How to Write a Winning College Personal Statement: Sample Personal Statements and Critiques
The personal statement below is an actual student essay, which are printed in their entirety. Following each essay is a critique to determine if the essay lived up to the standards of a winning personal statement, as discussed in the previous sections. Keep in mind that the remarks in the critiques are subjective; readers are free to disagree.
The student who wrote this Personal Statement now attends an Ivy League institution. The student is interested in the field of English and creative writing. The expectations for his essay would be high, as you would anticipate his essay to be creative and well written. You can judge for yourself.
There comes a time in every man’s life when he must answer a character-defining question: If you could have a super power, what would it be? This hypothetical subject has been debated among underage heroes for centuries; it has been heard on playgrounds, in tree houses, and under manholes all over the planet. Its answers come as varied as transliterated spellings of “Hanukkah.”
There are a few timeless responses: flight, invisibility, pyrokinesis, and mind control are oft-mentioned favorites. Man has longed to possess these four since the Stone Age to tackle his most fundamental problems—moving, hunting, keeping warm, and reproducing, respectively. Luckily, these powers still come in handy for our present-day needs, such as rescuing damsels from the tops of tall buildings, sneaking past bouncers at no-goodniks’ exclusive clubs, breaking into evildoers’ ice-palace lairs, and infiltrating enemy brains to prevent the release of kittens with laser eyes upon our helpless country.
But my ideal super power is something far more unexpected and subtle in its, well, superness, than the usual examples. If I could have a super power, I would choose the ability to turn into a zebra.
Now you may be thinking, “What do zebras have that a lion or a gorilla or a great white shark doesn’t?” If this were based on raw power alone, I concede that the zebra would not have been my first choice. But I’m no teeth-and-muscle purist: The reason I’d choose zebras isn’t for their incredible stamina, or their vicious bites and fatal kicks, or their binocularlike vision and incredible hearing, or their clever form of camouflage, or the way they zigzag to escape from predators, or even their excellent parenting. I’d choose zebras for a certain element called style that is simply lacking in other animals.
When a zebra glides into a room, all creatures present stop what they’re doing, be they human, giraffe, or even fellow zebra. The lion may be king of the jungle, but the zebra is its soul. The mere sight of a zebra has led some to preposterous ends: Equids of all types mate with zebras to get that telltale “z” in their child’s name, producing endless combinations of zebroids—zorses, zonies, zeebrasses, and even zeedonks are recorded in Darwin’s raunchiest annals. Lord Rothschild was known to ride a zebra-drawn carriage through London to boost his reputation as a noble eccentric. It is a well-regarded opinion among music historians that zebras were the driving force behind jazz.
While the last claim may not be true, the zebra has such silent singularity that it stands out in any list of mammals. This quiet uniqueness reminds me of myself in some ways—it’s nary a peculiar day to see me in a public space wearing a black sock on one foot and a white on the other, or a pirate hat on my head, or a plush snake in my shirt pocket, or a cape around my neck. I suppose it’s my desire to stand out, to zigzag like the zebra instead of bolting straight ahead, that so attracts me to that noble animal.
So the next time there are wrongs to right and you need a fantastic alter ego to change into, don’t opt for the same old superfast, superstrong Human 2.0 we’ll probably evolve into soon enough anyway: Turn into someone stripier than ordinary. Who said justice wasn’t black and white?
Personal Statement Critique
The “zebra” essay was used as a model in English classes and was passed around the school as an example of an outstanding essay. It is very creative and well written. The opening is clever and encourages the reader to continue reading. Posing a question and answering it is a good strategy. The writer uses very descriptive words and great visual imagery, as well as actual details about a zebra. The reader gets a very good idea that the writer is a colorful, independent, and zany individual. It is enjoyable to read, and in addition to writing, it is clear that the student also enjoys animals, science, and history. There is a 17-year-old voice present, although the student is a sophisticated writer. The reader comes away with a sense that the writer is very talented with a potentially very bright future.
Although doing so only briefly, the writer does relate the zebra to himself. Other essays may be more direct about the student’s career interests. It is very clear that we have learned something new about the student, and that he is a passionate and creative writer. Without any doubt, he did the job he needed to do!
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