Personal Statement Tip: A Core Concept is Central to Essay Success

By - Nov 4, 12:42 PM Comments [0]

I am almost finished reading Made to Stick by the brothers Chip and Dan Heath. I recommend it highly to those of you in sales, communications, or teaching. Quant jocks? You probably don't need it.

The authors researched and identified the factors that cause communications to succeed or fail. They boiled their research down to "six principles of stickiness."

  1. Simplicity.
  2. Unexpectedness
  3. Concreteness
  4. Credibility
  5. Emotions
  6. Stories

Over the next several weeks I am going to explore these SUCCES principles and apply them to personal statements and application essays. For today let's talk about Simplicity.

Your personal statement or application essay needs a core idea. That essence or central point becomes the driver of all content for that essay. When responding to specific questions, your core must directly and elegantly answer the question. When writing a less-directed personal statement, you still need a driving concept; you just have more choice as to what that concept should be. Everything else in the essay should support that concept.

If writing multiple essays for one application, each essay has to have a core. Those concepts should mesh and complement each other, but not duplicate.

The remaining principles of Making It Stick are means of effectively relating your core idea, but first you need to have a core. Unfortunately, many applicants treat their essays like many teenagers treat their bedroom closets -- as a place to put all kinds of "stuff" that may be useful or perhaps once was useful. There is no logic or organizing principle, no driving force. These messy closet essays then read like the mishmash they are.

Essays that are resumes in prose or that attempt to tell your entire life story descend into the mishmash category. Personal statements replete with irrelevant detail stray from their central mission.  They are not engaging or persuasive. In fact they bore.

When you write your essay, start with a central idea and then make sure that everything else supports it. That elegant simplicity is not simplistic. It is not even easy. It is highly effective.

By Linda Abraham, founder and president of

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