A Potato Gun, A Glass Eye and the Burden of the Personal Statement

So it’s that time that rising seniors really should start thinking about the dreaded college application personal statement. (Cue the spooky music here.) Nothing seems to strike fear in the hearts of students more than discussion of the essay topic. Everyone wants to know what you’re going to write about, if you’ve started writing, how many essays you need to complete. Mom and Dad are suddenly Pulitzer Prize winning writers, eager to help you draft that perfect, compelling, acceptance generating essay. 


After many years of reading applications, making admission decisions and now coaching students on the essay writing process, I can say one thing for sure-- everyone, and I mean everyone, has a story to tell. You are probably 17 or 18 years old and lamenting why you haven’t yet discovered the meaning of life or been fortunate enough to have a truly life changing experience. You don’t need to have had anything major, life altering, earth shattering happen to you to write a terrific essay. Your everyday experiences will allow you to write an essay that will enlighten the admissions committee about who are, what you believe and why you would make a good asset to Dream U.


Allow me to share one of my favorite stories. Several years ago I was working with a small town Wisconsin student on essay brainstorming. Obviously before you can write that first draft, you need to do a little brainstorming. Writing process. This young man and I had spent about forty-five minutes on the phone trying to unlock good ideas for his essay topic. We spoke of extracurricular involvements, travels, growing up in a small town, academic interests, etc. I could tell nothing was resonating with him.  Glimmer of fear-- what if he has nothing to write about? 


Then out of the blue, he mentioned that this was probably nothing but he had lost his eye in a freak potato gun accident. WHAT?! Hmmm, tell me more. Turns out he and some friends were goofing off. A potato gun accidentally discharged, hitting him square in the eye and causing so much damage that his eye had to be replaced with a glass eye. (Side note: Mom is right, those things are dangerous and you can indeed lose an eye. I may be the Admissions Ace but I’m a mom too.) So this is all very interesting but even more fascinating, this student’s lifelong dream was to attend the Air Force Academy and become a fighter pilot, just as his father and grandfather had done. Glass eye=fighter pilot dreams crushed. Wowzers! If that doesn’t scream essay topic, I don’t know what does! He hadn’t mentioned that story earlier in our conversation because he didn’t think it was all that important or terribly interesting. Right...


Takeaway message: We all have a story to tell. Every one of us. If you are completely stumped on how to start brainstorming, think about your life, your experiences, your interests, your dreams. Think about what you want the admissions committee to know about you that they won’t find anywhere else on your application. And if you need a little help, just holler. I can get a good story out of anyone.


Lisa Cynamon Mayers

Senior Admissions Consultant

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