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Making the Most Out of the Personal Statement

by JoeFantozzi
05/20/15 Bookmark

Joseph Fantozzi Jr. has been a member of the admission counseling team at the City University of New York (CUNY) since 2009. Recently, he has taken on a management role as recruitment coordinator. In this role, he coordinates outreach activities for high school and transfer students throughout the New York Metropolitan area while fostering relationships between college counselors/transfer advisors and the University.  Additionally, he oversees all virtual recruitment efforts and social media activities. Joseph has also been an adjunct faculty member at the City College of New York since 2008. He is an active member of National Associate for College Admission Counseling, the New York State Association for College Admission Counseling and the College Board. He received his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in music from The Boston Conservatory.


College application numbers are growing across the nation and the number of colleges students are applying to are steadily climbing. Because of this perception of increased competition, students will often call an admissions office to ask “what can I do to make my application stronger” or “how can I make my application stand out”. As college counselors, I’m sure you are bombarded with such requests from your seniors come the Fall.

One of the standard answers can often be to submit a personal statement. The personal statement is something that has become quite ubiquitous in the world of admissions, but how can one make sure it is going to be effective? By comparison, essay requests typically provide the students with much-needed direction- describing an important moment in their life or a current event that has affected the way they view the world will often be the nudge a student needs to get their creativity flowing. However, the personal statement is open ended, often times resulting in a squandered opportunity. At CUNY, we receive and read many personal statements and sometimes they can certainly be the deal breaker when coming to an admissions decision.  Based on our most recent admissions cycle, here are some tips based on some trends we have been seeing:

1)      Choose a topic that will enhance your application. Where you see yourself, how you will get there and major influences in your life are some good questions to kickstart your statement.

2)      If there are any gaps in your academic record or deliberate choices you have made along the way it would be a good idea to address them in your statement. Remember this is not a place to come up with a list of your most creative excuses for poor performance but rather an opportunity to explain your curiosity of constellations resulting in your astronomy elective which supported your desire to be a well-rounded student.

3)      Remember, this is not a journal entry and should not read as such. Personal experiences are important to cite, however be sure to always relate them to the bigger picture.

4)      Colleges are often trying to gauge how serious you are about their institution, so try to incorporate some form of demonstrated interest.  What are the top reasons you are pursuing that University? How will you take advantage of their opportunities, become a strong member of their community and eventually a proud alum? Answer the “fit” question for them.

5)      This should go without saying, but proper grammar and spelling are essential. Stay away from “slang” in almost all cases. Proof read your work many times and have other people read your statement. I always recommend getting various perspectives for feedback of content and structure. This is an opportunity to not only showcase who you are, but also your writing ability which is going to be essential in any college environment.  

6)      The admissions office you are sending your statement to receives quite a few documents that require reading. Keep the length of your statement to a minimum being sure to use proper spacing and margins to keep the reader’s interest. I would recommend the statement to not exceed 1 ½ - 2 pages.  


The Follow-up

If the College or University requested a personal statement, a follow up is likely not necessary as they will certainly be reviewing your file. However, if you are sending a personal statement as a supplement that is not required, it can be a good idea to make a personal contact in the admissions office at that college that you can reach out to. This will show your enthusiasm and also make for an opportunity to stand out in the admissions process.  Personally, I am very likely to read something that is sent to me directly. Often times, contact information for admissions counselors are on a college’s web page which could be a good starting place. Emails can be short and sweet with a simple introduction and a few lines about why you are submitting your personal statement.


How do you assist students with their personal statements? Do you use any methods to assist students in writing effective essays? 

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