From the hundreds of qualified applicants reviewed, only around 25% or less will be considered for an interview. To stand out, your essay must engage the reader at the outset, present your thoughts in a clear and organized manner, be a pleasure to read, and leave the reader wanting to know you better.
How is such an essay written? It's done in stages, the first being aggregation and development of material—in this case, the expression of your thoughts, values, and aspirations. To get things flowing, some writers collect ideas they've jotted down in the past. Others use brainstorming, while still others use free writing—the process of writing anything that comes to mind. The act of writing itself will stimulate more thinking and more ideas. In the first stage, you seek only to capture your thoughts. At this stage, attempts to revise or edit should be suppressed, as they are counterproductive to the externalization of your inner dialogue.
Only when you have acquired a critical mass can you begin the next stage, which is looking over what you've written and getting a sense of how you might organize the material. Some content you'll choose to eliminate, and some content you'll choose to focus on and expand. Along the way, you may find it helpful to take breaks, letting the essay sit for awhile before coming back to it with a fresh perspective. When you've decided how to organize the essay, list your ideas in outline form.
Next on your to-do list will be coming up with an introduction, creating smooth transitions between your ideas, and writing a conclusion. Flesh out the concepts into sentences and call this your rough draft—the first of what may be any number of drafts, for multiple drafts are the norm. It's a good idea to put the date and time of each new draft at the top of the page to avoid confusion.
The Writers Workshop provides tips on composing personal statements. We also recommend an online publication, Writing Personal Statements, which focuses on scholarships in particular. In addition, our office has hard copies of award-winning statements available to share.