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The most difficult part of writing personal statements is writing well in ways that reveal who students are as individuals and students. This is something that's especially challenging for young people who most likely believe "there's nothing special about me". Before junior year:
  • Expose students to sophisticated writing (use class time to discuss the risks good writers take and the choices they make in terms of style, economy, and structure);

  • Encourage students to keep journals in which they think about the meaning and significance of events in their lives and experiment telling those stories with different styles, approaches, and voices;

  • Have students outline and discuss the structure and plot lines of their favorite films, television shows, and video games. The issue is whether the student is capable of thinking in terms of structure and design of any piece they are writing. Strunk and White are quoted in the Greenes book "Presenting Yourself Successfully to College" as saying, "A basic structural design underlies every kind of writing...The first principle of composition, therefore, is to foresee or determine the shape of what is to come and pursue that shape." The creators of films, television shows, and games are always aware of the structure and emotional flow of their work. Young writers should be as well.;

  • Relentlessly reassure students that proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation are basic.
Resources for this activity:
  1. Personal Writing Worksheet (.pdf format)

  2. Step Nine Video Clip: Watch the video

  3. The easiest part of writing a personal statement is becoming familiar with the topics colleges and universities will be asking of applicants. Visit and download this year's Common Application forms, the recommended forms used by over two hundred colleges and universities for application to their undergraduate programs. Individual college web sites may also provide samples of the essay topics they put forward.

  4. A useful additional link: Standards for the English Language Arts from The International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English.
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