In Part 1 of our roundup, we considered some helpful tips to keep in mind when drafting supplementary essays and personal statements to support an application for university or graduate studies. Notably, we highlighted the importance of fully answering the prompt and providing concrete examples of skills and personal attributes.
In this second part – think of it as Tips, 2.0 – we’ll take a deeper dive into the types of examples or accomplishments that can work well in a personal essay or statement. We’ll also highlight the importance of clear, direct, and grammatically correct writing.
Think Outside the Box
To borrow an overworked phrase, don’t be afraid to think outside the box when identifying noteworthy accomplishments or experiences to showcase in your essays. While traditional extracurricular achievements are important, don’t shy away from other, more varied aspects of your life experience. These might include time spent caring for a sick relative or neighbour, your part-time babysitting job, or that month you helped your uncle renovate his kitchen. Remember: the skills that schools are looking for—the ability to work well with others, take charge in a challenging situation, identify and creatively solve a problem—can be developed in all kinds of circumstances. It is not so much the exact experience that matters, but your ability to articulate its impact—to draw relevant connections between what you did, what you learned, and how it has shaped your development as an individual.
Strive for Clarity
Pay attention to the quality of your writing. Needless to say, grammar, sentence structure, punctuation—these all matter, as does the concise and clear expression of your ideas. Of course, you want to come across as articulate, with a strong command of language and verbal expression. However, resist the temptation to needlessly “elevate” your writing by throwing in a bunch of unnecessary “big words” or complicated sentence patterns. More often than not, this not only injects a pretentious tone into your piece but also introduces awkward, wordy sentences—definitely NOT the look you’re going for. Instead, strive for clear, coherent prose that reflects your authentic voice. Remember, admissions officials read hundreds, even thousands, of these essays. They don’t have time to reread sentences or puzzle over your exact meaning. Make it clear, make it concise, make it interesting.
Keep these basic tips in mind as you begin the process of preparing your statements. Leave yourself plenty of time to brainstorm, write a draft, and edit in response to feedback you receive from peers and trusted advisors. Forest Hill Tutoring also has extensive experience helping applicants with supplementary statements and can assist at any part of the writing process.
Until then—happy writing!