What Is the Common App Personal Statement?

Some days, it might feel like there is just so much to do when it comes to the college application process. And there is. But the personal statement, while significant, should come as somewhat of a relieving assignment. Unlike other essays, this one requires no research. It just requires some knowledge about yourself and often, the best ones are just honest, authentic portrayals of some aspect of the applicant. In fact, the best ones are usually those in which the writer had some fun.  

It’s about You

This is a no-brainer, but the Common App personal statement needs to be personal. Consider that the purpose of the application is to give your choice school a glimpse into who you really are. Your academics say something about you. Your extra-curriculars say something about you. Your teacher recommendations do, too. So, the personal statement is an opportunity to share a new part of yourself.  Pick 2-3 traits that haven’t been explored in your application yet. (If your struggling, text a few friends). Traits might include “funny,” “good listener,” or “leader.”  

It’s a Story

Your job is to tell a story that highlights those traits. The story should be light, funny if at all possible, and focus on a run-of-the-mill scene or occurrence. Applicants are often tempted to write about something life-altering or profound, but the truth is, it’s not about the scenario. You have to let your personality shine through. Also, you’re young. Any grandiose attempts at writing something existential run the risk of coming off as naïve to the reader. Remember, they don’t know you. This is your first introduction. Treat it as such. You’re not going to walk up to a stranger, shake their hand and tell them about a harrowing experience you had that made you question the existence of God. But you might tell them about what happened on your drive to school that day. 

It Should Have a Structure

The story should have a beginning, middle, and end. Outside of that, get creative. Your guidance counselors at school are probably going to encourage you to stick with the traditional essay format. Our students break the rules. Write a poem or a scene from a play, if you’re so inclined.  This is your chance to stand out.

Its Purpose Is to Say Something New 

Remember, don’t write about a trait or a story or an activity that the admissions people are going to see elsewhere in your application. There’s so much to you. Let it show.

That’s what the Common App personal statement is. Here’s what it’s not:

What It Is Not 

  • A sad story *if you’ve had a personal tragedy, a health issue, or some other circumstance that has impacted your academic trajectory, there’s a place for that and the personal essay is not it

  • A snapshot of your teen tour, volunteer trip to Honduras, Birthright Trip, or any other paid/voluntourism adventure for wealthy kids

  • An essay about an extra-curricular or leadership position that is already present on your resume

  •  The “why x school” essay (though you should do your research and understand what kind of students are generally attracted and admitted into which schools)  


Need some help developing a killer Common App essay?  Reach out to us. We are experts at guiding students through the writing process.