“Describe a person who has influenced you” is the opening phrase of several personal statement prompts that go on to ask that you provide details of what that influence was. The major mistake made in these personal statement essays is that candidates make the essay about the individual and that individual’s achievements and character, which is all fine, but not if it is at the expense of detailing how that person has influenced you. The other mistake candidates make in response to this prompt is that they answer with the intuitive “first response,” which is usually a parent. And there is nothing wrong with offering a parent as the influential person – but only if in so doing, you can show that it was your parent who provided you with the abilities and interests that set you apart and can contribute to the target program.
As is the case with most personal statement essays, the success of your essay is determined before you begin writing – by what you decide to offer as content. In this essay there are many approaches to use – parents, siblings, teachers, coaches, friends, political leaders, celebrities – all of these categories can be tapped when it comes to the choice of who it was that influenced you.
The Trap to Avoid in Your Personal Statement Essays About “A Person Who Influenced You”
The trap to avoid is the trap of selecting a person without thinking through what you can offer as the influence. What is the strongest aspect of your candidacy? Your creativity? Your communication skills? Your technical background? Your professional background? The answer to this question – “What is the strongest aspect of your candidacy?” – is what should determine your subject matter for personal statement essays about a person who influenced you.
If your strength, say, is your background in a particular field, in your personal statement about a person who influenced you, identify the person who steered you in the direction of that field.
By doing this, you will use your personal statement essays not only as a means to describe someone with positive traits you would like to emulate, but someone whose influence in your life was critical in letting you develop those skills that most set you apart as a candidate.