How to Write Your Common Application Personal Statement

June 26, 2021

Lauren Rubovitz

CFO / Founder

A major component of the college admissions process is the essay submission. In six hundred and fifty words or less, an applicant must present themselves in a manner that would both fit the schools to which they are applying and display themselves, honestly, in an academic and personal sense. This essay -- in conjunction with test scores, GPA, extracurriculars, and faculty recommendations -- gives a complete portrait of each applicant and allows each student to show what they will bring to that school that no other applicant will. Specifically for schools that utilize a “holistic” admissions model -- meaning they view the applicant as a person instead of a set of statistics -- this essay is imperative to admissions success.

This process can be very overwhelming, especially when you have an array of websites, peers, and other sources providing opposing tips and tricks. While we cannot cater this advice to each of you individually with this post, we hope to make the process more manageable and understandable. So, without further adieu, here are our tips, tricks, and other random information!

What is the Common App. Personal Statement?

The Common App. Personal Statement is an essay that many schools across the country, and internationally, require or accept as a component for admission. Not all schools use this platform, however, so do your research to determine the best option for you and your schools. This essay must be 650 words or less and must follow one of the following prompts (for 2022 Applicants):

These prompts give you the room to express who you are in terms of a particular experience, element of your background, person, interest, etc., and they are structured in a way that lets you shine in the admissions process.

We will cover the following topics to help you absolutely nail your essay:

If you have any lingering questions or need any other sources, please email us!

1: Who are you?

Your application focuses heavily on the person you are, so this is something you need to have a solid grip on before you even begin your essay.

You can find many exercises online to help you answer this question, but the basic gist is determining the unique yet authentic person you want to present to colleges. Major emphasis on authentic. If you are not passionate or honest about whatever you write about, it will show on the other side of the paper.

So, start thinking about the aspects of yourself you want to present. What are your most admirable traits and special features that you would want colleges to know you possess? What transformative experiences have you had and how are you the person you are right now because of them? What people have changed your life and how? Do you want to be like those people some day or not like them and why? What is your favorite thing, in the whole world, to do, eat, sing, experience, etc.? How is the person you are on paper (your demographic, identity, GPA, etc.) integrated into how you see yourself and how you want people to see you? What effect do you want to have on the world? How will you have this effect? Why do you want to have this effect?

All of these questions are big questions, but they prompt self-exploration and discovery in the context of your applications. Spend a solid fifteen minutes or more sitting down and answering these questions on a sheet of paper. If more questions arise, answer those, too! By the end, you should have a messy sheet of paper that represents who you are.

2: Pick the right prompt.

The Common App’s prompts are essentially the following concepts:

Some prompts will stand out as harder to write about for you, personally, but do not assume that a challenging prompt equates to a better essay. Pick a prompt that you are excited to write about and showcases information that you want colleges to know about you. Use your “Who are you?” responses to determine what tangible story, experience, object, etc. you can discuss in your essay to reveal the intangible traits you want to reveal.

There is no one-size-fits-all prompt, so pick the one you really want to write about!

3: Get personal, but not too personal.

A huge aspect of your Personal Statement is getting personal -- it is even in the name!

Your essay should reflect you in an honest sense. Whether you use anecdotes or specific details, your essay should include a myriad of you in it. Specificity is key! Keep in mind, however, that there are some areas that you should steer away from unless they are crucial to your story.

Examples of these include…

Open yourself up to these schools without portraying yourself as irresponsible or overconfident. This is a hard line to walk but we know you can do it!

4: Write with your voice.

The key to this is making sure that a reader learns about you just as much from the content as they do from the writing itself. If you only write text messages and school papers, your essay should be somewhere between the two of those. It should feel like you wrote it, meaning the words and style should sound like you, not your teacher or thesaurus.

Your essay should stand out to colleges because of the content as well as the unique way in which it is written.

5: Feedback!

This one is super important. The only way to grow is with feedback, and your essay is the same way. Finding teachers, tutors, parents, or colleagues who can read your essay and help you refine it will be very beneficial to this process. 

Although, refrain from oversharing your essay to prevent your essay from morphing into someone else’s work. If the message of the essay changes when these people edit it, they are probably making the essay less authentic to you, so keep that in mind!

Just editing your essay a few times by yourself can be very helpful, as it will probably get better and better each time! Make sure that the message stays clear, though.

6: Don’t forget about supplemental essays.

In addition to your Personal Statement, many schools require additional supplemental essays. These vary from school to school. Each school will ask, in these essays, questions that they believe will allow them to better understand the applicants in terms of their school. For example, if you are applying to a college that devotes themselves to student diversity, they might have a supplemental essay focusing entirely on how your unique background or identity will contribute to their diverse student body.

For these, review the founding principles of the school and the features they look for in an applicant and cater your responses to those traits. Make sure that your responses and style are fairly consistent with your Personal Statement, as well.

Do not forget to triple check across the college’s website and their Common App. profile for supplemental essays. They are very important!


We believe that all of your essays will be incredible and, if you do not believe yours is, we will be more than happy to assist you! We hope to have some more specific resources shortly for your essays, and we will let you know when we roll them out!