An admissions officer can spot a good personal statement in 5 seconds. How does yours avoid the yawn? A well-written admissions essay gets inside the head of its reader. It invites and engages. It is the final touch of your application, the punctuation on your profile. And it is considered a crucial (if not defining) element in your admissions portfolio.

As we are all aware, a key component of writing is knowing your audience. I like to compare the situation of your audience, the admissions officer, in the following way. Imagine being in a gourmet chocolate shop stocked floor to ceiling with delectable morsels and only being able to select a very limited number of them. How do you choose? By picking the ones that stand out most to you. An outstanding admissions essay is just that: it stands out the most, is the chocolate of chocolates, or, to use another metaphor (unconventionally), the diamond among other diamonds.

Application essay writing is a very distinct form of writing. It demands a style that most applicants are not used to. A hybrid of expository and personal writing, the application essay is more akin to the genre of writing called creative nonfiction. This kind of essay is most successful when it involves both storytelling and analysis—when it appeals to both the intellect and imagination of your reader. It should make the reader feel and reflect. You want your reader to be your admissions cheerleader!

To write a successful essay, you must “show” as well as “tell” by providing vivid anecdotes your reader can enter into. And although the essay is your personal statement, it should not be so much about you as about your relation to your world, whatever that world may be. As I like to say, the admissions essay is not about the “I” but about the “eye.”

If you can write well and in a unique voice, tell good stories, cohesively outline your academic or professional path, narrate the relation between your academic or professional history and your desired future, and most of all, connect with your reader, your essay will most certainly get past the yawn and perhaps even make it to the water cooler conversation.

PS: For great insight into writing personal narrative, take a look at Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story and the introduction to The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present, edited by Phillip Lopate. It will be worth it!