Personal Essay: Definition, Format & Examples

Personal Essay: Definition, Format & Examples
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  • 0:01 What Is a Personal Essay?
  • 0:56 How to Format a Personal Essay
  • 1:54 Tips for Writing a…
  • 4:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

How are you going to sell yourself? In this lesson, we will learn how to write the all-important personal essay and discover how it can improve your chances of getting into college or landing your dream job.

What Is a Personal Essay?

Chances are that you'll be asked to write a personal essay many times in your academic career. You will most certainly be asked to write one for college admissions and perhaps when applying for a job. A personal essay is a short, flexible autobiographical work.

Your personal essay should be specific to who you are. For example, perhaps you won a special award at school that you worked on so hard that it caused you to miss your entire summer vacation. Or, maybe there is a special relative in your life, like an aunt or grandfather, whom you admire and emulate. Perhaps you've experienced a tragedy in your life that has had a profound effect on your worldview.

There are many different types of personal essays; however, the main objective remains the same. Essentially, you will be explaining exactly why you would be a great addition to the school or company.

How to Format a Personal Essay

A personal essay is structured like most traditional five-paragraph essays. You start with an introductory paragraph that serves as a sort of road map for your essay. Your introduction should begin with an opening hook, or a way to grab the reader's attention. It should also include a thesis statement, or main idea, and all the points that you are going to discuss that will ultimately prove your thesis.

The main body of your essay should include at least three supporting paragraphs that back your thesis statement. Each new thought or idea should have its own paragraph. Remember you are essentially selling yourself in a personal essay. If you're trying to get your dream job, each supporting paragraph needs to be creative.

You'll want to wrap up your essay with a conclusion that restates your thesis. This is not a time to bring up any additional information. An effective concluding paragraph summarizes the points that you've already made and provides the reader with one last chance to see your thesis statement.

Tips for Writing a Personal Essay

Your personal essay could make or break you. It's a cold hard fact of life, but during the application process, you are a nameless face in a sea of other applicants who are likely just as qualified. How are you going to convince the reader that you're the best candidate for the position? How are you going to make yourself three-dimensional on a two-dimensional page? There are many points to consider.

First, start with a bang! This may be the most important part of your essay. If you don't grab your reader right away, you may lose them forever. And don't be afraid to add details to paint an interesting picture.

Which introduction makes you want to learn more about a person?

'I would be a great addition to your computer company because I've always been interested in technology. I got my first computer at eight and learned everything I could about it.'


'When I was eight years old, my parents brought home a brand new Apple desktop computer. I was fascinated with the new humming machine. When they went to sleep that night, I couldn't resist crawling out of my bed to inspect it. I found a screwdriver, took the whole computer apart, and spent the night trying to figure out how it worked. I was, of course, too young to put it back together. However, I have never stopped trying.'

Next, let your personality shine through. Your essay needs to reflect who you are. Unlike other essays, it's okay to use 'I' and tackle the essay from the first person. Every single one of us is special. We all have our quirky personality traits, strengths and weaknesses. Explain what it is about you that makes you stand out. What specific skill set do you bring to the table that no one else can? Do you have a photographic memory? Are you a voracious reader? Are you sincerely personable? These are all things you may want to illustrate in your personal essay.

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