A good personal essay should present an aspect of your personality that is not obvious from the rest of your college application. The admissions officers will see your grades and test scores, a list of your extracurricular activities and your awards and achievements. They will also read the letters of recommendation your teachers have written for you. But they will not see the three-dimensional person you actually are. The purpose of your essay is to provide them with a deeper understanding of what makes you tick.
Selective colleges are looking for students who will bring creative energy and interesting thinking to their campus. Of course, they are also looking for evidence that a student is mature, socially conscious and will become a positive force in their community. The more your essay can convince the reader of these things, the more successful it will be.
Conflict is the engine of all good writing
To be successful, a personal essay must first hold the reader’s attention. To do that, you will need a bit of drama. You may have heard that every good piece of writing contains a conflict. Will Ahab avenge Moby Dick—or will the whale destroy him? Will Romeo and Juliet manage to come together, despite their families’ antipathies? If the writer presents a compelling problem or question, the reader will want to read on for the answer.