expect to find such rare commodities as phosphorescent action figures suspended in glass bowls. With little hope in my heart, I sought out the elusive snow globe. Much to my surprise, my search turned up one result. A man in California was selling the exact item I yearned for, and the opening bid was at the quarter of the price that it was being sold for in the local store! I can’t even express in words the ecstasy that I felt. I immediately began to bid on the item, not wanting to waste a second. I was pitted against “Bidder 2” in a battle of wits (not to mention modem speed and wallet size), and he proved to be a worthy opponent. With 10 seconds to go I put in my final bid, hoping that I would “seal the deal.” Sure enough 10 seconds later, eBay informed me that I had won my first auction. “Bidder 2” was history and I was the new owner of the snow globe, and for half the price that I was originally willing to buy it for. A week later my longing came to an end; the missing, blizzardy piece of my heart arrived in the mail. And though the pleasure of owning a Power Rangers snow globe only lasted a fleeting few months, the intrigue for business that eBay had sparked in me continues to blaze today.
Of course, making purchases through eBay wasn’t always easy. As my faith in the company grew after my initial success, eBay became my primary source of acquiring whatever I needed. I found myself buying things all the time at discounted rates and was thrilled with the amount of money I was saving. There was one time, however, when things didn’t go quite as planned. My old cell phone had died, and I wanted to replace it with a new one. I searched for a specific model on eBay and specified that I wanted an unused item. When I found a listing at the right price, I immediately bought the phone. When the package arrived a few days later disappointment pierced my heart like a dart on a bull’s eye. The cell phone arrived used; it was scratched and dirty and not worth the money I spent. For the first time, eBay had failed me. I immediately sprung into action: I contacted the seller, but he claimed that he had sent a brand new phone. I then contacted eBay and told them of the fraud. Within a few days eBay refunded my money at no cost, and my broken heart completely healed.
I have learned from my mistake. After the heart-shattering incident, I promised myself I would research every item and seller before buying anything, and that when I sell anything, I would make sure the transaction is fair for both the buyer and me. I now make the extra effort to explain the conditions of the items I have for sale with great detail to each and every buyer to prevent unwanted surprises and to make sure nobody feels uncomfortable at any stage of the sale. The value of my new attitude has been recently evidenced by my eBay status promotion to Power-Seller (a title granted to those who sell a significant amount of items as well as have high feedback ratings).
At (college name), I hope to continue learning the intricacies of business and commerce I have gleaned from my experience on eBay, with the ultimate goal of helping to make the world a more efficient place. I feel that furthering my education will help me in my goal of creating my own successful business. Keeping my personal experience as a disappointed consumer in mind, I particularly hope to be able to fully understand how to run the finances of a business, while still keeping customers happy. I believe that only (college name) can supply me with the knowledge and skill to achieve my goal: to be able to supply everyone, on their own terms, with their factory-sealed cell phones and Power Rangers snow globes.
Personal Statement Critique
The above Personal Statement is an experiential essay, which cleverly captures the student’s passion for buying and selling on eBay. The student developed an interest in business early on, and his interest grew through a business venture. By relating a personal experience, the reader becomes interested in the story, yet the focus remains on the actions and decisions made by the student. It is a personal story and it gives you insight into the student’s entrepreneurial spirit, which is perfect for a business school. It is a growth experience, where he learned something important from making a mistake. The opening is attention grabbing, and the writer connects the ending to the opening line. It is a well-written and passionate essay. Not everyone may like the concept of the Power Rangers, but that is not the intent of the essay. The excitement of a 17 year old comes shining through.