Writing College Essays: Brainstorm the Personal Statement

Michael Gao
December 28, 2023
College Essays

This blog post is part of a series where our writers discuss their experiences writing their personal statements. In this installment, they answer the question below.

How did you choose your personal statement topic? How did you brainstorm the personal statement?

Cory: I thought deeply about how I would answer each question and then I chose to answer the questions I had the best answers to. By best, I refer to answers that are unique, character-defining, impactful, and reveal things about me not found elsewhere in the college application.

Maria: I took a little bit of a different approach, and chose to use the “come up with your own topic” prompt on the Common App. While this doesn’t work for everyone, I think it gave me the liberty to reveal things about myself in my own way.

Chase: Because of a pretty traumatic experience I went through my junior year, I didn’t do much brainstorming as I already had a straightforward and powerful essay topic. A point of emphasis that I tried to remember was to ensure that the essay, above all, worked to provide readers with a better understanding of who I was and how my experiences made me grow rather than just what I’d been through.

Cory: That’s an interesting point. Sometimes you know by instinct what experiences made you into who you are today. Then (like Chase mentions) the complexity comes from navigating how you want to tell your story and relating that to how you’re going to succeed in college. So if you want to write about a challenge you’ve experienced, your goal would be to help colleges understand how your challenges transformed you into a better, stronger person.

Maria: Who I was and how my experiences made me grow are the two most important ideas you should express in your essay. I would also add how I will use this for the future. This is your opportunity to show how your experiences will make you an essential part of a college’s student body. You will not say this directly, but show it through your writing.

Chase: As Maria says, connecting whatever you write to your plans for the future is important. With this connection, make sure you’re dreaming big, even if you don’t feel that these dreams are very realistic. Basically, it’s good to make sure that your essay builds up to some vision of the future where you are making a positive impact on a community of any scale, from your neighborhood to the world.

For more guidance on how to brainstorm the personal statement, get into contact with a Dewey Smart tutor today!

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