What Admissions Officers Are Looking For In Your Personal Essays

The personal statement can seem like an impossible task for students new to creative writing (and even really hard for those who consider themselves good writers). Luckily, admissions officers are not evil beings setting you up to fail. Check out their honest opinions on what they want to see in your essay.

1) Think About How You Come Across
"As an admissions officer, I analyzed students' personalities. If I read an admissions essay, and the student came off as arrogant, entitled, mean, selfish, or, on the flip side, funny, charming, generous, witty, I wrote that exact trait in my notes. It's not enough just to be smart at top schools. Students must also show that they'll be good classmates and community builders."—Angela Dunnham, Former Assistant Director of Admissions, Dartmouth College [Business Insider]

2) Be Yourself, Even in the Short Answers
Shorter questions are a great place for your personality to shine. “The 600-word supplemental essay feels super polished where a 50-word essay feels more authentically like a 17-year-old.” —Matt Mettille, director of college counseling at the Menlo School in Atherton, [Stanford Daily

3) Don't Ignore "Mundane" Topics
“If you’re writing about something that you really care about, and show us your perspective—that’s going to be easier to connect with as a reader than just writing what you think we want to hear,” Cragg says. For example, one student wrote about his daily commute to school, which involved a long car ride and detailed how he valued the time spent on meaningful conversations with his mother. Cragg was impressed by his insights. —Kim Cragg, the University of Rochester’s West Coast regional associate director of admissions [Rochester.edu]

4) Highlight Your Passion
Be passionate about what you do, both in your essay and your interview. Colleges say they look for attributes like leadership, curiosity, eagerness for learning, and critical thinking, but also for grit, empathy, and emotional intelligence. —Kim Cragg, the University of Rochester’s West Coast regional associate director of admissions [Rochester.edu]

5) Show Your Values & Personality
"We always said when I was an admissions officer, we want it to be so personal to the student that you couldn't put anyone else's name on that essay and have it still be true about that other student," she says. "Make sure that whatever story you decide to tell really highlights the adjectives you want the admissions officer to know about you." Kim explains, "The best essays are the ones where you can very clearly tell what their values are what their personalities are like, perhaps what their sense of humor is and just what matters to them." —Grace Kim, former admissions officer at Stanford University [CNBC]

6) Tell Them Something New
“I’ve seen rough essays that still powerfully convey a student’s personality and experiences,” he said. “And on the flip side, I’ve seen pristine, polished essays that don’t communicate much about the students and are forgotten a minute or two after reading them.” William & Mary, like many schools, assigns at least two readers for each application. Sometimes, essays get another look when an admissions committee is deliberating. Most experts say a great essay cannot compensate for a mediocre academic record. But it can play a significant role in shaping perceptions of an applicant and might tip the balance in a borderline case. —Tim Wolfe, associate provost for enrollment and dean of admission at the College of William & Mary [WashPo]