College Application Secrets

Writing the College Personal Statement

By Jay Douglas

For high-achieving high school students, the competition to get into a selective college starts early. Extracurricular activities matter, as of course do grades and test scores. But the high school experience is rarely designed to help students with what is often the most important step of all: writing the personal statement. The burden of helping children win the essay game falls largely on parents.

The personal statement is the only item that tells students’ stories in their own words. Grades, letters of recommendations and test scores give students’ stories in numbers or subjective opinions of others. Writing a strong personal statement can help even average students earn an acceptance at their first-choice colleges or even open doors to highly selective schools.

The role of parents in helping their children write winning personal statements is much the same as that of the producer of an award winning movie: Parents should
1. help their children establish a schedule of when they will start and finish the individual steps involved in writing a personal statement topic (such as selecting a topic).
2. not choose a topic for their children. Instead, they should ask questions that will guide the children to a topic that is important to them.
3. give feedback on an essay, if asked. A good way of providing guidance is by circling in green the parts of the essay that they like, circling in yellow the parts that they would like to know more about and circling in red the parts that don’t hold their interest.
4. resist the urge to solve problems. Difficult though it may be, now is the time to let children make their own choices and handle the consequences.
Jay Douglas, Ph.D. is an adjunct professor of screenwriting at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. His latest book is Make Them Want You: How to Write a Standout Personal Statement 15 Minutes at a Time. It is available in Kindle format at and in Nook format at This book was drawn from his 25+ years of conducting essay-writing workshops for high school students.