My assistant Deborah is helping me with a new ebook -- a compilation of Accepted Admissions Almanac tips from the last 3-4 years. She came upon "Personal Statement Tip: Topic Choice" and felt that I needed to be more specific. I'm going to write this tip as an addendum to that one from two years ago. Besides, given the flood of deadlines in the next several months, now is a great time to discuss personal topic choice.
So what should you write about? What's most important to you and distinctive about you.
For all applications, the schools are attempting to get to know you through your essays. For general personal statements, like those law schools and colleges typically request, focus on past activities and achievements that reflect your values. The admissions readers also seek to uncover how you will contribute to their class, their program, and the diversity of their schools. By telling your story -- not what you think they want to hear and not what you share with 50% of other applicants -- you will reveal how you can uniquely add to their class.
For applications asking you to respond to specific questions and requesting statements of purpose, you first and foremost have to answer the question. If the essay is a statement of purpose, you need to discuss your post-degree goal and the way in which your studies will help you achieve it considering your previous education and experience. Again specifics are key. Which past accomplishments reveal the traits necessary to succeed both in gradate school and in your chosen field? Those experiences, clothed in analysis detailing their significance, should comprise your statement of purpose or goals essay.