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Personal Experience Essays

Personal experiences are the threads that weave the fabric of our lives. Writing a personal experience essay isn't just about storytelling; it's about finding meaning, connecting with others, and leaving your mark on the world. So, why should you write an essay about your personal experiences? Let's explore the importance together! 🌟

Personal Experience Essay Topics 📝

Selecting the right essay topic is key to crafting a compelling narrative. Here's how to pick one:

Personal Experience Argumentative Essay 🤨

Argumentative essays based on personal experiences require you to defend a viewpoint or argument. Here are ten intriguing topics:

  • 1. Argue for or against the idea that personal experiences are the most influential factors shaping an individual's personality.
  • 2. Defend your perspective on whether overcoming adversity through personal experiences builds stronger character.
  • 3. Debate the impact of personal experiences on shaping one's political beliefs and values.
  • 4. Argue for the significance of sharing personal experiences in order to promote empathy and understanding among diverse communities.
  • 5. Defend the idea that personal experiences play a crucial role in career development and decision-making.
  • 6. Debate the ethical implications of sharing deeply personal experiences in the era of social media and oversharing.
  • 7. Argue for the therapeutic benefits of writing about and reflecting on personal experiences.
  • 8. Defend your perspective on whether personal experiences should be a central part of school curricula.
  • 9. Debate the influence of personal experiences on an individual's approach to health and wellness.
  • 10. Argue for or against the notion that personal experiences can serve as catalysts for social change and activism.

Personal Experience Cause and Effect Essay 🤯

Cause and effect essays based on personal experiences explore the reasons behind events and their consequences. Here are ten topics to consider:

  • 1. Analyze the causes and effects of a life-changing personal experience on your academic or career choices.
  • 2. Examine how personal experiences can lead to personal growth, increased self-awareness, and improved well-being.
  • 3. Investigate the effects of travel experiences on personal perspectives and cultural understanding.
  • 4. Analyze the causes and consequences of sharing personal experiences with others, including its impact on relationships.
  • 5. Examine how personal experiences can influence one's hobbies, interests, and leisure activities.
  • 6. Investigate the impact of a significant personal experience on your family dynamics and relationships.
  • 7. Analyze the causes of personal transformation through exposure to diverse cultures and environments.
  • 8. Examine how personal experiences can shape one's attitude toward risk-taking and adventure.
  • 9. Investigate the effects of sharing personal experiences through writing, art, or storytelling on your personal well-being.
  • 10. Analyze the causes and consequences of personal experiences that challenge societal norms and expectations.

Personal Experience Opinion Essay 😌

Opinion essays based on personal experiences allow you to express your subjective viewpoints. Here are ten topics to consider:

  • 1. Share your opinion on the importance of documenting personal experiences for future generations.
  • 2. Discuss your perspective on whether personal experiences should be kept private or shared openly.
  • 3. Express your thoughts on how personal experiences have shaped your sense of identity and self-worth.
  • 4. Debate the significance of personal experiences in fostering empathy and compassion among individuals and communities.
  • 5. Share your views on the role of personal experiences in building resilience and coping with life's challenges.
  • 6. Discuss the impact of personal experiences on your approach to decision-making and problem-solving.
  • 7. Express your opinion on the therapeutic benefits of writing or talking about personal experiences.
  • 8. Debate the influence of personal experiences on your sense of purpose and life goals.
  • 9. Share your perspective on how personal experiences can inspire creativity and artistic expression.
  • 10. Discuss your favorite personal experience and the lessons or insights it has provided.

Personal Experience Informative Essay 🧐

Informative essays based on personal experiences aim to educate readers. Here are ten informative topics to explore:

  • 1. Provide an in-depth analysis of the impact of a specific personal experience on your career choices and aspirations.
  • 2. Explore the therapeutic benefits of journaling and writing about personal experiences for mental health and well-being.
  • 3. Investigate the history and significance of storytelling as a means of preserving personal experiences and cultural heritage.
  • 4. Analyze the connection between personal experiences and the development of emotional intelligence.
  • 5. Examine the influence of personal experiences on decision-making processes and risk assessment.
  • 6. Investigate the role of personal experiences in shaping cultural perceptions and worldviews.
  • 7. Provide insights into the art of crafting compelling narratives based on personal experiences.
  • 8. Analyze the impact of personal experiences on an individual's resilience and ability to adapt to change.
  • 9. Examine how personal experiences can serve as valuable life lessons and sources of wisdom.
  • 10. Investigate the therapeutic benefits of group discussions and support networks for individuals sharing similar personal experiences.

Personal Experience Essay Example 📄

Personal experience thesis statement examples 📜.

Here are five examples of strong thesis statements for your personal experience essay:

  • 1. "Through the lens of personal experiences, we uncover the profound impact that seemingly ordinary moments can have on our lives, reshaping our perspectives and guiding our journeys."
  • 2. "Personal experiences serve as powerful mirrors reflecting our growth, resilience, and capacity to navigate life's challenges, ultimately shaping the narratives of our existence."
  • 3. "The sharing of personal experiences is an act of vulnerability and courage, fostering connections, empathy, and a deeper understanding of the human condition."
  • 4. "Our personal experiences are the brushstrokes on the canvas of our identity, influencing our choices, values, and the stories we tell ourselves and others."
  • 5. "In exploring personal experiences, we embark on a journey of self-discovery, unlocking the untold stories that shape our uniqueness and enrich our shared human tapestry."

Personal Experience Essay Introduction Examples 🚀

Here are three captivating introduction paragraphs to kickstart your essay:

  • 1. "Amid the chaos of everyday life, our personal experiences are the constellations that guide us, the moments that define us. As we embark on this essay journey into the depths of our own stories, we unravel the threads of our existence, each tale a testament to the power of the personal."
  • 2. "Picture a canvas where the brushstrokes are the chapters of your life—a canvas waiting for you to paint your experiences, thoughts, and emotions. The personal experience essay is your opportunity to create a masterpiece that reflects the colors of your journey."
  • 3. "In a world of noise and distractions, our personal experiences are the melodies that resonate within us. As we venture into the heart of this essay, we uncover the symphony of our lives—a composition of highs, lows, and the beauty in between."

Personal Experience Conclusion Examples 🌟

Conclude your essay with impact using these examples:

  • 1. "As we close the chapter on this exploration of personal experiences, we are reminded that our stories are the threads that connect us all. The journey continues, and each experience, no matter how small, contributes to the tapestry of our shared humanity."
  • 2. "In the final brushstroke of our personal experience essay, we recognize that our stories are not finite; they are ever-evolving, ever-inspiring. The canvas of life awaits, ready for us to create new narratives and continue shaping our destinies."
  • 3. "As the echoes of our personal experiences linger, we stand at the intersection of past, present, and future. The essay's conclusion is but a pause in the symphony of our lives, with countless more notes to be played and stories to be written."

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meaning of personal experience essay

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Writing About Personal Experiences

Writing About Personal Experiences

Table of Contents


Writing about personal experiences is an art that requires infusing your story with raw emotions and vivid details. More than just recounting events, these narratives offer a glimpse into the author’s life, fostering connection and understanding. This blog is your guide. We will explore a step-by-step procedure to unlock the potential of your memories.

Let’s start by understanding what writing about personal experiences means!

What Does It Mean to Write about Personal Experiences?

Understanding what writing about personal experiences means is like unlocking a treasure chest of emotions, memories, and unique perspectives. It transcends the mere act of putting words on paper; it’s about excavating the essence of your lived moments, distilling the emotions that linger in the corners of your memories.

It involves not just recounting events but infusing your narrative with the richness of your personal journey, allowing readers to get a glimpse of your life.

What Does It Involve to Write About Your Personal Experiences?

Writing about your personal experiences involves the following:

  • Self-Reflection: Engage in deep introspection to identify key moments in your life that have left a lasting impact or evoke strong emotions.
  • Emotional Connection: Convey the raw emotions associated with your experiences; be it joy, sorrow, triumph, or challenge, as it is this emotional authenticity that resonates with readers.
  • Vivid Detailing: Paint a vivid picture by incorporating sensory details, setting the scene with sights, sounds, smells, and textures to immerse your readers in the essence of your experiences.
  • Personal Growth and Reflection: Explore how these experiences have shaped you, sharing insights into the lessons learned or the personal growth achieved as a result.
  • Universal Relevance: Connect your personal narrative to broader themes or universal truths, making your story relatable and offering readers a chance to find common ground in their own experiences.

Structure of an Essay about Your Personal Experiences

An essay about your personal experiences typically follows a specific narrative structure. This structure often includes the following components:

  • Sets the tone for the essay.
  • Introduces the central theme or experience.
  • Captures the reader’s attention with a hook or engaging statement.
  • States the main point or purpose of the essay.
  • Provides a roadmap for the reader, outlining what to expect.
  • Presents the chronological or thematic unfolding of your personal experiences.
  • Each paragraph focuses on a specific aspect or phase of the experience.
  • Includes vivid details, emotions, and reflections to enrich the narrative.
  • Connects paragraphs smoothly, ensuring a coherent flow.
  • Guides the reader through the different stages of the narrative.
  • Highlights a pivotal moment or realization in the experience.
  • Intensifies the emotional impact and adds depth to the narrative.
  • Summarizes the key points made throughout the essay.
  • Reflects on the significance of the experiences and their lasting impact.
  • Leaves the reader with a final thought or takeaway.

This structure allows for a compelling and organized exploration of personal experiences, enabling the writer to share a cohesive and meaningful narrative with the audience.

The Process of Writing About Personal Experiences

Here is a comprehensive guide outlining the steps for writing about personal experiences:

1. Preparation:

Before starting the drafting process of your personal experience essay, consider immersing yourself in the art of narration by studying a well-crafted sample . Following this, select the event you wish to recount and start the gathering of ideas, forming a structured outline for your essay.

a. Reading a Sample Example:

  • Choose a well-written personal experience essay to understand the narrative structure, style, and how the author weaves emotions into the story.

b. Selecting a Personal Experience:

  • Choose a significant experience that has left a lasting impact or taught you valuable lessons.
  • Ensure the experience is rich in details and emotions, making it compelling for readers.

c. Collecting Ideas and Making an Outline:

  • Jot down key memories, emotions, and reflections associated with the chosen experience.
  • Organize these elements into a rough outline, ensuring a logical flow of the narrative.

2. Drafting:

During the drafting stage, concentrate on translating your ideas into coherent words, sentences, and paragraphs while adhering to your initial outline. Avoid becoming overly concerned with precision at this point; instead, prioritize fluency in your writing.

Below is an example of an outline to guide you through this process:

a. Introduction:

  • Begin with a captivating hook to grab the reader’s attention.
  • Introduce the chosen personal experience and include a clear thesis statement.

b. Body Paragraphs:

  • Develop each paragraph around a specific aspect or phase of the experience.
  • Use descriptive language, sensory details, and emotions to enhance the narrative.
  • Ensure a chronological or thematic order for a coherent progression.

c. Climax or Turning Point:

  • Highlight a pivotal moment or realization within the experience.
  • Build anticipation and intensify emotions to engage the reader.

d. Conclusion:

  • Summarize the main points and restate the thesis in the context of the experience.
  • Reflect on the broader significance or lessons learned.

3. Revising, Editing, and Final Draft:

The stages of revising, editing, and creating the final draft are crucial in shaping a relevant, accurate, and well-structured narrative of your personal experience. During the revision phase, prioritize assessing the relevance and coherence of your ideas. As you move to the editing stage, focus on refining your writing by rectifying any grammar, spelling, or punctuation mistakes.

Here is a guide to what you have to do at this stage:

a. Revising:

  • Review the draft for coherence, ensuring a smooth flow between paragraphs.
  • Check for clarity and consistency in the narrative.

b. Editing:

  • Edit for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors.
  • Trim unnecessary details or repetitions to maintain conciseness.

c. Final Draft:

  • Incorporate revisions and edits to produce a polished, final version.
  • Ensure the narrative effectively conveys the intended emotions and reflections.

General Tips for Writing the Perfect Narrative of Your Personal Experience

Crafting a captivating narrative essay revolves around key principles. These include prioritizing authenticity to deepen reader connections, enhancing the narrative’s impact by engaging the senses with vivid details, using descriptive storytelling, seeking external feedback, and adopting a revision strategy with breaks to ensure a fresh, objective perspective:

  • Be genuine and honest in sharing your experience; readers connect with authenticity.
  • Use vivid sensory details to make the narrative more immersive.
  • Instead of merely stating facts, show the emotions and events through descriptive storytelling.
  • Have someone else read your essay for fresh perspectives and constructive feedback.
  • Take a break between drafting and revising to approach the essay with a fresh perspective.

By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to crafting a compelling personal experience essay that resonates with readers.

Note: Enhance Your Narrative with Detail

  • Feelings: Immerse your readers by recalling and expressing your emotions in vivid detail.
  • Thoughts: Share your inner reflections, thoughts, and the mental landscape of the moment.
  • Objects Around You: Paint a detailed picture by describing the shapes, colors, sizes, and characteristics of the objects in your surroundings.
  • Smell: Engage the olfactory senses by capturing and conveying distinctive scents associated with the moment.
  • Taste: Delve into the flavors present, whether they are connected to the environment or your emotional experience.
  • Actions: Chronicle the actions that unfolded, providing a dynamic portrayal of the scene.
  • Setting: Establish the context by specifying the place and time, offering readers a clear backdrop for your narrative.
  • Chronological Order: Structure your storytelling by presenting events in the order in which they occurred.
  • Flashback Technique: Employ the flashback technique to depict or recall a set of events that took place before the scenes immediately preceding the narrative.

Topics About Personal Experience Narrative

Here are ten suggested topics for writing about a personal experience:

  • Explore the transformative experiences, challenges, or insights gained during a significant journey.
  • Share a personal story about confronting and overcoming a fear, whether it be public speaking, heights, or something else.
  • Reflect on a milestone or significant achievement in your life, delving into the journey and lessons learned.
  • Detail the process of making a tough decision and the impact it had on your life.
  • Discuss the cultural immersion or exchange program that left a lasting impression on your perspectives and worldview.
  • Narrate an experience where an unexpected act of kindness, or receiving/giving, had a profound impact on you.
  • Share a story about overcoming a personal challenge, whether it be a physical obstacle or a mental hurdle.
  • Explore the dynamics of a friendship that significantly influenced your personality, values, or life path.
  • Reflect on a failure or setback, discussing the lessons learned and the personal growth that resulted.
  • Detail a family tradition or ritual that holds special significance and has shaped your sense of identity and belonging.

Sample Personal Experience Narrative

Here is a sample narrative of a personal experience:

“Embracing Life’s Fragility: A Journey Through Illness”

Life often unfolds in unexpected ways. This part of my life begins with a chapter marked by a grave illness that forever altered the fabric of my existence. It was a diagnosis that cast a dark shadow, yet within its ominous embrace, I discovered resilience, gratitude, and a profound shift in perspective.

The ominous clouds gathered when a routine checkup revealed an unexpected intruder in my body – cancer, a relentless adversary stealthily making its presence known. The sterile hospital walls echoed with the measured words of the doctors, their diagnosis cutting through the air like a surgeon’s scalpel. Shock and disbelief became my immediate companions, and the room seemed to contract, suffocating hope.

Receiving such news felt akin to standing on the precipice of an abyss. The world, once familiar, crumbled before my eyes like a fragile sandcastle washed away by the relentless tide. The enormity of the diagnosis wrapped around me, a suffocating cloak threatening to snuff out the light. The initial waves of fear and despair were overwhelming, an emotional tempest that threatened to drown me. In those vulnerable moments, with the stark reality of mortality hanging heavy, I found myself at a crossroads. It was a choice – succumb to the despair or summon the strength to fight.

In the quietude of uncertainty, a resolute spirit emerged. The decision to fight wasn’t born out of blind optimism but a deep-seated determination to defy the prognosis. I clung to the fragments of hope, remembering the faces of loved ones, the warmth of shared laughter, and the myriad experiences yet to unfold. The fight wasn’t just against a physical ailment; it was a battle for the very essence of life. With newfound determination, I embraced the journey ahead, armed with courage and a realization that even in the darkest moments, the human spirit possesses an indomitable light.

Amidst the trials, I unearthed an unyielding wellspring of resilience within. Each treatment, a battle won; each setback, a lesson learned. I became intimately acquainted with the fragility of life, realizing that strength is not the absence of vulnerability but the courage to persist in the face of it.

As the seasons changed, so did my perspective. Gratitude blossomed in the most unexpected places – in the warmth of sunlight streaming through a hospital window, in the laughter shared with fellow patients, and in the unwavering support of friends and family. Life’s transient nature became a poignant reminder to savor every fleeting moment, to find beauty in the ordinary, and to cherish the people who walked beside me on this unforeseen path.

The story is not one of despair but of transformation. The illness, once a dark antagonist, became a catalyst for self-discovery. It prompted a reevaluation of priorities, a shedding of superficial concerns, and a newfound appreciation for the sheer gift of being alive. The mundane became extraordinary, and every heartbeat became a melody of gratitude.

Today, as I stand on the other side of that harrowing chapter, I carry the scars of battle but also the profound wisdom that accompanies adversity. Life, once taken for granted, is now a cherished tapestry, each thread a reminder of the resilience found in the face of illness and the beauty inherent in embracing life’s fragility.

In summary, writing about personal experiences is a distinctive narrative form that invites readers into the intimate corridors of the author’s life. It involves the skillful blending of emotions, vivid details, and reflections to construct a compelling story. To try this literary essay, one must explore their memories, choosing experiences that resonate on a personal level. The process demands authenticity, encouraging writers to express their true selves and connect with readers through shared human experiences.

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meaning of personal experience essay

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Webinar Transcripts: What About Me? Using Personal Experience in Academic Writing

What about me using personal experience in academic writing.

Presented October 31, 2018

View the webinar recording

Last updated 12/11/2018

Visual: Slide changes to the following: Housekeeping

  • Will be available online within 24 hours.
  • Polls, files, and links are interactive.
  • Now: Use the Q&A box.
  • Later: Send to [email protected] or visit our  Live Chat Hours .
  • Ask in the Q&A box.
  • Choose “Help” in the upper right-hand corner of the webinar room

Audio: All right. Well, hello, everyone and thank you so much for joining us today. My name is Beth Nastachowski and I am the Manager of Multimedia Writing instruction here at the Writing Center and I'm just getting us started here with a couple of quick housekeeping notes before I hand this session over to our presenter today, Claire

A couple of things to keep in mind, the first is I have started the recording for the webinar. I'll be posting the regarding in the webinar archive and you can access that later if you have to leave for any reason during the session or if you would like to come back and review the session or access the slides, you can do that from the recording.

I also like to note here that we record all of the webinars in the Writing Center, so if you ever see a webinar being presented live and you can't attend or if you're looking for help on a particular writing topic, we have those recordings available for you 24/7 so you can just take a look at the archive in the categories there to find a recording that would be useful for you

We also hope that you'll interact with us throughout the session, so I know Claire has lots of polls and the chats she'll be using throughout the session, so make sure to interact with her and your fellow students there

But also note that the links throughout the slides that Claire has are also interactive, so you can click on the links and it will open up in a new tab on your browser, and can you also download the slides that she has here in the Files Pod that’s at the bottom right‑hand corner and can you download those slides and they'll save to your computer as well

Finally, we also have a Q&A Box on the right‑hand side of the screen so I'll monitor that box throughout the session and would be happy to answer any questions or respond to any comments that you have, so do let me know as soon as you have a question or comment, I'm happy to hear from you and I know Claire will be stopping for questions and comments to address those aloud throughout certain points of the presentation as well

However, at the very end of the session if we get to a point where we need to close out the session because we're out of time and you still have questions, please feel free to email us or visit the Live Chat Hours and we're happy to respond to you there and I'll display this information at the end of the session as well

Alright. Actually, this is our final point here. If you have any questions or have any technical issues, feel free to let me know in the Q&A Box, I have a couple of tips and tricks I can give you, but the Help Button at the top right‑hand corner is really the place to go if you have any significant issues.

Visual: Slide changes to the title of the webinar, “ What About Me? Using Personal Experience in Academic Writing ” and the speakers name and information: Claire Helakoski, Writing Instructor, Walden University Writing Center.

Audio: Alright, and so with that, Claire, I will hand it over to you.

Claire: Thanks so much, Beth. Hi, everyone, I'm Claire Helakoski a writing instructor here at the Walden Writing Center and I’m coming in from Grand Rapids, Michigan today to present What About Me? Using Personal Experience in Academic Writing today, and also Happy Halloween to those of you that celebrate it.

Visual: Slide changes to the following: Learning Objectives  

After this session, you will be able to:

  • Identify the benefits and drawbacks of using personal experience in writing
  • Determine the situations when using personal experience is appropriate
  • Integrate personal experience effectively
  • Access additional resources

Audio: All right. So first I want to go over our learning objectives today which are that after the session you'll be able to identify the benefits and drawbacks of using personal experience in your academic writing, determine the situations where using personal experience is appropriate, integrate personal experience effectively, and access additional resources.

Visual: Slide changes to the following: Caveat

We are specifically talking about

personal experience in coursework ,

meaning discussion posts or weekly

assignments .

Doctoral studies are a whole other thing!

Audio: All right, and I do want to start with a caveat that I'm specifically talking about personal experience in coursework, so discussion posts, or weekly assignments. Doctoral studies are a very different things and if you are beyond your coursework and just working on your doctoral study, this presentation may not be as beneficial to you at your current stage since it does get a little more specific and the requirements are a little bit different in those aspects of your writing.

So today we're going to really focus on that coursework discussion post, weekly paper assignments.

Visual: Slide changes to the following: Walden Students

  • Are at an advantage!
  • In previous education institutions
  • In careers in their chosen field of study
  • In military , family , or volunteer situations

Audio: All right. So Walden students are at an advantage for talking about personal experience because most of you are already working in your fields or have previous education and careers in your field of study, even if you're not working in that now, you've had some sort of career most likely, and I'm just speaking broadly and statistically here, but also through military family or volunteer situations, our students from my experience, tend to be very passionate and knowledgeable about their topics and that means you're at an advantage to have all of these great personal experiences to inform that passion and your coursework as it applies to your current job, future job, or past work that you've done.

Where does that experience go?

What does it count for?

Audio: So, we might wonder where does that experience go, right, because we're often kind of told to pull back on the personal experience in our coursework. So where does it go? Where does it end up sort of counting for? Sorry. I thought there was a pop‑up there.

That experience doesn't go anywhere in a sense that it's there, it is valuable, it is important, it has informed your decision to pursue your degree and there are many assignments that I have personally seen in the Writing Center that will let you kind of tap into that and express it in your coursework. It doesn't count for anything as far as, you know, a grade or something like that, but it's beneficial because it gives you that sort of starting point, that jumping off place to begin your work, right.

A lot of times even if you're starting an assignment that's not really meant to explore personal experience, you might think of a personal experience that you've had had and decide to pursue that topic, so it counts in a sense that you're mentally kind of already engaged with your subject, you’re invested in it, and that gives you a starting point for any type of writing you're going to do for your coursework.

Visual: Slide changes to the following: Poll: How convinced are you?

Paragraph A

            By and large, substance abuse in the United States begins during adolescence. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2013) stated that on an average day 881,684 adolescents smoke cigarettes, 646,707 smoke marijuana, and 457,672 drink alcohol. Adult addicts typically report beginning substance use in adolescence. In fact, one in four Americans who started using addictive substances in their teens are addicted now, compared to one in 25 who began using after the age of 21 (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 2011). When teens engage in substance use, their behavior impacts their adult lives.

Paragraph B

            By and large, substance abuse in the United States begins during adolescence. As a school paraprofessional, I know this is a problem. I see teenagers every day in the high school library who are drunk or high. Just this past year, five separate students got into serious car accidents (with injuries) due to substance use. We actually have to employ drug-sniffing dogs in the school as well. These teens do not get the help they need, and so addiction becomes something they struggle with as adults as well.

Audio: So, we're going to start with a little poll here. We have Paragraph A and Paragraph B, so I'd like you to read them both and note which option you're most convinced by, and I'm going to not read these aloud because I think it would take longer than you guys reading them through, but I will give you a couple minutes to read them through and consider which of them you find most convincing and then let us know in the poll.

[silence as students respond]

I see the answers still trickling in here. I'm going to give you another minute to go ahead and respond if you have not and then we'll talk over our responses.

All right. It looks like the responses have kind of stopped trickling in so I'm going to go ahead and talk about each of these options. So, a lot of you, most of you, chose Paragraph A and that is probably because we have a lot of great statistics in Paragraph A, right. We're focusing on this kind of overall issue, we have proof that it is an issue, really specific proof, right. We're talking about numbers and statistics, and then we kind of explain what all of that means at the end there. Whereas in Paragraph B, we have kind of the same topic, right. So, we're still talking about substance use in teenagers, but this one is talking about what this writer sees in their work every day. They see these things happening, and they do have some specifics like the five separate students and what's going on in their school, and they have a kind of the same takeaway or opinion, which is that addiction is an issue and, you know, something kind of needs to be done.

So, they really are about the same topic, but Paragraph A is likely a little more convincing to the wider majority of people because it's more neutral, it has facts and statistics, you know, from all over really because it's from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Organization and so it's a big study by an established organization. And in Paragraph B while these personal experiences are great and they definitely do speak to an issue at this person's school, so if that was the assignment, then this would probably be appropriate, but if we're talking about this as a whole issue for the country or like a larger health issue, then talking about it more globally with more global statistics is going to be effective there and a little bit more convincing for an outside reader who isn't a member of this Paragraph B person's school.

Visual: Slide changes to the following: Academic Writing

Readers expect

  • to see research-based evidence* supporting statements even if the writer has expertise in the area
  • to be persuaded through logic and reasoning

*information from course readings, books, scholarly journals, trusted websites

The need for research doesn’t mean your own knowledge is unimportant or wrong

Audio: All right. So as I kind of went over, in academic writing, readers expect to see that research‑based evidence which supports statements even if the writer has expertise in the area, so because none of us are doctors in our field yet, we aren't considered experts in our area, even though we most likely have experiences that inform us on our topic and we might have really great things to say about it, but we're not considered experts yet. And in academic writing, even the experts are still going to find that research‑based evidence to help support what they're saying. So that's just a general expectation of academic writing, and it's one of the things that separates it from other types of writing that you may have done in the past or that you may see in other fields.

Readers also expect to be persuaded through logic and reasoning rather than sort of emotional appeals or those other, you know, tools that people will use in online articles or, you know, commercials and things like that that are really overly persuasive and personal and have lots of emotion. That's not quite the right tone for that academic writing, that scholarly writing. It's not a wrong technique, but it should be saved for different arenas, different places where you're going to write. In academic writing, you want to be logical, objective, fact based, and by evidence, I mean information from your course readings, from books, scholarly journals, trusted website, so research you're doing that's been done by other people in your field and is supported and reviewed.

All right. As I've kind of gone over as well, the need for research doesn't mean your own knowledge is unimportant or wrong. It just means that you need to be a little bit careful about when and where you use that personal knowledge in your course writing because a lot of times it won't meet reader expectation, so while it can inform what you're going to write about, you'll want to use that information to fuel your research, for example.

And as we'll go over in a little bit, there are assignments that specifically ask for your own experiences, opinions, and ideas and so you can look out for those as well.

Visual: Slide changes to the following: When is personal experience okay?

  • In the research process
  • Thinking ● Researching ● Thinking ● Researching ● Writing

Audio: All right, so as I've sort of gone over, you might be wondering when is personal experience okay? As I mentioned in the research process, we're kind of getting you started and personal experience is a great tool, a really beneficial tool to give you a jumping off point. Like in our paragraph example, this writing has seen these issues with teenage addiction in their school so they can say, I know this is an issue and I don't think it's just an issue in my school so what I want to do is think about that issue, research that issue, and then end up writing about that issue.

And your research and thinking and writing process may go back and forth, and it probably should, right. You think of an idea, do a little research to see what's out there, think about it again, do I have enough points, do I maybe need more, is it maybe going in a different direction than I thought? Maybe do a little more research, and then start your writing. And informing that with your personal experience to help get you started for something that you observe or something that you already know to be true can be really beneficial as a jumping off point for your research.

Visual: Slide changes to the following: Type of Assignments

  • Assignment instructions might use the term “you” as in “What do you think will be most useful to you…”
  • Assignment instructions might say, “Demonstrate your learning…” or “Refer to specific experiences in your workplace…”
  • Assignment instructions might say, “Select a topic based on something you have seen, heard, or experienced…”
  • Assignment instructions might say, “Describe your educational and professional background…”

Audio: So in your assignments, you may have some assignments, as I mentioned, that are going to ask for you to talk about personal experience and that is a great, great use of personal experience and a place where personal experience is not only okay but it's asked for and it's expected, and one of the key words you can look for in your assignment prompt is you, so look out for assignment prompts that use the word "you." What would you do? What do you think? What experience do you have in this field? And what would you do in this situation? Lots of "you" there but, of course, you're going to use "I," you're going to use your personal experience in those situations.

So, here’s a few that come up. An example in a reflection paper or a post, what do you think will be most useful to you? Right, reflection means you're going to talk about your experience, it's kind of inherent to reflecting on your own writing and ideas.

In a prior learning narrative, the assignment instructions might say something like, demonstrate your learning, refer to experiences in your workplace. I've seen a lot like that so obviously those are really good places to bring out that personal experience.

The assignment instructions might say something like, select a topic based on something you have seen, heard, or experienced. Or I've seen papers that deal with, you know, for example, different leadership styles or something like that and it will ask if you've had any experience with a prior manager that exhibited one of these leadership styles. Those are great places to use that personal experience. And in your professional development plan, if you write one of those, you'll definitely write about personal experience because the assignment instructions will say something like, describe your educational and professional background. So those are all wonderful places to use that personal experience and where you're being asked to use that personal experience.

So, don't feel like we're saying never, ever, ever use personal experience. You're going to have to use your judgment, and that's kind of what this webinar is to help you do, right. So, in your research process, personal experience can be helpful. In assignments that are using "you" and not just this week "you've read," but like asking questions of what do you think, what would you do in your workplace? Those are great questions where you could use some of the experience that you may have.

Visual: Slide changes to the following: To Illustrate a Theory

According to the theory of caring, nurses should be sensitive facilitators of a healing environment (Watson, 1979). I demonstrate this when I talk to patients in a calm voice, listen attentively to their needs, and limit the amount of visitors and noise.

Systems theory looks at a system holistically, with the parts working together (Janson, 2015). An example of this interdependence in my organization is…

Audio: And Sometimes talking about illustrating a theory could be a good place to introduce personal experience as well. Here is an example. According to the theory of caring, nurses should be sensitive facilitators of a healing environment. I demonstrate this when I talk to patients in a calm voice, listen attentively to their needs, and limit the amount of visitors and noise.

So, this assignment probably has something to do with talking about nursing theories and how you do or do not implement them in your nursing practice, right. So, they probably used "you" in the assignment somewhere, but it's not just all personal reflection. It's talking about the reading, talking about how you use these tools, so that's a great place to use that personal experience in a nice specific concrete way.

Here is another example. Systems theory looks at a system holistically with the parts working together and an example of this interdependence in my organization is, and again here we've probably been asked to write about your organization or a past experience in your workplace in the assignment prompt, but when you're combining that with research, demonstrating that theory with personal experience can be really beneficial and helpful for readers because you have that nice evidence and then a concrete example.

Visual: Slide changes to the following: Benefits of Personal Experience

  • better understanding
  • stronger connection with the material
  • perhaps more confidence
  • more interesting
  • helpful to see an example from an insider perspective

Audio: All right, so the benefits of personal experience for you are that better understanding of your topic, a stronger connection with the material. I mentioned that passion before. And maybe more confidence writing about it because you know for sure that this is an issue, this is something that's going on, this is something you've noticed, you've experienced, and so you can go into it with confidence into your research that there is going to be something out there that supports what you've seen and what you've experienced or what practices you have in your workplace.

For your reader, adding that personal experience where appropriate can be more interesting and helpful to see those examples from an insider perspective. As you all know, I'm sure, excuse me. ‑‑ as you all know I'm sure, reading just about theories can be a little dry, so having those concrete examples of what that looks like in practice can be much more engaging for readers.

Visual: Slide changes to the following: Questions

Audio: All right. Let's pause for a moment to see if we have any questions.

Beth: Thanks so much, Claire. Something just came in here. Oh, yeah, so you just said this I think a little bit, but could you talk a little more and kind of address the question that the student had had on whether they can use first person in their personal experience when discussing personal experience, and specifically maybe tips for using first person in those cases too. Does that make sense?

Claire: Yes, it does. That's a great question. So, I know that some of you have probably heard beyond just don't use personal experience but you may have heard don't use "I," right, which is the first person. So, don't use "I," but using "I" isn't incorrect per APA, and I'll go over this a little about bit later, but the kinds of "I" statements you want to avoid are those I believe, I feel, I think statements. Unless of course your writing a personal reflection of some kind in which case those would be appropriate. But when you’re talking about personal experience you’re going to have to use "I," right. That just makes sense, it would be really weird to say something like, this this writer has experienced. Instead just say, in my workplace I have done this, I exemplify this theory when I do this really focusing on actions you've taken or things that you've observed in your workplace through the use of "I" is going to be much clearer for the readers and help them out. So, using "I" is not inappropriate for personal experience. It's really those other kind of more feeling‑based statements that you really want to watch out for.

Beth: Thank you so much, Claire. I think you just covered a little bit of examples of when to use that first person, and so I think we're good for now. Yeah. I'll keep watching out for more questions, but I think that covers it for now.

Claire: Thanks, Beth, and yeah, we will go can over some examples of using "I" a little bit further on in this presentation too, so you can look for that or look forward to that, sorry.

Visual: Slide changes to the following: When is using personal experience inappropriate?

  • Avoid generalizing
  • Our schools are failing. Parents want more individualized support for their children in the classroom.
  • My daughter texts constantly, which shows that teenagers use cell phones more than they did in the past.

Audio: All right. So, when is using personal experience inappropriate? So, we talked about when it's appropriate, right, during your research process, when your assignment specifically asked for that reflection, that background information, or when you're exemplifying a theory in an assignment which has kind of asked for how you connect to the source reading for that week.

Right, so those are all great places and appropriate places to use that first person and that personal experience.

When using personal experience is inappropriate is using it as evidence in an argument, it's kind of like our Paragraph B from earlier. I noticed this at my school so all teenagers should go through drug testing and that's just too general, right. It's not backed up enough. You want to avoid generalizing. Personal experience can lead to those generalizations, so here are some examples.

Our schools are failing, parents want more individualized support for their children in the classroom, and so this is just really vague, right? This first one, it's really vague and how do I know that schools are failing, whose opinion is this, it's just the writer's opinion and that's probably not enough to say that our schools are failing, like they might be an authority on if their own school is failing, but that's a whole big other ‑‑ I assume they're talking about schools in the United States but they could be talking about the whole world, so it's important to be really specific and use that evidence to avoid those generalizations.

Our second example is my daughter texts constantly which shows that teenagers use cell phones more than they did in the past. So again, this observation, we can't expand it out to all teenagers or all schools or all anything from one personal experience, right? Even our own hospital or at our own high school that our daughter attends, we would have to actually do research and do some kind of study to make this type of statement because otherwise somebody could say anything they wanted, right. I could say, online students are lazy, which I know to be very untrue since I work with Walden students all the time, but I could just say that if we didn't need to have that evidence, if I was just going to use my own personal biased opinion, I could say whatever I wanted. I could say something like that and I wouldn't need to go find any research. I would just say it like it's true and move on, so to avoid that, to have that credibility, you want to have that research to back up statements and avoid using that personal experience, those personal observations, and stating them as facts that extend beyond your own observation.

Visual: Slide changes to the following: Problems with Using Only Experience

  • How does one person’s experience compete with verified and reported research involving many people?
  • No foundation of knowledge
  • No practice with library skills, research, and using sources

Audio: The problems with using only your personal experience in your work are that it's not a very convincing argument. As I sort of just explained, one person's experience, how does that compete with verified research involving many people or across many states or years. You know, one person's opinion just isn't as strong as that. There isn't a clear foundation of knowledge if you're only using personal experience, then you're not explaining, you know, how you contribute to the conversation that's already happening on this topic and that's one of my favorite, favorite things about academic writing is that we're constantly contributing to the conversations that are already happening in our field. And if it's just your opinion and you’re not taking into account what other people have already said or are saying on your topic, then you're not coming off as having a foundation of knowledge or really contributing to that conversation.

Also, the problem with only using experience is you won't get practice with those library skills, research, and using sources effectively. And you're going to need those skills as you progress through your programs, even if maybe you don't need them on your first few discussion posts, for example, you will need them throughout your program and to succeed in your fields.

Visual: Slide changes to the following: Example of Effective Integration

By and large, substance abuse in the United States begins during adolescence. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2013) stated that on an average day 881,684 adolescents smoke cigarettes, 646,707 smoke marijuana, and 457,672 drink alcohol. Adult addicts typically report beginning substance use in adolescence. In fact, one in four Americans who started using addictive substances in their teens are addicted now, compared to one in 25 who began using after the age of 21 (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 2011). To address this pattern, school districts should implement prevention and intervention programs.

At my high school in suburban Atlanta, I helped create Clean Matters. The program follows the National Institute on Drug Abuse principles of …

Audio: All right. So, I want to talk about an example of that effective integration of personal experience with research, so this isn't only research, right, it's personal experience and research.

By and large, substance abuse in the United States begins during adolescents. The substance abuse and mental health services administration stated that on average, an average day, oh, man I'm so bad at reading numbers aloud. This many adolescents smoked cigarettes, marijuana, and drank alcohol. Adult addicts typically report beginning substance use in adolescence, and in fact one in four Americans who started using addictive substances in their teens are addicted now compared to 1 in 25 who began using at the age of 21. To address this pattern, school districts should implement prevention intervention programs. At my high school in suburban Atlanta, I helped create Clean Matters and the program follows the National Institute on Drug abuse Principles of ‑‑

So here you can see that we have this great effective paragraph, and this is that you might recognize as our Paragraph A from earlier, and so we have this effective paragraph that has lots of information from a source. We have a clear takeaway at the end, right? We're saying this is information that is true, here is what this means, this is an issue, it needs to be addressed, right? And here is what we can do.

Then we have an example of what someone is doing already, so for example I've seen some paper assignments that say something like establish your health issue, discuss what your community is doing to combat this issue, for example.

So, this would be a great place to establish your issue using that research and then include what you're doing in your community, especially if you do have that personal involvement and the assignment asked about your community, then this is a good place to use that personal experience and talk about the campaign that you personally worked on.

Visual: Slide changes to the following: Chat

Chat: Did the author effectively

integrate their personal experience in this reflection paper?

Being an active listener is probably the most challenging part of my face-to-face communication. Although I choose my responses wisely and use skills such as validation and empathic listening, I struggle to be an active listener and easily get distracted by mental noises and perceptual biases. Active listeners are “people who focus on the moment, are aware of interactions as they unfold, respond appropriately, and are aware of distractions” (Dobkin & Pace, 2006, p. 98). To strengthen this skill, I must practice clearing my mind and eliminating distractions so I can fully focus on the messages I am receiving.

Audio: All right, so let's do another practice, now that we've done through an example of that effective integration. Did the author here effectively integrate their personal experience in this reflection paper, and why or why not? I will read it aloud for you. Being an active listening is probably the most challenging part of my face‑to‑face communication. Although, I choose my responses wisely and use skills such as validation and empathic listening, I struggle to be an active listener and easily get distracted by mental noises and perceptual biases Active listeners are people who focus on the moment, are, aware of interactions, respond appropriately and are aware of interactions. To strengthen this skill, I must practice clearing my mind and eliminating distraction so I can fully focus on the message I am receiving.

Go ahead and take a minute and then tell us what you think in the chat box.

[silence as students type]

I can see some people are still typing. I'll give you another minute to go ahead and finish up with your response here.

All right. It looks like our contributors have dried up, so I'm going to go ahead and talk over. If you're still typing, go ahead and keep typing and I'll just begin our discussion.

So, a lot of you said that you did think that this was effective in general because we do have some source information that we're dealing with here and we are tying that in to our personal experience. A few of you suggested having the evidence sort of earlier in the paragraph to help support the observations that the writer is making a little bit sooner rather than necessarily beginning with a personal, a sentence of personal experience. And you know, I think it really depends on what the assignment is, right, which is always the answer with personal experience. What is the assignment? This assignment is probably one that I've seen where you take some sort of, you know, assessment or quiz about your skills and then write a reflection about how you scored and what you can do to have kind of like an improvement plan, so that's what I'm guessing this is here.

And in that case, right, it probably is fine to have that personal experience right away in the paragraph because this is a more personal reflective type of assignment, but it's a good thing to keep in mind that you may want to start with an overall what is this paragraph really going to be about, what is the bigger kind of connection, think about your thesis, and then if there are personal details to add to have them a little bit later can be very effective as well.

So great observations, everybody. Thank you for participating.

Visual: Slide changes to the following: Tips for Effectively Using Personal Experience

Audio: All right, so now we're going to go through some tips for effectively using that personal experience.

Visual: Slide changes to the following: Effective Integration Tips

DO use the first-person point of view.

  • Helps you avoid referring to yourself in the third person or passive voice.
  • Unclear: In this writer’s role as an executive assistant, this writer compiles reports on financial transactions.
  • Appropriate: In my role as an executive assistant, I compile reports on financial transactions.

Audio: All right, so as we sort of mentioned before with the questions about using "I," you use that first‑person point of view for your first‑person experience, right. It helps avoid referring to yourself in the third person or in passive voice, which can be very confusing for readers.

An example is in this writer's role an as executive assistant this writer compiles reports on financial transactions. That's not only repetitive, but it's a little confusing because in academic writing, right, we write about what other writers think all the time, so if I'm a reader and I'm seeing this, I'm thinking, okay, by this writer, do they mean the researcher they were just talking about in the last paragraph? Who do they mean? Who were they talking about exactly? So that can be really unclear. Whereas, in my role as an executive assistant I compile reports on financial transactions. There is nothing wrong with using first person in that way, right, because it's not biased, it's not opinionated, it's explaining what you do in your role so there is nothing inappropriate about that per APA.

This blog on including relevant details might be helpful!

DO stay on task.

  • Ask yourself: Is this experience directly related to the assignment? How much does the reader really need to know?
  • Too Much: I want to pursue a degree in social work at Walden. My stepfather kicked me out of the house when I was 14, and I became homeless. On the streets, I was scared and hungry and had to steal or beg to get by. I don’t want other teens to suffer like I did for many years.
  • Appropriate: I want to pursue a degree in social work at Walden. The experience of being homeless as a teenager has made me empathetic toward other people in similar situations.

Audio: All right. You do want to stay on task, so what I see sometimes is even in those assignments that are asking for you to write about your own experience, I see some students get a little bit carried away and I know why because you're so excited to be able to write about that personal experience, to be able to share that you might end up getting kind of off topic and maybe sharing more than is strictly needed for the assignment, so you want to stay focused. You want to ask, is this experience directly related to the assignment? How much does the reader really need to know?

So here is an example. I want to pursue a degree in social work at Walden. My step‑father kicked me out of the house when I was 14 and I became homeless. On the streets I was scared and hungry and had to steal or beg to get by and I don't want other teens to suffer like I did for many years. So, do we need all of that information to understand why this person wants to pursue a degree at Walden?

We can probably cut it down, right. I want to pursue a degree in social work at Walden. The experience of being homeless as a teenager has made me empathetic towards other people in similar situations. So, we're taking the ideas and we're sort of paraphrasing ourselves, right. We're shrinking it down and we're focusing on what the point is, what's the importance of these personal details, what's the takeaway for the reader.

And I have a blog post on including relevant details that I wrote for these specific situations, so you can click that active link or if you're watching this as a recording, you can download the slides and you'll be able to review it there as well, so that has some more detailed examples if this sounds like something you maybe do.

DO Use an objective, formal, nonjudgmental voice (even if the content is very personal).

  • Ask yourself: Is this voice appropriate for a professional context?
  • Too casual: In my opinion, the students were behaving like brats. I couldn’t even get their attention to take attendance! I had to…
  • Appropriate: One day at preschool, the students were particularly rambunctious. It was difficult to take attendance, so I …

Audio: Do remain objective, formal and nonjudgmental even if the content is very personal. Ask yourself, is this voice appropriate for professional context. And when I think of a professional context, I like to imagine that you are writing a letter to a person in your field who you greatly respect but have never met in person, so that might be a helpful visual for some of you, really thinking about that tone. You want to be formal, you want to be direct, you want to seem smart, right, so you want to avoid being overly emotional or, you know, judgmental potentially or opinionated.

Example is in my opinion; the students were behaving like brats. I couldn't even get their attention to take attendance, so here is that less appropriate use of "I" that we sort of talked about before, right. My opinion, so unless the prompt specifically asks for your opinion, then you shouldn't have statements like "in my opinion" or "I believe" and then we have, I couldn't even get their attention to take attendance, so we're just kind of complaining, right.

Instead, we can write one day at preschool the students were particularly rambunctious and so it was difficult to take attendance, so really, we're saying the same thing here but we just tweaked it. We made it more objective, more observable, and something you can think about is, if someone was watching you in your situation, would they find your description effective to paint the picture that they saw, right? Whereas like, students were behaving like brats, that's really subjective. Whereas, the students were energetic or rambunctious that's something that someone could easily observe if they were standing outside of the classroom and they could tell it was difficult for you to take attendance, but I couldn't even get their attention is very personal, that's drawing on not only your personal experience of what happened but you're sort of mental and emotional state while it was happening, so that's another thing to help you kind of focus in on remaining objective and clear, is to think about, am I portraying what happened or am I portraying my emotional response to what happened?

DO NOT wear “experience blinders.”

  • Remain open
  • Consult other sources and viewpoints, even contradictory ones
  • Instead: Provide a citation for personal experience

Audio: All right. Don't wear those experience blinders. Remain open. Think about, you know, someone might say your experience just doesn't belong in this paper, you know, and that's not saying that your experience doesn't matter or isn't important or they're not informed and knowledgeable and intelligent about your topic. It's just, you know, it may not be for the assignment or it might just not match kind of that formal scholarly academic tone.

You can consult other sources and viewpoints, even contradictory ones on your topic, to help maintain that kind of neutral tone throughout even if you think you already have an opinion on it, and you can provide a citation instead of just your personal experience, right. You can provide a citation if you have written about it before, for example, or if you're drawing from your personal experience and you want to go look up something that mirrors what you experienced.

Chat: How would you pair personal

experience with this quote from an article?

Write 1-2 sentences.

“About 75% of the online students surveyed

indicated that they were more engaged in courses

that included images, video, and audio” (Sherman

& MacKenzie, 2015, p. 31).

Audio: All right. So here we have our last practice, so how would you pair personal experience with this quote from an article? And assume that this is appropriate, right, your assignment has asked you to pair personal experience, and so here is a quote. About 75% of the online students surveyed indicated they were more engaged in courses that included images, video, and audio. So, what's your personal experience that connects with this quotation? Write one to two sentences in the Chat Box and then we'll talk about some of them.

I'm seeing some great responses so far and I'm going to go ahead and give you guys another minute or so before we talk over these.

All right. I'm going to go ahead and start talking about a few of the examples that I pulled, but if you're still typing, please go ahead and continue typing.

All right, so one example is "I experience better engagement in courses when I start an online degree with Walden University, images, videos, and webinar and presentations helped me stay focused. So, that pairs nicely with our evidence because they found 75% of students were more engaged by this type of content, right, and so this person is adding to that by saying that they agree, right, and that they give some specifics as to what that looked like here at Walden, so that's a great use of personal experience.

All right. We have sort of an introduction, which was from teaching, information, literacy, and public speaking, my experience is that ‑‑ so that's a great introduction to kind of, what your experience was with that engaging content. I would caution you here to not then just have the quotation, right. Because your experience isn't that 75% of online students surveyed indicated their engagement, right. Your experience is that you also were more engaged by those image, video, and audio, right. You can only speak to your own experience and that's something that wasn't in this presentation, but which is important to think about. You don't want to pair a citation with an "I" statement because it doesn't make sense, right. That writer, Sherman and Mackenzie they didn't write about you. They wrote about subjects in their study. So, pairing with an "I" statement is confusing to readers and you want to make that statement separate from the evidence and show how it connects but you don't want to mash it together in the same sentence.

All right. In my experience as an online student, images, video, and audio have been beneficial in keeping me engaged in online courses. So that’s great, right? That's similar to the first one I read, having the nice specifics and they're agreeing with the statistics and supporting them with their own experience.

Personally, I find my attention is drawn to an attraction eye catching image or video, and right so again we're just kind of agreeing with that source information.

Here’s another one that kind of takes what is an "I" statement or personal statement and goes a little bit too far out from their own experience. From personal experience the use of video and images are imperative for effective learning. The only person you really have authority to say that about is yourself, right. So, from personal experience, the uses of videos are imperative for my learning to be effective is something that you are definitely qualified and should say, right, if that's true here, that would be a great use of personal experience. But you don't want to say, I also, like I agree and this is true for everybody. You don't want to go beyond yourself.

Research has proven that a good number of online students are engaged with video and audio learning experiences, and so that's more of a paraphrase of this quotation, right. That's not personal experience. It's not saying that I had this experience that is supported by this research, right, so there were so many great examples there and I really appreciate your input, and it just shows that this is a skill and it takes time and practice and it is way easier when it's an assignment you have in front of you and you know exactly what personal experience you want to use.

But I'm going to go ahead and move on so that we have time for questions at the end.

Visual: Slide changes to the following: Additional Resources

  • Avoiding Bias web page
  • All About Audience podcast episode
  • Why You Shouldn’t Wiki blog post
  • APA blog post on personal experience
  • Prior Learning Portfolio web page (UG students)

Audio: All right. So, I promise to use some additional resources at the beginning of this presentation and here are some great ones. We have an Avoiding Bias web page. We have all about audience podcast episode. We also have a podcast episode called Objectivity and Passion that is really good if you feel or if someone is saying that you are too emotional or too passionate about your topic, or you're getting a little opinionated, that's a good one too.

Why You Shouldn't use Wikipedia Blog Post we have an APA, APA has a blog post on personal experience, and for undergraduate students, there is a Prior Learning Portfolio web page to assist you.

Visual: Slide changes to the following: Questions: Ask Now or Later

[email protected] •  Live Chat Hours

Learn More:

Check out the recorded webinars “What Is Academic Writing?”

and “Writing Effective Academic Paragraphs”

Audio: And before I turn it over for questions, I also wanted to note that I think a paper review, which I don't think was linked on a previous page, but a paper review is a really great resource too when you're using this personal experience and you're not sure if you are telling too much or, you know, if you're being too passionate about your topic or how well you're integrating that personal experience with those resources. You can send in your paper for a paper review through our paper review system, My Pass, and a writing instructor like myself will read it, give you feedback, and then attach a draft with comments and links in it the day of or day after your scheduled appointment. So that can be really useful and just let us know on your appointment form that you're kind of nervous about using personal experience effectively or would like some assistance with that, and we will focus on that in your review.

All right. Do we have any lingering questions, Beth?

Beth: Yeah. Thanks so much, Claire. Thank you so much. That was all fantastic first off. But we did have a question from a student who was saying, you know, what if their assignment is asking for their personal experience but they're just not coming up with ideas, like they're kind of having writer's block in that area. Do you have any strategies to help students generate ideas from their own personal experience?

Claire: That's a good question. Yeah, it can certainly be challenging, you know, especially if you're being asked, for example, if you're changing career paths and then you're being asked to sort of write about your experience in that career area. Because I have seen some assignments that are like that so I can see why it would be hard to sort of come up with an experience.

If you're really struggling and your faculty has kind of asked you to talk through a scenario or a leadership situation and you're just not coming up with one, then I would definitely reach out to your faculty and see if maybe you can use a scenario from some reading or talk through something like that because that can happen, right, where you just don't really have an experience that fits the bill.

As far as where you definitely know you have experiences, but you're kind of struggling to figure out which one to talk about, or you feel like there are too many, or you just don't know where to start, I would definitely try free writing, which is where, you know, you ask yourself about the topic and you just write for a given amount of time, so I usually start with like 10 minutes, and you just write about that topic, everything you can remember, everything you can think about related to that topic and your experience, and that can really help like jog your memory and focus in on specific events that might be helpful, but definitely, you know, especially if you're coming back to school from a ‑‑ from a while outside of school, then you might not remember a really clear memory to use for a specific example, and in that case I would definitely just ask your faculty and let them know what's going on because they're not trying to trip you up with that. They're just playing on how a lot of Walden students have relevant, current kind of experiences in their field and they're not meaning for you to not be able to complete the assignment.

Beth: That's fantastic, Claire. Can I provide maybe one other idea? I was just thinking of something that's just something I was thinking about.

Claire: Yeah

Beth: Depending on your assignment too, it's also helpful to sometimes read, I don't know, like other more popular research or just like do a Google Search on a topic. Maybe you know, the theoretical peer review journal articles you're reading about a topic just don't help you connect that top wick your own experience, maybe it's like a leadership style or something, but reading an article about leadership styles in a more informal publication that you wouldn't cite in your paper but that could help you generate ideas, that can sometimes sort of make it more real for you. That's been helpful for me in the past sometimes. I don't know, I just wanted to throw that out there as well. I hope that's okay.

Claire: Yeah, no. That's a great idea too. It doesn't have to be research to like spark your ideas. Maybe you want to go watch a TED Talk or you know find an infographic, Beth loves infographics, so find an infographic or find, you know, a little like life hacker article that kind of breaks it down.

Beth: Something yeah. I like that, and I know this is like, it felt so blasphemous when I just read it but sometimes it will even say go to the Wikipedia page on the topic, you won't cite the Wikipedia page but you might generate ideas from it or find other research that's cited on the page too, so yeah.

Okay. No other questions, Claire, that are coming in. Do you have any last thoughts you want to leave everyone with before we kind of wrap up?

Claire: Just, you know, make sure you're looking over your assignment really carefully when you're deciding if you want to use personal experience or not. And if you are ever unsure, ask your faculty. It is their job and they will know if they want personal experience or not in that paper and they will be able to tell you really clearly if you're not sure.

Beth: Perfect. Thank you so much, Claire. I'm seeing lots of thanks coming into the Q&A Box. Thank you, thank you everyone for attending, if you have any more questions, make sure to reach out and we hope to see you at another webinar coming up soon. Thanks, everyone.

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6.1: The Experience Essay – Using Description and Narration

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  Writing an Experience Essay

An experience essay (usually termed a personal essay) is something that may be familiar to you already. Perhaps you might have done one in your prior education or in applying to colleges. There are a myriad of topics you can cover, as pretty much any experience(s) in your life are allowed, but you should make your choice wisely. Try to pick something that stands out above the everyday and/or obvious. For instance, do not pick a morning where you woke up, ate cereal, and went to work. It is technically a personal experience, as it covers some moment in your life, but it does not hold the weight I’m looking for and will fall short once I start asking you to explore the deeper meaning of your experience. That said, you need not pick something that is the worst day in your life, nor moments that were so tragic/overwhelming that you do not want to go back to those times. Should you opt to go that route, you will find that they work nicely toward the ultimate goal of this unit, which is to illustrate some fairly significant moment in your life. Whatever you choose, it’s still unclear as to what makes a robust, well rounded, and well thought out experience essay. The following are writing approaches that will help you create your essay.


  • Seek to describe (using the 5 senses)
  • Flesh out the paper with details (show your experience)
  • Why description?  Gives readers something to relate to…your readers didn’t experience what you did, so put them in your shoes/eyes
  • Two types of description – objective and subjective

↓                      ↓

(factual)         (personal)

  • Adjectives are used often, but metaphors and similes are also common
  • Use vivid language to show rather than tell…let your reader “see” the story
  • Make dynamic characters (ones who change from beginning to end)
  • Let the details drive the action rather than simply rushing through the experience
  • Show rather than tell how and why the experience is important/impactful
  • Chopping up time is sometimes more interesting than chronological storytelling
  • Ensure the ordering of events is coherent and transitions exist if it’s chopped up
  • Consider your audience…what will readers need to understand your experience?
  • Consider your purpose…what do you want the reader to understand about you?

For more in-depth notes, sample essays, and helpful videos for both of these rhetorical modes, please click here for description and here for narration .

  • The Experience Essay - Using Description and Narration. Authored by : Jason Brown. Provided by : Herkimer College. Project : AtD OER Course. License : CC BY: Attribution

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12 Weaving Personal Experience into Academic Writing

Marjorie Stewart

Marjorie Stewart’s essay “Weaving Personal Experience into Academic Writing” comes from the book Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, Volume 3 . Stewart uses the metaphor of weaving to demonstrate one way of using personal and narrative writing within academic essays. Rather than debate whether narrative is appropriate for academic writing, it addresses the question of when is it appropriate and how it can be done effectively, focusing on helping writers decide when the use of personal experience is appropriate for their purpose, how to make personal experience and narrative pull its weight in the essay, and how the ability to incorporate personal experience can translate into the ability to incorporate research.

The essay is structured as an example of the use of personal experience as well as a how-to guide. It contains a discussion of three students who incorporated narrative in their essays in three ways: as a structural frame, as an example when the research topic and personal experience overlap, and as a tool for discovery. Students will benefit from the peer-written examples as well as the use of the personal in the essay itself.

This reading is available below and as a PDF .

“Warp and Weft” uses the metaphor of weaving to demonstrate one way of using personal and narrative writing within academic essays. Rather than debate whether narrative is appropriate for academic writing, it addresses the question of when is it appropriate and how it can be done effectively, focusing on helping writers decide when the use of personal experience is appropriate for their purpose, how to make personal experience and narrative pull its weight in the essay, and how the ability to incorporate personal experience can translate into the ability to incorporate research. The essay is structured as an example of the use of personal experience as well as a how-to guide. “Warp and Weft” contains a discussion of three students who incorporated narrative in their essays in three ways: as a structural frame, as an example when the research topic and personal experience overlap, and as a tool for discovery. Students will benefit from the peer-written examples as well as the use of the personal in the essay itself.

Like many students, I worked my way through college with a retail job. I was luckier than many of my classmates: I found a job at a hip little boutique called Rebecca: A Gallery of Wearable Art in the trendy part of town. We carried many styles of hand-made clothing, jewelry, and accessories, but our most important merchandise was that made by Rebecca herself. Rebecca was a weaver who made hand-woven clothing and scarves. Her loom took up half of the back room and she wove while I waited on customers. When one fabric came off the loom, Anne, the seamstress, would begin to cut and sew while Rebecca set up the loom for the next design. She created her patterns then transferred them into a computer program that told her how to thread the yarn onto the loom to produce the pattern. She threaded the warp, the yarn that runs lengthwise, onto the loom. The weft (formerly known as woof) was placed on bobbins that fed the shuttle. The act of weaving was moving the shuttle with the weft through the warp to create the weave.

     So what, you might well ask. So what does this have to do with writing?

     Many of you have been taught not to use the word “I” in your academic writing; not to include anything that does not directly relate to that mysterious thing called a “thesis statement;” and not to include anything personal in your writing. The opening of this essay has broken all of those so-called rules – it contains a personal story, told in the first person, that at first glance seems unrelated to the topic of writing. However, in this essay, I – yes, “I” – am here to help you step away from those rules and to use personal stories effectively in your academic writing.

     The first consideration is whether using personal narrative is appropriate for your project. My story of working in Rebecca’s shop is useful here – it is intended to attract the attention of the readers and to establish and explain the extended metaphor of weaving. However, if I were writing an essay for my art history class about the evolution of weaving techniques and equipment, my story would seem out of place, as I only have experience with one step in that evolution, and that experience is of an observer rather than a participant.

     Your composition professor will likely talk to you about the rhetorical situation of any piece of writing. Stated simply (perhaps too simply), the rhetorical situation – the writer, the audience, and the purpose of the writing – affects the way the message is presented. In my hypothetical art history essay, the narrative would confuse the reader as to the purpose of the project and distract from the actual message of the paper. Often in writing classes it seems that your audience is specifically your professor and secondarily, perhaps, your classmates. Given the essays you will read about in this chapter, imagine the larger audiences that the student writers might have been addressing. Consider carefully whether personal narrative belongs in papers you are writing for history, biology, or business classes.

     In addition to your specific rhetorical situation, of course, you should always comply with your professors’ guidelines for each assignment. “No first-person narratives” is a clear statement that personal stories are not appropriate in that classroom.

     However, once you have established that your narrative is appropriate for your purpose and audience, what next? It is my purpose to help you incorporate narrative effectively, and to do that, I will use examples from three of my students in a first-year course, a course designed to help writers bridge the gap between high school and college writing. I am also using the example of this essay itself. Consider my story about Rebecca. I am using her weaving, her design of warp and weft, as a metaphor for the kind of writing this essay is going to talk about. I will also use the story as a frame – talking about weaving in the introduction, the conclusion, and perhaps in the transitions.

Personal Story As Frame

Using a personal story as a frame for your essay can be an effective way to draw your reader into your ideas and then to help them reinterpret those ideas in the end. Perhaps, like me, you’re working in a retail job. Perhaps it’s in a big box store instead of my artsy boutique, and you’re wondering if you’d be happier somewhere else, or you’re thinking, please, hand-woven clothing? You sell electronics, important, functional electronics.

     Just as I began with the story of my time at Rebecca, Lynn Z. Bloom began a conference presentation with a story from her classroom, and then commented, “Such stories, even brief ones, make us want to hear more, and to tell our own right back. They get us where they live. All writing is personal, whether it sounds that way or not, if the writer has a stake in the work” (1). One of my goals in telling the story of Rebecca is to make you want to hear more, and to make you want to tell your own. The human mind is a giant filing cabinet of stories, and when you hear one, you go to the appropriate file drawer – in this case R for Retail Employment – and pull out your own.

     There are many stories in that drawer, however, and it’s important that you choose the right ones. Because my metaphor of writing as weaving is central to my topic, I haven’t included lots of other great stories that came out of my time at Rebecca. I didn’t talk about the great gyros we used to get from Mike and Tony’s across the street, or about how the changing nature of the neighborhood made Rebecca worry whether she had chosen the right location for the store, or about the great artists who came in for trunk shows of their work. I focused on the loom, the weaving. And as the framework for this essay, I consider the story of the loom to be the warp, the yarn threaded on the loom in advance. I will thread my shuttle with the examples of my students’ writing and weave them through.

     The first example, Callie Harding’s “The Life of a Choir Director’s Child,” does the opposite. Her topic – the need for better education about religion in America – is the warp, and her childhood stories are woven though to show the reader how this topic became so important to her. Her stories give the readers context and help them connect with her.

Personal Story as Context

Telling a personal story can help your reader understand why you are writing about the topic you have chosen, and why you have come to care so deeply about it. Callie’s childhood experience of travelling from church to church where her parents worked as choir directors gave her an understanding of many religions, and she uses those stories to show how that has helped her be a more compassionate, thoughtful, and sensitive person.

     Her paper starts this way:

When I was a child, I didn’t spend much time on playgrounds or with the backyard swing set. I didn’t look forward to dance class or soccer practice every week. Instead, most of my time was spent in the pews of a church with a My Little Pony figure that was weaving its way through a jungle of hymnals and pew Bibles. My playground was a cathedral with the somewhat harmonious voices from the volunteer choir echoing off the stone floor over the magnificent pipe organ. At the front of the choir was either my mother or father . . . Yes, I was the child of choir directors. (Harding 1)

     Callie goes on to explain that her family moved from a non-denominational Christian church to a Jewish synagogue; the First Church of Christ, Scientist; a Catholic Church, and finally, a small Lutheran church. “What religion are we?” she asks. This is how she tries to answer her question:

My mother spent a while with the Hindu faith before marrying my father and converting to Mormonism. We are also deeply into our Native American background and practice their cultural and religious ceremonies. Add the fact that we had many friends from many religions and cultures and you can tell that I had one of the most openly religious households on the block. (Harding 1-2)

     Callie then moves very nicely into her research on how to encourage religious tolerance through education. She contrasts her experience in a fundamentalist Christian high school to a school district in Modesto, California where all ninth graders take a semester-long world religion course. She writes about the importance of helping all children understand and celebrate diversity of religion and points to her own experiences as an example of the positive effect this has on them. As part of her research, Callie interviewed her mother about her diverse upbringing. While her mother called it a “happy accident,” she also explained to Callie how she stood up to her very Mormon father to make sure Callie and her sister were free to find their own beliefs.

     As I was studying Callie’s essay, I took three highlighters and circled each paragraph: pink for Callie’s personal story; yellow for Callie’s presentation and discussion of her research, and green for the information from her interview with her mother. This is the result:

  • Paragraphs 1-3 – Callie’s personal story
  • Paragraphs 4-6 – discussion of research
  • Paragraph 7 – Callie’s story
  • Paragraphs 8-9 – discussion of research
  • Paragraph 10 – Callie’s interview with her mother
  • Paragraph 11 – Callie’s story
  • Paragraph 12 – Callie’s interview with her mother
  • Paragraphs 13-14 – Callie’s personal story

     It wasn’t until I did that exercise with the markers that I realized how smoothly Callie had incorporated the three elements of her writing. As I’ve done in this essay, Callie framed her story with the personal. She also used it within the essay to focus and reflect on her research findings. Marking your essay the same way can help you see if you have the right balance between the personal and the more traditionally academic portions of your paper.

     While Callie used her personal stories to provide context to the issue of religion in education, she also used her own background to show herself as an example of someone for whom a broad religious education proved beneficial. In “A Life Lost,” student Melynda Goodfellow used her personal story as an example.

Personal Story as Example

Melynda chose to write about teen suicide, certainly an important topic, but one that far too often leads to a patchwork of statistics and distant narratives, more a report than an essay with heart. Sadly, Melynda had reason to care deeply about her topic: her cousin Jared killed himself with an overdose of prescription pain medication.

     Melynda started her essay with a simple story of a typical Friday night, getting ready to go the high school football game, where her brother would be playing in the band. This night, however, was special, because her cousin had just moved into town and her boyfriend would be meeting him for the first time. Choosing to open with a typical activity – going to the football game – but giving it special meaning was particularly effective for Melynda. I encourage writers to ask themselves the first Passover question: Why is this night different from all other nights? This is the question asked by the youngest child at the beginning of the Seder to start telling the story of the Passover. It also serves the beginning writer well: If this night, this football game, isn’t special in any way, then it isn’t the story to use in your essay. Melynda’s football game is different from all others because her cousin will be there to meet her boyfriend.

     Although the atmosphere is festive, Melynda shows us with foreshadowing that this is not a typical Friday night lights story. She writes that Jared moved because “he wanted to get away from the lifestyle that he was living back home. He wanted a kind of fresh start.” She connects herself to the characters of her brother and her cousin through the band: she had been in band, her brother is performing with the band at the football game, and her cousin is excited about returning to school and joining the band himself. Throughout the narrative part of her essay, Melynda shows Jared as sad and desperate, yet looking forward to his fresh start.

     Melynda tells the story in a straightforward, chronological way from the evening of the football game through her cousin’s death and funeral. Her use of personal experience is different from mine and Callie’s because the majority of her paper is that narrative. The structure of her paper is very different: where Callie went back and forth between the story and the research, Melynda began with the story and introduced the research at the end. The first three pages of Melynda’s six-page essay are the story of her friendship with Jared that fall, and how she becomes his confidant. Pages four and five are the story of how she heard of his death. It is only at the end of her essay that she introduces the statistics that show that suicide is “the third leading cause of death in people ages 15 to 24” (Goodfellow 6). Her conclusion, shortly after that statistic, reads:

I never in a million years would have thought something like this would happen in my family. I knew that mental health problems run in the family, but I believed everyone knew where to get help. We knew that suicide wasn’t an option and that we had each other if nothing else. As tragic as it may sound, this event brought our whole family back together. Any quarrels or grudges anyone had seemed to dissipate that day. Ironically, one of the things that Jared wanted the most was for the family to just forget their differences and get along. (Goodfellow 9)

     This ending refocuses Melynda’s readers on the personal meaning of the impersonal statistic.

     In his book Living the Narrative Life: Stories as a Tool for Meaning Making , Gian Pagnucci writes, “I think, actually, that stories can help us get at the truth even if there isn’t a firm truth to be had.” (51) And in Writing to Change the World , Mary Phipher says:

Research shows that storytelling not only engages all of the senses, it triggers activity on both the left and the right sides of the brain . . . . People attend, remember, and are transformed by stories which are meaning-filled units of ideas, the verbal equivalent of mother’s milk. (11)

     Melynda works at getting at the true story of her cousin’s death, making meaning of it, even though there is no firm truth or solid meaning to be had there. The truth she arrives at, however, is more powerful than the “just the facts” approach because the story lingers with her readers in a way statistics can’t.

     Another thing Melynda does that makes her essay different from mine, and Callie’s, is her inclusion of dialogue. I think she makes especially good use of it in her essay, something that is often difficult for writers at all levels. Here she shows us how she learned of Jared’s death:

“What is it?” I said when I picked the phone up. “It’s about time you answered your phone! I’ve been calling you for over an hour,” my mom said. “Well?” “It’s Jared. He’s in the hospital. He overdosed.” “Oh, my God . . . Is he okay? I’ll be right there. I’m leaving work now.” “No. Don’t come here. There’s nothing you can do. He’s dead.” (Goodfellow 4)

     Recreating dialogue can be challenging – a year after her cousin’s death, can Melynda be certain that these were the exact words that she and her mother spoke? Probably not, but she can show her readers the tension in the moment – her mother’s anger that she didn’t pick up, her desire to be with Jared, and her mother’s postponing of the awful news. Dialogue also can be used to pick up the pace of the story – the light look of it on the page helps readers’ eyes move over it quickly, getting a lot of information from a few carefully-chosen words.

     There are significant structural differences between Melynda’s essay and Callie’s. Callie’s is split almost evenly between personal experience and research; Melynda’s is about 85% personal story. The third student, Ethelin Ekwa, uses personal story in an even larger portion of her essay, which is entitled “Ethelin Ekwa: An Autobiography.” Although the title might lead you to believe that the essay is only, or just, or simply, personal narrative, Ethelin uses the story of her life to explore her ethnic heritage, her life as a single mother, and her determination to make the most of her artistic and musical talents. She tells the story of her life as a way of understanding her place in the world at the time of the writing.

Personal Story as Discovery

Ethelin’s essay can be seen as an example of Donald M. Murray’ beliefs about writing: “We write to think – to be surprised by what appears on the page; to explore our world with language; to discover meaning that teaches us and may be worth sharing with others …. . . we write to know what we want to say.” (3). Although my students always write multiple drafts of all of their essays, Ethelin wrote more than usual – at least four significant revisions before the final draft that she submitted in her portfolio. She was a frequent visitor at our writers’ center as she worked through the paper. Somewhere in an intermediate draft, she found her frame: a quotation from Ani Difranco’s song “Out of Habit:” “Art is why I get up in the morning.” That idea led her Ethelin to her conclusion: “I cannot imagine a day without the ability to create in unconventional ways” (Ekwa 9). In the eight and a half pages in between, she tells the story of her life.

     In Callie and Melynda’s essays, there is a very clear separation between personal experience, research material, and the writers’ commentary on those elements. The weaving, to continue the metaphor, is done in larger blocks of color. Ethelin’s essay has a more subtle pattern. Every paragraph contains some detail of her life – where she was born, who her parents were, where she lived – but also has a reference to her life-long desire to be an artist. She talks about her work as a writer and poet; as a singer and musician; and as a photographer and visual artist.

     Ethelin’s background is intriguing – her parents moved from Cameroon, West Africa to France and then to Texas, where she was born, the youngest of five children. She has lived in Europe and Africa, and she went to school in France and Cameroon. Here is how she introduces herself in the second paragraph:

My birth name is Ethelin Ekwa. I am also known as Obsolete by my artist friends and as Krysty by my close personal friends. I am an artist, a mother, a photographer and a lover of all things. I am an American-born citizen with Cameroonian and French origins. I am 30 years old and I currently reside in North Braddock. (Ekwa 1)

     Ethelin’s identity is tied to her arts from the very beginning, and every story from her life is wrapped around those arts. When, at 22, she becomes a single mother, her priorities change, but she never gives up: “When I got pregnant, I put singing, painting, and drawing on hold . . . I had more pressing matters to take care of and there just was not time for art” (Ekwa 3). Soon, though, she tells us that she made a new friend who introduced her to digital photography, and by the time her daughter was two years old, she had her own photography business up and running.

     While Melynda chose one special night to tell about at the start of her essay, Ethelin chose many events from her life, all of them important, life-changing events. Reading Ethelin’s essay, I can almost see Rebecca’s shuttle flying back and forth across the loom, the turn at each side another event that pulls Ethelin back into the world of art. When the weaver turns the shuttle at the edge of the warp, the weft creates a finished edge that prevents the fabric from fraying or unraveling called a selvage. The turns in Ethelin’s story create a sense that her life, which is sometimes unplanned and chaotic, still has something that keeps it from unraveling, and that something is her artistic nature.

Tying Up Loose Ends

The examples from my students’ essays can help you understand how to use personal experience in your academic writing. But how do you know when to use it? When is it acceptable and appropriate? Gian Pagnucci asserts, “Narrative ideology is built on a trust in confusion, a letting go of certainty and clarity that can ultimately lead to understanding” (53); that stories have a “piercing clarity” (17), and that “the drive to narrate experience is, if not instinctive, then at the very least quintessentially human” (41). He also warns that the academic world is not always welcoming of personal experience. I know many of my colleagues are not willing to trust in confusion – their entire careers, and even their lives, have been built on the quest for knowledge and certainty.

     If your composition professor has asked you to read this chapter, it’s a pretty safe bet that you may use personal experiences in your writing for that class. Even in that setting, however, there are times when it is more effective than others. Using the examples of the essays I’ve quoted from and the guidelines given in the beginning of this chapter, here are some tips on when to use your personal experience in your essays:

  • When, like Callie and Melynda, your experiences have inspired a passionate opinion on your topic
  • When, like Ethelin, your personal experiences constantly point back to your central idea
  • When, like me, your personal experiences provide a strong and ex- tended metaphor for your subject
  • When, like all of the writers, your personal experience provides a structure or framework for your essay

The expression “tying up the loose ends” comes from weaving and other fabric arts. When the yarn in the shuttle is changed, the new yarn is tied to the old at the selvage. Those threads are later woven into the fabric so that they don’t show, and so that the connection is tight. When your rough draft is done, it’s time to take the fabric off the loom and make sure your weave is tight. At that point, ask yourself these questions to be sure you are using your experience appropriately and effectively in your essay:

  • What percentage of your essay is personal experience, and how does that match up with the nature of the assignment? Callie’s essay was written in response to an assignment that required more research than the one Ethelin was responding to, so it included less personal writing.
  • Have you included only the personal stories that directly relate to your topic, your attitude towards your topic, or your controlling idea?
  • Are your selvages tight? Do the moves you make between personal story and research and analysis make sense, or is the fabric of your essay likely to unravel?
  • Is the resulting pattern appropriate to your project? Are you working in large blocks of color, like Callie and Melynda, or the subtler tweed of Ethelin’s essay?

I started this essay in Rebecca’s shop and tried to weave the metaphor inspired there through this essay. In the process, I realized another advantage to using personal stories in academic writing: I hadn’t thought about Rebecca and Anne, about Mike and Tony’s gyros, about the bright creative atmosphere in the gallery and in the neighborhood for a long time. Accessing those stories from the filing cabinet in my brain was inspirational. My stories from Rebecca are mostly fun or funny. Your stories, like mine and the writers quoted here, are a mix of light and dark, funny and serious. I encourage you to open the file cabinet and find the stories that will make your readers remember similar times.

Works Cited

Bloom, Lynn Z. “That Way Be Monsters: Myths and Bugaboos about Teaching Personal Writing.” CCCC 51st Annual Meeting, Minneapolis, MN, Apr. 2000.

DiFranco, Ani. “Out of Habit.” Ani DiFranco , Righteous Babe Records, 1990. Ekwa, Ethelin. “Ethelin Ekwa: An Autobiography.” 3 Aug. 2009. Composition and Language I, Art Institute of Pittsburgh, student paper.

Goodfellow, Melynda. “A Life Lost.” 3 Aug. 2009. Composition and Language I, Art Institute of Pittsburgh, student paper.

Harding, Callie. “The Life of a Choir Director’s Child.” 3 Aug. 2009. Composi tion and Language I, Art Institute of Pittsburgh, student paper.

Murray, Donald M. A Writer Teaches Writing . Rev. 2nd ed. Cengage, 2003.

Pagnucci, Gian. Living the Narrative Life: Stories as a Tool for Meaning Making. Heinemann, 2004.

Pipher, Mary. Writing to Change the World . Riverhead Books, 2006.

the broader context in which communication is taking place

The Muse: Misunderstandings and Their Remedies Copyright © by Marjorie Stewart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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What Is a Personal Essay (Personal Statement)?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

  • An Introduction to Punctuation
  • Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
  • M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
  • B.A., English, State University of New York

A personal essay is a short work of autobiographical nonfiction characterized by a sense of intimacy and a conversational manner. Also called a personal statement . 

A type of creative nonfiction , the personal essay is "all over the map," according to Annie Dillard. "There's nothing you can't do with it. No subject matter is forbidden, no structure is prescribed. You get to make up your own form every time." ("To Fashion a Text," 1998) .

Examples of Personal Essays

  • An Apology for Idlers , by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • On Laziness , by Christopher Morley
  • Coney Island at Night, by James Huneker
  • New Year's Eve , by Charles Lamb
  • How It Feels to Be Colored Me , by Zora Neale Hurston
  • My Wood, by E.M. Forster
  • Two Ways of Seeing a River , by Mark Twain
  • What I Think and Feel at 25, by F. Scott Fitzgerald


  • The personal essay is one of the most common types of writing assignment--and not only in freshman composition courses. Many employers, as well as graduate and professional schools, will ask you to submit a personal essay (sometimes called a personal statement ) before even considering you for an interview. Being able to compose a coherent version of yourself in words is clearly an important skill.
  • What qualities does a personal essay reveal about you? Here are just a few:
  • Communication Skills How effective are your communication skills? Do you write clearly, concisely, and correctly? Note that many employers put communication skills at the top of the list of essential qualifications.
  • Critical Thinking Skills How fresh and imaginative are you in your thinking? Is your writing cluttered with cliches , or is it obvious that you have original ideas to contribute?
  • Maturity What specific lessons have you learned from experience, and are you ready to apply those lessons to the job or the academic program you're considering? Keep in mind that it's not enough to be able to recount a personal experience; you should be prepared to interpret it as well.
  • Self and Subject in Personal Essays "[W]here the familiar essay is characterized by its everyday subject matter, the personal essay is defined more by the personality of its writer, which takes precedence over the subject. On the other hand, the personal essayist does not place himself firmly in center stage, as does the autobiographical essayist; the autobiographical element of the personal essay is far less calculated..."
  • The Essayist's Persona "Personal essayists from Montaigne on have been fascinated with the changeableness and plasticity of the materials of human personality. Starting with self-description, they have realized they can never render all at once the entire complexity of a personality. So they have elected to follow an additive strategy, offering incomplete shards, one mask or persona after another: the eager, skeptical, amiable, tender, curmudgeonly, antic, somber. If 'we must remove the mask,' it is only to substitute another mask..."
  • The "Antigenre": An Alternative to Academic Prose "[T]he more personal essay offers an escape from the confines of academic prose . By using this antigenre form that in contemporary essays embodies multiple kinds of writing, many essayists in search of democracy find a freedom for expressing in their writings spontaneity, self-reflexivity, accessibility, and a rhetoric of sincerity."
  • Teaching the Personal Essay "Given the opportunity to speak their own authority as writers, given a turn in the conversation, students can claim their stories as primary source material and transform their experiences into evidence ..."
  • Essay Forms "Despite the anthologists' custom of presenting essays as 'models of organization ,' it is the loose structure or apparent shapelessness of the essay that is often stressed in standard definitions. . . . Samuel Johnson famously defined the essay as 'an irregular, indigested piece, not a regular and orderly performance.' And certainly, a number of essayists (Hazlitt and Emerson, for instance, after the fashion of Montaigne) are readily identifiable by the wayward or fragmentary nature of their explorations. Yet each of these writers observes certain distinctive organizing (or disorganizing) principles of his own, thus charting the ramble and shaping the form. As Jeanette Harris observes in Expressive Discourse , 'Even in the case of a personal essay , which may appear informal and loosely structured, the writer has crafted with care this very appearance of informality' (122).

Theresa Werner, "Personal Essay."  Encyclopedia of the Essay , ed. by Tracy Chevalier. Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997

E.B. White , Foreword to  Essays of E.B. White . Harper and Row, 1977

Cristina Kirklighter,  Traversing the Democratic Borders of the Essay . SUNY Press, 2002

Nancy Sommers, "Between the Drafts."  College Composition and Communication , February 1992

Richard F. Nordquist, "Voices of the Modern Essay." Dissertation University of Georgia, 1991

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What is a Personal Essay?

Are you wondering what is a personal essay? Discover more about personal essay, its examples and structures.

A personal essay is a short written work that lets a writer describe a personal experience or significant event based on their experiences or worldview. It is a short piece of creative nonfiction, and it’s often written in the first person.

Personal essays provide you with the chance to create a piece of writing about a life experience, personal accomplishment or worldview. They’re also a literary form of expression that many non-fiction writers use when considering an experience, idea or event.

It is not a memoir or academic essay requiring detailed citations. If you have ever applied for a job or college admission, this type of essay is necessary to help those making decisions about you.

In short, learning how to write one is a valuable skill for many different types of writers. Here is everything you need to know about writing your personal essay, with examples.

Examples of Personal Essays

What makes a strong personal essay, personal essay writing 101, choosing essay topics, examples of personal essayists, introduction, body paragraphs, 1. know your main points, 2. consider a universal truth, 3. grab reader’s attention, 4. establish a sequence of events, 5. write your personal truth, 6. summarize your essay, a final word on what is a personal essay, what is a personal statement essay, what is a personal essay for college.

What is a personal essay?

Some examples of personal essays include:

  • College essay. The college essay is typically written in high school as part of the college admissions process.
  • Personal statement . A personal statement may be part of a job application or resume.
  • Personal story. A personal story summarizes something that happened in the writer’s life, without the particular purpose of getting a job or getting into college.

A strong personal essay is one that grabs the reader’s attention, explains the main problem or challenge the writer faced and takes them to a turning point and conclusion. It is short, which means every word has a purpose. It uses compelling language to encourage the reader to keep reading. Typically it’s:

  • Entertaining
  • Inspirational

A strong personal essay also depends on choosing the right topic. While the overriding topic is the individual’s life, personal essayists must learn how to pull an event or topic from their life to write the essay on. Personal essay topics drive the writing and keep it focused on a particular point, which makes the essay strong and effective.

To write a personal essay, you will need to understand how to choose personal essay topics, the structure of a formal essay, and make your writing compelling. Reading and studying examples from other personal essay writers can also help.

A personal essay is not a biography. That’s because an essay is usually much shorter than a book or a memoir. Plus, and essayist focuses on a topic and not themselves. To write one, you will need to brainstorm specific topics from your life. Ideas may include:

  • An incident you view as a turning point in your life e.g. a birth, death, passage or turning point
  • How you learned from a mistake or error or personal set back.
  • The impact of someone specific , like a mentor or family member, who taught you an important lesson
  • How you made a major life improvement or change a personality trait that was causing negativity in your life
  • A pivotal moment in your life like a near death experience, addiction or crisis.

Anyone can write a personal essay, but some authors have been able to make a career out of it. 

Annie Dillard’s famous work “Total Eclipse” is an  example of a personal essay . In this short work, Dillard masterfully tells her experience of watching a total eclipse. From the very first word, she engages the reader with sensory-rich language.

David Sedaris  is another popular personal essayist. His collections, including Naked , Me Talk Pretty One Day , and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim all show his ability to take his personal life and weave it into engaging nonfiction writing .

Sedaris is an unusual essayist in that many of his essays start as journal entries. He writes several thousand words about what happened to him any given day. Then, he takes on of these anecdotes and edits and rewrites it until a personal essay takes shape. Finally, he performs his personal essay in person, on stage and on tour to gauge what parts readers respond to.

To read some other personal essay examples, I’d recommend checking out some of the personal essay compilations edited by Philip Lopate .

Structure of a Personal Essay

Personal essays follow a specific structure. They should include these elements:

Your introduction will help you grab the reader’s attention and provide an interesting tidbit bout yourself or your personal experience. This can be a fact or short story, but it should give the reader a reason to engage with your essay. Start with a strong sentence, an image or an inciting incident .

If you’re struggling with the introduction of a personal essay, leave this section until last as it’s easier to set up a piece, once you know what it’s about.

Most academic essays will have at least three paragraphs, but you can have more or less depending on the main topic of your essay. Literary personal essays can span thousands of words or dozens of pages. Include descriptive details and go through the events in order to reach the defining moment of the story.

In the body paragraphs, make sure you keep the main point of your essay in mind. You aren’t just telling a story about your life. You are using the essay to make a specific point. Take the reader along a journey so that you can tell your story and present an argument of some sort.

Finish your essay with a memorable conclusion that calls back to the introduction. This should summarize what you have written about, bring closure for the reader and give you the chance to reflect on what the life event taught you. A good personal essay conclusion leaves a reader wanting more or encourage them to reconsider their worldview.

Tips for Writing a Personal Narrative Essay

When writing a personal essay, these tips will help you stay on track.

Before you start writing, know what your main points will be. Structure an outline that determines what each part of your essay structure will talk about. This will drive your writing.

Your main points may simply be the order of events, or they may be more specific facts that drive the details of your story. Choose the main points before you start writing. That said, if you’re writing a literary personal essay, you can always explore these main points through free writing .

Is there a universal truth you wish to convey with your essay? For example, you may want the reader to come away feeling as though they can do anything if they work hard and push through obstacles, or you may want to explore the impact that one person can make on another’s life.

If your essay has a universal truth, state it in the introduction and use it as you plan your outline. Keep this truth in mind as you write, ensuring that every sentence continues that truth. 

The reader doesn’t have to agree with your universal truth, but it should still inform the central argument of your essay. When in doubt, write this truth as if you’re speaking or writing a letter to a good friend.

Effective personal essays grab a reader’s attention from the first sentence and keep it through the conclusion. Use words that appeal to the senses to craft your writing, but avoid dipping into cliches or overly flowery language, which can detract from your meaning.

You can grab the reader’s attention with an interesting anecdote, common quote or shocking statistic in your introduction. Then pull from that attention grabber to naturally draw the reader into your essay.

If you need help, check out our self-editing checklist .

Because personal essays discuss something that happened to you, you will need to have a clear sequence of events. This will usually be the order that you saw the events happening, but a different order may make sense depending on your writing goal .

No matter what order or sequence you choose, stay consistent. If you’re a new essayist, going out of order may confuse the reader, so keep things in order through your writing. More experienced writers and essayists regularly play around with narrative structure and time to keep things interesting for the reader.

Don’t embellish your story to make it larger than life. Pull meaning from the events that happened, and stay true to those while writing your essay. That said, you can focus on a single detail or event and magnify it for the reader.

The key to writing a successful personal essay is taking an event that may seem trivial and transforming it into an essay that keeps the reader engaged. Embellishing the truth is not necessary if you are using your writing skills well.

Good personal essay end with strong conclusions. If it’s an academic essay, summarize the lesson learned and your overall journey.

In the conclusion, summarize your thesis statement or main idea and your overall essay points. Bring the reader to a satisfying conclusion. It’s sometimes helpful to callback to an image, metaphor or a moment from the introduction. Again, it’s easier to do this if you write the conclusion and introduction last.

Literary essayists sometimes like to end an essay by leaving the reader a point, image, scene or piece of dialogue to ponder.

A personal essay showcases your writing skills to readers, editors, academics and interviewers. It takes the reader on a journey that is personal to you because it is your journey. It’s a popular form of literary expression for many non-fiction writers, across genres. And confessional personal essays are increasingly popular online too.

The personal essay is often an important part of both college admittance and job selection. It demonstrates your abilities with the written word and reveals who you are as a person, which is why it’s a vital skill. Learn how to write a personal esay well, and you will be ready for whatever the future holds.

Need help? Check out our guide to the best essay checkers .

FAQs About What Is a Personal Essay

A personal statement essay is a type of personal essay used to introduce yourself to people who are making a decision, such as potential employers or a college selection committee. It contains many of the same features as a resume, introducing the reader to who you are and what your accomplishments are. 

A personal essay for college is what an admissions team or selection committee looks at to determine if they will accept a student into a program. It should include academic achievements and some career goal information. 

meaning of personal experience essay

Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.

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College Admissions , College Essays


In addition to standardized test scores and transcripts, a personal statement or essay is a required part of many college applications. The personal statement can be one of the most stressful parts of the application process because it's the most open ended.

In this guide, I'll answer the question, "What is a personal statement?" I'll talk through common college essay topics and what makes for an effective personal statement.

College Essay Glossary

Even the terminology can be confusing if you aren't familiar with it, so let's start by defining some terms:

Personal statement —an essay you write to show a college admissions committee who you are and why you deserve to be admitted to their school. It's worth noting that, unlike "college essay," this term is used for application essays for graduate school as well.

College essay —basically the same as a personal statement (I'll be using the terms interchangeably).

Essay prompt —a question or statement that your college essay is meant to respond to.

Supplemental essay —an extra school or program-specific essay beyond the basic personal statement.

Many colleges ask for only one essay. However, some schools do ask you to respond to multiple prompts or to provide supplemental essays in addition to a primary personal statement.

Either way, don't let it stress you out! This guide will cover everything you need to know about the different types of college essays and get you started thinking about how to write a great one:

  • Why colleges ask for an essay
  • What kinds of essay questions you'll see
  • What sets great essays apart
  • Tips for writing your own essay

Why Do Colleges Ask For an Essay?

There are a couple of reasons that colleges ask applicants to submit an essay, but the basic idea is that it gives them more information about you, especially who you are beyond grades and test scores.

#1: Insight Into Your Personality

The most important role of the essay is to give admissions committees a sense of your personality and what kind of addition you'd be to their school's community . Are you inquisitive? Ambitious? Caring? These kinds of qualities will have a profound impact on your college experience, but they're hard to determine based on a high school transcript.

Basically, the essay contextualizes your application and shows what kind of person you are outside of your grades and test scores . Imagine two students, Jane and Tim: they both have 3.5 GPAs and 1200s on the SAT. Jane lives in Colorado and is the captain of her track team; Tim lives in Vermont and regularly contributes to the school paper. They both want to be doctors, and they both volunteer at the local hospital.

As similar as Jane and Tim seem on paper, in reality, they're actually quite different, and their unique perspectives come through in their essays. Jane writes about how looking into her family history for a school project made her realize how the discovery of modern medical treatments like antibiotics and vaccines had changed the world and drove her to pursue a career as a medical researcher. Tim, meanwhile, recounts a story about how a kind doctor helped him overcome his fear of needles, an interaction that reminded him of the value of empathy and inspired him to become a family practitioner. These two students may seem outwardly similar but their motivations and personalities are very different.

Without an essay, your application is essentially a series of numbers: a GPA, SAT scores, the number of hours spent preparing for quiz bowl competitions. The personal statement is your chance to stand out as an individual.

#2: Evidence of Writing Skills

A secondary purpose of the essay is to serve as a writing sample and help colleges see that you have the skills needed to succeed in college classes. The personal statement is your best chance to show off your writing , so take the time to craft a piece you're really proud of.

That said, don't panic if you aren't a strong writer. Admissions officers aren't expecting you to write like Joan Didion; they just want to see that you can express your ideas clearly.

No matter what, your essay should absolutely not include any errors or typos .

#3: Explanation of Extenuating Circumstances

For some students, the essay is also a chance to explain factors affecting their high school record. Did your grades drop sophomore year because you were dealing with a family emergency? Did you miss out on extracurriculars junior year because of an extended medical absence? Colleges want to know if you struggled with a serious issue that affected your high school record , so make sure to indicate any relevant circumstances on your application.

Keep in mind that in some cases there will be a separate section for you to address these types of issues, as well as any black marks on your record like expulsions or criminal charges.

#4: Your Reasons for Applying to the School

Many colleges ask you to write an essay or paragraph about why you're applying to their school specifically . In asking these questions, admissions officers are trying to determine if you're genuinely excited about the school and whether you're likely to attend if accepted .

I'll talk more about this type of essay below.

Want to write the perfect college application essay?   We can help.   Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will help you craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay to proudly submit to colleges.   Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now:

What Kind of Questions Do Colleges Ask?

Thankfully, applications don't simply say, "Please include an essay about yourself"; they include a question or prompt that you're asked to respond to . These prompts are generally pretty open-ended and can be approached in a lot of different ways .

Nonetheless, most questions fall into a few main categories. Let's go through each common type of prompt, with examples from the Common Application, the University of California application, and a few individual schools.

Prompt Type 1: Your Personal History

This sort of question asks you to write about a formative experience, important event, or key relationship from your life . Admissions officers want to understand what is important to you and how your background has shaped you as a person.

These questions are both common and tricky. The most common pit students fall into is trying to tell their entire life stories. It's better to focus in on a very specific point in time and explain why it was meaningful to you.

Common App 1

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.

Common App 5

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

University of California 2

Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

University of California 6

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

Prompt Type 2: Facing a Problem

A lot of prompts deal with how you solve problems, how you cope with failure, and how you respond to conflict. College can be difficult, both personally and academically, and admissions committees want to see that you're equipped to face those challenges .

The key to these types of questions is to identify a real problem, failure, or conflict ( not a success in disguise) and show how you adapted and grew from addressing the issue.

Common App 2

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?

Harvard University 7

The Harvard College Honor Code declares that we “hold honesty as the foundation of our community.” As you consider entering this community that is committed to honesty, please reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty.

Prompt Type 3: Diversity

Most colleges are pretty diverse, with students from a wide range of backgrounds. Essay questions about diversity are designed to help admissions committees understand how you interact with people who are different from you .

In addressing these prompts, you want to show that you're capable of engaging with new ideas and relating to people who may have different beliefs than you.

Common App 3

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Johns Hopkins University

Tell us about an aspect of your identity (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, religion, community) or a life experience that has shaped you as an individual and how that influenced what you’d like to pursue in college at Hopkins.  This can be a future goal or experience that is either [sic] academic, extracurricular, or social.

Duke University Optional 1

We believe a wide range of personal perspectives, beliefs, and lived experiences are essential to making Duke a vibrant and meaningful living and learning community. Feel free to share with us anything in this context that might help us better understand you and what you might bring to our community. 


Prompt Type 4: Your Future Goals

This type of prompt asks about what you want to do in the future: sometimes simply what you'd like to study, sometimes longer-term career goals. Colleges want to understand what you're interested in and how you plan to work towards your goals.

You'll mostly see these prompts if you're applying for a specialized program (like pre-med or engineering) or applying as a transfer student. Some schools also ask for supplementary essays along these lines. 

University of Southern California (Architecture)

Princeton Supplement 1

Prompt Type 5: Why This School

The most common style of supplemental essay is the "why us?" essay, although a few schools with their own application use this type of question as their main prompt. In these essays, you're meant to address the specific reasons you want to go to the school you're applying to .

Whatever you do, don't ever recycle these essays for more than one school.

Chapman University

There are thousands of universities and colleges. Why are you interested in attending Chapman?

Columbia University

Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia.

Rice University

Based upon your exploration of Rice University, what elements of the Rice experience appeal to you?

Princeton University

Princeton has a longstanding commitment to understanding our responsibility to society through service and civic engagement. How does your own story intersect with these ideals?

Prompt Type 6: Creative Prompts

More selective schools often have supplemental essays with stranger or more unique questions. University of Chicago is notorious for its weird prompts, but it's not the only school that will ask you to think outside the box in addressing its questions.

University of Chicago

“Vlog,” “Labradoodle,” and “Fauxmage.” Language is filled with portmanteaus. Create a new portmanteau and explain why those two things are a “patch” (perfect match).

University of Vermont

Established in Burlington, VT, Ben & Jerry’s is synonymous with both ice cream and social change. The “Save Our Swirled” flavor raises awareness of climate change, and “I Dough, I Dough” celebrates marriage equality. If you worked alongside Ben & Jerry, what charitable flavor would you develop and why?


What Makes a Strong Personal Statement?

OK , so you're clear on what a college essay is, but you're still not sure how to write a good one . To help you get started, I'm going to explain the main things admissions officers look for in students' essays: an engaging perspective, genuine moments, and lively writing .

I've touched on these ideas already, but here, I'll go into more depth about how the best essays stand out from the pack.

Showing Who You Are

A lot of students panic about finding a unique topic, and certainly writing about something unusual like a successful dating app you developed with your friends or your time working as a mall Santa can't hurt you. But what's really important isn't so much what you write about as how you write about it . You need to use your subject to show something deeper about yourself.

Look at the prompts above: you'll notice that they almost all ask you what you learned or how the experience affected you. Whatever topic you pick, you must be able to specifically address how or why it matters to you .

Say a student, Will, was writing about the mall Santa in response to Common App prompt number 2 (the one about failure): Will was a terrible mall Santa. He was way too skinny to be convincing and the kids would always step on his feet. He could easily write 600 very entertaining words describing this experience, but they wouldn't necessarily add up to an effective college essay.

To do that, he'll need to talk about his motivations and his feelings: why he took such a job in the first place and what he did (and didn't) get out of it. Maybe Will took the job because he needed to make some money to go on a school trip and it was the only one he could find. Despite his lack of enthusiasm for screaming children, he kept doing it because he knew if he persevered through the whole holiday season he would have enough money for his trip. Would you rather read "I failed at being a mall Santa" or "Failing as a mall Santa taught me how to persevere no matter what"? Admissions officers definitely prefer the latter.

Ultimately, the best topics are ones that allow you to explain something surprising about yourself .

Since the main point of the essay is to give schools a sense of who you are, you have to open up enough to let them see your personality . Writing a good college essay means being honest about your feelings and experiences even when they aren't entirely positive.

In this context, honesty doesn't mean going on at length about the time you broke into the local pool at night and nearly got arrested, but it does mean acknowledging when something was difficult or upsetting for you. Think about the mall Santa example above. The essay won't work unless the writer genuinely acknowledges that he was a bad Santa and explains why.

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Eloquent Writing

As I mentioned above, colleges want to know that you are a strong enough writer to survive in college classes . Can you express your ideas clearly and concisely? Can you employ specific details appropriately and avoid clichés and generalizations? These kinds of skills will serve you well in college (and in life!).

Nonetheless, admissions officers recognize that different students have different strengths. They aren't looking for a poetic magnum opus from someone who wants to be a math major. (Honestly, they aren't expecting a masterwork from anyone , but the basic point stands.) Focus on making sure that your thoughts and personality come through, and don't worry about using fancy vocabulary or complex rhetorical devices.

Above all, make sure that you have zero grammar or spelling errors . Typos indicate carelessness, which will hurt your cause with admissions officers.

Top Five Essay-Writing Tips

Now that you have a sense of what colleges are looking for, let's talk about how you can put this new knowledge into practice as you approach your own essay. Below, I've collected my five best tips from years as a college essay counselor.

#1: Start Early!

No matter how much you want to avoid writing your essay, don't leave it until the last minute . One of the most important parts of the essay writing process is editing, and editing takes a lot of time. You want to be able to put your draft in a drawer for a week and come back to it with fresh eyes. You don't want to be stuck with an essay you don't really like because you have to submit your application tomorrow.

You need plenty of time to experiment and rewrite, so I would recommend starting your essays at least two months before the application deadline . For most students, that means starting around Halloween, but if you're applying early, you'll need to get going closer to Labor Day.

Of course, it's even better to get a head start and begin your planning earlier. Many students like to work on their essays over the summer, when they have more free time, but you should keep in mind that each year's application isn't usually released until August or September. Essay questions often stay the same from year to year, however. If you are looking to get a jump on writing, you can try to confirm with the school (or the Common App) whether the essay questions will be the same as the previous year's.

#2: Pick a Topic You're Genuinely Excited About

One of the biggest mistakes students make is trying to write what they think the committee wants to hear. The truth is that there's no "right answer" when it comes to college essays . T he best topics aren't limited to specific categories like volunteer experiences or winning a tournament. Instead, they're topics that actually matter to the writer .

"OK," you're thinking, "but what does she mean by 'a topic that matters to you'? Because to be perfectly honest, right now, what really matters to me is that fall TV starts up this week, and I have a feeling I shouldn't write about that."

You're not wrong (although some great essays have been written about television ). A great topic isn't just something that you're excited about or that you talk to your friends about; it's something that has had a real, describable effect on your perspective .

This doesn't mean that you should overemphasize how something absolutely changed your life , especially if it really didn't. Instead, try to be as specific and honest as you can about how the experience affected you, what it taught you, or what you got out of it.

Let's go back to the TV idea. Sure, writing an essay about how excited you are for the new season of Stranger Things  probably isn't the quickest way to get yourself into college, but you could write a solid essay (in response to the first type of prompt) about how SpongeBob SquarePants was an integral part of your childhood. However, it's not enough to just explain how much you loved SpongeBob—you must also explain why and how watching the show every day after school affected your life. For example, maybe it was a ritual you shared with your brother, which showed you how even seemingly silly pieces of pop culture can bring people together. Dig beneath the surface to show who you are and how you see the world.

When you write about something you don't really care about, your writing will come out clichéd and uninteresting, and you'll likely struggle to motivate yourself. When you instead write about something that is genuinely important to you, you can make even the most ordinary experiences—learning to swim, eating a meal, or watching TV—engaging .


#3: Focus on Specifics

But how do you write an interesting essay? Focus.

Don't try to tell your entire life story or even the story of an entire weekend; 500–650 words may seem like a lot, but you'll reach that limit quickly if you try to pack every single thing that has happened to you into your essay. If, however, you just touch on a wide range of topics, you'll end up with an essay that reads more like a résumé.

Instead, narrow in on one specific event or idea, and talk about it in more depth . The narrower your topic, the better. For example, writing about your role as Mercutio in your school's production of Romeo and Juliet is too general, but writing about opening night, when everything went wrong, could be a great topic.

Whatever your topic, use details to help draw the reader in and express your unique perspective. But keep in mind that you don't have to include every detail of what you did or thought; stick to the important and illustrative ones.

#4: Use Your Own Voice

College essays aren't academic assignments; you don't need to be super formal. Instead, try to be yourself. The best writing sounds like a more eloquent version of the way you talk .

Focus on using clear, simple language that effectively explains a point or evokes a feeling. To do so, avoid the urge to use fancy-sounding synonyms when you don't really know what they mean. Contractions are fine; slang, generally, is not. Don't hesitate to write in the first person.

A final note: you don't need to be relentlessly positive. It's OK to acknowledge that sometimes things don't go how you want—just show how you grew from that.

#5: Be Ruthless

Many students want to call it a day after writing a first draft, but editing is a key part of writing a truly great essay. To be clear, editing doesn't mean just making a few minor wording tweaks and cleaning up typos; it means reading your essay carefully and objectively and thinking about how you could improve it .

Ask yourself questions as you read: is the progression of the essay clear? Do you make a lot of vague, sweeping statements that could be replaced with more interesting specifics? Do your sentences flow together nicely? Do you show something about yourself beyond the surface level?

You will have to delete and rewrite (potentially large) parts of your essay, and no matter how attached you feel to something you wrote, you might have to let it go . If you've ever heard the phrase "kill your darlings," know that it is 100% applicable to college essay writing.

At some point, you might even need to rewrite the whole essay. Even though it's annoying, starting over is sometimes the best way to get an essay that you're really proud of.


What's Next?

Make sure to check out our other posts on college essays , including our step-by-step guide to how to write your college essay , our analysis of the Common App Prompts , and our collection of example essays .

If you're in need of guidance on other parts of the application process , take a look at our guides to choosing the right college for you , writing about extracurriculars , deciding to double major , and requesting teacher recommendations .

Last but not least, if you're planning on taking the SAT one last time , check out our ultimate guide to studying for the SAT and make sure you're as prepared as possible.

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

Alex is an experienced tutor and writer. Over the past five years, she has worked with almost a hundred students and written about pop culture for a wide range of publications. She graduated with honors from University of Chicago, receiving a BA in English and Anthropology, and then went on to earn an MA at NYU in Cultural Reporting and Criticism. In high school, she was a National Merit Scholar, took 12 AP tests and scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and ACT.

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meaning of personal experience essay

10 Personal Statement Essay Examples That Worked

What’s covered:, what is a personal statement.

  • Essay 1: Summer Program
  • Essay 2: Being Bangladeshi-American
  • Essay 3: Why Medicine
  • Essay 4: Love of Writing
  • Essay 5: Starting a Fire
  • Essay 6: Dedicating a Track
  • Essay 7: Body Image and Eating Disorders
  • Essay 8: Becoming a Coach
  • Essay 9: Eritrea
  • Essay 10: Journaling
  • Is Your Personal Statement Strong Enough?

Your personal statement is any essay that you must write for your main application, such as the Common App Essay , University of California Essays , or Coalition Application Essay . This type of essay focuses on your unique experiences, ideas, or beliefs that may not be discussed throughout the rest of your application. This essay should be an opportunity for the admissions officers to get to know you better and give them a glimpse into who you really are.

In this post, we will share 10 different personal statements that were all written by real students. We will also provide commentary on what each essay did well and where there is room for improvement, so you can make your personal statement as strong as possible!

Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 

Personal Statement Examples

Essay example #1: exchange program.

The twisting roads, ornate mosaics, and fragrant scent of freshly ground spices had been so foreign at first. Now in my fifth week of the SNYI-L summer exchange program in Morocco, I felt more comfortable in the city. With a bag full of pastries from the market, I navigated to a bus stop, paid the fare, and began the trip back to my host family’s house. It was hard to believe that only a few years earlier my mom was worried about letting me travel around my home city on my own, let alone a place that I had only lived in for a few weeks. While I had been on a journey towards self-sufficiency and independence for a few years now, it was Morocco that pushed me to become the confident, self-reflective person that I am today.

As a child, my parents pressured me to achieve perfect grades, master my swim strokes, and discover interesting hobbies like playing the oboe and learning to pick locks. I felt compelled to live my life according to their wishes. Of course, this pressure was not a wholly negative factor in my life –– you might even call it support. However, the constant presence of my parents’ hopes for me overcame my own sense of desire and led me to become quite dependent on them. I pushed myself to get straight A’s, complied with years of oboe lessons, and dutifully attended hours of swim practice after school. Despite all these achievements, I felt like I had no sense of self beyond my drive for success. I had always been expected to succeed on the path they had defined. However, this path was interrupted seven years after my parents’ divorce when my dad moved across the country to Oregon.

I missed my dad’s close presence, but I loved my new sense of freedom. My parents’ separation allowed me the space to explore my own strengths and interests as each of them became individually busier. As early as middle school, I was riding the light rail train by myself, reading maps to get myself home, and applying to special academic programs without urging from my parents. Even as I took more initiatives on my own, my parents both continued to see me as somewhat immature. All of that changed three years ago, when I applied and was accepted to the SNYI-L summer exchange program in Morocco. I would be studying Arabic and learning my way around the city of Marrakesh. Although I think my parents were a little surprised when I told them my news, the addition of a fully-funded scholarship convinced them to let me go.

I lived with a host family in Marrakesh and learned that they, too, had high expectations for me. I didn’t know a word of Arabic, and although my host parents and one brother spoke good English, they knew I was there to learn. If I messed up, they patiently corrected me but refused to let me fall into the easy pattern of speaking English just as I did at home. Just as I had when I was younger, I felt pressured and stressed about meeting their expectations. However, one day, as I strolled through the bustling market square after successfully bargaining with one of the street vendors, I realized my mistake. My host family wasn’t being unfair by making me fumble through Arabic. I had applied for this trip, and I had committed to the intensive language study. My host family’s rules about speaking Arabic at home had not been to fulfill their expectations for me, but to help me fulfill my expectations for myself. Similarly, the pressure my parents had put on me as a child had come out of love and their hopes for me, not out of a desire to crush my individuality.

As my bus drove through the still-bustling market square and past the medieval Ben-Youssef madrasa, I realized that becoming independent was a process, not an event. I thought that my parents’ separation when I was ten had been the one experience that would transform me into a self-motivated and autonomous person. It did, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t still have room to grow. Now, although I am even more self-sufficient than I was three years ago, I try to approach every experience with the expectation that it will change me. It’s still difficult, but I understand that just because growth can be uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not important.

What the Essay Did Well

This is a nice essay because it delves into particular character trait of the student and how it has been shaped and matured over time. Although it doesn’t focus the essay around a specific anecdote, the essay is still successful because it is centered around this student’s independence. This is a nice approach for a personal statement: highlight a particular trait of yours and explore how it has grown with you.

The ideas in this essay are universal to growing up—living up to parents’ expectations, yearning for freedom, and coming to terms with reality—but it feels unique to the student because of the inclusion of details specific to them. Including their oboe lessons, the experience of riding the light rail by themselves, and the negotiations with a street vendor helps show the reader what these common tropes of growing up looked like for them personally. 

Another strength of the essay is the level of self-reflection included throughout the piece. Since there is no central anecdote tying everything together, an essay about a character trait is only successful when you deeply reflect on how you felt, where you made mistakes, and how that trait impacts your life. The author includes reflection in sentences like “ I felt like I had no sense of self beyond my drive for success, ” and “ I understand that just because growth can be uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not important. ” These sentences help us see how the student was impacted and what their point of view is.

What Could Be Improved

The largest change this essay would benefit from is to show not tell. The platitude you have heard a million times no doubt, but for good reason. This essay heavily relies on telling the reader what occurred, making us less engaged as the entire reading experience feels more passive. If the student had shown us what happens though, it keeps the reader tied to the action and makes them feel like they are there with the student, making it much more enjoyable to read. 

For example, they tell us about the pressure to succeed their parents placed on them: “ I pushed myself to get straight A’s, complied with years of oboe lessons, and dutifully attended hours of swim practice after school.”  They could have shown us what that pressure looked like with a sentence like this: “ My stomach turned somersaults as my rattling knee thumped against the desk before every test, scared to get anything less than a 95. For five years the painful squawk of the oboe only reminded me of my parents’ claps and whistles at my concerts. I mastered the butterfly, backstroke, and freestyle, fighting against the anchor of their expectations threatening to pull me down.”

If the student had gone through their essay and applied this exercise of bringing more detail and colorful language to sentences that tell the reader what happened, the essay would be really great. 

Table of Contents

Essay Example #2: Being Bangladeshi-American

Life before was good: verdant forests, sumptuous curries, and a devoted family.

Then, my family abandoned our comfortable life in Bangladesh for a chance at the American dream in Los Angeles. Within our first year, my father was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He lost his battle three weeks before my sixth birthday. Facing a new country without the steady presence of my father, we were vulnerable — prisoners of hardship in the land of the free. We resettled in the Bronx, in my uncle’s renovated basement. It was meant to be our refuge, but I felt more displaced than ever. Gone were the high-rise condos of West L.A.; instead, government projects towered over the neighborhood. Pedestrians no longer smiled and greeted me; the atmosphere was hostile, even toxic. Schoolkids were quick to pick on those they saw as weak or foreign, hurling harsh words I’d never heard before.

Meanwhile, my family began integrating into the local Bangladeshi community. I struggled to understand those who shared my heritage. Bangladeshi mothers stayed home while fathers drove cabs and sold fruit by the roadside — painful societal positions. Riding on crosstown buses or walking home from school, I began to internalize these disparities. During my fleeting encounters with affluent Upper East Siders, I saw kids my age with nannies, parents who wore suits to work, and luxurious apartments with spectacular views. Most took cabs to their destinations: cabs that Bangladeshis drove. I watched the mundane moments of their lives with longing, aching to plant myself in their shoes. Shame prickled down my spine. I distanced myself from my heritage, rejecting the traditional panjabis worn on Eid and refusing the torkari we ate for dinner every day. 

As I grappled with my relationship with the Bangladeshi community, I turned my attention to helping my Bronx community by pursuing an internship with Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda. I handled desk work and took calls, spending the bulk of my time actively listening to the hardships constituents faced — everything from a veteran stripped of his benefits to a grandmother unable to support her bedridden grandchild.

I’d never exposed myself to stories like these, and now I was the first to hear them. As an intern, I could only assist in what felt like the small ways — pointing out local job offerings, printing information on free ESL classes, reaching out to non-profits. But to a community facing an onslaught of intense struggles, I realized that something as small as these actions could have vast impacts. Seeing the immediate consequences of my actions inspired me. Throughout that summer, I internalized my community’s daily challenges in a new light. I began to stop seeing the prevalent underemployment and cramped living quarters less as sources of shame. Instead, I saw them as realities that had to be acknowledged, but could ultimately be remedied. I also realized the benefits of the Bangladeshi culture I had been so ashamed of. My Bangla language skills were an asset to the office, and my understanding of Bangladeshi etiquette allowed for smooth communication between office staff and its constituents. As I helped my neighbors navigate city services, I saw my heritage with pride — a perspective I never expected to have.

I can now appreciate the value of my unique culture and background, and of living with less. This perspective offers room for progress, community integration, and a future worth fighting for. My time with Assemblyman Sepulveda’s office taught me that I can be a change agent in enabling this progression. Far from being ashamed of my community, I want to someday return to local politics in the Bronx to continue helping others access the American Dream. I hope to help my community appreciate the opportunity to make progress together. By embracing reality, I learned to live it. Along the way, I discovered one thing: life is good, but we can make it better.

This student’s passion for social justice and civic duty shines through in this essay because of how honest it is. Sharing their personal experience with immigrating, moving around, being an outsider, and finding a community allows us to see the hardships this student has faced and builds empathy towards their situation. However, what really makes it strong is that they go beyond describing the difficulties they faced and explain the mental impact it had on them as a child: Shame prickled down my spine. I distanced myself from my heritage, rejecting the traditional panjabis worn on Eid and refusing the torkari we ate for dinner every day. 

The rejection of their culture presented at the beginning of the essay creates a nice juxtaposition with the student’s view in the latter half of the essay and helps demonstrate how they have matured. They use their experience interning as a way to delve into a change in their thought process about their culture and show how their passion for social justice began. Using this experience as a mechanism to explore their thoughts and feelings is an excellent example of how items that are included elsewhere on your application should be incorporated into your essay.

This essay prioritizes emotions and personal views over specific anecdotes. Although there are details and certain moments incorporated throughout to emphasize the author’s points, the main focus remains on the student and how they grapple with their culture and identity.  

One area for improvement is the conclusion. Although the forward-looking approach is a nice way to end an essay focused on social justice, it would be nice to include more details and imagery in the conclusion. How does the student want to help their community? What government position do they see themselves holding one day? 

A more impactful ending might look like the student walking into their office at the New York City Housing Authority in 15 years and looking at the plans to build a new development in the Bronx just blocks away from where the grew up that would provide quality housing to people in their Bangladeshi community. They would smile while thinking about how far they have come from that young kid who used to be ashamed of their culture. 

Essay Example #3: Why Medicine

I took my first trip to China to visit my cousin Anna in July of 2014. Distance had kept us apart, but when we were together, we fell into all of our old inside jokes and caught up on each other’s lives. Her sparkling personality and optimistic attitude always brought a smile to my face. This time, however, my heart broke when I saw the effects of her brain cancer; she had suffered from a stroke that paralyzed her left side. She was still herself in many ways, but I could see that the damage to her brain made things difficult for her. I stayed by her every day, providing the support she needed, whether assisting her with eating and drinking, reading to her, or just watching “Friends.” During my flight back home, sorrow and helplessness overwhelmed me. Would I ever see Anna again? Could I have done more to make Anna comfortable? I wished I could stay in China longer to care for her. As I deplaned, I wondered if I could transform my grief to help other children and teenagers in the US who suffered as Anna did.

The day after I got home, as jet lag dragged me awake a few minutes after midnight, I remembered hearing about the Family Reach Foundation (FRF) and its work with children going through treatments at the local hospital and their families. I began volunteering in the FRF’s Children’s Activity Room, where I play with children battling cancer. Volunteering has both made me appreciate my own health and also cherish the new relationships I build with the children and families. We play sports, make figures out of playdoh, and dress up. When they take on the roles of firefighters or fairies, we all get caught up in the game; for that time, they forget the sanitized, stark, impersonal walls of the pediatric oncology ward. Building close relationships with them and seeing them giggle and laugh is so rewarding — I love watching them grow and get better throughout their course of treatment.

Hearing from the parents about their children’s condition and seeing the children recover inspired me to consider medical research. To get started, I enrolled in a summer collegelevel course in Abnormal Psychology. There I worked with Catelyn, a rising college senior, on a data analysis project regarding Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Together, we examined the neurological etiology of DID by studying four fMRI and PET cases. I fell in love with gathering data and analyzing the results and was amazed by our final product: several stunning brain images showcasing the areas of hyper and hypoactivity in brains affected by DID. Desire quickly followed my amazement — I want to continue this project and study more brains. Their complexity, delicacy, and importance to every aspect of life fascinate me. Successfully completing this research project gave me a sense of hope; I know I am capable of participating in a large scale research project and potentially making a difference in someone else’s life through my research.

Anna’s diagnosis inspired me to begin volunteering at FRF; from there, I discovered my desire to help people further by contributing to medical research. As my research interest blossomed, I realized that it’s no coincidence that I want to study brains—after all, Anna suffered from brain cancer. Reflecting on these experiences this past year and a half, I see that everything I’ve done is connected. Sadly, a few months after I returned from China, Anna passed away. I am still sad, but as I run a toy truck across the floor and watch one of the little patients’ eyes light up, I imagine that she would be proud of my commitment to pursue medicine and study the brain.

This essay has a very strong emotional core that tugs at the heart strings and makes the reader feel invested. Writing about sickness can be difficult and doesn’t always belong in a personal statement, but in this case it works well because the focus is on how this student cared for her cousin and dealt with the grief and emotions surrounding her condition. Writing about the compassion she showed and the doubts and concerns that filled her mind keeps the focus on the author and her personality. 

This continues when she again discusses the activities she did with the kids at FRF and the personal reflection this experience allowed her to have. For example, she writes: Volunteering has both made me appreciate my own health and also cherish the new relationships I build with the children and families. We play sports, make figures out of playdoh, and dress up.

Concluding the essay with the sad story of her cousin’s passing brings the essay full circle and returns to the emotional heart of the piece to once again build a connection with the reader. However, it finishes on a hopeful note and demonstrates how this student has been able to turn a tragic experience into a source of lifelong inspiration. 

One thing this essay should be cognizant of is that personal statements should not read as summaries of your extracurricular resume. Although this essay doesn’t fully fall into that trap, it does describe two key extracurriculars the student participated in. However, the inclusion of such a strong emotional core running throughout the essay helps keep the focus on the student and her thoughts and feelings during these activities.

To avoid making this mistake, make sure you have a common thread running through your essay and the extracurriculars provide support to the story you are trying to tell, rather than crafting a story around your activities. And, as this essay does, make sure there is lots of personal reflection and feelings weaved throughout to focus attention to you rather than your extracurriculars. 

Essay Example #4: Love of Writing

“I want to be a writer.” This had been my answer to every youthful discussion with the adults in my life about what I would do when I grew up. As early as elementary school, I remember reading my writing pieces aloud to an audience at “Author of the Month” ceremonies. Bearing this goal in mind, and hoping to gain some valuable experience, I signed up for a journalism class during my freshman year. Despite my love for writing, I initially found myself uninterested in the subject and I struggled to enjoy the class. When I thought of writing, I imagined lyrical prose, profound poetry, and thrilling plot lines. Journalism required a laconic style and orderly structure, and I found my teacher’s assignments formulaic and dull. That class shook my confidence as a writer. I was uncertain if I should continue in it for the rest of my high school career.

Despite my misgivings, I decided that I couldn’t make a final decision on whether to quit journalism until I had some experience working for a paper outside of the classroom. The following year, I applied to be a staff reporter on our school newspaper. I hoped this would help me become more self-driven and creative, rather than merely writing articles that my teacher assigned. To my surprise, my time on staff was worlds away from what I experienced in the journalism class. Although I was unaccustomed to working in a fast-paced environment and initially found it burdensome to research and complete high-quality stories in a relatively short amount of time, I also found it exciting. I enjoyed learning more about topics and events on campus that I did not know much about; some of my stories that I covered in my first semester concerned a chess tournament, a food drive, and a Spanish immersion party. I relished in the freedom I had to explore and learn, and to write more independently than I could in a classroom.

Although I enjoyed many aspects of working for the paper immediately, reporting also pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I am a shy person, and speaking with people I did not know intimidated me. During my first interview, I met with the basketball coach to prepare for a story about the team’s winning streak. As I approached his office, I felt everything from my toes to my tongue freeze into a solid block, and I could hardly get out my opening questions. Fortunately, the coach was very kind and helped me through the conversation. Encouraged, I prepared for my next interview with more confidence. After a few weeks of practice, I even started to look forward to interviewing people on campus. That first journalism class may have bored me, but even if journalism in practice was challenging, it was anything but tedious.

Over the course of that year, I grew to love writing for our school newspaper. Reporting made me aware of my surroundings, and made me want to know more about current events on campus and in the town where I grew up. By interacting with people all over campus, I came to understand the breadth of individuals and communities that make up my high school. I felt far more connected to diverse parts of my school through my work as a journalist, and I realized that journalism gave me a window into seeing beyond my own experiences. The style of news writing may be different from what I used to think “writing” meant, but I learned that I can still derive exciting plots from events that may have gone unnoticed if not for my stories. I no longer struggle to approach others, and truly enjoy getting to know people and recognizing their accomplishments through my writing. Becoming a writer may be a difficult path, but it is as rewarding as I hoped when I was young.

This essay is clearly structured in a manner that makes it flow very nicely and contributes to its success. It starts with a quote to draw in the reader and show this student’s life-long passion for writing. Then it addresses the challenges of facing new, unfamiliar territory and how this student overcame it. Finally, it concludes by reflecting on this eye-opening experience and a nod to their younger self from the introduction. Having a well-thought out and sequential structure with clear transitions makes it extremely easy for the reader to follow along and take away the main idea.

Another positive aspect of the essay is the use of strong and expressive language. Sentences like “ When I thought of writing, I imagined lyrical prose, profound poetry, and thrilling plot lines ” stand out because of the intentional use of words like “lyrical”, “profound”, and “thrilling” to convey the student’s love of writing. The author also uses an active voice to capture the readers’ attention and keep us engaged. They rely on their language and diction to reveal details to the reader, for instance saying “ I felt everything from my toes to my tongue freeze into a solid block ” to describe feeling nervous.

This essay is already very strong, so there isn’t much that needs to be changed. One thing that could take the essay from great to outstanding would be to throw in more quotes, internal dialogue, and sensory descriptors.

It would be nice to see the nerves they felt interviewing the coach by including dialogue like “ Um…I want to interview you about…uh…”.  They could have shown their original distaste for journalism by narrating the thoughts running through their head. The fast-paced environment of their newspaper could have come to life with descriptions about the clacking of keyboards and the whirl of people running around laying out articles.

Essay Example #5: Starting a Fire

Was I no longer the beloved daughter of nature, whisperer of trees? Knee-high rubber boots, camouflage, bug spray—I wore the garb and perfume of a proud wild woman, yet there I was, hunched over the pathetic pile of stubborn sticks, utterly stumped, on the verge of tears. As a child, I had considered myself a kind of rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees, who could glide through tick-infested meadows and emerge Lyme-free. I knew the cracks of the earth like the scars on my own rough palms. Yet here I was, ten years later, incapable of performing the most fundamental outdoor task: I could not, for the life of me, start a fire. 

Furiously I rubbed the twigs together—rubbed and rubbed until shreds of skin flaked from my fingers. No smoke. The twigs were too young, too sticky-green; I tossed them away with a shower of curses, and began tearing through the underbrush in search of a more flammable collection. My efforts were fruitless. Livid, I bit a rejected twig, determined to prove that the forest had spurned me, offering only young, wet bones that would never burn. But the wood cracked like carrots between my teeth—old, brittle, and bitter. Roaring and nursing my aching palms, I retreated to the tent, where I sulked and awaited the jeers of my family. 

Rattling their empty worm cans and reeking of fat fish, my brother and cousins swaggered into the campsite. Immediately, they noticed the minor stick massacre by the fire pit and called to me, their deep voices already sharp with contempt. 

“Where’s the fire, Princess Clara?” they taunted. “Having some trouble?” They prodded me with the ends of the chewed branches and, with a few effortless scrapes of wood on rock, sparked a red and roaring flame. My face burned long after I left the fire pit. The camp stank of salmon and shame. 

In the tent, I pondered my failure. Was I so dainty? Was I that incapable? I thought of my hands, how calloused and capable they had been, how tender and smooth they had become. It had been years since I’d kneaded mud between my fingers; instead of scaling a white pine, I’d practiced scales on my piano, my hands softening into those of a musician—fleshy and sensitive. And I’d gotten glasses, having grown horrifically nearsighted; long nights of dim lighting and thick books had done this. I couldn’t remember the last time I had lain down on a hill, barefaced, and seen the stars without having to squint. Crawling along the edge of the tent, a spider confirmed my transformation—he disgusted me, and I felt an overwhelming urge to squash him. 

Yet, I realized I hadn’t really changed—I had only shifted perspective. I still eagerly explored new worlds, but through poems and prose rather than pastures and puddles. I’d grown to prefer the boom of a bass over that of a bullfrog, learned to coax a different kind of fire from wood, having developed a burn for writing rhymes and scrawling hypotheses. 

That night, I stayed up late with my journal and wrote about the spider I had decided not to kill. I had tolerated him just barely, only shrieking when he jumped—it helped to watch him decorate the corners of the tent with his delicate webs, knowing that he couldn’t start fires, either. When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.

This student is an excellent writer, which allows a simple story to be outstandingly compelling. The author articulates her points beautifully and creatively through her immense use of details and figurative language. Lines like “a rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees,” and “rubbed and rubbed until shreds of skin flaked from my fingers,” create vivid images that draw the reader in. 

The flowery and descriptive prose also contributes to the nice juxtaposition between the old Clara and the new Clara. The latter half of the essay contrasts elements of nature with music and writing to demonstrate how natural these interests are for her now. This sentence perfectly encapsulates the contrast she is trying to build: “It had been years since I’d kneaded mud between my fingers; instead of scaling a white pine, I’d practiced scales on my piano, my hands softening into those of a musician—fleshy and sensitive.”

In addition to being well-written, this essay is thematically cohesive. It begins with the simple introduction “Fire!” and ends with the following image: “When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.” This full-circle approach leaves readers satisfied and impressed.

There is very little this essay should change, however one thing to be cautious about is having an essay that is overly-descriptive. We know from the essay that this student likes to read and write, and depending on other elements of her application, it might make total sense to have such a flowery and ornate writing style. However, your personal statement needs to reflect your voice as well as your personality. If you would never use language like this in conversation or your writing, don’t put it in your personal statement. Make sure there is a balance between eloquence and your personal voice.

Essay Example #6: Dedicating a Track

“Getting beat is one thing – it’s part of competing – but I want no part in losing.” Coach Rob Stark’s motto never fails to remind me of his encouragement on early-morning bus rides to track meets around the state. I’ve always appreciated the phrase, but an experience last June helped me understand its more profound, universal meaning.

Stark, as we affectionately call him, has coached track at my high school for 25 years. His care, dedication, and emphasis on developing good character has left an enduring impact on me and hundreds of other students. Not only did he help me discover my talent and love for running, but he also taught me the importance of commitment and discipline and to approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running. When I learned a neighboring high school had dedicated their track to a longtime coach, I felt that Stark deserved similar honors.

Our school district’s board of education indicated they would only dedicate our track to Stark if I could demonstrate that he was extraordinary. I took charge and mobilized my teammates to distribute petitions, reach out to alumni, and compile statistics on the many team and individual champions Stark had coached over the years. We received astounding support, collecting almost 3,000 signatures and pages of endorsements from across the community. With help from my teammates, I presented this evidence to the board.

They didn’t bite. 

Most members argued that dedicating the track was a low priority. Knowing that we had to act quickly to convince them of its importance, I called a team meeting where we drafted a rebuttal for the next board meeting. To my surprise, they chose me to deliver it. I was far from the best public speaker in the group, and I felt nervous about going before the unsympathetic board again. However, at that second meeting, I discovered that I enjoy articulating and arguing for something that I’m passionate about.

Public speaking resembles a cross country race. Walking to the starting line, you have to trust your training and quell your last minute doubts. When the gun fires, you can’t think too hard about anything; your performance has to be instinctual, natural, even relaxed. At the next board meeting, the podium was my starting line. As I walked up to it, familiar butterflies fluttered in my stomach. Instead of the track stretching out in front of me, I faced the vast audience of teachers, board members, and my teammates. I felt my adrenaline build, and reassured myself: I’ve put in the work, my argument is powerful and sound. As the board president told me to introduce myself, I heard, “runners set” in the back of my mind. She finished speaking, and Bang! The brief silence was the gunshot for me to begin. 

The next few minutes blurred together, but when the dust settled, I knew from the board members’ expressions and the audience’s thunderous approval that I had run quite a race. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough; the board voted down our proposal. I was disappointed, but proud of myself, my team, and our collaboration off the track. We stood up for a cause we believed in, and I overcame my worries about being a leader. Although I discovered that changing the status quo through an elected body can be a painstakingly difficult process and requires perseverance, I learned that I enjoy the challenges this effort offers. Last month, one of the school board members joked that I had become a “regular” – I now often show up to meetings to advocate for a variety of causes, including better environmental practices in cafeterias and safer equipment for athletes.

Just as Stark taught me, I worked passionately to achieve my goal. I may have been beaten when I appealed to the board, but I certainly didn’t lose, and that would have made Stark proud.

This essay effectively conveys this student’s compassion for others, initiative, and determination—all great qualities to exemplify in a personal statement!

Although they rely on telling us a lot of what happened up until the board meeting, the use of running a race (their passion) as a metaphor for public speaking provides a lot of insight into the fear that this student overcame to work towards something bigger than themself. Comparing a podium to the starting line, the audience to the track, and silence to the gunshot is a nice way of demonstrating this student’s passion for cross country running without making that the focus of the story.

The essay does a nice job of coming full circle at the end by explaining what the quote from the beginning meant to them after this experience. Without explicitly saying “ I now know that what Stark actually meant is…” they rely on the strength of their argument above to make it obvious to the reader what it means to get beat but not lose. 

One of the biggest areas of improvement in the intro, however, is how the essay tells us Stark’s impact rather than showing us: His care, dedication, and emphasis on developing good character has left an enduring impact on me and hundreds of other students. Not only did he help me discover my talent and love for running, but he also taught me the importance of commitment and discipline and to approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running.

The writer could’ve helped us feel a stronger emotional connection to Stark if they had included examples of Stark’s qualities, rather than explicitly stating them. For example, they could’ve written something like: Stark was the kind of person who would give you gas money if you told him your parents couldn’t afford to pick you up from practice. And he actually did that—several times. At track meets, alumni regularly would come talk to him and tell him how he’d changed their lives. Before Stark, I was ambivalent about running and was on the JV team, but his encouragement motivated me to run longer and harder and eventually make varsity. Because of him, I approach every endeavor with the passion and intensity that I bring to running.

Essay Example #7: Body Image and Eating Disorders

I press the “discover” button on my Instagram app, hoping to find enticing pictures to satisfy my boredom. Scrolling through, I see funny videos and mouth-watering pictures of food. However, one image stops me immediately. A fit teenage girl with a “perfect body” relaxes in a bikini on a beach. Beneath it, I see a slew of flattering comments. I shake with disapproval over the image’s unrealistic quality. However, part of me still wants to have a body like hers so that others will make similar comments to me.

I would like to resolve a silent issue that harms many teenagers and adults: negative self image and low self-esteem in a world where social media shapes how people view each other. When people see the façades others wear to create an “ideal” image, they can develop poor thought patterns rooted in negative self-talk. The constant comparisons to “perfect” others make people feel small. In this new digital age, it is hard to distinguish authentic from artificial representations.

When I was 11, I developed anorexia nervosa. Though I was already thin, I wanted to be skinny like the models that I saw on the magazine covers on the grocery store stands. Little did I know that those models probably also suffered from disorders, and that photoshop erased their flaws. I preferred being underweight to being healthy. No matter how little I ate or how thin I was, I always thought that I was too fat. I became obsessed with the number on the scale and would try to eat the least that I could without my parents urging me to take more. Fortunately, I stopped engaging in anorexic behaviors before middle school. However, my underlying mental habits did not change. The images that had provoked my disorder in the first place were still a constant presence in my life.

By age 15, I was in recovery from anorexia, but suffered from depression. While I used to only compare myself to models, the growth of social media meant I also compared myself to my friends and acquaintances. I felt left out when I saw my friends’ excitement about lake trips they had taken without me. As I scrolled past endless photos of my flawless, thin classmates with hundreds of likes and affirming comments, I felt my jealousy spiral. I wanted to be admired and loved by other people too. However, I felt that I could never be enough. I began to hate the way that I looked, and felt nothing in my life was good enough. I wanted to be called “perfect” and “body goals,” so I tried to only post at certain times of day to maximize my “likes.” When that didn’t work, I started to feel too anxious to post anything at all.  

Body image insecurities and social media comparisons affect thousands of people – men, women, children, and adults – every day. I am lucky – after a few months of my destructive social media habits, I came across a video that pointed out the illusory nature of social media; many Instagram posts only show off good things while people hide their flaws. I began going to therapy, and recovered from my depression. To address the problem of self-image and social media, we can all focus on what matters on the inside and not what is on the surface. As an effort to become healthy internally, I started a club at my school to promote clean eating and radiating beauty from within. It has helped me grow in my confidence, and today I’m not afraid to show others my struggles by sharing my experience with eating disorders. Someday, I hope to make this club a national organization to help teenagers and adults across the country. I support the idea of body positivity and embracing difference, not “perfection.” After all, how can we be ourselves if we all look the same?

This essay covers the difficult topics of eating disorders and mental health. If you’re thinking about covering similar topics in your essay, we recommend reading our post Should You Talk About Mental Health in College Essays?

The short answer is that, yes, you can talk about mental health, but it can be risky. If you do go that route, it’s important to focus on what you learned from the experience.

The strength of this essay is the student’s vulnerability, in excerpts such as this: I wanted to be admired and loved by other people too. However, I felt that I could never be enough. I began to hate the way that I looked, and felt nothing in my life was good enough. I wanted to be called “perfect” and “body goals,” so I tried to only post at certain times of day to maximize my “likes.”

The student goes on to share how they recovered from their depression through an eye-opening video and therapy sessions, and they’re now helping others find their self-worth as well. It’s great that this essay looks towards the future and shares the writer’s goals of making their club a national organization; we can see their ambition and compassion.

The main weakness of this essay is that it doesn’t focus enough on their recovery process, which is arguably the most important part. They could’ve told us more about the video they watched or the process of starting their club and the interactions they’ve had with other members. Especially when sharing such a vulnerable topic, there should be vulnerability in the recovery process too. That way, the reader can fully appreciate all that this student has overcome.

Essay Example #8: Becoming a Coach

”Advanced females ages 13 to 14 please proceed to staging with your coaches at this time.” Skittering around the room, eyes wide and pleading, I frantically explained my situation to nearby coaches. The seconds ticked away in my head; every polite refusal increased my desperation.

Despair weighed me down. I sank to my knees as a stream of competitors, coaches, and officials flowed around me. My dojang had no coach, and the tournament rules prohibited me from competing without one.

Although I wanted to remain strong, doubts began to cloud my mind. I could not help wondering: what was the point of perfecting my skills if I would never even compete? The other members of my team, who had found coaches minutes earlier, attempted to comfort me, but I barely heard their words. They couldn’t understand my despair at being left on the outside, and I never wanted them to understand.

Since my first lesson 12 years ago, the members of my dojang have become family. I have watched them grow up, finding my own happiness in theirs. Together, we have honed our kicks, blocks, and strikes. We have pushed one another to aim higher and become better martial artists. Although my dojang had searched for a reliable coach for years, we had not found one. When we attended competitions in the past, my teammates and I had always gotten lucky and found a sympathetic coach. Now, I knew this practice was unsustainable. It would devastate me to see the other members of my dojang in my situation, unable to compete and losing hope as a result. My dojang needed a coach, and I decided it was up to me to find one.

I first approached the adults in the dojang – both instructors and members’ parents. However, these attempts only reacquainted me with polite refusals. Everyone I asked told me they couldn’t devote multiple weekends per year to competitions. I soon realized that I would have become the coach myself.

At first, the inner workings of tournaments were a mystery to me. To prepare myself for success as a coach, I spent the next year as an official and took coaching classes on the side. I learned everything from motivational strategies to technical, behind-the-scenes components of Taekwondo competitions. Though I emerged with new knowledge and confidence in my capabilities, others did not share this faith.

Parents threw me disbelieving looks when they learned that their children’s coach was only a child herself. My self-confidence was my armor, deflecting their surly glances. Every armor is penetrable, however, and as the relentless barrage of doubts pounded my resilience, it began to wear down. I grew unsure of my own abilities.

Despite the attack, I refused to give up. When I saw the shining eyes of the youngest students preparing for their first competition, I knew I couldn’t let them down. To quit would be to set them up to be barred from competing like I was. The knowledge that I could solve my dojang’s longtime problem motivated me to overcome my apprehension.

Now that my dojang flourishes at competitions, the attacks on me have weakened, but not ended. I may never win the approval of every parent; at times, I am still tormented by doubts, but I find solace in the fact that members of my dojang now only worry about competing to the best of their abilities.

Now, as I arrive at a tournament with my students, I close my eyes and remember the past. I visualize the frantic search for a coach and the chaos amongst my teammates as we competed with one another to find coaches before the staging calls for our respective divisions. I open my eyes to the exact opposite scene. Lacking a coach hurt my ability to compete, but I am proud to know that no member of my dojang will have to face that problem again.

This essay begins with an in-the-moment narrative that really illustrates the chaos of looking for a coach last-minute. We feel the writer’s emotions, particularly her dejectedness, at not being able to compete. Starting an essay in media res  is a great way to capture the attention of your readers and build anticipation for what comes next.

Through this essay, we can see how gutsy and determined the student is in deciding to become a coach themselves. She shows us these characteristics through their actions, rather than explicitly telling us: To prepare myself for success as a coach, I spent the next year as an official and took coaching classes on the side.  Also, by discussing the opposition she faced and how it affected her, the student is open and vulnerable about the reality of the situation.

The essay comes full circle as the author recalls the frantic situations in seeking out a coach, but this is no longer a concern for them and their team. Overall, this essay is extremely effective in painting this student as mature, bold, and compassionate.

The biggest thing this essay needs to work on is showing not telling. Throughout the essay, the student tells us that she “emerged with new knowledge and confidence,” she “grew unsure of her own abilities,” and she “refused to give up”. What we really want to know is what this looks like.

Instead of saying she “emerged with new knowledge and confidence” she should have shared how she taught a new move to a fellow team-member without hesitation. Rather than telling us she “grew unsure of her own abilities” she should have shown what that looked like by including her internal dialogue and rhetorical questions that ran through her mind. She could have demonstrated what “refusing to give up” looks like by explaining how she kept learning coaching techniques on her own, turned to a mentor for advice, or devised a plan to win over the trust of parents. 

Essay Example #9: Eritrea

No one knows where Eritrea is.

On the first day of school, for the past nine years, I would pensively stand in front of a class, a teacher, a stranger  waiting for the inevitable question: Where are you from?

I smile politely, my dimples accentuating my ambiguous features. “Eritrea,” I answer promptly and proudly. But I  am always prepared. Before their expression can deepen into confusion, ready to ask “where is that,” I elaborate,  perhaps with a fleeting hint of exasperation, “East Africa, near Ethiopia.”

Sometimes, I single out the key-shaped hermit nation on a map, stunning teachers who have “never had a student  from there!” Grinning, I resist the urge to remark, “You didn’t even know it existed until two minutes ago!”

Eritrea is to the East of Ethiopia, its arid coastline clutches the lucrative Red Sea. Battle scars litter the ancient  streets – the colonial Italian architecture lathered with bullet holes, the mosques mangled with mortar shells.  Originally part of the world’s first Christian kingdom, Eritrea passed through the hands of colonial Italy, Britain, and  Ethiopia for over a century, until a bloody thirty year war of Independence liberated us.

But these are facts that anyone can know with a quick Google search. These are facts that I have memorised and compounded, first from my Grandmother and now from pristine books  borrowed from the library.

No historical narrative, however, can adequately capture what Eritrea is.  No one knows the aroma of bushels of potatoes, tomatoes, and garlic – still covered in dirt – that leads you to the open-air market. No one knows the poignant scent of spices, arranged in orange piles reminiscent of compacted  dunes.  No one knows how to haggle stubborn herders for sheep and roosters for Christmas celebrations as deliberately as my mother. No one can replicate the perfect balance of spices in dorho and tsebhi as well as my grandmother,  her gnarly hands stirring the pot with ancient precision (chastising my clumsy knife work with the potatoes).  It’s impossible to learn when the injera is ready – the exact moment you have to lift the lid of the mogogo. Do it too  early (or too late) and the flatbread becomes mangled and gross. It is a sixth sense passed through matriarchal  lineages.

There are no sources that catalogue the scent of incense that wafts through the sunlit porch on St. Michael’s; no  films that can capture the luminescence of hundreds of flaming bonfires that fluoresce the sidewalks on Kudus  Yohannes, as excited children chant Ge’ez proverbs whose origin has been lost to time.  You cannot learn the familiarity of walking beneath the towering Gothic figure of the Enda Mariam Cathedral, the  crowds undulating to the ringing of the archaic bells.  I have memorized the sound of the rains hounding the metal roof during kiremti , the heat of the sun pounding  against the Toyota’s window as we sped down towards Ghinda , the opulent brilliance of the stars twinkling in a  sky untainted by light pollution, the scent of warm rolls of bani wafting through the streets at precisely 6 o’clock each day…

I fill my flimsy sketchbook with pictures from my memory. My hand remembers the shapes of the hibiscus drifting  in the wind, the outline of my grandmother (affectionately nicknamed a’abaye ) leaning over the garden, the bizarre architecture of the Fiat Tagliero .  I dice the vegetables with movements handed down from generations. My nose remembers the scent of frying garlic, the sourness of the warm tayta , the sharpness of the mit’mt’a …

This knowledge is intrinsic.  “I am Eritrean,” I repeat. “I am proud.”  Within me is an encyclopedia of history, culture, and idealism.

Eritrea is the coffee made from scratch, the spices drying in the sun, the priests and nuns. Eritrea is wise, filled with ambition, and unseen potential.  Eritrea isn’t a place, it’s an identity.

This is an exceptional essay that provides a window into this student’s culture that really makes their love for their country and heritage leap off the page. The sheer level of details and sensory descriptors this student is able to fit in this space makes the essay stand out. From the smells, to the traditions, sounds, and sights, the author encapsulates all the glory of Eritrea for the reader. 

The vivid images this student is able to create for the reader, whether it is having the tedious conversation with every teacher or cooking in their grandmother’s kitchen, transports us into the story and makes us feel like we are there in the moment with the student. This is a prime example of an essay that shows , not tells.

Besides the amazing imagery, the use of shorter paragraphs also contributes to how engaging this essay is. Employing this tactic helps break up the text to make it more readable and it isolates ideas so they stick out more than if they were enveloped in a large paragraph.

Overall, this is a really strong essay that brings to life this student’s heritage through its use of vivid imagery. This essay exemplifies what it means to show not tell in your writing, and it is a great example of how you can write an intimate personal statement without making yourself the primary focus of your essay. 

There is very little this essay should improve upon, but one thing the student might consider would be to inject more personal reflection into their response. Although we can clearly take away their deep love and passion for their homeland and culture, the essay would be a bit more personal if they included the emotions and feelings they associate with the various aspects of Eritrea. For example, the way their heart swells with pride when their grandmother praises their ability to cook a flatbread or the feeling of serenity when they hear the bells ring out from the cathedral. Including personal details as well as sensory ones would create a wonderful balance of imagery and reflection.

Essay Example #10: Journaling

Flipping past dozens of colorful entries in my journal, I arrive at the final blank sheet. I press my pen lightly to the page, barely scratching its surface to create a series of loops stringing together into sentences. Emotions spill out, and with their release, I feel lightness in my chest. The stream of thoughts slows as I reach the bottom of the page, and I gently close the cover of the worn book: another journal finished.

I add the journal to the stack of eleven books on my nightstand. Struck by the bittersweet sensation of closing a chapter of my life, I grab the notebook at the bottom of the pile to reminisce.

“I want to make a flying mushen to fly in space and your in it” – October 2008

Pulling back the cover of my first Tinkerbell-themed diary, the prompt “My Hopes and Dreams” captures my attention. Though “machine” is misspelled in my scribbled response, I see the beginnings of my past obsession with outer space. At the age of five, I tore through novels about the solar system, experimented with rockets built from plastic straws, and rented Space Shuttle films from Blockbuster to satisfy my curiosities. While I chased down answers to questions as limitless as the universe, I fell in love with learning. Eight journals later, the same relentless curiosity brought me to an airplane descending on San Francisco Bay.

“I wish I had infinite sunsets” – July 2019

I reach for the charcoal notepad near the top of the pile and open to the first page: my flight to the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes. While I was excited to explore bioengineering, anxiety twisted in my stomach as I imagined my destination, unsure of whether I could overcome my shyness and connect with others.

With each new conversation, the sweat on my palms became less noticeable, and I met students from 23 different countries. Many of the moments where I challenged myself socially revolved around the third story deck of the Jerry house. A strange medley of English, Arabic, and Mandarin filled the summer air as my friends and I gathered there every evening, and dialogues at sunset soon became moments of bliss. In our conversations about cultural differences, the possibility of an afterlife, and the plausibility of far-fetched conspiracy theories, I learned to voice my opinion. As I was introduced to different viewpoints, these moments challenged my understanding of the world around me. In my final entries from California, I find excitement to learn from others and increased confidence, a tool that would later allow me to impact my community.

“The beauty in a tower of cans” – June 2020

Returning my gaze to the stack of journals, I stretch to take the floral-patterned book sitting on top. I flip through, eventually finding the beginnings of the organization I created during the outbreak of COVID-19. Since then, Door-to-Door Deliveries has woven its way through my entries and into reality, allowing me to aid high-risk populations through free grocery delivery.

With the confidence I gained the summer before, I took action when seeing others in need rather than letting my shyness hold me back. I reached out to local churches and senior centers to spread word of our services and interacted with customers through our website and social media pages. To further expand our impact, we held two food drives, and I mustered the courage to ask for donations door-to-door. In a tower of canned donations, I saw the value of reaching out to help others and realized my own potential to impact the world around me.

I delicately close the journal in my hands, smiling softly as the memories reappear, one after another. Reaching under my bed, I pull out a fresh notebook and open to its first sheet. I lightly press my pen to the page, “And so begins the next chapter…”

The structuring of this essay makes it easy and enjoyable to read. The student effectively organizes their various life experiences around their tower of journals, which centers the reader and makes the different stories easy to follow. Additionally, the student engages quotes from their journals—and unique formatting of the quotes—to signal that they are moving in time and show us which memory we should follow them to.

Thematically, the student uses the idea of shyness to connect the different memories they draw out of their journals. As the student describes their experiences overcoming shyness at the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes and Door-to-Door Deliveries, this essay can be read as an Overcoming Obstacles essay.

At the end of this essay, readers are fully convinced that this student is dedicated (they have committed to journaling every day), thoughtful (journaling is a thoughtful process and, in the essay, the student reflects thoughtfully on the past), and motivated (they flew across the country for a summer program and started a business). These are definitely qualities admissions officers are looking for in applicants!

Although this essay is already exceptionally strong as it’s written, the first journal entry feels out of place compared to the other two entries that discuss the author’s shyness and determination. It works well for the essay to have an entry from when the student was younger to add some humor (with misspelled words) and nostalgia, but if the student had either connected the quote they chose to the idea of overcoming a fear present in the other two anecdotes or if they had picked a different quote all together related to their shyness, it would have made the entire essay feel more cohesive.

Where to Get Your Personal Statement Edited

Do you want feedback on your personal statement? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

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How to Write a Stellar Extracurricular Activity College Essay

4 Tips for Writing a Diversity College Essay

How to Write the “Why This College” Essay

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Hey everyone! I'm working on my college applications, and part of it requires a personal background essay. I'm a little stuck, so if you guys could share some examples or tips, that'd be great! Please help me out, thanks!

Hello! It's understandable that writing a personal background essay can be challenging. Here are some tips to get you started and an example of how you might approach this essay:

1. Reflect on what makes your background unique. Consider your family's history, culture, traditions, values, and how these have shaped your experiences.

2. Delve into the details. Discuss specific experiences, anecdotes, or events that have had a significant impact on your life and highlight the lessons you've gained from your background.

3. Be authentic. Write from the heart and let your personality shine through. This essay is your opportunity to help the admissions officers get to know you beyond your stats and accomplishments.

4. Avoid clichés. Personal background essays are quite common, so if you're writing about a widely-covered topic (moving, learning a new language, etc.), try to find a unique angle or aspect that will set your essay apart.

Growing up in a multigenerational household, I've had the rare privilege of experiencing diverse perspectives on life from my grandparents, parents, and siblings. My grandparents, who emigrated from Vietnam, taught me the importance of staying true to our cultural heritage and maintaining strong connections with family. Daily rituals like preparing and enjoying traditional Vietnamese meals, participating in Lunar New Year celebrations, and listening to stories about my grandparents' journey to the United States helped me appreciate the strength and resilience of my ancestors.

However, this cultural pride was not always something I cherished. As a child, I was bullied for my Banh Khot and Banh Mi lunches, and I'd often ask my parents to pack more generic-looking sandwiches to avoid feeling like an outsider at school. It wasn't until my grandmother shared her own story of assimilation and how she strived to maintain her cultural identity in a new country that I realized the value of embracing my heritage. Inspired by her courage, I decided to educate my peers about Vietnamese traditions and founded a cultural exchange club at school. Together, we explored our heritages, organizing potlucks, cultural presentations, and language exchange sessions.

Through this experience, I've learned that embracing who I am and the unique background I come from has made me a stronger person. My personal background has taught me to be open to learning about other cultures, which I look forward to bringing to my future college community.

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CollegeVine’s Q&A seeks to offer informed perspectives on commonly asked admissions questions. Every answer is refined and validated by our team of admissions experts to ensure it resonates with trusted knowledge in the field.

Personal Experiences Essay Examples and Topics

Travel: personal experience, personal experience of the covid-19 pandemic, 10-year life plan essay.

  • Words: 1100

Describing a Person Who Influenced You: Personal Experience.

  • Words: 1037

Essay on My Values in Life

Personal birthday speech, practice makes perfect essay.

  • Words: 1087

Importance of Family in Society

  • Words: 1129

The Death of My Grandmother and Lessons Learnt

An event that had a significant influence on my life, a memorable visit to the nairobi national park, peer pressure: positive and negative effects, my first work experience and knowledge i gained.

  • Words: 1163

Exam Magic: Spells and Rituals

Grief and loss: personal experience.

  • Words: 1670

Dealing With the Death of a Grandfather

  • Words: 2141

Perseverance Is the Mother of Success in Learning

Importance of self-care: healthy eating, the impact of socialization on my life.

  • Words: 1076

Laughter: Personal Experience Example

  • Words: 1133

Personal Experience With the COVID-19 Pandemic

My inspiration for reading, a one-time life experience, space: the reflection of thoughts about space.

  • Words: 1380

Review of “On Going Home” by Joan Didion

  • Words: 1171

Death, Dying, and Bereavement: Reflection

  • Words: 1149

Life as a Human’s Struggle for Happiness

  • Words: 1134

Statement for Marriage and Family Therapist Applicant

Personal motto “learning, believing, and winning”, i do not believe in ghosts.

  • Words: 1900

Log Book for Internship With Merrill Lynch Bank

  • Words: 3904

Reading Competition: “Malcolm X” by Helfer and DuBurke

My own classroom management system.

  • Words: 1769

Gibb’s Reflective Cycle: COVID-19 Scenario

  • Words: 1851

The Development of Present Skills for the Future

  • Words: 1382

Individual Leadership Philosophy

Most influential people – my uncle jack, pressures in life: definition, illustration, and analysis, an important lesson i learned from my mother, personal philosophy of work and career, a workview and lifeview reflection, zookeeper intern: personal expirience, erikson’s theory of human development and its impact on my life, lobby sport bar and restaurant: internship experience.

  • Words: 1636

Personal Leadership Profile Analysis

  • Words: 2085

Learning to Ride. Personal Experiences

  • Words: 1268

Horizon Restaurant Experience

Balancing work, studying, classes, and social life, personal development plan: effective acculturation.

  • Words: 2476

Dream Job in Business and Retirement Scenario

  • Words: 1656

A Ride With a Police Officer

  • Words: 1103

Personal Problem Solving

Finance personal statement: personal experiences, reaction to attending alcoholics anonymous meeting, environmental autobiography: cities and career.

  • Words: 1177

The Example of Success in Life

The role of the profession in human life.

  • Words: 6630

What Makes Me Feel Alive? Personal Experience

Criminal justice internship report.

  • Words: 2227

Social Work Among the Aged

  • Words: 2084

Concepts of Lessons from My Life as a Bully

Chocolate cake and ice cream cake comparison, reflection of my trip experience to tilden park, personal conflict resolving skills.

  • Words: 3041

An Aesthetic Experience of Nature

  • Words: 1049

My Greatest Passion and How It Has Contributed to My Personal Growth

Death and dying from children’s viewpoint.

  • Words: 2487

The Exploration Dream: Personal Essay

Personal and professional development plan.

  • Words: 1033

My Ideal Career: Personal Dream

This i believe: happiness is a choice, my visit to the great rift valley, social identity and representation.

  • Words: 1098

The Importance of Perseverance and Self-Belief

The character who influenced me: abraham lincoln, ropes course: field trip experience, english as foreign language learning experience, efforts to raise money for charity.

  • Words: 1488

Personal Interests vs. Family Needs

Attitude towards death essay: life-span development, changing personality: is it possible or not, personal experience with persuasive writing.

  • Words: 1328

The Impact of Life Experiences on Development

  • Words: 1962

Successful and Unsuccessful Aging: My Grandmother’ Story

Yogic meditation practice in personal experience, social work values development during internship, college technology application, volunteering as extracurricular activity, failure and success in human life, discovering the unnecessary changes.

  • Words: 1169

Personal Social Work Practice Skills and Field Experience

Stay-home moms and full-time working mothers: indicators of happiness.

  • Words: 7847

Successes and Failures of the Strategic Plan

  • Words: 1653

Personal Experience and Impressions of Watching a Football Match

Statement of purpose on medical education, interviews comparison between with a child and with an elderly person.

  • Words: 1509

Successful and Unsuccessful Aging: My Grandfather’ Story

  • Words: 1187

Literacy Development in Personal Experience

Cats vs. dogs: are you a cat or a dog person, critical thinking in a personal decision, memorable moments of 2020 and their significance to me, “in pursuit of excellence”: self-improvement, how a book, healthy diet and exercise changed my life.

  • Words: 2241

Career Genogram Analysis

Leadership in teams: experience and reflection.

  • Words: 1104

New Year Resolutions and Objectives

Emotional resilience and quality of life assessment, life circumstances reasoning.

  • Words: 1313

My Leadership Achievements and Services to Our Community

Self-perception as a student: powerful or powerless, the view of the world, traumatic life events: reflective thinking.

  • Words: 3069

Experience With Death in Personal Life

Experience and resilience: connection.

  • Words: 1674

Learning to Love Through Classical Conditioning, Operant Conditioning and Cognitive-Social Learning

Lifestyle assessment: personal experiences.

  • Words: 2896

Most Satisfying Experience Related to Community Service

The importance of critical thinking at work, life experiences and changes in thinking of one student, life and its experiences. personal perception..

Defining Love: a Deep Dive into its Meaning and Significance

This essay about the multifaceted nature of love explores how it is interpreted and experienced through biological, philosophical, artistic, psychological, and cultural lenses. It describes love as a mix of emotions, behaviors, and beliefs essential for human connection and survival. By examining the diverse ways love influences individual behaviors and societal norms, the text illuminates its profound impact on personal development and the broader human experience.

How it works

Love defies simple definition; it is a rich tapestry woven from emotional threads that vary in intensity and color. It is a universally recognized yet deeply personal experience, influencing vast societal structures and individual emotional landscapes. This essay aims to unpack the essence of love, exploring its various meanings and the significant roles it plays across different contexts.

At its foundation, love is an amalgamation of emotions, attitudes, and actions characterized by affection, loyalty, respect, and care for another being. From a biological perspective, love serves as a fundamental mechanism for humans to form bonds and communities, enhancing survival and promoting the continuity of generations.

This evolutionary lens views love as a strategy for reproductive success and nurturing, ensuring the protection and development of offspring.

Philosophers have long debated love, considering it a vital component of ethical life and human purpose. For example, Plato elevated the concept of love in his dialogues, presenting it as a pursuit of ideal beauty and truth beyond mere physical attraction. Aristotle focused on the virtuous aspects of love seen in friendships where individuals desire good things for each other selflessly. Contemporary philosophers like Iris Murdoch regard love as an act of moral perception that allows one to see others more clearly and honestly, fostering a profound understanding and connection.

In the arts, love frequently emerges as a central theme, reflecting and shaping cultural attitudes towards relationships. Literature, film, and music explore the depths of love’s joy and anguish, its capacity to empower and to devastate. Shakespeare’s works, for instance, dissect the layers of love from youthful infatuation to the deep, enduring bonds of loyalty and companionship. Modern storytelling continues to explore these themes, reflecting current societal views and the timeless nature of love itself.

Psychologically, love is seen as critical to individual development and well-being. Theories such as attachment theory emphasize the importance of forming strong emotional bonds from early childhood, which dictate the nature of future relationships. Robert Sternberg’s triangular theory of love identifies three key elements—intimacy, passion, and commitment—that combine in various forms to create different types of relationships, from friendships to passionate, long-term commitments.

Cultural interpretations of love vary widely. In some societies, love is primarily viewed as a foundation for marriage and family, while in others, it is celebrated as a force that defies societal constraints. These cultural narratives shape how individuals express and experience love, influencing social norms and personal expectations.

Regardless of the perspective from which it is viewed, love profoundly affects human behavior and societal structures. It inspires acts of great kindness and can lead to profound despair. It fosters resilience and reveals vulnerabilities. Love not only enhances personal fulfillment and emotional health but also helps to define what it means to be human.

By examining love through various lenses—biological, philosophical, artistic, psychological, and cultural—we gain a deeper appreciation of this complex emotion and its impact on our lives. Love, in all its forms, shapes our identities, influences our societies, and molds our understanding of human connections.


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Press Blogs

Hp partners with google to bring project starline out of the lab and into the workplace.

By Alex Cho, President, Personal Systems, HP Inc.

May 13, 2024

Delivering the Next Generation of Communication Devices for Authentic Human Connections

With more than half of meaning and intent communicated through body language versus words alone, an immersive collaboration experience plays an important role in creating authentic human connections in hybrid environments.

Project Starline is a breakthrough communications technology by Google that offers a genuinely realistic meeting experience. Using advancements in AI, 3D imaging, and other technologies, Starline creates a unique, lifelike interaction that feels more like being together in the same room than conventional video calls.

We are excited to share that we’re partnering with Google to start commercializing the Starline experience in 2025, with a focus on connecting distributed teams and individuals in the workplace.

HP's expertise in computing, combined with our leadership in Poly audio and video technology, makes HP well-equipped to deliver the solution needed for this new and innovative experience. Our strong partnerships in unified communications, audiovisual technology, and the collaboration space, along with our global presence and salesforce, will help bring the unique Starline experience to more people worldwide.

We are proud to partner with Google to bring this technology to market, harnessing the power of AI to shape the future of collaboration. We look forward to sharing more details later this year.

Read Google’s blog post on the partnership here .

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  1. FREE 8+ Personal Essay Samples in PDF

    meaning of personal experience essay

  2. How to Write a Personal Experience Essay With Sample ... Doc Template

    meaning of personal experience essay

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  4. ⛔ Personal experience paragraph. Personal Experience Essay Examples

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  5. How to write about personal experiences in an essay. How do you write

    meaning of personal experience essay

  6. Writing a Personal Experience (300 Words)

    meaning of personal experience essay


  1. Myself paragraph| essay|descriptive paragraph|in English

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  3. an essay on a memorable day in my life 😍😍😯😯

  4. Does Everything Happen for a Reason? Finding Meaning in Life's Journey ✨#motivational #motivation

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  1. How to Write a Personal Experience Essay With Sample Papers

    Writing an essay about a personal experience or relationship can be a powerful way of both discovering the meaning of your own past and sharing that past with others. When you write about something in your past, you have two perspectives: Your perspective in the present. The perspective you had at the time the true event occurred.

  2. Personal Experience Essay Examples • Narrative Essay Samples

    An Unforgettable Experience in My Life. Essay grade: Excellent. 2 pages / 719 words. In this personal narrative essay sample explores the unforgettable day when the narrator's grandfather passed away. This event marked a poignant realization of life's unpredictability and the enduring impact of loss.

  3. Writing About Personal Experiences

    The Process of Writing About Personal Experiences. Here is a comprehensive guide outlining the steps for writing about personal experiences: 1. Preparation: Before starting the drafting process of your personal experience essay, consider immersing yourself in the art of narration by studying a well-crafted sample.

  4. How to Write a Narrative Essay

    In most cases, this is a story about a personal experience you had. This type of essay, along with the descriptive essay, allows you to get personal and creative, unlike most academic writing. Narrative essays test your ability to express your experiences in a creative and compelling way, and to follow an appropriate narrative structure.

  5. PDF Weaving Personal Experience into Academic Writings

    Using a personal story as a frame for your essay can be an effective way to draw your reader into your ideas and then to help them reinterpret those ideas in the end. Perhaps, like me, you're working in a retail job. ... Weaving Personal Experience into Academic Writing 165 WRITING SPACES 3 The first example, Callie Harding's "The Life of ...

  6. What About Me? Using Personal Experience in Academic Writing

    personal experience in coursework, meaning discussion posts or weekly . assignments. Doctoral studies are a whole other thing! Audio: All right, and I do want to start with a caveat that I'm specifically talking about personal experience in coursework, so discussion posts, or weekly assignments. Doctoral studies are a very different things and ...

  7. 4.13: Writing a Personal Essay

    Figure 1. Brainstorming the details of a personal experience can help you to write a more complete story with elements like vivid details, dialogue, and sufficient character development. Once you identify the event, you will write down what happened. Just brainstorm (also called freewriting). Focus on the actual event.

  8. 6.1: The Experience Essay

    An experience essay (usually termed a personal essay) is something that may be familiar to you already. Perhaps you might have done one in your prior education or in applying to colleges. There are a myriad of topics you can cover, as pretty much any experience (s) in your life are allowed, but you should make your choice wisely. Try to pick ...

  9. How To Write a Personal Essay in 8 Simple Steps (With Tips)

    A personal essay is a piece of writing where the author elaborates on an experience, event or realization from their past and how it left a lasting impression on who they are as an individual. ... (With Definition) Personal essay vs. personal statement In a personal essay, you have the opportunity to describe an experience that had a long-term ...

  10. How to Write a Personal Essay: 6 Tips for Writing Personal Essays

    Written by MasterClass. Last updated: Sep 9, 2021 • 3 min read. People write personal essays for a number of reasons. High school students write them for college admissions and writers use them to share personal stories with others. A personal narrative essay can enlighten and inspire an audience with information gained from real life ...

  11. Dealing with personal experience in essays?

    In order to effectively convey your thoughts and feelings in a personal experience essay, it's important to focus on elements like storytelling, vivid language, and reflection. Writing an engaging personal essay requires introspection and the ability to present the experience in an interesting and relatable manner. 1. Storytelling: Share your experience as a narrative with a clear beginning ...

  12. How to Write Your Personal Statement

    A personal statement is a short essay of around 500-1,000 words, in which you tell a compelling story about who you are, what drives you, and why you're applying. To write a successful personal statement for a graduate school application, don't just summarize your experience; instead, craft a focused narrative in your own voice. Aim to ...

  13. What Is a Personal Essay in Writing?

    At its heart, the personal essay is a piece of nonfiction writing that shares an interesting, thought-provoking, entertaining, and/or humorous story for readers that is drawn from the writer's personal experiences (even if it's second-hand information). Also called a narrative essay, the personal essay is different from the other essays ...

  14. Weaving Personal Experience into Academic Writing

    Marjorie Stewart's essay "Weaving Personal Experience into Academic Writing" comes from the book Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, Volume 3. Stewart uses the metaphor of weaving to demonstrate one way of using personal and narrative writing within academic essays. Rather than debate whether narrative is appropriate for academic writing ...

  15. Definition and Examples of a Personal Essay

    Observations . The personal essay is one of the most common types of writing assignment--and not only in freshman composition courses. Many employers, as well as graduate and professional schools, will ask you to submit a personal essay (sometimes called a personal statement) before even considering you for an interview.Being able to compose a coherent version of yourself in words is clearly ...

  16. What Is A Personal Essay?

    A personal essay is a short written work that lets a writer describe a personal experience or significant event based on their experiences or worldview. It is a short piece of creative nonfiction, and it's often written in the first person. Personal essays provide you with the chance to create a piece of writing about a life experience ...

  17. What Is a Personal Statement? Everything You Need to Know About the

    Personal statement —an essay you write to show a college admissions committee who you are and why you deserve to be admitted to their school. It's worth noting that, unlike "college essay," this term is used for application essays for graduate school as well. College essay —basically the same as a personal statement (I'll be using the terms ...

  18. 10 Personal Statement Essay Examples That Worked

    Personal Statement Examples. Essay 1: Summer Program. Essay 2: Being Bangladeshi-American. Essay 3: Why Medicine. Essay 4: Love of Writing. Essay 5: Starting a Fire. Essay 6: Dedicating a Track. Essay 7: Body Image and Eating Disorders. Essay 8: Becoming a Coach.

  19. How to Write a Personal Statement

    Insert a quote from a well-known person. Challenge the reader with a common misconception. Use an anecdote, which is a short story that can be true or imaginary. Credibility is crucial when writing a personal statement as part of your college application process. If you choose a statistic, quote, or misconception for your hook, make sure it ...

  20. Personal background essay examples

    This essay is your opportunity to help the admissions officers get to know you beyond your stats and accomplishments. 4. Avoid clichés. Personal background essays are quite common, so if you're writing about a widely-covered topic (moving, learning a new language, etc.), try to find a unique angle or aspect that will set your essay apart. Example:

  21. Free Personal Experiences Essay Examples & Topic Ideas

    Travel: Personal Experience. 4.8. I have had the luck of visiting better countries and I believe my travel experiences have taught me a lot about human life and helped me expand the way I see things. Pages: 2. Words: 717. We will write a custom essay on your topic. 809 writers online. Learn More.

  22. Defining Love: a Deep Dive into its Meaning and Significance

    Essay Example: Love defies simple definition; it is a rich tapestry woven from emotional threads that vary in intensity and color. It is a universally recognized yet deeply personal experience, influencing vast societal structures and individual emotional landscapes. This essay aims to unpack

  23. Harry and Meghan's Archewell charity found delinquent over unpaid fees

    LOS ANGELES — The charity founded by Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, has been found delinquent in California and cannot raise money because the state has determined Archewell Foundation has ...

  24. HP Partners With Google To Bring Project Starline out of the Lab and

    With more than half of meaning and intent communicated through body language versus words alone, an immersive collaboration experience plays an important role in creating authentic human connections in hybrid environments. Project Starline is a breakthrough communications technology by Google that offers a genuinely realistic meeting experience ...