Personal Statement Project

College Admissions
The Personal Statement Project

Why does it matter?

  • “On occasion, schools will let students write their way in [to college]” (Thaler 11).
  • “Admissions officers are real human beings with real emotions. If they like you and think you are interesting, they will be more likely to admit you” (Thaler 13).
  • “Your application is dynamic; as a general matter, all of your strengths and weaknesses are considered together” (Thaler 13).
  • “Any information about you that can influence the admissions decision is part of the application, regardless of its source” (Thaler 14).

How to write a unique, representative, and kick-ass Personal Statement:

  • Know thyself, know thy thoughts, open up to the full range of human emotion – Be Mindful!
  • Practice being mindful – observe passively without judging, recording sensory info
  • “Deconstruct – as you reflect on your life experiences, take not of the many emotions, feelings, thoughts, and sensations that arise” (Thaler 24).
  • “Avoid the ‘what the admissions committee wants to hear’ trap. The most common challenge for students (by far) is to express themselves without resorting to the clichés that admissions officers are tired of reading” (Thaler 25).
  • “Think about the effect that your words will have on someone who has never met you. Ask yourself whether your words, phrases, or ideas might be interpreted differently from the interpretation you intend them to have” (Thaler 26).

How to actually write it – the process:

The Art of the Personal Statement

“The Writing Cycle” (Thaler 28)

Budgeting Time

“Budgeting Time” (Thaler 29)




  • “The best essays are the result of many successive brainstorming sessions, drafts, and edits” (Thaler 28).
  • Brainstorming: process of generating, developing, and shaping ideas.  –> Start with the prompt!
  • Drafting: “Use all tools at [your] disposal — word pallet, tone, syntax, structure, etc. — to transform your application from a piece of clear glass into a unique crystal prism” (Thaler 52).
  • Editing: Forget about your essay for a few days, do something fun, and then pick it back up to “shape how the admissions committee perceives you” (Thaler 78). Also, enlist a few good friends to look at your essay objectively.

The Common Application Prompts

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.
2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

The Project – “outside-in”

Part 1 – Outside first

  1. Create a group of two (or if necessary 3).
  2. Each member should choose one of the prompts above that they would like to write on.
  3. Create a list of 10 questions grounded on the prompt you chose; you will interview your partner(s).
  4. Record your partner’s responses, also being mindful of their reactions, emotional response, voice inflection, body language, and general demeanour.
  5. Create a list of 7-10 ideas for how your partner(s) might write a personal statement based on the chosen prompt. Share your ideas with your partner for confirmation of truthful understanding.
  6. Select one idea that both you and your partner(s) agree has the best potential. (doesn’t fall under “what they want to hear” or “Motivated/Hard worker”
  7. Begin developing the idea by filling in the details:
    1. What message would we like to convey?
    2. What facts, personal examples, and/or experiences can you provide? “Show, don’t tell. Let the reader draw his own conclusions” (Thaler 33).
    3. Come up with a new list of questions (at least 10 new ones) to ask your partner(s) (See pages 34-38 and 39-41 of The Art of the Personal Statement for a good example and question categories – please don’t share this document.)
    4. Re-interview each other
  8. Start to shape your idea and related ideas into an essay
    1. Create a Concept Map (see pages 44-45 from the above digital document).
    2. Ask the Concept Map Questions (see page 46)
    3. Share your concept map with your partner for confirmation of truthful understanding.
    4. Consider the sequence of your concept map – is it in the most exciting order?
    5. Share your concept map with another group’s member – can they follow your ideas? Revise accordingly.
    6. Were you mindful? “Cultivate an awareness of the sensations, emotions, and thoughts that arise as you think about your essay. Strive to put that awareness at the center of all your admissions-essay efforts” (Thaler 50).
  9. Begin the drafting process
    1. Read pages 50-76 from The Art of the Personal Statement.
    2. Follow the process in an iterative fashion.
  10. Begin the editing process
    1. Read from page 77 to the end in The Art of the Personal Statement.
    2. Follow the process in an iterative fashion.

Part 2 – Know thyself – make them like you

Follow the same process as above, but this time, you will be asking yourself the questions, and writing YOUR personal statement.

This is the real deal. Tell one facet of you. Show them that they have good reason to like you, trust you, and let you into their college.

Works Cited

Thaler, Alexander. The Art of the Personal Statement. S.l.: A. Thaler, 2013. Print.