Writing the Personal Essay

Ivy League Prep is passionate about helping students craft outstanding college admissions profiles. In this article, we discuss our approach to an important section of the college application: the personal essay.

Your child’s personal essay is the ideal opportunity to take all the grades, scores, honors, activities, and other elements of their application and weave them together into a cohesive narrative.

The personal essay will show the admissions officer who your child is, how they think, and what they are passionate about. This brief snippet of prose should be the centerpiece of your child’s admissions profile, and all the other parts of the application should point toward it. Your child must effectively communicate their unique narrative through the personal essay.

However strong your child’s application is, they should strive to write a captivating personal essay that, if nothing else, takes a great application and makes it even better.

The Purpose of the Personal Essay

The personal essay is a 650-word written component of the Common Application that offers several diverse prompts. The short length of the essay and the narrow scope of each prompt means that the essay must provide a focused glimpse into who your child is and why they will be valuable to the college.

Most of the essays submitted to top colleges are average and don’t attract much attention. If your child’s essay doesn’t quickly grab the admissions officer’s attention, they might only spend a few minutes reading it.

So, what must your child’s personal essay communicate to the admissions officer to be interesting, effective, and memorable?

Quality Writing

Your child’s essay needs to show that their writing meets a satisfactory standard of quality and maturity. The essay should prove that your child has a firm grasp of English grammar, diction, writing style, form, and logic.

Effective Narrative

Admissions officers are looking for prose that effectively communicates your child’s narrative. If your child’s essay is banal and uninteresting, an admissions officer reading it will likely be bored. Your child’s essay needs to showcase their personality and unique perspective.


The online Common Application essay allows for no more than 650 words. While this may seem like too small a space for everything your child wants to communicate, it isn’t. Admissions officers have piles of applications to go through, so they consider brevity a virtue. Make sure you write concisely.

Narrow Focus

Being concise is not the same thing as having focus. It’s possible to write a short but scatterbrained essay or one that is longer but focused. The key is for your child to keep the essay both concise and focused. To do so, your child should focus on a single experience and use it to communicate their overall narrative.


Admissions officers want to see a unique individual. Your child’s classes, grades, test scores, and activities will likely be common among college applicants. Therefore, your child needs to focus on their unique narrative, showing why they are exceptional. This means that your child must demonstrate authenticity, maturity, a unique perspective, and specialized knowledge or skills.


The personal essay is one more place to show the admissions officer that your child will add value to the campus. Your child should use the essay to show how their unique perspective, skills, and passions will inspire other students and enhance the college’s learning experience.


Top schools want applicants who are mature enough not only to handle the rigors of a challenging academic environment but also to take full advantage of those opportunities. The personal essay is one of the ways an admissions officer will gauge your child’s maturity level.

Passion and Ability

Admissions officers are looking for students with a high level of passion and ability. Passionate students tend to lead and inspire others, and highly skilled students tend to contribute to the success of the college’s programs. Your child’s application will likely already reflect their passions and interests, but the personal essay is an opportunity to breathe life into the facts included in the application.

In the personal essay, your child can use their unique experiences to show why they are so passionate and focused. Clearly, it is a significant part of the college application.