Choosing Your Personal Essay Topics

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Many prospective students have trouble choosing personal essay topics. While some schools may have specific instructions, some may offer a little bit more freedom. If that’s the case, how do you go about coming up with personal statement ideas? The simple answer is that it depends on what the school is asking, and what you are hoping to accomplish. Your writing strategy should depend on your own strengths and weaknesses and what you want the essay to demonstrate about you.

Personal Essay Topics

The goal in writing a personal statement is to give your readers (i.e. the school) an idea of who you are. Therefore, many students use personal statements to share their past accomplishments, explain why they want to earn a degree, or describe what they want to do with it. They use their personal statements to convince admissions committees they are a perfect match, academically, for that program.

The use of this traditional approach could be determined by the application requirements. For example, some schools may ask for a certain type of personal statement that contains specific information. However, it is certainly not the only way to share who you are and get accepted into a school.

Here are some alternative approaches to writing a personal statement for graduate school that is effective and inspiring.

Tell a Story from Your Past

Your personal, professional, and academic background could be a rich source of material for your personal narrative ideas. Why not think about your experiences, and what led you to the decision to apply to this school? Not only could this help them get to know you a little better, but it could also give the admissions committee reading the essay a clearer picture of how you’d fit in at their school. To do this, you could focus on some of the topics listed here.

  • A Specific Achievement – Have you achieved something that shows what you could contribute to your graduate program? Maybe you’ve participated in conducting important research, or helped develop a new program to help members of your community. Maybe you were a leader on campus as an undergrad, and helped to make big changes to benefit your fellow students! Whatever it is, telling that story could show your drive, commitment, and personality.
  • A Hardship You’ve Overcome – Everyone has had struggles throughout their lives. That kind of experience can shape the person you become, and demonstrate your skills, tenacity, and perseverance. Is there an experience you’ve had that’s tested your limits, and taught you more about yourself and your place in the world? This topic may be personal, but it could also make for a compelling essay that connects with your readers on an emotional level.
  • What You Learned from an Important Mentor – Was there an important figure in your life, who helped set you on your current path? That could be somebody in your family who helped you grow, or maybe even a teacher who inspired your passion for your discipline. You might consider dedicating your essay to the story of this important relationship, and how it shaped you into the top-notch candidate you are today.
  • An Influential Life Experience – Maybe you experienced something that impacted your life and worldview. For example, perhaps your experience studying abroad as an undergrad taught you more about the world and your own culture. It may have helped you develop a more international, diverse perspective. Maybe your experience volunteering in your community is the foundation for your drive to study. Or something else! Whatever it is, this kind of story could show your character, perspective, and passion.
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Describe Your Future

Few things are more inspirational than future goals. But don’t just focus on your future career or academic objectives like most people. Take this topic to the next level and focus on the big picture. What you want to do with your education to make a difference could be a rich source of personal statement ideas.

For example, explain the ways earning a graduate degree might help make you, your community, your country, and the world better. How will your education inspire and invigorate your life and the lives of others? Use your imagination to envision your future. Then use that vision to show the school your personal, professional and academic potential.

Describe How You Will Contribute to the School’s Vibrancy and Longevity

It might be clear from the start what you could learn from your program, or how it could support your professional or academic goals. What we don’t always know is how you, as a student and human being, will contribute to the school.

Consider using personal essay topics to tell a story that demonstrates how you could add to the school community. Below are some ideas to think about.

  • How you could make your teachers and classmates smile
  • How you intend to complete inspiring, creative, and invigorating work
  • How you want to use your time to make the lives and experiences of others better
  • How you could make school a joyful, influential, and lively place to be
  • How you could bring integrity and honor to the field of academia and the art of scholarship

After sharing your story, back it up with some evidence drawn from your previous experience, supporting the fact that you are indeed the person you claim to be.

Five Tips for Writing Interesting, Inspiring, and Effective Personal Statements

Now that you have personal essay topics in mind, it’s time to write. Just keep in mind these five simple tips.

  • Be clear about schools’ expectations for personal statements and closely follow directions and specific requests.
  • Share authentically! Be yourself. Share honestly and use your own voice.
  • Write creatively! Don’t be afraid to use interesting words, sentence structures, and syntaxes. This is your chance to demonstrate your creativity writing skills through an engaging essay.
  • Don’t confuse authenticity, creativity, and boldness with casualness or laziness. Use professional language. Even if you’re taking a creative approach, use correct spelling, excellent grammar, and a solid structure.
  • Inspire your readers! Rather than providing your readers with a dry account of you and your life, breathe life into them as you describe your dreams and passions.

Whatever approach you choose, your decision should be based on your own set of skills. It may sound obvious, but your choice of subject and how you go about writing it can have a very real impact on your chances of being admitted to your selected program. Either way, if you explore the topic as thoroughly as you can, and write about it in a way that is both thought-provoking and original, then you will have done all you could to maximize whatever personal essay topics you choose and chances for admission.

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