Lesson One: Preparation

The purpose of this section is to get you acquainted with the task that confronts you. The first step is to understand your audience and what your readers will be expecting. You should view this knowledge as a foundation from which to build your own creative composition, not as a set of limiting factors. Once you understand the context of your assignment, you must approach the brainstorming process with a free and open mind. Allow yourself to reflect without the interference of preconceived notions. Create a long and varied list of possible topics, and then narrow down that list using the criteria we provide.

The preparation process is essential here as it is for any important project. If you don't identify and develop the optimal set of ideas, then no degree of effective structuring or engaging language will make the essay as strong as it could have been.

EssayEdge Extra: The Potential Impact of the Personal Statement—Good and Bad

"It's possible to redeem yourself or to kill your chances of admission with the personal statement. What's most important to me is for the candidate to make a compelling case for himself or herself. I want to be persuaded that I should admit this person."—The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University

"If I sense that a candidate is just filling out half a page cursorily—just doing the personal statement pro forma—and has not put much time or imagination into it, that's the kiss of death."—Graduate English Department, UCLA

Next: Assess Your Audience

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