Write About YOU in College Essay

MSU admissions director Jim Cotter wants students to write personal statements about themselves, not people they admire.

by Kim Lifton

Who should you write about in your college application essay?

Write about yourself, of course. It may seem obvious, but too many students miss the point.

“Every year, I read a personal statement that goes on and on about the wonders of Aunt Rose and the fact that if she died life would stop,” said Michigan State University  Director of Admissions Jim Cotter. “I want to call the student to ask if Aunt Rose will apply.”

Rather than write a story starring your beloved mom, dad or dear Aunt Rose, Cotter wants students to think about the essay as “an opportunity to share what they bring to the table, what the student can do for the university, how they are going to make us better.

“It should be individualized, personalized, truthful, poignant and matter of fact,” Cotter added.

Each season, we get several students who select the following  prompt on the Common App (or a similar one for a school that does not accept the Common App): Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

Many students want to write about their parents’ accomplishments, their siblings’ troubles or their high school teachers and coaches. Our stock response: What do you want the admissions committee to know about you from reading this story?

Often, the stories about others are lovely; some move us to tears. However, they are not college essays. When we see them, we gently recommend the students give the stories as gifts to the people they admire.

Want to write about your single mom who built a million-dollar business while raising five kids? Then craft a story focusing on what you learned from your mom’s experience. How did her success influence you? Did you learn to cook while babysitting for your younger siblings?

Still looking for the perfect subject? Look in the mirror.

Kim Lifton is president of Wow Writing Workshop,  which recently launched Wow Online – College Essay, the first self-guided online tutorial for college application essay writing.  Lifton writes a weekly blog about the college application essay and the journey to college admission.