The Personal Essay: Get Started with These Tips

Whether you're applying to college, graduate school or professional school, the personal statement you submit with your application plays an important role in admissions decisions.

Unfortunately, it's also one of the most difficult elements of any application to get started on and often requires a great deal of time and thought. With this in mind, we came up with a couple of guidelines on how to start your essay and prevent writer's block while you're working on it.

1. Brainstorm.

What sets you apart from other applicants? What types of things will help the admissions committee get to know you better that might not be apparent from the rest of your application materials? Who are you and what are the accomplishments you are most proud of? What are your academic or career aspirations?

2. Fill up that blank screen!

Even if you're not sure what you want your topic to be, just start writing, chances are ideas will start to come to you in the process. A good place to start is with "I." I learned, I read, I wrote, etc. Whatever you do, keep writing. You may end up scrapping your entire first few drafts, but it's crucial to get started. Feeling anxious, self-conscious or overwhelmed, is completely normal and the only way through it is to keep going until you hit your stride or figure out exactly what you'd like to write about.

3. Get input.

It might help to ask friends or family members for topic ideas. Alternatively, go online or to the bookstore and check out sample essays. Some good resources are:

Check out these online resources:

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