Generic Structures in Personal Statements


For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about how I will write my personal statement. After lots of research, I have found a naturally recurring pattern in “accepted essays,” or essays that are regarded as very strong, and it is that it follows this narrative pattern of:

Hook/Introduction to Topic
Effects on me
What I did about it


Hook/Introduction to Topic/Theme of essay
How my activity 1 reflects this theme
How my activity 2 reflects this theme

My question: does using this generic structure make the essay sound cliche and boring? Should I spend time trying to come up with some unique format, or does the outline/format not matter, and only the content matters?


The structure of an essay should allow the writer to deliver the message in a clear and concise manner.

Content is important.

So would using one of these commonly used narrative structures not hurt the strength of my essay in any way?

Both structures seem fine, in my opinion.

To which level of schools do you intend to apply.

The most selective schools typically look for elements that other schools do not.

P.S. Just reviewed a couple of your prior threads in which you indicate your intention to apply to the nation’s most selective schools. In my view, the content of your essays will be more important than the structure.

Elite schools expect applicants to be able to communicate in an effective fashion so form is secondary unless designed to show creative intelligence.

I’m applying to T20’s like Princeton, Columbia, Stanford, MIT, and the like. The extremely competitive nature of admissions is why I am concerned about something that seems insignificant, but could come across as “generic” compared to the thousands of other strong essays.

In my opinion, you are worried about an aspect that you should not be. You are over analyzing the wrong thing.


OP: If you prefer to focus on the structure or format of your essay, then that is a reasonable approach if it gets you to start thinking and writing.

My position is that style and format are easy to correct. I focus on the content of a writing. Basically I look for intelligence and insights. Delivering such aspects in an effective manner is important, but it is more important to generate thoughts worth delivering.