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Personal Essay Writing Guide

This guide will help prepare you to write a personal essay for scholarship and admissions purposes.

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Content

  • Engage the reader – be descriptive and make them want to read more!
    • Draw the reader in with a hook in your introduction.
    • i.e. “Nursing has always been my passion.” vs. “November 5, 2010 was the day that changed my life forever.”
  • Make it personal.
    • Write about your experiences and how they have helped to shape you into the person you are.
    • Choose something you are passionate about – make it meaningful to you!
    • Care about what you are writing – it will be evident in your tone.
    • Make sure to choose something others can relate to.
  • Think of a unique angle.
    • Don’t write the same thing that will be found on 500 other essays.
    • i.e. – “The person has influenced my life the most is my mom” vs. “The person who has influenced my life the most is my high school math teacher, Mr. Brewer, who always taught us to never give up because our goals were always within reach.”
  • Follow the essay instructions, and stay focused on the topic!
    • Don’t go under the word limit, but don’t go too far over either.
    • Don’t go off on any tangents.  Make sure that everything written relates to the point you are trying to make.
  • Make sure your essay is free of spelling/ grammatical errors.
    • Use spell check.
    • Have a couple of people proofread for errors, and invite them to make suggestions on content.
  • Write professionally.
    • No slang.
    • Less conversational tone, it should sound like an essay. 
    • Should be written in the first person, from your point of view, using “I”.
    • Personal essays mostly written in past tense, because they are usually about past experiences.
    • Be consistent with point of view/ tense throughout the essay.

Structure

  • Introductory paragraph
    • Open with a hook – capture the reader’s attention
    • Thesis statement – your main idea.  A 3-part thesis is the easiest type to write.  i.e. – I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher because I love working with children, patience is something that comes naturally to me, and I consider myself to be a lifelong learner.
  • 3 supporting paragraphs
    • One paragraph to support each part of the 3-part thesis.
    • Evidence, stories, experiences, examples to back up each claim.
  • Strong conclusion.
    • Do not simply state what you have already said.
    • Explain how the experiences helped you to learn, grow, or change.  How did your experience shape you?  How did it change your understanding of life?

Writing Process

  • Prewriting
    • Brainstorming
    • List of ideas
    • Outline
    • Gathering information
    • Form your thesis
  • Drafting
    • Put your ideas into sentences and paragraphs
    • Explain and support your ideas, make connections.
    • Focus more on content than spelling/ grammar.
  • Revising
    • Reread your words and make changes to meet the needs and expectations of your reader.
    • Make sentences accurate and concise, make transitions between ideas that flow easily.
  • Editing
    • Check for things such as grammar and spelling.
    • Ask another person to read and offer their input – sometimes another set of eyes can offer a whole new perspective!