Lesson Five: How to Market Yourself
Lesson Summary and Objectives
Lesson five will teach you how to market and advocate for yourself when applying to college and writing a personal statement. This lesson covers how to prepare to write a personal statement and the Common App personal essay as well as the importance of recommendation letters and how to go about getting them for your college and job applications.
Teach students how to confidently market themselves as accomplished and successful high school students.
Help students learn the process for writing an essay for college admission (i.e., personal statement and Common App personal essay).
Highlight the importance of recommendation letters and how to obtain them for college and job applications.
Before you get started…
What is a Personal Statement?
A personal statement supports your application to study at a university or college. It’s an opportunity to write about yourself and tell admissions staff why you’re suitable to study at their institution.
In addition, you’ll want to articulate why you’d like to study a particular major, and what skills and experience you possess that show your passion for your chosen field. This means writing about your future plans.
Universities and colleges will require a personal statement if they admit students based on a holistic review. If you are applying to multiple institutions, we recommend writing one personal statement that can be adapted to specific guidelines set forth by the university or college.
Here are some ideas to get you started on writing a personal statement:
- Look at course descriptions and identify the qualities, skills, and experience it requires – you can use these to help you decide what to write about.
- Tell the reader why you’re applying – include your ambitions, as well as what interests you about the subject, the course provider, and higher education.
- Think about what makes you suitable – this could be relevant experience, skills, or achievements you’ve gained from education, work, or other activities.
- Include any clubs or societies you belong to – sporting, creative, or musical.
- Mention any relevant employment experience or volunteering you’ve done.
- If you took part in a higher education taster course, placement, or summer school, or something similar, include it.
- If there are any personal circumstances which have affected your educational performance, outline them in your personal statement. For example, this might be something that caused you to miss school – such as a physical or mental health condition or caring for a family member.
- If your personal circumstances have affected your qualification choices, you can mention this in your personal statement. For example, a change of school which did not offer the same options, or having gained non-different qualifications, skills and experience to many other people (e.g., through the Armed Forces).
- If you have suffered financial hardship during your studies (e.g., received a bursary to cover the costs of your education), you can let the university know about that here.
Revisit the college application worksheet to prepare to write a personal statement.
Common Application Personal Essay
The Common Application, or Common App, is a college application portal that is accepted by more than 900 schools.
Within the Common App is a writing portion where you can submit a personal essay to the institutions that require it. All prospective schools will read this personal statement to evaluate your critical thinking skills and value as a student. Since this essay is read by many colleges, avoid mentioning any college names or programs. Instead, save tailored answers for the supplementary school-specific essays within the Common App.
Regardless of your prompt choice, admissions officers will look for an ability to clearly and creatively communicate your ideas based on the selected prompt.
Check out this example of a personal essay for the Common Application.
Practice writing a personal essay for the Common Application with this freewriting worksheet!
There are seven Common App essay prompts to choose from to write one essay (between 250-650 words):
- Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
- Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
- Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
- Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
Each school has different requirements/word counts for their essay questions, so be sure to check the specified word count for each section. The system will prompt you if you exceed or do not meet the word limit for any given essay question. Some schools have their word count specified in the question, so make sure to read each question carefully.
Letters of Recommendation
A letter of recommendation is a letter written to vouch for a student’s educational or professional experience, qualities, and skills. Letters of recommendation are typically requested as part of the application process for admissions to a university or college or a scholarship.
Why are letters of recommendation important?
The majority of admissions officers at four-year colleges, especially private schools, emphasize that their process is holistic. They seek to gain a sense of the student as a “whole person,” rather than focusing on pieces of who she is based solely on grades and test scores. Since they
rarely meet the student in person letters of recommendation, along with the student’s personal statement, play a huge role in illuminating their intellectual and personal qualities.
That’s why letters of recommendation from teachers, especially those who know their students well, carry a great deal of weight in applications. A letter that expresses a strong vote of support, as well as highlights a student’s impressive academic and personal strengths, can have a powerful effect on that student’s chances of admission.
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