Get a trusted outside reader. 

When you’re writing your personal statement give your essay drafts to someone whose opinion you absolutely trust. 

When you ask their opinion, ask specifically whether or not they like the person described in the essay (you, the narrator). Let them know that it’s okay to say ‘no’ because they’re not saying it about you, just the person in the essay. It’s the most important thing they can tell you.

At the end of the day, that’s one of the biggest things a personal statement can do —  make the admissions officers like you. If they like you, they’re going to stick up for you to their colleagues and use their clout and influence in the office to put your application ahead of someone else’s. This is not the most important factor in getting admitted to college. There are a lot of “hard” factors (test scores, grades, etc.) and “soft” factors, (class composition, demographics, etc.) that admissions officers care about. And don’t get me wrong; I would rather you have a 1600 on the SATs than be charming, but all things being equal, charming does help.

Let’s talk about likability:

This is not the same as being likable to your friends.

In high school, weird things make you popular, not so in college admissions. Your clever jokes are not funny.  When you’re writing your application, you’re not appealing to another 17 year old. You’re appealing to (likely) a graduate of the university; at the very least, you’re appealing to someone who cares about the university (and who attends there) very much. They want to, one day, read your name in the paper and be proud to have been a part of the same school, or they want to imagine that being your roommate would have been great. You have to imagine that type of person if you want to successfully appeal to the admissions office through your essay.

Here are qualities that admissions officers want to see in your personal statement:

  • Kindness.
  • Sensitivity.
  • Passion.

Here are things they don’t like:

  • Cockiness.
  • Disconcern.
  • Boring people.

If you don’t have an outside reader, you can also try to be your own outside reader; though this is very tricky. Try your best to step back from what you’ve written. Look at the stories you’ve mentioned in your personal statement and find the characteristics shown through the action. Are these characteristics that humanize you and will make the reader want to support your case? Be honest with yourself.

When I work with students, the first thing I figure out is why I like them. I love people, so this is a fun exercise for me. Ask your friends what they like about you. Ask your parents what they like about you. Everyone has something; I absolutely promise. Find yours.