Case Study: Personal Statement

Case Study: Personal Statement


Andrea was a strong student with excellent credentials. Graduating from one of the best public schools in the U.S. at the top of her class, she was also an avid dancer, Classics enthusiast, and suicide helpline volunteer. Despite her varied interests and numerous extracurricular activities, Andrea worried that she would not be able to distinguish herself from other applicants to her top choice schools, which were all Ivy League universities. In particular, she had difficulty brainstorming topics for her essays, and then struggled to translate her ideas into words. Although she approached Signet Education for advice on essay editing, she discovered far more about her own personal narrative during the process.


Andrea came to Signet with the singular mission of getting into a top college. However, she felt lost when she tried to begin writing her application essays. She did not have any concrete ideas for her personal statement or supplementary essays. Furthermore, the topics that she felt she could write about best were deeply personal, and she worried that the sensitive subject material would not come across in the right way to those reading her application.

The Signet Solution

After an initial meeting with Andrea to discuss her aspirations, interests, background, and personal story, Andrea’s consultant worked closely with her to develop strong narratives for her personal statement and other essays. Over the course of several weeks, he guided her through numerous brainstorming and writing exercises to help her discover key events, people, and challenges in her life that shaped her life story. With her consultant’s advice, Andrea learned to reflect carefully on her past and articulate her goals for the future to a much better degree. Together, Andrea and her consultant discovered topics that she was enthusiastic to put down on paper.

As Andrea began to construct her personal statement and additional college essays, she worried that the sensitive subject material in some of the essays would work against her. She had difficulty striking the right tone and balance; her essays were sometimes too analytical and detached, and other times, too sentimental and emotional. Over the course of a dozen drafts, Andrea’s consultant worked with her to navigate the tricky material and refine her writing. Andrea’s final essay was polished, humble, and sincere, without becoming overly melodramatic. During the process, her writing skills improved substantially, and she discovered her own narrative voice. 

Andrea submitted her applications with confidence, and by April, she had been admitted to the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, and Cornell, among others.

Beyond merely getting in, the Signet approach to writing application essays deliberately focuses on delving deeper to better understand oneself in the process. By exploring the narrative of her life, past and present, Andrea’s Signet admissions consultant was able to help her better understand who she was and how the events in her life shaped her motivations. Andrea continues to apply the writing lessons she learned from Signet in her college career.

Picture of Sheila A.

Sheila A.

Sheila Akbar is President & COO of Signet Education. She holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Harvard University and two doctoral degrees from Indiana University. She joined the team in the summer of 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings.

More Resources