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Last updated February 9, 2024

Every piece we write is researched and vetted by a former admissions officer. Read about our mission to pull back the admissions curtain.

15 Amazing Personal Statement Examples (2024 Update)

Key Takeaway

Before you start writing your own personal statement, you might find it helpful to read some examples. In this post, we've compiled 15 personal statement examples for you to learn from. We've asked former admissions officers to comment on and grade each personal statement so you'll know exactly what to do (and not do). 

What’s that old saying? “The best way to learn is by doing.” Well, we believe that, in personal statements and in life, cliches like this should be avoided. For some people, the best way to start writing a personal statement is indeed just to start.

But for most writers, jumping right into the writing process is a daunting task. If you’ve never written a personal statement before, then how do you know where to begin?

That’s where example essays come in. There are millions of opinions in the college admissions world about whether or not students should read example essays. But here’s ours:

You absolutely should be reading example personal statements.

Let’s get into it.

Why you should read example personal statements

Reading example personal statements helps you understand why they work (or don’t work) in the admissions process.

Now, the point of reading them isn’t to copy them. It’s not even necessarily to be inspired by them.

Instead, the point of reading examples is to know what personal statements look like. Think about it: if you’d never seen a children’s book before, would you know how to write one? Probably not! Same goes for personal statements.

In this post, we show you some exceptional, solid, and need-to-be-improved personal statements.

And to help you understand how these essays function as personal statements, we’ve also gotten our team of former admissions officers to grade and provide feedback on each.

What does an admissions officer look for in a personal statement?

Before we get to the essays, let’s briefly walk through what goes through an admissions officer’s head when they open an application.

Admissions officers (AOs) read hundreds to thousands of applications in a single year. Different institutions require admissions officers to use different criteria when evaluating applications, so the specifics will vary by school. Your entire application should cohere to form a seamless narrative. You'll be crafting that narrative across the following categories:

  1. Transcripts and course rigor: AOs look at the classes you’ve taken to assess how much you’ve challenged yourself based on the classes your school offers. They’re also looking at how well you've done in these classes each term.
  2. Extracurricular activities: When reading through your activities list, AOs look at the activities you’ve done, how many years you’ve participated in them, and how many hours a week you devote to them. They’re assessing your activities for the levels of magnitude, impact, and reach that they demonstrate. (Want to know more about these terms? Check out our extracurricular impact post.)
  3. Background information: This background information briefly tells admissions officers about demographic and family information, your school context, and any honors or awards you’ve received.
  4. Letters of recommendation: Letters of recommendation give AOs insight into who you are in the classroom.
  5. Essays: And, finally, the essays. Whether you’re writing a personal statement or a supplemental essay, essays are the main place AOs get to hear your voice and learn more about you. Your personal statement in particular is the place where you get to lay out your overall application narrative and say something meaningful about your personal strengths.

So, with all that in mind, what does an admissions officer actually look for when reading your personal statement?

A few traits tend to surface across the best personal statements, no matter the topic or format. There are four primary areas you should focus on as you craft your personal statement.

  1. Strengths: AOs want to know about your strengths. That doesn’t mean bragging about your accomplishments, but it does mean writing about a topic that lets you showcase something positive about yourself.
  2. Personal meaning: Personal statements shouldn’t be fluff. They shouldn’t be history essays. They should be personal essays that ooze meaning. The topic you choose should show something significant about yourself that the admissions officers won’t get from any other part of your application.
  3. Authenticity and vulnerability: These characteristics can be the most difficult to achieve. Being “vulnerable” doesn’t mean airing all your dirty laundry. It means revealing something authentic and meaningful about who you are. To be vulnerable means to go beyond the surface level to put yourself out there, even to admissions officers who you’ve never met.
  4. Clear organization and writing: And lastly, admissions officers also want your essay to be organized clearly so it’s easy to follow along. Remember that admissions officers are reading lots of applications, even in one sitting. So you want to make your reader’s job as easy as possible. Thoughtful and skillful writing can also help take your personal statement to the next level.

If you want to know more about how to incorporate these traits into your own essay, we have a whole guide about how to write the perfect personal statement.

But for now, let’s get into the examples.

We’ve broken up the example personal statements into three categories: best personal statement examples, good personal statement examples, and “bad” personal statement examples. These categories show you that there is a spectrum of what personal statements can look like. The best examples are the gold standard. They meet or exceed all four of the main criteria admissions officers are looking for. The good examples are just that: good. They’re solid examples that may be lacking in a specific area but are still effective personal statements. The “bad” examples are those that don’t yet stack up to the expectations of a personal statement. They’re not objectively bad, but they need some specific improvements to align with what admissions officers are looking for.

Here we go!

The Best Personal Statement Examples

Writing an exceptional personal statement takes a lot of time and effort. Even the best writers can find the genre challenging. But when you strike the perfect chord and get it right, it’s almost like magic. Your essay jumps off the page and captures an admissions officer’s attention. They feel like you’re right there with them, telling them everything they need to know to vote “yes” on your admission.

The following essays are some of our favorites. They cover a range of topics, styles, and student backgrounds. But they all tell meaningful stories about the writers’ lives. They are well-organized, use vivid language, and speak to the writers’ strengths.

For each essay, our team of former admissions officers have offered comments about what makes the essay exceptional. Take a look through the annotations and feedback to see what lessons you can apply to your own personal statement.

Personal Statement Example #1: Thankful

My family has always been broke. Saturday mornings and Thursday evenings, always the same drill: the kids (my brothers and me) would be loaded in the car with my parents and off we’d all go to the food pantry. New clothes were few and far between, and going on vacation was something that we could only dream of. Despite our financial struggles, one year, my parents decided to surprise us with a trip to Disney Land. It was a complete shock to me and my siblings. We were over the moon. In fact, the screams of excitement that emanated from my younger brother’s mouth still ring in my ears.

But as the trip drew close, my excitement tempered and I began to worry. Being poor when you’re young doesn’t just affect you materially. It also affects how you see the world and loads you up with a whole range of anxieties that, in an ideal world, no child should have to face. How were my parents going to afford this, I wondered? Would an expense like this push us over the brink?((The beginning of this essay, and especially this sentence, show the writer’s empathy. They are not selfish; they understand their broader family context and take that into consideration.)) I didn't want to ruin the surprise by asking, but I couldn't shake the feeling of dread building inside of me.

The day of our trip arrived and we set off for the airport. In the car, my dad made an off-the-cuff comment about a new video game that he’d wanted to play but didn’t buy, and everything clicked—my parents had made the trip possible by saving for months, cutting back on expenses and sacrificing their own comforts to make the trip happen.

As we boarded the plane, I was filled with a mix of emotions. I was grateful beyond words for my parents' sacrifice, but I was also overwhelmed by the guilt of knowing that they had given up so much for us. I didn't know how to express my gratitude; when we deplaned in LAX, I gave my mom and dad a rib-crushing hug.

The trip itself was everything that I had dreamed of and more. We spent four magical days at Disney Land((Nice use of vivid details here. The reader can picture the sights and smells of Disney—and the ensuing hunger when passing a churro stand.)), speed running the roller coasters and campy boat rides from the 70s. Sure, we packed our own food and walked right by the churro stands with a hungry look in our eyes. But I will never forget the feeling of unmitigated joy that my family shared on that trip, the smiles that painted my parents’ faces.

But the trip itself was nothing compared to the gratitude I felt for my parents((Here, the writer transitions to reintroducing the theme of gratitude.)). They had given us the gift of a lifetime, and I knew that I would never be able to repay them for their sacrifice.

In the years since that trip, I have carried that feeling of gratitude with me. It has motivated me to work hard and to always strive to be the best person that I can be. I want to make my parents proud and to show them that their sacrifice was worth it((Finally, the writer sums things up with an eye to the future. It’s helpful for an admission officer to picture what the essay’s lessons might mean for the student as a future community member.)).

I will never be able to fully express my gratitude for what my parents did for us, but I will always remember their selflessness and their willingness to put their own needs aside for the sake of our happiness. It was a truly surprising and incredible act of love, and one that I will always be thankful for.

AO Notes on Thankful

Grade: A

This essay accomplishes a few things even though it essentially tells one story and offers a quick reflection. It gives some important context regarding the challenges of being from a lower-income family. It does that in a way that is authentic, rather than problem-focused. It also shows that the writer is empathetic, family-oriented, and reflective.

Why this essay stands out:

  • Vulnerability: This essay is upfront about a challenging topic: financial insecurity. While you don’t have to tell your most difficult challenge in an essay, this writer chose to write about a circumstance that gives additional context that may be helpful as admissions considers their application.
  • Personal: The writer gets into some family dynamics and paints a picture of how their family treats and takes care of each other.
  • Values: We clearly see some values the writer has and that they don’t take their parents’ sacrifices for granted. As an admission officer, I can picture this student using their education to give back—to their family or to others.

Personal Statement Example #2: Pickleball

I’ve always been one to have a good attitude no matter the circumstances. Except when it comes to exercise. From dodgeball in PE class to family Turkey Trots, I’m always the first one out and the last one across the finish line. These realities aren’t from a lack of skill—I’m actually quite coordinated and fast. They are from a lack of effort((This is a quick hit of… either humor or vulnerability. I chuckled at the blunt honesty, and am intrigued to learn more.)). Despite my best intentions, I can never get myself to care about sports or competitions. So when my dad first asked me to be his pickleball partner last summer, I did nothing but laugh.

But soon, I realized that he was serious. My dad started playing pickleball two years ago as a fun way to exercise. He’d become a star in our city’s recreation league, and I always enjoyed cheering him on from the sidelines. When his doubles partner got relocated for work, my dad decided that the disruption was a good opportunity for us bond through pickleball. Even though I was mortified by the thought of running back and forth to hit a bouncing ball, I reluctantly agreed.

The next Saturday morning, we went to the court for our first practice. I was wearing sweatpants, an old sweatshirt, and a grimace. My dad showed me how to hold the paddle, serve, and return the ball to our opponents. He told me about staying out of the kitchen—an endearing pickleball term that references the “kitchen,” or the middle part of the court—trying to make me laugh. Instead, I sighed impatiently and walked to my end of the court, ready to get it over with.

My dad remained patient in spite of my bad attitude. He gently served me the ball, and I gave a lackluster attempt to return it. The ball bounced into the net. I hadn’t even made it to his side of the court. Trying his best to encourage me, my dad gave me the ball so I could serve it to him instead. I tossed the ball up and hit it underhand toward my dad. It hit the net again. I tried again and again, each attempt with less care than the last. I grew frustrated and threw my paddle down in anger((Okay, this paragraph gives a good dose of openness to the emotions of the writer. They’ve served up an opportunity to learn a lesson soon…)).

After seeing my mini-meltdown, my dad crossed the kitchen to talk to me. During our conversation, I began to ask myself why I got so frustrated when I wasn’t trying very hard in the first place. I thought pickleball was a miserable sport, but I realized that it wasn’t pickleball that I cared about. I cared about my dad. I wanted to make him proud((Ah, and there it is! A realization. As the admission officer I’m thinking, “Go on…”)). Playing pickleball with him was the least I could do to thank him for everything he’d done for me. I dusted off my bad attitude alongside my paddle, and I got up to try another serve.

That serve hit the net again. But more determined now, I kept trying until my serves went over the net and through my dad’s weak side. I couldn’t believe it. My attitude adjustment helped me see the game for what it was: a game. It wasn’t supposed to be agonizing or cruel. It was supposed to be fun.

I learned that my attitude towards sports was unacceptable. This experience taught me that it’s okay to have preferences about what you enjoy, but it’s important to always maintain a positive attitude((And the lesson learned! )). You may just enjoy it after all.

Now my dad and I are both stars in our recreation league. Soon, we will make our way to our league’s semi-finals. We’ve worked our way through the bracket and are close to the championship. What I appreciate more about this experience, however, is how close it’s brought my dad and I together. His patience, positivity, and persistence have and will always inspire me. I want to be more like him every day, especially on the pickleball court.

AO Notes on Pickleball

Grade: A

This is a strong “attitude adjustment” essay, a bit of a remix of a challenge essay. The challenge, in this case, was a fixed mindset about sports that needed to be adjusted. The writer takes us on a witty journey through their own attitude towards organized athletic activities and their father.

Why this essay stands out:

  • Self-aware: Similar to the vulnerability of other essays, this writer is willing to criticize themselves by recognizing that they need an attitude adjustment. Even before they changed their attitude, we get the sense that they are at least aware of their own lack of effort.
  • Strong conclusion: We see a nice lesson at the end that relates both to having an open mind and caring for others. They even make a point about simply enjoying things because they are fun.
  • Life lesson: Beyond the stated lesson, as an admission officer with a few more years on this Earth than the writer, I can tell this lesson will apply beyond sports. In fact, I can easily picture this student trying a new class, club, or group of friends in college because they are now more open to novel experiences.

Personal Statement Example #3: The Bird Watcher

I’m an avid walker and bird watcher((Okay, the writer gets right into it! I think this simple introduction of the topic works well because they are writing about a less common hobby among teenagers. If they had said “I am an avid baseball player”, I would have been less eager to learn more.)). Growing up, I’d clear my head by walking along the trail in the woods behind my house. By the time I was immersed in the chaos of high school, these walks became an afternoon routine. Now, every day at three o’clock, I don my jacket and hiking shoes and set off. As I walk, I note the flora and fauna around me. The wind whispering through the trees, the quiet rustling of a chipmunk underfoot, and the high-pitched call of robins perched atop branches, all of it brings me back to life after a difficult day.

And recently, the days have been more difficult than not. My grandparents passing, parents divorcing, and doctor diagnosing me with ADHD have presented me with more challenges than I’ve ever experienced before. But no matter what’s going on in my life, the wildlife on my walks brings me peace. As an aspiring ornithologist, the birds are my favorite((This paragraph accomplishes a lot: a montage of difficult circumstances, context for their application, and declares their future career.)).

I became interested in ornithology during long childhood afternoons spent at my grandparents’ house. They would watch me while my parents finished up work. I’d listen to the old bird clock that hung on the wall in the kitchen. Each number on the clock corresponded with a different bird. Every hour, the clock would chirp rather than chime. When the cardinal sang, I knew my parents would be arriving soon. Those chirps are all seared into my memory.

Twelve o’clock: robin. The short, fast, almost laugh-like sound of the robin always makes me hungry. All those Saturday afternoons filled with laughter and good food have resulted in a Pavlovian response. I’d cook meatballs with my grandma, splashing sauce on her floral wall paper. We’d laugh and laugh and enjoy the meal together at her plastic-covered kitchen table. This wasn’t my home, but I felt at home just the same.

Three o’clock: blue jay. It’d chime as soon as we walked in the door after school. The blue jay was my grandpa’s favorite. It was also mine. Why he loved it, I’m not completely sure. But it was my favorite because it marked the beginning of the best parts of my day. Symbolizing strength and confidence, blue jays always remind me of my grandpa.

Six o’clock: cardinal. The sharp whistle and staccato of the cardinal indicated that it was almost time for me to leave. Like the whistle of a closing shift, I’d hear it and start to pack my things. The cardinal has always been my least favorite.

Nine o’clock: house finch. The high, sweet, almost inquisitive call of the house finch was the one my grandma loved most. It was also the one I rarely heard. Either too early or too late in the day, the house finch was reserved for the occasional weekends when I’d spend the night at their house. My grandma would explain that finches symbolize harmony and peace. They are petite but mighty, just like she was((This is a clever and sweet way of describing summer days with grandparents, while sprinkling in some vivid details to bring the story to life.)).

This past weekend was the anniversary of my grandpa’s passing. Longing for my grandparents, I went for a walk. Winter is approaching, so the sky was darkening quickly. I walked slowly. As the sun set, I heard the tell-tale squawk of a blue jay, loud and piercing through the chill of the wind. I looked around and saw it sitting on an old stump, a small house finch behind it. I extracted my binoculars from my backpack, hoping to get a better glimpse through the dark. I turned the dial to focus the lenses, just as the birds flew away together. I took a deep breath, binoculars in hand, and continued on, spotting a robin in the distance((The ending stylistically wraps the essay up without tying a bow on it. It’s a more artful way of concluding, and it works well here.)).

AO Notes on Birdwatcher

Grade: A+

This first two paragraphs are well-written and fairly to-the-point in their language. They do a nice job of setting the scene, but the third paragraph transitions into the writer’s distinctive voice. They detail the birds on the clock to chronicle the hours of their summer days and end, not without concluding, but leaving the reader wanting to read more of their stories.

Why this essay stands out:

  • Voice: The writer transitions to writing in their own distinct voice, which comes to a crescendo in the final paragraph.
  • Interesting approach: Sometimes students use an approach to tell a story that feels overly forced or cleche. This one feels organic and relates nicely to the writer, their family, and the story as a whole.
  • Career path: This is far from a “What I want to be when I grow up” essay, but it clearly shows an academic interest grounded in family and childhood memories. This is an artistic and beautiful approach to showing admissions how the writer may use their college education.

Personal Statement Example #4: Chekov’s Wig

At the age of six, I starred in an at-home, one-woman production of Annie. My family watched as I switched between a wig I’d fashioned from maroon yarn, a dog’s tail leftover from Halloween, and a tie I’d stolen from my dad.

When the reveal came that Annie’s parents had actually passed away, I took a creative liberty: they had left Annie a small unicorn farm. The rest of the play proceeded as normal. When the curtain closed, I bowed to the sound of my family’s applause. But one set of hands was missing: my grandmother’s. Instead she sat, arms raised, and jokingly exclaimed, “But what about the unicorns?”((Wow, an interesting intro! We see creativity and a silly side to the writer. As the admission officer, I’m eager to see where this leads.))

My grandma, an avid thespian, taught me a lot about life. But one of the most important lessons followed this production of Annie. After we laughed about her remark, she introduced me to the concept of Chekov’s gun. For Anton Chekov, brilliant playwright, the theory goes something like this: a writer shouldn’t write about a loaded gun if it’s not going to be fired. In other words, writers shouldn’t include details about something if it won’t serve a purpose in the story later. My unicorn farm had committed this writing faux pas egregiously.

I’m not a natural writer, and I have no goal to become one, but I’ve taken this concept of Chekov’s gun to heart—it forms the foundation of my life philosophy. I don’t believe that everything was meant to be((This philosophical reflection is a nice introduction to the paragraphs that follow. )). In fact, I think that sometimes bad things just happen. But I believe that these details will always play a part in our larger story.

The first test of my Chekov’s gun philosophy occurred shortly after Annie when my grandma, my biggest supporter, passed away. My family tried to console me saying that “it was her time to go,” but I disagreed. I couldn’t see how a death could be destined. Instead, I found comfort knowing that her presence, her support, and her death wasn’t for nothing. Like Chekov’s gun, I wasn’t quite sure how or why, but I knew that she would return for me.

As I grew older, my philosophy was tested time and again. Most recently, I fell back on Chekov’s gun as I coped with my parents’ divorce and my subsequent move to a new town. Both events shattered my world. My happy family theatre productions turned into custody hearings and overnight bags. The community I’d found at my old school became a sea of unfamiliar faces at my new one. None of this was meant to be. But as the writer of my own life, I won’t let the details become inconsequential.

I’ve used these events as plot points in my high school experience. Dealing with my parents’ divorce has taught me how to make the best of what’s given to me. I got the chance to decorate two bedrooms, live in both the suburbs and the city, and even have twice the amount of pets. And without the inciting incident of the divorce and move((We see that the writer is able to make lemonade out of lemons here.)), I never would have joined a new drama club or landed leading roles in Mama Mia and Twelfth Night. The divorce and move, like Chekov’s gun, have been crucial details in getting me where I’m at today.

I know that Chekov’s gun is more about the details in a story, but this philosophy empowers me to take what happens, the good and the bad, as part of my personal character development. Nothing would be happening if it weren’t important.

This summer, as we cleaned our garage in preparation for yet another move, I found my old Annie wig, yarn tangled from the box. Next to the wig was a note, handwritten in a script I’d recognize anywhere. My darling star, it read. You are going to go on to do great things. Love, Grandma((And a sweet, or bittersweet, conclusion.)).

AO Notes on Chekov’s Wig

Grade: A

This essay tells a beautiful story about a foundational philosophy in this young writer’s life. As their admission officer, I can see how grounded and positive they are. I can also imagine them taking this lesson to college: really paying attention to life, reflecting on the past, and understanding the value of even the smallest instances. There is an inherent maturity in this essay.

Why this essay stands out:

  • Creativity: From the first few sentences, we can see that this student is now, and was as a child, creative. An original thinker.
  • Reflective: When challenged by their grandmother, the writer didn’t insist that their way was correct. They took the criticism in stride and absorbed it as a salient life lesson. This shows open-mindedness and an uncommon level of maturity.
  • Silver linings: It’s clear that this young writer has had some familial challenges that are likely familiar to some of you. They don’t gloss over them, but instead they learn from them. From having more pets to starring in the school musicals, there are lessons to glean from even life’s more difficult challenges.

Personal Statement Example #5: An Afternoon with Grandmother

The Buddhist temple on the hillside above my home has always possessed a deep power for me. With its towering spires and intricate carvings thousands of years old, it is a place of peace and serenity((This writer opens with some wonderful imagery. I like how the imagery mirrors the meaning.))—somewhere I can go to escape the chaos of the world and connect with myself and with my sense of spirituality. When my grandmother called me one January to let me know that she would be coming to visit, I smiled, my mind darting immediately to the temple and to the visit of it we would take together.

My relationship with my grandmother is a special one. After my parents passed away, she and my grandfather raised me for three years before I moved in with my father’s sister. In that time, she was my sole companion; she shared her recipes with me, told me stories, and most importantly, she taught me everything I know about spirituality. We spent countless nights staying up past bed-time, talking about the teachings of the Buddha, and she encouraged me gently to explore my own path to enlightenment((This topic is accomplishing a lot: we see the writer’s relationship with their grandmother, their personal values, and their ideas about who they want to be in the future.)).

When my grandmother finally arrived, I felt bathed in a warm glow. After catching up and preparing her favorite meal—red rice with miso soup and hot green tea—I told her about the plans I had for us to visit my special place.

Later that afternoon, as we entered the temple, I felt the calmness and tranquility wash over me. I took my grandmother's hand and led her to the main hall, where we knelt before the altar and began to recite the prayers and mantras that I had learned from her years before.

As we prayed, our voices joined together, echoing throughout the temple. A gentle rain began to fall outside and, as the cold crept around where we knelt, I was engulfed by a deep sense of connection with my grandmother and with the universe. It was as if the barriers between us were falling away, and we were becoming one—with each other, and with our shared connection to the divine.

We finished our prayers and sat in silence, lingering in the serenity of the temple. I could feel my grandmother's hand in mine, and I was filled with a sense of gratitude and love((A great example of weaving vivid language with explicit reflection!)).

Spirituality has been essential in my life. It gives me a sense of grounding and purpose, and it teaches me the value of compassion. My spirituality has also given me a way to connect with my grandmother on a deeper level—like a private language that only we speak together. In a world that can often feel chaotic and disconnected, faith and spirituality provide a sense of stability and connection.

As we left the temple, I held my grandmother's hand and felt suffused by a sense of peace and contentment. Too often people who are disconnected from spirituality misunderstand the role it plays in billions of people’s lives. They see it as a way to “check out” from the issues the world faces, ignoring their responsibilities to others. This may be true for others, but not me. Quite the opposite. My spirituality helps me empathize with others((Wonderful reflection.)); it helps me focus on the obligations we each have to every other person and creature on this planet. For me, it is the ultimate way to “check in” to the needs of the world and my community in a way that grounds me emotionally.

Spirituality offers a way to find meaning and purpose in life, and to connect with something greater than ourselves. For that, and for my grandmother, I am truly grateful.

AO Notes on An Afternoon with Grandmother

Grade: A+

In this deeply reflective essay, the writer uses spirituality and their relationship with their grandmother to reveal a very personal part of themselves. The writer isn’t afraid to be vulnerable, and they clearly showcase strengths of wisdom and compassion.

Why this essay stands out:

  • Vivid language: This author is a talented writer who has included a bunch of vivid language. But it’s not over the top. They include just enough to hold a reader’s attention and add some interest.
  • Reflection: The reflection throughout this essay is excellent. Notice how it’s not just at the beginning or the end. It’s woven throughout. The writer follows up each major detail with an explanation of why it’s personally meaningful.
  • Conclusion: The conclusion combines vivid language and reflection perfectly. By the end of the essay, we know exactly what the writer wants us to take away: spirituality is personally meaningful to them because it helps them connect with the people around them. And I especially like how the writer chose to end on a note of gratitude—always a good value to have in a personal statement.

Personal Statement Example #6: Rosie’s

While most people find their lowest point at rock bottom, I found mine in an Amerikooler DW081677F-8((We’re definitely off to an odd start. I’m curious where this is headed!)). With drops rolling down my back and my cheeks, I snuck into the walk-in freezer for a moment of chill.

At that point, I had worked at Rosie's for nearly a year. The job was a good one: it fit with my school schedule, paid well, and introduced me to close friends. But as a workplace, Rosie’s was pure chaos. The original owners passed on a host of problems the new owners were working hard to fix. But the problems ran deep. From an inefficient kitchen organization to a malfunctioning scheduling software, we never knew what to do or when.

The day I found myself in the Amerikooler was the day everything caught up with us((This is a good transitional phrase that helps readers navigate this fairly complex narrative.)). An error in our scheduling software led to us operating with only 30% of our typical team. As the only waitress on duty, I ran between the kitchen and the guests, stopping mid-delivery to put new vegetables in the steamers. The kitchen staff were barely getting through each dish before customers lost patience.

Then, in all the commotion, I dropped a plate of macaroni and cheese all over a customer. I apologized over and over again. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I couldn’t believe what I had done. I always tried to be one step ahead to give my customers the best service, so my mistake felt like an utter failure. After helping them clean up, I ran immediately to the freezer. I realized that something had to change.

In the Amerikooler, a pea and corn mix cool on my back, I considered my options. The easiest option was to quit. I could find another job, one that didn’t cause me so much stress. But quitting wouldn’t just mean giving up. It would mean accepting my failure. It would also mean abandoning the coworkers I had grown close to. Leaving them would only burden them more. While I knew it wasn’t my job to fix the restaurant, I knew that leaving wasn’t the answer either. Instead, I decided to focus on solutions((I like the focus on solutions and action steps here!)). I stood up from the cold, dirty freezer floor, dusted off my work pants, washed my hands, and got back to work.

Despite being the newest and youngest member of the Rosie’s staff, I recognized that I brought a new perspective to the workplace. Having spent the previous three summers scheduling volunteers for my local food drive, I used my organizing experience to devise a new scheduling system, one that didn’t rely on our outdated technology. I brought up the system at our weekly meeting, and after initial pushback, everyone agreed to give it a try. Three months later, my system keeps everyone happy and our kitchen and floor staffed.

But it wasn’t just the staffing problem that was the issue. Our workflows were inefficient, and we didn’t know how to communicate or collaborate effectively. I know that identifying an issue is always the first step to a solution, so I raised the question at our most recent staff meeting. Having earned my coworkers’ and bosses’ trust((And here we see some good growth and leadership.)), I led us in outlining a few new processes to streamline our productivity. In stark contrast to the failure I felt after spilling the macaroni and cheese, developing a new workflow with my coworkers made me proud. I hadn’t given in to the chaos, but I had worked thoughtfully and collaboratively to create new solutions.

I’m sure that won’t be my last time working in a disorganized environment or spilling macaroni and cheese. But I know that I’ll be ready to address whatever comes my way.

AO Notes on Rosie’s

Grade: A

If you’ve ever worked in a food establishment, then something in this essay will probably resonate with you. But I appreciate how the writer doesn’t get pulled into the negativity they experience. Instead, they focused their efforts (and their essay) on how they could make things better for everyone. That’s the kind of student admissions officers want to see on their campuses.

Why this essay stands out:

  • Organization: The writer has to narrate and backtrack a bit at the beginning of the essay to make the introduction work. But it’s not confusing for a reader because they have very solid transitions. I also like how the action steps and reflection are organized in the narrative.
  • Positive outlook: As an admissions officer, I would admire this student for their problem-solving skills. Working in that environment was surely tough, but they didn’t give up. They got to work and helped everyone out in the process.
  • Humor: From the introduction to the conclusion, the writer incorporates subtle humor throughout. Because of it, we actually feel like we know the writer by the conclusion. Too much humor can overwhelm a personal essay, but just enough can help readers see who the writer really is.

Personal Statement Example #7: Gone Fishing

I pulled the line with my left hand and snapped the rod back with my right. The line split through the air above me like a knife through cake. I rigidly waved my right arm up and down to dry off my fly, which had started sinking from the weight of the water. Ready to cast, I loosened the grip on my left hand to release a few more feet of line, pulled my right arm back in a grandiose motion, and hammered it back down. I expected my line to fly out in front of me, gracefully floating back onto the surface of the water. Instead, I was met with a startling resistance. My fly had lodged itself into the bush behind me((This opening paragraph has great vivid description. Here, we end on a moment of suspense that has left me intrigued about what will happen next.)).

Annoyed, I waded through the tall, thick grass, rod under my arm and mosquitoes buzzing in my ears. This was the reality of fly fishing. In my short time as a fisherman, I’d caught far more trees, bushes, and riverweed than I had fish. What seems so elegant in movies like A River Runs Through It is actually a grueling process of trial and error. I took up flyfishing a year ago to conquer my fear of the outdoors((Ah ha—we learn that this essay isn’t really about fly fishing. It’s about conquering a fear. And with that, we see that the stakes are high.)). I could have (and probably should have) chosen a more mild activity like hiking or kayaking, but I’ve always been one to take on a challenge.

I had been afraid of the outdoors since childhood. Coming from a family that prefers libraries to parks and bed and breakfasts to tents, I never learned how to appreciate nature. I limited my time outside as much as I could. I feared the bugs, the sun, and the unknown.

I decided to try flyfishing when I realized I didn’t want to be controlled by my fear any longer((As an AO, I would applaud this student’s bravery.)). All the birthday parties I’d turned down, the memories that were made without me, I had missed out on so much. Being outside was an integral part of the human experience—or, at least, that’s what I’d been told. Without being willing to enjoy nature, I was missing out on what it meant to be myself.

Soon after this realization, I found an old rod in my grandpa’s garage and took it as a sign from the universe. On my first time out, my Honda Civic lurched over a ditch on the gravel road Google Maps had directed me to. I’d spent hours watching YouTube videos of proper technique. Stepping out of my car, I felt my skin crack under the dry heat, and I wanted to leave. But I continued on, walking through branches and over logs to the riverbank. I was doing it(More vivid detail that really gives us a sense of the writer’s discomfort—yet they’re persisting.)).

I pushed myself to continue, no matter how uncomfortable I got. I went back, Saturday after Saturday, each time noticing improvements in my abilities. Along the way, I learned to push myself to do things that make me uncomfortable. I saw myself in a new light. I wasn’t Charlie, afraid of the outdoors. I was Charlie, fisherman.

The first time I caught a fish, I could hardly believe it. Thinking I had caught another piece of riverweed, I tugged on my line and rolled my eyes. But suddenly, it started tugging back. It was a sensation I’d never experienced before, one of haste, pride, and panic. I instantly collected myself, bracing against the bank as I secured the line with my finger and slowly pulled the fish ashore. Delicately removing my hook from its mouth, I admired its beauty. Whereas I had once feared creatures like this trout, I now respected it. Its holographic scales glistened in the sunlight. I thanked it for helping me grow, and I placed it back in the water. It swam away. I wiped the slime off my hands and picked up my rod, left hand tugging at the line, right hand snapping back again((This conclusion is quite long, but I really like this poetic ending. It shows so much growth, and there’s a subtle nod to the fact that the writer is continuing to fish.)).

AO Notes on Gone Fishing

Grade: A

From all this imagery, I really felt like I was fishing alongside them. What’s better, I feel like I really get where this student is coming from because of their vulnerability. They show immense growth and open-mindedness, which is exactly what admissions officers are looking for.

Why this essay stands out:

  • Imagery: This writer definitely likes creative writing. From the introduction, we can envision ourselves going on this journey with the writer. There is some excellent “show, don’t tell” here.
  • Deep personal meaning: Biggest fears are hard to overcome, especially with such a good attitude. It’s clear that this topic is a meaningful one to the writer. Even the act of fly fishing, which they didn’t seem to like much at first, becomes a meaningful act.
  • Narrative arc: We have a classic “going on a journey” essay, where the writer transforms on a journey from point A (being afraid of the outdoors) to point B (catching a fish). The writer’s implementation of this structure is excellent, which makes the essay easy to follow along.

Good Personal Statement Examples

Even if your essay isn’t worthy of The New Yorker, you can still make your mark on admissions officers. Writing an essay that fulfills all the goals of a personal statement, whether or not it meets every single criterion an admissions officer is looking for, can still get you into a great college.

Most personal statements are good personal statements, so don’t worry if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amazing essay examples you see online. The key to writing a good personal statement is writing your personal statement. Focus on finding a topic that lets you communicate your own meaning and voice, and you’ll be set.

The following examples are awesome personal statements. There may be a little room for improvement in places, but the essays do exactly what they need to do. And they say a lot about their writers. Let’s see what the writers and admissions officers have to say.

Personal Statement Example #8: Beekeeper’s Club

As I lift the heavy lid of the hive, the hum of thousands of bees fills my ears. I carefully smoke the entrance to calm the bees, and I begin to inspect the frames. The bees are busy at work, collecting nectar and pollen, and tending to their young. I am in awe of their organization.

I never would have thought that I, a high school student, would become a beekeeper((An interesting hobby for a high school student! I’m intrigued to see where this is going.)). But now it’s something I can’t imagine my life without.

It all started when I found a beekeeping suit at a garage sale two summers ago. At a mere five dollars, it was yellowing and musty, but it appeared to be fully intact and without any holes. I’ve lived many lives as a hobbyist, always willing to try new things. I’ve been a sailor, a gardener, a basketball player, a harpist, a rock climber, and more. The problem is that I can never manage to see these hobbies through((I see. Here we get a sense of what’s at stake in this new venture. The problem is that writer can’t seem to hold down a hobby. Will beekeeping solve that problem? Let’s find out.)). As a perpetual novice, I always lose interest or become overwhelmed by all the information. But that’s never stopped me from taking up a new hobby, so I brought the beekeeping suit to the make-shift register and handed the seller a five-dollar bill.

To embark on my new hobby, I first went to the library and read everything I could find about beekeeping. Research is always my first step when starting something new. I like to know what I’m in for. As I read, I became fascinated by the fact that such small creatures can serve such a critical role on our planet. I learned about the importance of bees for pollinating crops, and I read that their populations have been declining in recent years. I was determined to do my part to help. This wasn’t just a hobby anymore—it was a mission((And the stakes just got higher.)).

But like the bees I’d been reading about, I knew I couldn't do it alone. My years of abandoning hobbies had taught me that this time, I needed guidance from someone with experience. I knew the first place to look. At the farmer’s market that Saturday, I went straight to the honey stand and introduced myself. The vendor’s name was Jeremy, and he was excited to see someone so young taking up beekeeping. I asked if I could come see his hives sometime, and he agreed.

I showed up the next weekend with my used beekeeping suit in hand. Jeremy gave me a tour. I was astounded by the simultaneous simplicity and complexity. As the months went by, Jeremy became my mentor. He taught me the importance of monitoring the health of the hive, how to properly harvest honey, and even the ins and outs of the farmer’s market business.

I was grateful for his guidance and friendship. I found myself becoming more and more passionate about bees and the art of beekeeping.

After months of tending to my hive, I finally had it up and running. These bees were in my care((The writer has shown us that they’ve learned a big lesson from their past failures: they need support and guidance. I’m impressed that this time they are making an intentional change.))—this was one hobby I couldn’t abandon. With that knowledge and Jeremy’s support, one hive grew to five. I’m not in it for the money or even the honey. I’m in it for the bees, for the millimeter of difference I’m making in their lives and in the life of the earth.

Through beekeeping, I have found a community of people who share my love for bees. Jeremy, the bees, and the entire beekeeping community have taught me not to quit. We support each other, share tips and advice, and work together to help protect these important insects. And in the process, I have learned that I can take up any new hobby I want and stick with it if I just put in enough effort((Yep—the writer has come out of this journey on the other side, having learned that their effort does pay off.)).

AO Notes on Beekeeper’s Club

Grade: A-

As an admissions officer, it’s always fun to read about students’ eccentric hobbies. I’d count this as one of them. But what’s better than learning about the hobby is seeing a student’s personal growth.

What makes this essay good:

  • Personal journey: Most good personal statements show some kind of personal growth. In this case, we see that the writer has grown mature and aware enough to hold down a hobby. We see that it wasn’t an easy road, but they got there.
  • Strengths: There are lots of strengths in this personal statement. We see self-awareness, initiative, teamwork, and care for the bees and the planet.
  • Reflection: Part of what makes this personal journey so good is that the writer takes us on the journey with them through reflection. At each stage of the journey, we know exactly what the writer is thinking and feeling. By the end, we’re celebrating their success with them.

What the writer could do to level up:

  • Personal meaning: Yep, “personal journey” and “personal meaning” can be two separate things. Although the writer goes on a great personal journey, the personal meaning seems to be lacking a bit. It’s clear that this is an important topic to the writer, but it doesn’t exactly come across as an especially vulnerable one. The writer could make it more vulnerable by incorporating more personal meaning into their reflection: what would it have meant if they had quit beekeeping too? What’s the problem with dropping hobbies in the first place? Why is it personally important to learn to stick with things?

Personal Statement Example #9: Ann

Pushing her blonde curls from her forehead, she pursed her lips in focus((This vivid, detailed description really draws me in.)). She sat with legs crossed across the kitchen chair. This was it: the moment she’d been preparing for. Her tiny hand gripped the pencil as if it were a stick of dynamite and twitched her fingers up, down, and back again. She looked up at me and smiled, teeth too big for her growing mouth. “Ann,” the paper read. As I glowed back at my mini-me, I saw in her my whole heart((And here the focus switches from Ann to the writer—an important transition.)).

My sister was technically an accident, born when I was eleven years old. But I know that, in the grand scheme of things, Ann’s existence was destined by the cosmos. Watching her write was like looking in a mirror. My hair has long since turned brown, but she and I deal with the same unmanageable curls. Her toothy grin developed over five years of mutual laughter. And she got that unwavering focus from watching me do my own homework each night. At the same time I’ve taught her the ways of the world, she’s taught me joy, patience, and persistence((Lessons learned! This sentence really draws attention to the main theme. It could be a little more specific because “joy, patience, and persistence” are almost cliche.)).

I had been an only child for my first decade of life. I remember being lonely and without purpose. With Ann came the opportunity to make a real impact on someone, even as a child myself. The night she was born, I vowed to protect her. I had never seen anyone so small and fragile, and I begged my parents to let me hold her. Next to mine, her hand looked like a doll’s. It was purple and pink from the ordeal of birth. Her eyes barely opened, but I couldn’t keep mine off her.

Many older siblings find their younger siblings to be nuisances. But Ann has always been my best friend. Her first two years of life, she struggled with health issues that scared us all. I felt helpless and afraid, but I knew I had to fight alongside her. I did everything I could: I grabbed diapers and bottles for my parents, I talked to her for hours on end, and, when she was old enough, I spoon fed her and encouraged her to eat. As Ann grew bigger and stronger, I grew stronger, too((It sounds like this was a really difficult challenge for the writer and their family. I appreciate this picture we get of the writer in relation to Ann.)).

Each year has gotten better than the previous. I was there to catch Ann when she took her first steps, teach her her first words, and get her dressed every day. She tagged behind me as I took photos before my first dance, got my learner’s permit, and went on my college tours. While being a teen with a toddler sibling wasn’t always perfect, Ann’s mere presence makes those around her feel loved and appreciated. She’s exactly who I aspire to be.

Watching her write her name at the kitchen table, I became overwhelmed with the thought of leaving her to head off to college. She still has so much to learn, so many ways to grow. But just as the thought entered my mind, she spoke in her high-pitched and innocent voice. “When you go to college,” she asked, “will you tell me about your classes?” I blinked away the tears gathering in my eyes, smoothed her curls with my hand, and pulled her in close.

Going to college won’t mean leaving Ann. It will mean opening her world—and mine—to endless new knowledge and possibilities. She’ll grow and change, and so will I. When we reunite, we’ll smile our toothy smiles and embrace each other, our curly hair intertwining. We’ll sit at the kitchen table, focused and laughing, like nothing has changed((I like how the siblings are continuing to grow together, but at the end of the day, they still have their amazing relationship.)).

AO Notes on Ann

Grade: B+

I always find sibling essays like this one so sweet. It’s amazing how clearly we can understand someone solely through their interactions with a loved one. As an admissions officer, I would see that this student would be a great community member (and roommate!).

What makes this essay good:

  • Deeply meaningful: Especially with the family context, it’s apparent that this topic is deeply meaningful to the writer. Because it’s so meaningful a topic, the writer is able to show an immense amount of care for Ann without even trying. AOs love seeing traits like care, maturity, and the ability to grow.
  • Clear message: Personal statements should have themes that encompass the main message the writer wants to convey. This essay’s message is clear as day: the writer is a better, happier, more generous person because of Ann. They are an awesome sibling.

What the writer could do to level up:

  • More about the self: This one’s tricky because we get an implicit sense of who the writer is now through the overall tone and meaning. But a lot of the personal examples the writer chose are old examples from childhood and early adolescence. Some of those are important to provide family context, but I still would have liked to get a more recent picture of the writer.

Personal Statement Example #10: Running through My Neighborhood

My mind and eyes began to wander as I turned the corner on my fourth mile. I’ve always been a runner. It's a way for me to relax and challenge myself. Running makes me feel like I’m one with the world around me. As I run, I can't help but be struck by the beauty of the buildings and people that make up my city. Each is a work of art—a carefully-crafted expression of my community. With every step, I feel a deep connection to the life around me((This introduction covers a lot, so this last sentence could be a bit more specific.)).

On my run, I find myself drawn to the intricate details of the buildings. I admire the way the light catches on centuries-old bricks, casting shadows that dance across the pavement below. I look up at the skyscraper windows that nearly touch the sky, frightened at the sight of window washers. Old and new, the buildings all carry stories.

In the same way, I admire the neighbors around me. I see them feeding pigeons, smiling at me as I pass by. They’re walking dogs and babies, talking on a park bench, and playing hopscotch. I run by them, fast but steady, and breathe it all in. I’m on this beautiful city block, surrounded by people whose whole lives are familiar yet mysterious, and I’m running.

But it's not just the aesthetic beauty of the buildings that grabs my attention. As I run, I find myself thinking about the stories and histories behind each one. I wonder about the people who built them, the families they had at home, the lives they led. I think about the people who have lived and worked in these buildings and the memories that have been made within their walls.

Take the local bakery, for instance. I’ve run by there a thousand times in my life, each time soaking up the smell of freshly-baked bread and pastries. The building seems unassuming at first, with a simple glass door and brick façade. But once you step foot inside, you’re immediately hit with the warmth of the staff and patrons. The old photos on the wall and cozy furniture that has been there since the bakery’s opening back in the 1950s—it feels like home((These are great vivid details.)). The bakery is everything I value about my neighborhood. It completely represents what kind of neighbor I want to be. Plus, it’s not a bad place for a post-run snack.

Through my runs, I’ve also made connections with those who frequent the sidewalks alongside me. One of the people I see regularly on my runs is Mrs. Carter, an elderly woman who always has a kind word and a smile for everyone she meets. Her white hair is carefully curled, and her face is dimpled with laugh lines from thousands of conversations like ours. She often stops to chat with me, asking how my day is going and sharing stories from her own life. I always look forward to seeing her. She’s like the grandmother I never had. Mrs. Carter inspires me to be a better community member every day((This kind of reflection brings the focus back to the writer’s personal journey.)).

Running through my neighborhood is about more than just staying fit. It’s also about being in community with those around me. As I weave through the people on the sidewalk, I feel as though I am weaving myself through their stories, picking up tidbits and adding them to my own narrative. I wouldn’t be who I am today without these runs that have taught me so much. I can’t wait to run across my college campus, admiring my new surroundings and meeting my new neighbors((I like this gesture to the future—as an AO, I would start to picture this student running through my campus, too!)).

AO Notes on Running through My Neighborhood

Grade: B

Running essays can get a bad rap in college admissions. But this one overcomes that stereotype. At its core, this essay is about the runner’s relationship to their community. I really appreciate how much care and enthusiasm this writer shows for those around them.

What makes this essay good:

  • Writing: The writer’s voice shines through. They have great vivid descriptions, and we’re really able to envision ourselves in the neighborhood alongside them.
  • Personal meaning: The way the writer describes those they encounter in their neighborhood shows that this isn’t a minor part of their life. Their runs are a big deal. The people they see along the way have greatly shaped who they are.

What the writer could do to level up:

  • Greater focus on self: Now, there are much worse culprits when it comes to personal essays that focus on people other than the writer. But the writer does toe the line. Their descriptions mostly focus on those around them, and while there is some reflection that connects their own experience to other people, it doesn’t actually take up much space in the essay. To level up, the writer could make this essay more about themself.

Personal Statement Example #11: Musical Installation Art

As a child, I was always drawn to stringed instruments((The hook could have more punch, but this gets the job done.)). I would pluck at my dad's old guitars, create makeshift harps with dental floss, and even play around with the banjo and harp in music class. As I got older, I realized that I wanted to focus on making my own instruments. And where better to start than in my dad's scrapyard? The yard sprawled out for almost five acres behind our house. It was a marvel of junk and oddities, with the accumulated garbage from hundreds of junker cars built up in our backyard. I grew up playing there, leading a childhood that most parents would probably see as reckless—rolling tires through narrow alleyways between crushed cars stacked high. But for me, the backyard was an endless playground for my imagination.

It was there that I discovered the joys of welding and soldering. I would rummage through piles of metal and find pieces that I could fashion into something new. My first sculptures were simple, resembling birds or dogs and pieced together from strips of metal. I’d look for similar art everywhere I went, grasping for inspiration. At a fair one weekend, I saw a booth run by an artist who built guitars. After speaking with him about his art, he asked to see a picture of my sculptures. I showed him and explained that I hoped to make my own instruments one day, too. He scuttled to the back of his tent and returned with a gift: a set of thick copper strings. “Try using those,”((What an endearing story.)) he told me.

My first sculpture instrument was a crude thing—little more than a board of metal with pegs that I used to pull the copper strings tight. But I tightened them, I was in love—spending all night plucking away. At first, the instrument wailed and screeched. String by string, I delicately tuned the wires into sirens. I had created something that played music, and I was so proud.

My experience building the instrument motivated me to enroll in a sculpture class at the local community college. It was there that I learned how to properly solder metal and create more complex structures. For my final project, I made a three-foot-tall, four-stringed metal instrument in the shape of a dragon.

But as I worked, I started to realize that my dragon wasn't going to be beautiful in the traditional sense. Its metal body was jagged and uneven, and the strings were stretched tight across its back in a way that produced discordant, almost abrasive music. I tried to adjust the tuning, but no matter what I did, the music remained harsh and unpleasant.

At first, I was disappointed. I wanted my dragon to be a work of art, something that people would marvel at and love listening to. But as I continued to play with it, I started to see the beauty in the chaos((This paragraph shows wonderful growth. And as a reader, I’m drawn in trying to imagine what the sculpture actually looks like.)). The music it produced was like a musical language that I had invented, one that was wild and untamed. It was a reflection of my own creativity and individuality. A discordant collection of notes that sounded like they’d been tuned so as to be atonal. But I didn't care. I was a scrapyard kid, and this dragon played the song of my people: strong, innovative, and beautiful.

The combination of sculpture and music fascinates me. How does the shape of a fabrication affect the kind of sound that the object produces? What sounds do different materials produce? As I’ve learned more about sculpture, I’ve also become interested in installation art that has sound dimensions. I want to capture people’s visual and aural attention to inspire questions about how we navigate the aesthetic world((It sounds like this topic potentially relates to the student’s future goals. If that’s true, there could be a clearer academic connection here.)). And I’ll use whatever scraps I can find to make my creations.

AO Notes on Musical Installation Art

Grade: B+

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a piece of musical installation art myself, so this topic really held my attention. I appreciate the journey the writer went on to learn that their art may not look like everyone else’s, but it can be just as impactful.

What makes this essay good:

  • Topic: I like this topic not only because it’s not one you see every day but also because it lets the writer reveal a lot about themself and their background. We see where they grew up and who they grew up with, and we also learn about this deeply meaningful personal interest.
  • Writing style: This author has a very distinct writing style. In some ways, the writing style mirrors their art style—abrupt at times, melodic at others.

What the writer could do to level up:

  • Organization: The first half of this essay doesn’t always match up with the second half. Even though we’re still able to see the writer’s journey as a metal artist and musician, there’s still a bit of streamlining that needs to happen.

Personal Statement Example #12: Ski Patrol

I can never get enough of being in the mountains((This hook isn’t very compelling, so it could use some more attention.)). I am a skier through and through. Growing up, I spent countless family vacations on the slopes with my dad and siblings. I love the rush I get speeding down the mountain—I’ve improved so much over my life that I can now handle most runs I come across. But last year, I took my love for skiing to a whole other level by joining ski patrol.

It was mid-December, and my family had decided to take a weekend away to go skiing. Everything was going normally at first. We had a good day on the slopes and wanted to go one more run before calling it a night. We took a moment to rest and watched the person in front of us go. Only seconds after she headed down the mountain, something happened with her ski. She catapulted into a nearby tree. People raced to check on her, while we stayed back and alerted ski patrol.

When ski patrol arrived, I watched in amazement. They moved in such a precise way. They were like a machine—everyone knew exactly what to do when. Thankfully, it was a false alarm and the skier only had a few scratches. But my own life was changed forever. I knew then that I wanted to be a part of this team, to help others in a tangible way and to make a difference on the mountain that had always been my home.

As soon as I could, I applied for the Junior Ski Patrol team. I had to go through a tryout process on the hill, which made me nervous. But it felt good to be surrounded by people who loved skiing as much as I do. Thankfully, I was accepted shortly after; it was one of the best days of my life. Now on Junior Ski Patrol, I have the opportunity to do what I love – skiing – while also making a positive impact on others((And here we get to the heart of the essay. The writer wants to help others while doing something they love. It’s a noble pursuit!)). My team shadows the adult Ski Patrol, and we learn a lot of lessons along the way.

On the mountain (and in life), you never know what challenges might arise. One of the most important things I’ve learned from Junior Ski Patrol is to be prepared for anything. I’ve gotten my CPR and first aid certifications so I’m always prepared to administer life-saving care to anyone who might need it. I know how to pack a bag full of enough essentials to survive harsh weather or injuries.

But ski patrol has also taught me so much more than just how to help others. It has shown me how I work best on a team. I’m not naturally a leader, which is something I’ve always felt ashamed about. After learning from our mentors who all fulfill different roles on their adult Ski Patrol team, I realized that I don’t have to be a leader to be a good team member. The quiet collaborators who can follow the lead, take initiative when needed, and do their jobs really well are just as important as the people who are front-and-center((An important personal insight.)).

Being on ski patrol as a high school student has been an incredible journey, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of such a dedicated team. More importantly, I’m proud of the growth I’ve experienced. I went from a person who just loves skiing to a person who is more confident in herself. I no longer feel unprepared or timid. I know exactly how to keep myself safe and work alongside others. While I don’t want to be a professional Ski Patroller or even go into medicine, I know these lessons will serve me well wherever life takes me((As an AO, I would have been wondering if being on JSP made them want to study medicine, so I appreciate that they answered it for me!)). But no matter where I end up, when the mountain calls, you know I’ll answer.

AO Notes on Ski Patrol

Grade: B

In this fun hobby-meets-accomplishment essay, the writer shows us their strengths of care and teamwork. I like the crossover between something that they really enjoy and this impressive accomplishment they have of being on Junior Ski Patrol.

What makes this essay good:

  • Lessons learned: The writer makes it very clear what lessons they learned from Junior Ski Patrol. Lessons don’t always have to be this explicit, but I appreciate how the writer really takes the time to reflect on what they’ve learned.
  • Personal insight: Okay, this point is related to the lessons learned. But it’s important to draw out on its own because personal essays are, of course, personal. This topic easily could have been just about skiing down a mountain or administering first aid on patrol. Instead, the writer kept the focus inward to meet the expectations of a personal essay.

What the writer could do to level up:

  • What’s at stake?: We do get a good sense of personal meaning. But the writer could do a better job of speaking to the significance of this activity to their life. A good question to ask is, “What’s at stake?” What would I have lost or gained if this story had turned out differently? Asking these questions can also help you figure out what it is that you want an admissions officer to learn from your personal statement.

Personal Statement Example #13: The Regulars

One pump of vanilla syrup. Frothed milk. One espresso shot. Caramel drizzle((Starting with some version of the following sentence would have been a stronger hook.)). Like a scientist at her bench, I have methodically repeated these steps four days a week for the past two years. During my time as a Starbucks barista, I’ve learned hundreds of recipes and customizations. I know all the secret menu hacks, and I’ve developed several recipes for friends and family too. I pride myself on speed, quality, and memory. My favorite part of the job is the customer service. As one of the busiest locations in the region, I’ve caffeinated thousands. But it’s my regular customers, those whose orders I know like the back of my hand, who have truly impacted me.

Venti Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew, hold the vanilla syrup. A busy mom of four, Chelsea is always in a hurry. I try to catch her the moment she enters the store so I can get started right away. Her Venti drink fuels her through school dropoffs and pickups, gymnastics lessons, and evening math homework. Throughout my conversations with her, I’ve learned that Chelsea is a scheduling virtuoso. As someone with ADHD((This paragraph is almost too much about Chelsea, so this sentence is crucial to bring the focus back to the writer.)), I became so inspired by her ability to juggle so many people and schedules simultaneously. After asking her for advice, she helped me find a time management system that I can keep up with. I have Chelsea to thank for my improved grades.

Grande dark roast, no room for cream. Mr. Williams is a retired businessman who always tips 100%. Mr. Williams is a quiet man, so it took me months to draw any information from him. Instead of using my over-the-top customer service voice, I eventually learned to be myself. When I got him to open up, I discovered that he was a service worker himself before he made it big in business in his sixties. The truth is, Mr. Williams has tipped me hundreds of dollars throughout my time here, which is extra money that will help me pay for college. He’s taught me the value of quiet generosity((Let’s be honest. Mr. Williams sounds like a cool guy. But Mr. Williams isn’t applying to college—the writer is! I like that we get small glimpses into who the writer is through this paragraph, but there’s still room for more.)).

Tall soy London Fog. Sweet Darla gave up coffee twenty-five years ago, but she still loves an occasional treat. When Darla enters, I clear my schedule. She always has stories to tell about the eighty years of life she’s lived. Darla is everything I want to be at that age: she’s spunky, opinionated, and hilarious((Here we learn a lot about the writer through Darla.)). Sometimes I tell Darla stories of my own. When I explained the dramatic series of events that led to me landing first chair in my symphony, she said she was going to retell it her bridge club. Making Darla laugh so hard will always be one of my proudest moments.

Grande iced matcha. Taylor is my age and goes to my school. When I took her order for the first time, I felt embarrassed that I needed to work to support myself while she could enjoy expensive drinks. But her kindness softened me. As time went on, I learned that she visited Starbucks so much because she wanted to get out of her house, which wasn’t a very happy place. While I have to take on as many shifts as possible, I still have a happy home to return to afterward. Now Taylor comes in near the end of my shift so we can take our drinks and have dinner at my house.

When you work in customer service, customers enter and exit your life like a revolving door. But the regulars, those special people who draw connections from daily but brief interactions, stick with you for life. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for these people, and I would never have met them if it weren’t for my job as a barista. I haven’t just been making drinks these past two years. I’ve been making friends((The conclusion does a good job tying all these different stories back together. )).

AO Notes on The Regulars

Grade: B

No one appreciates a good barista story more than a tired admissions officer on their 30th application of the day! I like the personality that comes through in this essay especially. But this is one of those cases where it’s almost too much about other people.

What makes this essay good:

  • Creative take: Not every college essay needs a creative flair. In fact, sometimes going for “unique” structures can detract from an essay. But I like how the writer uses this format to structure the essay.
  • Organization: This essay isn’t one a reader is bound to get lost in. The introduction sets up the essay well, it’s easy to see the connections between the points the writer is conveying, and the conclusion brings the focus back to the writer.

What the writer could do to level up:

  • More focus on self: While we do learn about the writer in this essay, we also learn a lot about Chelsea, Mr. Williams, Darla, and Taylor. The writer could have pared down the descriptions of other people—or cut one of the examples altogether—to save more room for personal reflection.

“Bad” Personal Statement Examples

These “bad” essays aren’t necessarily bad. They just aren’t very effective personal statements. Specifically, these two essays make some of the biggest college essay mistakes.

Making mistakes, especially when you’ve never written a personal statement before, is to be expected. We’ve included these examples so you can see what those mistakes look like in real-time. Learning from ineffective examples can be just as helpful as learning from the exceptional ones, so grab your pencil and start taking notes.

Our admissions officers have highlighted what’s working and what’s not. They offer helpful commentary and advice for revisions that you can use to assess whether your own personal statement.

Personal Statement Example #14: The Worst Year

My sophomore year of high school presented me with so many challenges((This hook definitely gets straight to the point, but it doesn’t draw me in as a reader.)). I struggled with a lot that year and barely managed to get by. It was the greatest challenge I ever faced.

The year started out like any other but soon went into chaos. My brother suddenly started struggling with drugs and alcohol. Before that, we didn’t know how bad he was hurting. But one night he finally came to us for help because apparently he had been using substances to cope with his emotions. He was scared because he felt like he had reached a breaking point and needed support. My parents didn’t want to help because they thought that he didn’t have a problem but I know my brother and I knew that he didn’t seem like himself. It was so sad to watch him go through that. I tried my best to help him but I was only a kid. I couldn’t really do anything besides tell him I loved him. Eventually my parents decided to get him some help, so he went away for a while and I wrote him letters every week and visited him as much as I could. The treatment he got helped thankfully. He’s doing better now and I am grateful that he is my brother.

But then Covid hit and I couldn’t even leave my house. We thought it would just be a two week vacation to school but it turned into two whole years of my life gone just like that. At the beginning I was stuck in my bedroom while my parents were working their jobs from the living room. Everyone was constantly getting annoyed with each other and driving each other wild. I would be doing a class Zoom in my room and I could hear my parents in a meeting in the living room. I had a hard time not being able to see my friends. I couldn't focus and my grades dropped. Even my teachers didn’t really seem to care. I was sick of staring at black Zoom screens all the time that I even stopped logging on. All of that combined led to me becoming very depressed and anxious. My grades dropped even more because I just couldn’t pay attention or focus enough to do my homework. I ended up getting grades way lower than I ever thought I would that year and I’m so frustrated about it because it felt like I was trying my best but it just wasn’t enough((Here we see the writer opening up a bit and reflecting on what it was like to go through that experience.)).

Even once we finally got back in school things didn’t get much better. The pandemic was just too much for my family so my parents ended up getting divorced at the beginning of my junior year. After all we had been through together seeing them separate made me devastated. My dad got an apartment and I had to go back and forth between their houses and pack up all my stuff every time. It was like moving my entire life every weekend. My brother was out of the house by this point so it was just me all by myself. My school was far from my dad’s new place so I’d have a long commute on the weeks I was with him. He was stressed at work and about the divorce and I just ended up feeling so lonely and spending most of my time in my room. My grades got better once online school stopped((This moment of hope does a lot for moving the essay forward.)) but I had a hard time keeping close relationships with my friends because they didn’t like that I was living far away now and that we couldn’t really hang out anymore.

I couldn’t believe that two years would change so much. Getting through everything really challenged me. But I’m glad to be moving forward with my life.

AO Notes on The Worst Year

Grade: C

This student definitely had a challenging year. It’s clear that they’ve overcome a lot, and I appreciate their willingness to share their struggles. I like that the very last sentence

What this essay does well:

  • Vulnerability: Writing about challenges is never easy, especially when you’re writing to people you don’t know. This writer is bold and unafraid in doing so.

What could be improved on:

  • Not enough positivity: Here’s the thing. You definitely don’t need to be able to spin all of your challenging experiences into positive ones. But the topics you choose to write your college essay about should ultimately conclude on a positive note. You want your college essay to show you in a positive light, so you should choose a topic that lets you find a light, positive, or hopeful resolution.

Personal Statement Example #15: The Strikeout that Changed my Life

The stadium lights shone brightly in my eyes. I stepped up to the plate and drew back my bat. I wiggled my fingers, waiting. The pitcher wound up his arm and threw the ball towards me. My eyes worked overtime to track the ball. I watched as it flew directly towards the center of the plate and made a last-minute curve((I like this vivid description.)). It went straight into the catcher’s mitt. “Strike three!” the umpire yelled. That was the time I struck out at the quarter-finals. My team was so close to making it to the championship that we could taste it. It was the bottom of the sixth, and I gave up a valuable chance to score game-winning runs. We ended up losing. I learned a valuable lesson that fateful day. I never wanted to let my team down like that again((And the writer jumps quickly into the main theme of the essay. Still, the message here could be more specific.)).

We had advanced through our bracket without much trouble. The other teams were no match for our work ethic and teamwork. We were in perfect sync. As the first baseman, I was ready for any throw that came my way. We were also hitting well. I scored three home runs throughout the course of the tournament. We were a high-functioning machine. But for a machine to work, each cog has to function correctly. When I stepped up to the plate in the sixth inning, I was a broken cog.

After our quarter–final loss, I grieved with my teammates. Then I went off on my own to think. How had I let my team down so badly? How did I not even try to swing at that pitch? It was all my fault. I had to figure out what I had done wrong so I would never make the mistake again. I realized that I had been thinking selfishly. I was concerned about my own performance, my own at-bat averages((This is a good reflection.)). I was scared of failing because I didn’t want to be embarrassed. And worrying about all of those things caused me to lose focus and miss my chance to make a difference. Instead, I should have been thinking about how my at-bat would contribute to my team’s overall goal of winning the game.

I returned to where my teammates were congregating, and several of them patted me on the back. The next day, we went over how the game went as a team and talked about how we could improve at our tournament the following weekend. I admitted that I felt like I let the team down. My teammates said that they understood and reassured me that mistakes happen. It wasn’t my failed at-bat alone that lost us the game. Like winning, losing is a team effort. It was a culmination of lots of little issues. At the end of the day, the other team just out-performed us. But we could try hard, practice a lot, and return triumphant next weekend.

Letting my team down was a crushing blow to my self-esteem. I never want to feel like that again, but I know that the experience caused me to grow. Through all of this, I learned that I have to trust myself and my team((Here we get to the lesson learned.)). Focusing on myself alone can only get me so far. But focusing on my team can get me to where I want to go. I’m actually thankful that I struck out in that sixth inning because it caused me to learn an important life lesson.

AO Notes on The Strikeout that Changed My Life

Grade: B-

This essay on its own definitely isn’t “bad.” As far as essays go, it’s clear, well-written, and organized nicely. But as a college essay, it could be doing more work on the writer’s behalf. See, as an admissions officer, I don’t actually learn that much about the writer from this essay alone. I see that they like baseball, are a good teammate, and can overcome failure. Those are wonderful traits, but they don’t exactly help set this student apart on the admissions committee floor. Instead, the student could make this essay more vulnerable and personal.

What this essay does well:

  • Writing: The writer uses some great creative writing skills to really set the scene for the readers. In that first paragraph, I really feel like I’m there watching the game.
  • Reflection: Even though the topic could be more significant, the writer does a great job reflecting on the meaning they drew from the experience.

What could be improved on:

  • Significance: It’s very clear that this topic holds a lot of meaning to the writer. But as a college essay topic, it’s lacking vulnerability and stakes.

Key Takeaways

Writing a personal statement is a difficult ask, especially when you’ve never even read one before. But now, with these fifteen examples in your back pocket, you’re ready to write your own.

If you’re not sure what steps to take next, hop on over to our guide to writing personal statements for advice. You can also find more extensive guidance on the Essay Academy, a comprehensive college essay writing video course and community.

Happy writing! 🥳

 

 

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