College Personal Statement Writing

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Writing the Personal Statement- Struggle or Joy?

Every parent wants the best for their child, and yet, supporting a young adult’s path to college and beyond can be, to put it mildly, worrisome. 

No one would disagree that stress and anxiety run high for both parents and high school students looking out at the future–a college-bound future.

Providing Sanity in an Insane Process

I know how hard this process can be. As a university writing professor, I see the results of “happy” admissions and “troubled” ones in my college classroom. As a parent who recently sent a teen off to college, I have experienced the nail-biting cycles of applications and admissions, and I continue to share in stories of struggle, worry, and joy of families with college-bound teens.

After many years of teaching at UC Davis, I have come to recognize that writing the personal statement is a kind of early indicator of a successful college experience. This is not because of the writing itself, but because of the thinking and emotional maturity that a strong personal statement reflects.

When a student understands not just *what* to write, but why and how to do it, they don’t just write a statement. In the process, they pause to claim who they are now, and to clarify who they will become.

No one can do this for them. A personal statement needs to be written by the person stating it, period.

That’s why I can help high school students to “write well and be well.”  I want college-bound students (and their parents) to see their future with a lot more vision and a little more clarity, with a lot less fear and a little more sanity.

A Write of Passage

The personal statement is a milestone for emerging adults. In a secular culture that doesn’t otherwise have formal rites of passage, preparing the personal statement is a time for high school students to identify what matters to them and why, and through this, claim some of the maturity they will need to succeed in college.

From my 15+ years helping all skill levels of writers, I understand the many pitfalls–both psychological and practical–of writing and I know how to overcome these.  I have perfected techniques to support writers by helping them to access their own ideas and get those ideas on the page in a way that works and remains true to the person doing the writing.

What doesn’t Work

A lot of websites and private consulting firms in the competitive landscape of college admissions aim pretty low: selling parents fear (and mistrust of their teen) that only further undermines their child’s ability to grow up and be prepared for college.

Unethical schemers notwithstanding, advice from some college admissions advisors can also leave applicants confused or overwhelmed because admissions advisors are trained in how to read statements, not in how to write them.  Standard advice such as “be concise and proofread” speaks volumes of ignorance about what is needed to write well.

What does Work

As an experienced and recognized college writing teacher, I see the whole enterprise of college differently.  I want to help high school students to claim their own healthy future with an eye toward well-being in college and beyond. At the same time, I want to help concerned parents to lessen the grip (if you’ve been holding on too tight) in support of emerging young adults.

The personal statement is truly a “write of passage.” By treating the writing as a process, inspiring teens to claim their maturity through self-reflective writing, I help them to access their own highest values and build skills that will carry them to college (and life) success.

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