College Application Tips: Tackling the Personal Essay

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Living in Madrid was probably one of the best experiences of my life. I still remember almost all of my 3 years there quite clearly. Our house was in a suburb called La Moraleja. Although I denied it at the time, I used to enjoy all the trips I had to go on with my parents every weekend. I would get to visit many ancient towns where the history is present everywhere. I visited old castles, cemeteries, and even jails! My friends were from all over the world so I got to learn about cultures I had never heard of before. I was very upset when my parents told me we had to move and couldn't believe it. I dreaded Miami at first but now it has grown upon me. I cherish my past experiences in other countries because I feel as if they have shown me a little bit more about cultures and people that I would never have learned about in school.

Norman's Critique:

There is a lot of "I lived here, then I moved there," but little depth to any of these experiences (which are legitimately interesting!). Even the chronology isn't clear, and is a bit confusing.

The essay lacks overall focus and tends to introduce tangential details within paragraphs that detract from the overall "message" of the essay.

Transitions and a clear flow are a must when moving from thought to thought; this essay moves abruptly from one paragraph to the next and it lacks a compelling "voice."

The student refers to some important things (his heritage, his friends, his travels, what he thought about the world as a result of what he saw), but he never gets into the details of the individual experiences that really informed his way of looking at the world. There's not much depth about him as a person.

Sample Personal Essay Final

Before I was 10 years old, I had already lived in four different countries, allowing me to learn about many different cultures and make many observations about people and places, more generally. In Brazil, I was born into a multi-cultural family. My mother was born in Brazil, but from Italian descent, while my father was from a "rival" country, Argentina. No one seemed to care that my father was not like the rest of my mother's family and they just accepted him into the family. This is my foundation and where I come from, both literally and figuratively.

I started out in Brazil, but at the age of four I moved to Colombia. Colombia was definitely my least-enjoyed "stop." Having to live in constant fear of terrorism was horrible. Colombia was also my first real experience with prejudice. In Colombia, I had a good friend named Sameer, who was Arab; people outside of my family looked down on me, as if he were a bad person just because of his ethnicity and as if I were a bad person for being his friend. I did not understand why it mattered where someone was from, considering that you are not defined by where you were born or what your heritage is, but rather the person you are and the way you choose to live your life. Given this experience and others like it, I was not sad to leave Colombia after two years. We then moved to Spain.

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