Guest post by Crystal Newby

With another college application season about to start once again, we know that one of your students’ main concerns is the admissions essay. That’s why the National Honor Society (NHS) recently launched a series of virtual college application essay writing workshops. In one such workshop, Crystal Newby, assistant director of education and training for the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), presented “Perfecting the Personal Statement.” After the presentation, Crystal prepared some strategies for you to share with your students:

I’m sure you’ve heard your parents, grandparents, or family members say the phrases, “When I was your age…” or “I’ve been in your shoes.” When I heard mine say this, I used to roll my eyes (behind my mom’s back, of course). I used to think that they couldn’t possibly understand what I was going through. It wasn’t until later in life that I appreciated what they said and came to the realization that they really did understand.

Students, I say all of this because I really have been in your shoes. I went through the college search process and experienced the anxiety of preparing for the SAT and filling out college applications. I remember the nervousness of waiting to get back my test scores and waiting to hear if I had been accepted into the schools where I applied. (Sidebar: They actually mailed test scores and acceptance letters to your house when I was in high school. I didn’t have the option of checking online. Yes, I’m kind of old and yes, I still have my acceptance letter to the school I ultimately attended. Don’t judge.) Anyway, let’s talk about the college application process.Applying for college

There are various components of a college application that schools will look at when considering a prospective student for admission. How do I know this? I used to be an admissions counselor and had the pleasure of reading thousands of applications during my tenure. You might have heard admissions representatives say they take a “holistic approach” when reviewing students’ applications. If you haven’t heard this term before, it means that they look at the whole picture. In addition to looking at grades, class rank, and test scores, schools who take a holistic approach might also look at letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, and an essay or personal statement. The last item is what I want to focus on today.

Dispelling Panic

When someone says, “Tell me a little bit about yourself,” for some people, a moment of panic sets in while they rummage through their brain figuring out exactly what they should say. How much should I share? Should I tell them how many siblings I have? My favorite color? My favorite food? The name of my first pet? I know it might sound silly, but the anxiety is real for some people and this moment of panic is sometimes evident when students are asked to write a personal statement as a part of a college application.

It can be difficult to talk about yourself, showcase your strengths, and basically convince someone why you’re the best fit as a member of the incoming freshmen class. It can be a daunting task, but it’s not impossible.

Getting Started

Some people have the ability to sit down and just start writing. Others, like myself, need some time to think about exactly what to write. To help get you started, I want to share a few activities that you might find useful:

The Life Map

Think about drawing a life map. Here’s an example.

It’s a pretty simple concept where you put yourself in the middle and link to the people, places, and things that are most important to you. It’s a great way to start gathering ideas.

Ask your family and friends to share their perspectives of you. You can simply send a text or pick up the phone and call. Ask them to give you the first five words that come to mind when they think of you. Looking for outside perspectives is a great way to see just how awesome you are!

Think About Using Pictures for Inspiration

With social media being so popular, we pretty much document everything that’s happening in our lives. Pictures are a great way to remember significant events in your life and that can translate to a personal statement topic.

These are just a couple of activities, but there are many other ways to help you get started on your personal statement. As I mentioned earlier, I know how overwhelming this process can be, but you are awesome! To quote St. Ignatius of Loyola, “Go forth and set the world on fire!”

Learn More
Crystal’s presentation can be viewed by NHS students on demand. Faculty and counselors of NHS-affiliated schools may also tune in. To facilitate participation, viewers should get the school’s NHS affiliation number before logging on. Look for the recording “Perfecting the Personal Statement” at

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