How to Write a Personal Essay: Topics, Structure, & Examples

Even though a personal essay seems like something you might need to write only for your college application, people who graduated a while ago are asked to write it. Therefore, if you are a student, you might even want to save this article for later!

A personal essay is a first-person narrative that describes a writer’s life experience and its influence. You may think that writing such an essay is easy-peasy. There is so much freedom regarding the topic, isn’t it? However, soon enough, you realize that it’s more of a curse than a blessing. Custom-writing.org experts understand it’s super confusing as you don’t know where to start. But this simple yet comprehensive guide on how to write a personal essay is here to help you out!

❔ What Is a Personal Essay?

A personal essay is just what you think it is: a piece of writing that presents some experience from your perspective. It doesn’t need to be extraordinary, but it has to show how you changed thanks to the experience you got. Such an essay also creates a feeling of intimacy.

A typical personal essay consists of a 1-paragraph introduction, a 3-paragraph body, and a 1-paragraph conclusion.

Long story short, it is a first-person narrative that describes a writer’s life experience and its influence. This type of essay allows you to use any writing style you want and usually has an informal tone. It helps the reader to gain a connection with you.

There is a wide variety of topic options: you may want your writing to be inspiring or, on the contrary, warning so that others could avoid your mistakes. However, the most important thing is sticking to the general guidelines.

The most popular personal essay outline would consist of three parts:

  • Start with an introduction. It should include only one paragraph
  • Continue with the main body. It should be at least three paragraphs long
  • Write a conclusion. Don’t make it too long, one paragraph is enough

Let’s also note that typically you would write a personal essay as a part of the college application process. However, it’s not rare that this type of writing can help employers understand if the candidate meets the job requirements.

👀 Personal Essay Examples

To give you some inspiration, we included a list of excellent examples ranked as the most successful personal essays by The New York Times, The New Yorker, and America’s top universities.

🥇Nothing Extraordinary by Jeniffer KimA heart-breaking short story about parents’ love: a girl was ashamed of how scruffy her mom always looks, but it suddenly changed. She realized that her mother was sacrificing a lot to provide for her daughter, which made her seem tired and shabby.
🥇Lessons Learned by ZerubabelThis essay received terrific reviews from the Johns Hopkins University admissions committee. It reflects how committed he is to work hard every day and highlights his ambitions and skills. The writing is put in the form of a story about his family members.
🥇Fried Rice in One (Not So) Easy Step by JessIt’s another excellent example of a personal essay rated by the admissions committee. Such a simple thing as a cooking experience allowed the readers to see that Jess is not afraid of failure and loves trying something new.
🥇A Dark Side by James MarcusIt is a personal story revealing the author’s point of view on divorces and marriages. His story is so unique that it got distinguished by The New Yorker.

🚦 How Do You Start a Personal Essay?

The first and the most important thing you need to do when you are about to write a personal essay is to determine its purpose. When you know your audience, it becomes easier to find an appropriate topic for your writing. After that, you can draft an outline, which is the foundation of your future essay!

✔️Check the requirements Do that several times. Your complete writing depends on it! Personal essays for college admissions are different from the ones you would write for a job application. Moreover, some writers even use this format to share their stories with readers.
✔️Think about the lengthNext, think about how long your essay should be. Again, it would depend on its purpose. Now, you are free to pick the topic! There are a lot of techniques that can help you come up with some brilliant ideas, such as brainstorming and free writing.
✔️Think about the topicGenerally speaking, there are not many limitations on what you can write about. However, keep in mind that if your personal statement is intended for your potential employer, try to avoid topics that might harm your reputation. If your objective is getting a scholarship, don’t be afraid of asking your supervisor for help.

🙋 Personal Essay Topics

By now, you might have understood the idea of the personal statement. Your goal is to show off your personality from the good side. However, there is an endless amount of options on how to do it. The most popular way is to tell the story from the past. It can be either something you achieved or an obstacle you managed to overcome. Either way, it needs to highlight the lesson you learned.

Next, you can make your writing even more inspirational by revealing your future goals, showing that you have potential and determination. But remember to focus on things that the whole community can benefit from because just getting rich is a lame objective!

Last but not least, be yourself and use creativity! Show your potential employers and college administration how much you can contribute to their development. You should convince them that it can be a mutually beneficial experience.

Here, we prepared some of the best personal essay topics for you:

  1. How did the most significant loss of your life make you stronger?
  2. Who would you like to switch live with, and why?
  3. The time when you think you made the wrong choice.
  4. How would you spend a million dollars?
  5. Is there anything you have never shared with anyone?
  6. A special friend that influenced your life.
  7. One morning that has changed your life forever.
  8. The time when you had to deliver devastating news.
  9. A near-death experience and how it felt.
  10. Describe the longest minute of your life.
  11. Something you can’t resist and keep doing.
  12. A meaningful event that is hard to explain.
  13. Would you start a charity foundation if you could?
  14. The most precious gift you ever received.
  15. The wrong choice you never regret making.
  16. A secret place that gives you peace of mind.
  17. Something you’ve seen and wish you could forget.
  18. A hidden talent no one knows you have.
  19. A day when you felt like the unluckiest person in the world.
  20. The most beautiful thing you’ve seen.
  21. A skill you have that robots will never learn to do.
  22. What is the one thing you want to change about yourself?
  23. Where would you like to live?
  24. The most important discovery you made.
  25. What if you were a teacher?
  26. The most fantastic movie scene that changed the world.
  27. What would you like to change in schools?
  28. Describe something you love about yourself and why.
  29. Where do you see yourself in ten years?
  30. Time with your family that you cherish the most.
  31. The achievement you’re proud of.
  32. Describe the time when you learned something from a child.
  33. The words that made you hopeful again.
  34. Write about the time when you were at the bottom.
  35. A stranger that had an influence on you.
  36. What would you do if you could go back in time?
  37. Would you like to redo something in your life, would you?
  38. The superpower you wish you had.
  39. The person you would be grateful to at the end of your life.
  40. The time when you avoided danger.
  41. Family celebrations, and what do they mean to you?
  42. Write about the time when you saw your mother crying.
  43. Did you disappoint anyone?
  44. Is there anyone you are not fond of?
  45. A place that you try to keep away from.
  46. How did you overcome your fear?
  47. The most challenging choice you had to make.
  48. The time you felt like an outsider.
  49. When did you realize you’re not a child anymore?
  50. Why does your hobby interest you?

📑 Personal Essay about Yourself: Main Types

Personal Essays on Hobbies

Writing an essay on a hobby is not as easy as it seems. Take a look at any hobbies essay sample, and you will be likely to see a widespread thing: these essays can be boring, which is an easy way to get a low grade.

Below are some common problems with hobby essays (and their solutions).

❌ Problem✔️ Solution
The writer didn’t explain the hobby well enough for the reader to understand it.Try to determine if a random reader would understand your hobby. If not, include more detail. If your hobby is a rare one, you will need to have more information.
The reader does not see why you enjoy the hobby.The purpose of a hobby essay is not to describe the things you love to do with every detail. The task is to show yourself by explaining your interest. Most importantly, you should explain why you love your hobby. Do that emotionally.
Your hobby essay does not stand out from other papers.Focus on a unique hobby or a unique reason you became interested in a standard hobby. Perhaps your teacher has already read 15 essays about baseball. If you think the story of your love for your top hobby is generic, think of another personal essay topic to write about.

No matter what, make sure the focus is on you. When you are writing about a personal hobby, you should aim to make yourself the star by essentially telling your reader about yourself through an interest of yours.

Life-changing Experience Essays

The purpose of a life-changing experience essay is obvious: simply put, you need to tell the reader about a specific event that changed your life. Note that it also works for a closely related type of essay, the personal narrative essay.

Three essential elements should be clear to readers of any life-changing experience writing:

  1. The reader should understand the event — both what happened and how it made you feel at the time.
  2. The reader should understand what the event changed about you. It is best to tell the reader about your condition before the event and after it. However, this depends on the essay’s length.
  3. The reader should understand how you feel about the event now.

If you need personal experience essay ideas, focus on events that you can write about to meet the three above criteria. If your assignment is very free form, take a look at a list of prompts for personal writing.

Education Essays

As a student, you will be asked to write an education essay eventually. It is important to remember that personal writing is about setting yourself apart. Tell the reader what made your educational experience unique.

How can you make your educational essay stand out? First, go beyond generic stories of overcoming an academic weakness by avoiding essays that take the following form: “I was terrible at subject X, but through hard work, I became quite excellent at subject X!”

Instead, focus on an assignment or subject that captured your attention — the more unusual the situation, the better. Use storytelling to enhance your essay. The best education essays can be essays about life-changing education experiences; for example, many great educational stories focus on the teacher or class that changed the author’s life.

Biographies

Writing a short biography is easy. All you need to do is to use a very basic biography template. But first: remember that you need to keep the attention of your reader. Tell a good story about yourself! Learning how to write a biography is about learning how to tell a good story.

A Biography Template

A solid biography is a solid story. For this reason, the biography template is essentially the template of a well-crafted story, which is typically divided into three specific parts:

  • Establish the characters. In this case, these are people that play important roles in your life. For example, if your autobiographical essay includes family members, you need to describe them briefly before anything exciting happens.
  • Build tension. If you write about your family, you can describe a problem that exists there.
  • Describe a resolution. Not that it is not the same thing as a problem being solved. For example, when a loved one dies, there is no solution to that problem. Instead, you grieve and learn to live without that person in your life.

If your biography manages to achieve all three of these elements, you will indeed have one of the class’s strongest essays.

Personal Statements

The last type of personal writing is probably the most important. When faced with their first college application, most students go to the web to find a personal statement format.

If you learn from examples, the best thing to do is check out several strong personal statement examples. As mentioned in the second section, many universities post essays from accepted students. Or perhaps you should read a breakdown of portions of a personal statement. The point is, read what others have done for inspiration.

Sometimes colleges offer personal statement templates. However, they often use freeform personal statements to identify focused, articulate students. Thus, the top tip for these is to write a clear thesis statement. A thesis statement for an essay without a prompt should be so clear that it sounds like it addresses a writing prompt. When there is no prompt, this is the time you should specifically use the standard 5-paragraph essay. Your discipline will impress your readers, which is exactly what you want.

However, an open-ended essay prompt is sometimes just too much to handle in time, but that is alright. It happens to everyone, and our writing experts can help, luckily. You can work with one of their expert writers or editors to create the perfect personal essay.

🔗 References

Comments (2)

Penny Sadler
Penny Sadler

At 82, I am assuredly a ‘mature student.’ However, I wanted to thank you for being the most helpful resource I have discovered on ‘google’ to look at how I can consider writing an autobiography to perhaps leave my children.

Custom Writing
Custom Writing

Penny,
I’m happy you found the article useful!