Writing College Essays: Outline 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 outline the personal statement? What structure did you use?

Chase: Personally, I am not that detailed of an outliner; I prefer to express the ideas and order I want quickly before jumping into drafting. My outline is basically just a bunch of bullet points that work as a flow chart. It has what I want to talk about in what order, with notes for specific phrases or details I want to ensure I include.

Cory: It’s funny, because although I didn’t outline the personal statement either, I usually outline the personal statement when I work with students to help them keep everything relevant to their essay. When I work with students, I encourage them to write as many details as they can during the outline– colors, textures, tastes, feelings, actions, thoughts, dialogue– to create more vivid storytelling and relatable moments. 

Maria: For me, it was really important to outline the personal statement. I started out with a couple big ideas I wanted to express, and then organized them into a structure. I usually take some time to write down all my ideas, whether or not they are relevant, and then turn them into an outline.

Chase: In response to Cory and Maria, I want to second their approaches and make it clear that I don’t think that this minimal outlining method is for everybody. As for most, the more detail in your outline, the more polished your initial draft will be. However, if you’re like me and outlining feels like a nightmare, remember that writing something sloppily is better than procrastinating over making a perfect outline for hours. 

Cory: Amen to Chase’s last point. It is better to write than to not write and better to think than to not think. I would like to add that there are multiple ways of structuring your essays (that you can check out in our college admissions guidebook). For example, you can write a montage essay, you could write an experimental poem, you can do it in screenwriting format (if you know how). There aren’t rules to outline the personal statement— it just has to make sense.

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

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