41 Writing Personal Statements Online – Chapter 4: Sample Personal Statements and Application Essays

Easy writing makes hard reading.

—Ernest Hemingway

As a graduate student taking fiction writing workshops many moons ago, I recall what was most motivating to me as a creative writer. It wasn’t the reading of published or award-winning work, and it wasn’t the classroom critique given on high from the professor nor the scribble from my classmates on my manuscripts. All these things were helpful and valuable, but nothing motivated me more than comparing my fiction to the work of my peers. As I read their work carefully, both objectively and subjectively, I found myself thinking at times that I was sure I could write better than the others around me at the seminar table—then I’d read an artful, poignant story that made me wonder whether I could ever even compete.

Perhaps somewhere between these two attitudes is the most profitable approach when studying the work of your peers. In critiquing the work of others who essentially represent your competition, you should take a respectful stance both critical and kind, just as selection committee members are likely to do. The sample essays in this chapter represent personal stories that are intriguing, diverse, complex, honest, and humanizing. These samples present opportunities for you to study, admire, question, emulate, reject, and—most importantly—consider how to present the best, truest, most effective picture of yourself, carefully refined for the eyes of others.

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