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Writing Your Essay/Personal Statement for College

by Dr. Marilyn Winkleby, Founder, SMYSP


What is the purpose of your college essay? 目的:突出特色

Many colleges will request that you write an essay or personal statement to accompany your application. Your essay is very important because it allows you an opportunity to be yourself and to let the colleges know who you are as an individual. Think about your life experiences and what has shaped you into the person you are today. Tell about aspects of your background and personal attributes that may not be apparent from your academic record. Since academic records and test scores of applicants are often very similar, your essay allows the college to gain insight into your unique achievements, character, and background. This allows the college to evaluate what they can offer you along with what you can contribute to their academic environment.

Colleges may ask for a general essay or give you specific questions to answer. The suggestions below apply to either.

Who reads your essay? 阅读者:专业人员或者教职员工

Each college has a team of trained readers, several of whom will usually read and score your essay independently. Readers are often professional staff from the college, but may also include faculty members, high school teachers, and counselors. These readers are not testing you on writing ability or English skills. They simply want to learn more about you on a personal level. However, a well-written essay will impress the reader so invest time in editing, and checking your grammar and spelling.

What makes a good essay? 好文章什么样?体现你的生活经历,兴趣,个性等。

A good essay will make you distinct from the many other applicants. Readers look for a cohesive essay that reflects your life experiences, intellectual curiosity and achievements, personal characteristics (perseverance, motivation, leadership), service to others, and commitment to higher education. You may describe hardships you overcame, events that had a significant impact on your life, people who inspired you, or your knowledge of certain cultural or ethnic groups. Sometimes a very common experience is influential and memorable. For example, one student wrote about his intelligent parents who were trapped in unfulfilling jobs due to their lack of formal education. The student was inspired by his parents?experience, excelled in school, and thus became the first in his family to apply to college.

Your essay should show the depth of your interests and accomplishments, and quality of your character. No matter what experiences you choose to write about, you should elaborate on the insights that you gained from the experiences and on the ways the experiences influenced your life. Readers want to learn how experiences changed your attitudes or beliefs, influenced your academics or extracurricular activities, or clarified your educational goals.

Below are some general suggestions as well as specific suggestions that may help you write an essay that makes you stand out as a great applicant.

General suggestions:

1. Check the rules. 阅读写作要求,最常见的错误是忽略了要求和格式。

Read the instructions for the essay in the college application packet. One of the most common mistakes is to miss requirements about the length or formatting of the essay. Remember, almost all colleges want you to send your essay with your completed application form.

2. Start early and revise often. 早动手,多修改。

Start your essay early, at least one or two months before it is due. If possible, use a computer or word processor so revisions are easy. Your first draft will be revised many times so don't feel constrained. Instead, it should be a starting point for you to begin telling your story.

You may want to begin by writing down many thoughts and then selecting the most important. Or, you may prefer to make an outline and expand it according to the length requirements. Be prepared to write at least 10 drafts and to have several people read drafts at different stages in your writing. These people should know you on a personal level.

Once you have read and revised your essay several times, put it away for a week or so. (If you started early, you shouldn't be too close to the deadline yet!) After the rest period, think again about what you want the admissions committee to know about you. Write this down, then take out your essay and read it again. Does it convey what you want to say? If not, you may have to start all over again or cut out large parts of your first draft. This is okay--writing requires flexibility, and sometimes you will have to eliminate things that you liked because they don't relate to your overall message.

3. Be clear and focused. 清楚,集中。应该是一个连贯的故事。

Your essay should be focused and tell a cohesive story. With each revision, your essay should be more focused, have smooth transitional statements, and present a more cohesive story. Every main thought should be followed by a logical transition that connects to the next main thought. The reader of your application (who may be sleepy or in a hurry) will not spend time trying to figure out your main points if your essay is unclear.

4. Be distinctive. 有特色的东西

Write an essay that distinguishes you from other applicants. Avoid writing sentences that another applicant could write. Any applicant could write, "I have always wanted to go to college to further my education," or "I have always wanted to be a doctor." The following sentence is more personal and gives insight into an applicant抯 background: "I first became interested in becoming a doctor when Daniel, my little brother, was hospitalized for an infected foot after he got caught on a barbed wire fence while being chased by a bull."

5. Be specific. 具体

This will help the reader remember you. Suppose you are writing about a patient you met during your volunteer work at an inner city hospital. Rather than writing, "One patient made a lasting impression on me," provide more details and write, "A young Latina woman who had been burned in a car accident made a lasting impression on me and influenced my future career goals." Or, if you are writing about a teacher who was instrumental in encouraging you to apply to college, you might write, "Mr. Wright, my high school biology teacher, was the first to suggest that I might attend college."

Avoid details that are superficial to your point, such as, "Mr. Wright, my high school biology teacher, noticed my intense interest in science during my sophomore year and took me aside one afternoon to talk with me. He was the first to suggest that I might attend college and encouraged me to take classes in biology, chemistry, physics, and other sciences."

6. Include powerful experiences. 独特的个人经历

Include personal experiences that will leave the reader with strong images, especially ones that have influenced your education or career goals. The experience can be told in several sentences, but it should paint a lasting image. These experiences may be related to a hardship you have overcome or an experience that influenced your life. Students have written about how living in foster care, caring for a parent with a serious illness, or living in a refugee camp contributed to their initiative and changed their attitudes about an issue or group of people. Other students have written about how seeing a young teenager die from AIDS or an elderly patient learn to speak after having a stroke inspired their commitment to pursuing a health career.

7. Be enthusiastic, but reasonable. 热情,合乎情理。

Show your enthusiasm, passion or commitment about causes, but be reasoned and logical in your discussions. You may feel strongly about a human rights or health care issue, such as the need for guaranteed health care for all Americans. Discuss your personal views, provide supporting evidence, and propose how you would address the problem, but do so without "preaching."

8. Be yourself! 写关于自己的东西

Most importantly, be honest and be yourself! Admissions officers want to accept students who will be successful at their school and contribute to its environment. They want to recruit students from backgrounds who will diversify their student body and if you sound like their type of candidate, then it will be an advantageous situation for both you and the college!

9. Review your final version carefully.

When you have completed the final version of your essay, read it carefully and ask:

Is there a strong introduction that sets the stage for a memorable essay? 当写完了之后,应该看看是否有好的开头

Is the topic sentence of each paragraph clear and do the rest of the sentences每段第一句是否清楚
the paragraph support the topic sentence?

Are all of my thoughts connected in a logical fashion? 是否有逻辑

Is the essay focused and cohesive? 是否比较集中

Does my unique voice come through; does the essay sound like me?

Is the grammar correct?

Have I done a final "spell check" on a computer?

Have I re-read the final version carefully to be sure the "spell check" didn抰
substitute any incorrect words? As a final check, give your essay to an English teacher or someone with a background in grammar and spelling to make sure that you haven't made any avoidable mistakes.

And, be sure to keep a printed copy of your final version.

Specific suggestions about your essay: 具体建议

Readers look for certain areas of content that reflect your life experiences, intellect, work and volunteer experiences, extracurricular activities, and personal characteristics. The following offers you more tips on content areas, some of which you may write about.

1. Academic preparation and scholarly experiences.

Include details about significant classes, research projects, and experiences that have contributed to your intellectual development. Do not simply list your classes, grades, and academic honors since this information can be found elsewhere in your application. Instead, you might describe how a set of experiences built upon one another and led to your current career interest. For example, you may have experienced hunger as a child and then been inspired by your high school science teacher to complete a science fair project on childhood nutrition. You then shared your findings with children in an elementary school class by teaching them the importance of eating a healthy diet. These collective experiences gave you leadership experience and led to your interest in nutrition as a field of study.

You can use your essay to explain any academic challenges you have faced and why--and thus provide reasons for any low grades. You might mention how you had limited time to focus on school because you were working to contribute to your family's income. Any example such as this should emphasize what you learned from the experience and how you intend to use this knowledge to help you succeed in college.

You can also use your essay to explain any instances where you have sought educational opportunities. If your high school had a limited number of advanced college preparatory classes be sure to mention this. Because of this, perhaps you were motivated to do independent reading on your own or take classes at your local community college. This shows your initiative and your seriousness about your education.

2. Life experiences. 个人经历

Take time to reflect on your life, identifying some key aspects of your childhood and adolescence, as well as personal challenges you may have overcome. Some students are hesitant to share their personal experiences, but these are exactly what the admissions committee wants to see. The readers are especially interested in your experiences because they reflect the unique aspects of your life. You might begin by describing obstacles or barriers that you experienced to higher education and then describe how these circumstances shaped your future decisions and strengthened your desire to attend college.

If you are first in your family to attend college, be sure to mention this, since your path to college has been more challenging and different from a student whose parents are college educated.

Relate your life experiences to your academic and career goals, as you weave your experiences together in your essay. For example, did a family hardship make you more resilient or more sensitive to others or lead to your interest in health? Perhaps caring for a young relative who had lung cancer made you aware of the dangers of smoking and led you to write a science report about the promotion of cigarettes to youth. This contributed to your interest in health care policy and selection of a college that offers field experiences, such as those with health advocacy groups.

3. Intellectual curiosity.

You may be able to remember an experience that reflects your intellectual curiosity, such as one that highlights your interest in science and medicine. A simple, ordinary experience may provide an example. Suppose that during high school you became fascinated by the intricacies of the human body and the inter-relationship of the organs and systems of the body. You then found a book in your school library that had transparent pages that pictured the various organs and systems of the body. As you laid each page upon the next, a complete human body emerged. This fascinated you, but you were concerned that the mind was not represented. You returned to this book several times, always to wonder about the missing elements and the need for the mental aspects of a person to be integrated with the physical aspects. These concerns led to your interest in both basic and social science classes during high school, and an interest in a college that offers classes on the psychosocial aspects of health.

4. Character.

Writing about your personal background gives you the chance to share aspects of your character that have helped you through difficult life experiences. The episodes you discuss should illustrate positive aspects of your character, such as determination, initiative, compassion, or leadership. Perhaps you suffer from a physical handicap. This has led to a compassion for those with chronic injuries that you pursued by volunteering at a rehabilitation hospital. This solidified your commitment to working with disabled people as part of your career.

5. Humanitarianism/caring experiences.

Your essay may mention school and community service, volunteer work, church activities, and any other work you have done to demonstrate your involvement with your school and community. Some examples of humanitarian efforts include volunteering at a homeless shelter, serving as an interpreter at a local clinic, or helping a teacher start an after school tutoring program for low-income youth. Discuss what you learned from these experiences and how you'll relate these experiences to your future plans and goals.

6. Leadership.

Leadership examples can take many forms. It is helpful to show how your leadership evolved and grew stronger during your high school years. For example, as a Freshman, you may have joined the school health club and then been elected to an office as a Sophomore. In your Junior year you may have helped plan and coordinate a health fair that included students from several high schools.

Leadership does not necessarily have to be significant positions (such as being student body president or a member of an award-winning debate club). Instead, you may have taken a leadership role in your family, peer group, church, or neighborhood. Have you cared for your sisters and brothers when your parents were at work? Have you been a mentor to a younger person in your community? Have you ever organized a group of students to serve meals at a homeless shelter? Were you a member of a sports team where you led and motivated your teammates? These can all be great examples of leadership skills.

7. Work or volunteer experiences.

Do you have any work or volunteer experience related to the type of career you want to pursue? What did these experiences teach you about yourself? Did the experiences lead to classes or other activities that helped you refine your career choice? Perhaps you helped a teacher when he or she organized a series of evening programs for low-income parents. This experience showed you that you enjoy teaching and interacting with people from diverse cultures. Your current interest in counseling, with an emphasis in reaching undeserved populations, reflects your involvement with this program. Or perhaps you completed a science fair project on AIDS and this motivated you to volunteer with an AIDS outreach group at your local community clinic. From this work, you learned about the high rates of HIV infection among homeless youth. You now hope to take college classes on infectious diseases and social problems to help you decide if you are interested in a career in social work.

8. Vision.

Do you have a sense of what you抎 like to do in the future? What is your vision regarding your further academic training or your career goal? Explaining your goals in your essay can be a way for you to convince an admissions committee why their school is the right place for you. For example, if you want to major in science and eventually become a doctor, you should mention that you are interested in a college that has a strong science department and community clinical opportunities. Knowing what a school has to offer can be a way to show that you are a serious candidate who has done your homework. Your vision may be relatively general, which is fine. For example, you may know that you want to become a doctor, but it is unlikely that you would know your specialty. Just remember to explain how past experiences influenced your interests and goals.

9. Influential people. 在谈及个人目标时,谈谈对你有影响的

When you write about your career goals, you might want to mention a pivotal person or experience that influenced your interest in higher education or a particular career. Perhaps you worked at a local pharmacy and the pharmacist learned that you will be the first in your family to attend college. He or she became your mentor and advised you about classes to take and how to apply for local scholarships. A person who was influential in your goals for higher education does not necessarily have to be someone who is close to you or with whom you had a lot of contact. For example, when I was young, I helped my dad at his night job as a janitor. We cleaned a county building where there were law offices. One night a judge, whose desk I always polished, took me aside and talked to me about higher education. The influence from a man of his stature was significant. He made me realize that the world of ideas was accessible to me and motivated me to take college preparatory classes while in high school.

10. Interest in a specific college and your potential contributions.

Finally, you may want to conclude your essay with a statement or two that reflect your knowledge of the college where you are applying, and potential contributions you may make to the college. If you selected a college because of its strong emphasis on the sciences and its volunteer opportunities with local underserved communities you might write, "I am particularly interested in your school because.... and believe I will be an asset because...." This statement shows that you are familiar with the strengths of the college and explains how you might make a difference at the college if admitted. Again, you want these statements to flow from your previous thoughts.