There comes a time in every student’s life when they are faced with writing about themselves. This normally puts the student into a stupor, especially since personal essays are written as the part of the college admissions process. Often enough, you simply don’t know how to write an essay about yourself. Well, the worry isn’t unfounded. There are lots of things you can get wrong: coming off as braggy, not writing using your authentic voice, unfocused or meandering writing, and these are just the most common pitfalls.
Find what to write about
Let’s start with the basics: first step is narrowing what you’ll be writing about. This is not supposed to be ‘you on a page’. We’re all complex beings with multi-faceted and often contradictory personalities, but this is a short-form literary work, and not your CV or an autobiography, so pick one aspect of yourself that you’re going to stick to writing about. This is supposed to be a part of your personality or an understanding that you have about the world that’s illustrative of the kind of person you are.
What you should write about is how you came to understand something about yourself or the world and the experience that produced that. This can be any experience that you had: flying in an airplane for the first time, missing the last bus and having to walk home at night, trying to tell a joke to a new friend and failing. This can be triumph or a failure, but let’s be blunt: it’s much more interesting to read about a loss than a win. Losses usually produce lessons that one can learn from. Victories are justifications for actions taken. Although, writing about an earned victory and the path leading up to it can be as interesting.
Next, make sure that what you’re writing is wholly you. Is it a special experience that you’re sure only you or few people had, or a common experience you have a unique take on? If it isn’t any special, there isn’t any point in writing, because there have been a million essays about a relative that had a near-death experience and how hard that was for you or about how lonely you felt in school because no one understood how cool listening to the Smiths made you. These experiences are so unspecial that using them as a topic for your essay is sure to produce lackluster writing. Not to mention the fact that admissions officers read dozens of them every year and to them, these essays are completely unmemorable.
The story, however interesting it might be, should just be the ornament of your essay. It will end up using the most space and keeping your readers’ attention is important, but here’s the most crucial part of writing: every character must want something. This is the rule for both fiction and nonfiction: in the most simple terms, a story is centered around a character who wants something and has an obstacle in their way. The story itself is the procedure of overcoming that obstacle to reach the goal. Think about any movie ever, and you will find that to be true for the main character. It should also be true for your essay. If the main character (you) doesn’t want anything in the story, there’s nothing to be written.
Master the ending
Now, the last important part is how you end your essay. We didn’t cover the beginning, since it will be individual to every story, but here’s some advice with the ending: be memorable. Lots of people think that this is less important and end with some form of “OK, that’s it”, but, in point of fact, how you end your essay is the most important thing about it. End it with a memorable statement that sums up everything you were saying before.
If everything in your essay before this point was about running away from monkeys, this is the part where you sum up how you feel about monkeys, after having gone through monkey turmoil. The statement you end on should be a strong sentiment. It’s either “monkeys are a bane on humanity’s existence” or “I still love monkeys more than anything”. What it definitely shouldn’t be is “love ’em or hate ’em, everybody’s entitled to their own opinions about monkeys”‘. It’s generally not considered good form to be so black and white about your opinions, especially in the body of your essay, but writing an ending almost demands of you to be bold, strong and concrete.