Writing a personal essay for college: just how personal should you get?
Your college entrance application usually poses some fairly personal questions. But there’s a fine line to walk between sharing information of a personal nature to enhance your application, and becoming too personal. How can you be sure where that line is?
Look at Examples
One of the best first steps to determining just how personal your essay should be is to look at examples of successful college admissions essays online. By looking at a sampling of online essays which were part of successful admissions packets, you can gain a better idea of what is and is not appropriate in an entrance essay.
Often, the bigger problem with sharing too much in an entrance essay isn’t that you’ve gotten too personal but that you’ve gotten off topic. While you should share some personal information, any information which isn’t pertinent to your admission into the college is “too personal.” It’s perfectly appropriate to bring up the death of a loved one if in the process you learned important lessons, overcame obstacles, or gained new perspectives which you feel will make you a better candidate. It’s not appropriate if you bring it up simply to complain or feel sorry for yourself.
Control the Tone of the Essay
Another issue is tone. While some very personal information might be relevant to your application, its inclusion could be a mistake if the tone of your essay is off. You want to be professional, yet passionate—not whiny or overemotional. For example, if you discuss having to work a full-time job at night throughout high school in order to make ends meet, that could be very relevant information to an admissions counselor. However, do so in a professional, no-nonsense manner. If you include emotional information, make sure it’s appropriate by asking if it’s related to your admission. There’s no need to bad mouth the manager you hated at that job during the essay, for example, but it may be relevant to talk about your pride at graduating with a 4.0 GPA after many long nights at work.
When in Doubt, Leave it Out
Finally, there will be certain things you can just not be sure about. If you really can’t decide whether or not they’re appropriate—don’t include them. Consider if altering the tone, tightening the focus, or otherwise editing might make those things acceptable, and if you’re still not sure, then err on the side of caution and don’t include that information.