How to Write a Successful Personal Statement for Art School
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If an art school offers the option of submitting a personal statement, it may be tempting for forgo the opportunity. However, it could actually work to your advantage! In addition to showcasing your personality and thought process, submitting an application essay allows the admissions team to see that you are so much more than just your transcripts. Whether you were a top student or perhaps received lower than average test scores, an art school application essay allows you to showcase your direction as an artist, as well as highlight any additional accomplishments, making you further stand out as an applicant.
When it comes to an art college essay, you may be asked about your art philosophy, your artistic influences, maybe even how you have evolved as an artist. Although the content of the essay itself is subjective, it is a potentially powerful piece that may make the difference between admission and rejection. Needless to say, you need to showcase the very best of you, especially if it may not have come out in the other parts of the application package.
What Should Be in My Personal Essay for Art School?
Some applications may require a lengthier autobiographical essay while others, such as Hussian College, simply request a succinct couple of paragraphs. Either way, there are a few crucial elements to consider to help your artist statement stand out for the right reason.
Although there are no “rules” (unless they are outlined in the requirements), you should remember that it is an essay to be written with care. Ideas should flow together in a way that makes sense and attention should be paid to grammar and verbiage. By showing that you are able to craft a professional piece of content that is mindful of proper grammar and verbiage while speaking to who you are as an individual, your personal statement will truly stand out.
Structuring Your Art School Application Essay
Just like the essays you were taught to write in school, your personal statement should have a discernible introduction, body, and conclusion.
- The Introduction: Ideally, your introduction should frame the question being asked of you in the context of how you envision yourself as an artist. It is a good place to set out the parameters of your essay so the reader knows what is to come. You could also use the introduction to provide the reader a basic roadmap so that they can understand how your statement is intended to flow.
- The Body: The body will contain your arguments and explanations. Where applicable, make sure you provide concrete examples that can paint a vivid picture for the reader. For example, if you say that abstract modern art has influenced your aesthetic style, you may identify a particular painting, artist, or group of works, that embody what you love. If you pick something like Picasso’s Guernica, speak to the individual visual elements that make the work stand out to you. Is it the use of color? The way the artist has interpreted the historical bombing? What is it that you see in this work or art that may not have been evident to others?
- The Conclusion: Though you may be relieved to finally be writing the conclusion, don’t let your personal statement end abruptly! The conclusion, after all, is your last chance to leave a final great first impression. It should reiterate the theme of your statement without introducing any new ideas. Essentially, the reader should be left feeling as though they have a better understanding of who you are as an artist. Think of it this way: if the rest of the essay was the journey, the conclusion is the destination.
Some institutions, like Hussian College, ask for a short statement of 200-500 words. Despite its short length, you should still approach it in a methodical way, with an engaging introduction, clear conclusion, and body that supports the conclusion. Treat it no differently than you would a lengthier essay!
Personal Statement Essay Do’s and Don’ts
While many schools encourage creativity when it comes to crafting your personal statement, it is important to incorporate best writing practices to ensure a piece that is easy to read, thorough, and engaging. Here are a few art school essay writing tips you may wish to adopt to ensure that you put your best foot forward.
Personal Essay Do’s
- Answer all the parts of the question. A common mistake that students make when writing a personal statement is to simply list all the positive things about themselves. Make sure that you understand what the question is asking. Sometimes the college wants to see your creativity; other times, they are looking for more fact-based responses. It can be helpful to make an outline or map out the question on a sheet of paper prior to actually writing. This helps to ensure you are touching upon every part of the question(s).
- Focus on your strengths. You are, after all, trying to persuade the reader that you are the candidate they want to admit. You want them to understand that you have much to offer their program. Unless you are being specifically asked about a weakness, concentrate your writing on your best facets.
- Use specific, personal examples. Not only do these allow the reader to really get to know you, but it will give you a bit more credibility. Instead of vague claims, you will be better able to explain why you think you deserve to be part of their program. You can demonstrate the impact something has had on you, and how you were shaped by it. You may even be showing some out-of-the-box, innovative thinking, which is usually a sought-after trait in an artist.
- Make your essay easy to read and follow. Use line breaks to break up paragraphs. Where appropriate, use headings and subheadings. Members of an art school admissions staff often have to read dozens, even hundreds, of personal statements and art essays. Ideally, you want reading your essay to be a pleasant experience, one that is easy to follow and to the point.
Personal Essay Don’ts
- Don’t recycle personal statements. If you are applying to multiple art schools, it may be tempting to use the same application or personal essay. However, it’s a good idea to refrain from doing this. What you think of for your graphic design personal statement ideas could be quite different from what you would include in a fine art essay sample, for example. It’s best to treat each personal statement as a separate essay with different focuses.
- Don’t lie or embellish. Personal statements are just that… personal! Embellishments or lies can often be sensed by the reader, especially if you are not entirely familiar with a particular topic. Keeping your writing personal and true only adds to the passion, something that admissions teams often look for in an art student. In addition, some colleges conduct interviews. They are free to ask you about the statements you have made in your essay, and if it is full of embellishments, you may find yourself stuck when responding.
- Don’t speak in generalities. Very general phrases about what you like or dislike do nothing to actually convey what inspires or influences you. Instead, explain the why. Rather than simply state, “I like bold colors,” you might say: “I prefer the attention that is drawn to bold and saturated colors, often utilized to emphasize a contrast between objects and subject matter.” Ideally, a personal statement is your opportunity to really differentiate yourself as an applicant, not blend into a sea of overly general, unengaging essays.
- Don’t get too “avant-garde”, political, or humorous. Even though the essay is an excellent opportunity to give the admissions team a glimpse of your personality, do it strategically. Overdoing the bubbliness may make you appear to not be taking the statement seriously while going overboard with political themes may come off as uninviting to opposing viewpoints. Incorporate your personality, but do so mindfully.
- Don’t rely on lists. Unless you are specifically asked to list technical qualifications, lists can be awkward within an application essay and don’t really add to the narrative of your personal statement. As important as the content is, the admissions team is trying to get a sense of how you communicate and what your thought process is. A bullet-style list of art class experience or your favorite artists doesn’t necessarily give them any such insight.
- Don’t make excuses. Just as you should be focusing on your strengths, try not to bring up the negative. Why your grade in a certain class was low, for example, may not have been a question in the mind of the reader. If anything, this will only draw attention to this anomaly. The admissions team are only interested in your life events to the extent that they are relevant to what they have asked you to write.
Personal Statement Prompts
Often, a school will provide very broad guidelines for their requested personal statement or application essay. If your forte isn’t writing, very general requirements may be challenging to handle. Where do you start? In these instances, it may be helpful to practice with personal statement writing prompts, which can offer some guidance. There are a few directions that writing prompts may put you in…
Information About Yourself as a Person and Artist
If you’d like to focus on highlighting who you are as a person and as an artist, consider the following writing prompts. Not only do they provide a way to prepare for writing your personal statement, but they allow you to include all the important information about yourself in one place, which could make plotting out your essay much smoother.
- Why is this school or program right for you and what you hope to gain from it?
- Why are you right for this school or program and what will you offer?
- How have you pursued your artistic interest outside of school – hobbies, extra-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.?
- How are your personal and life experiences relevant to this program and to your desired career?
- What transferable skills do you have?
- What leadership opportunities have you had – leading a project, for example – and what lessons were learned from these experiences?
- What are your short, medium, and long-term goals?
- Which artists have influenced your work – for better or for worse?
- How would you describe your artistic style?
- What sorts of media do you use and why – or what your favorite medium is and why?
- What motivates or inspires you to create art? What are you trying to achieve through art?
- What makes you and/or your art unique?
Rhetorical, Creative Thinking Type Questions
Some may prefer to take a more philosophical approach to their art college essay. These types of essays may be quirky or humorous, but don’t be fooled – they are sometimes harder to answer than the more personal, factual questions! Here are some prompts for those who may be looking to get creative:
- Can art be simultaneously appealing AND morally corrupt?
- Does the amount of freedom in society have an effect on the artwork produced in that society? Explain.
- Does art play a greater role in influencing a society or reflecting a society?
- Describe the importance of painting in a world with digital photography.
- Which is more important in a work of art: technical quality or emotion? Why?
- Define “art” based on your personal experience.
- How is the creative process in art similar to or different from the creative process in science?
- Do artists have an obligation to tell the “truth”? Why or why not?
Making a Great First Impression with Your Personal Artist Statement
Your artist statement really is your chance to make a great first impression, especially if your high school transcripts or standardized test scores are less than impressive. Let the readers—the admissions team—know that you truly do want to attend their school by ensuring a high-quality essay that speaks to who you are as an artist.
With that said, after drafting your personal statement, you may be inclined to submit it right away, especially if you are working on multiple applications at the same time. Given its importance and its function in the application package though, go the extra mile by:
- Spell checking your statement. Twice.
- Reviewing your grammar and making sure your verb tenses match and your sentences are structured cleanly.
- Tinkering with wording to improve the flow. Read your draft out loud to yourself – you’d be surprised how many little errors you can catch when actually hearing the words.
- Alternatively, have a friend, family member, or even a previous teacher or art instructor proofread your essay and provide feedback. Let them know if there’s something in particular you’re concerned about, such as the flow of the ideas, or whether your explanations are compelling.
Most Importantly, Don’t Sweat It
It’s easy for students to become overwhelmed at the thought of writing a personal statement for their art school application, especially if they are applying to multiple schools. Don’t stress yourself out! If you’re in a bind, free write on a sheet of paper and get the ideas flowing. Remember to stay true to who you are—that’s what the admissions teams are looking for, after all!
Put these tips to the test when crafting a personal artist statement for your application to Hussian College! We can’t wait to see all that you have to offer as a student. You may also review our course curriculum to find just the right program for you.
Top 10 Tips for College Admissions Essays
In the admissions process, US colleges and universities generally use three criteria for determining which students to accept and which to reject:
- Previous coursework – your college preparatory work and grade point average (GPA)
- Standardized test scores – SAT and ACT are the two most respected.
- Admission/Entrance essays
Of the three criteria, the college entrance essay provides you with the greatest opportunity to distinguish yourself from your competition and show off the person behind the statistics. This article will help in writing a college essay and help you boost your chances of being accepted by an American university or college
Section 1: Planning Your Essay
Tip #1: Understand the Admissions Board Psychology
When you have compiled all the pieces of your application and sent it to the college/university of your dreams, all of your hard work gets placed in a pile with hundreds of other applications. Then a small group of admissions officers will review each application, looking over the scores and coursework and reading the college application essays.
The key to convincing the admissions officers is in understanding what they are looking for. They want students who will:
- Succeed once they are admitted;
- Contribute to the educational experience of other students; and,
- Bring honor and prestige to the university once they graduate.
In your college admissions essay, you want to portray yourself as a student who will meet those needs. Of course, the specifics of what qualifies as “succeed” or “bring honor” will depend a bit on the particular university, but all admissions officers share these three goals.
Before you write your college admissions essay, take a few minutes and jot down some answers to the following questions:
- How can I reassure the admissions board that I will succeed in their school?
- How will I show that I am determined and ambitious; that I will not get poor grades or drop out?
- How can I contribute positively to the educational experience of other students?
- How might I bring honor and prestige to the university?
- What are my long-term goals? Might I win an award someday, or start a business, or improve a scientific process?
Your answer to these questions will help you frame the content of your essay.
Tip #2: Determine Your Essay Goals
Along with the three questions above, you should contemplate how you want the admissions officers to perceive you. After reading your college admissions essay, what should they think of your personality and activities?
Most students want the college admissions board to view them as responsible, dependable, and academically ambitious. These are excellent essay goals, but you should also consider the essay in relation to your classwork. If your classwork already shows that you are studious and determined (because you have taken a wide variety of advanced classes), then you may want to highlight another feature of your personality.
Along with developing an image of your character, writing the college admissions essay allows you to feature other aspects of your life that are not reflected in your pre-college coursework. Some aspects to consider:
- Have I worked at an interesting or relevant job?
- Do I belong to any clubs or organizations?
- Have I demonstrated leadership or teamwork?
- Have I demonstrated compassion or community-responsibility?
Tip #3: Distinguish Yourself from the Other Applicants
This bit of strategic thinking should be fairly easy. As an international student, you by definition are different from the bulk of American citizens who apply to American universities. However, it is not enough to simply say, “Well, I’m not from around here.” Instead, you need to reference the strengths of your home culture. You don’t need to elaborate at length; a sentence or two should be enough to ensure that the admissions board pays attention to you.
Remember that you are more than just an international student from an interesting background; you are a complete person with a lifetime of experiences. You should take some time to think about what else makes you different from most the other hundreds of students writing college admissions essays. Add those features (plays piano, excellent at football, speak five languages) to your growing list of essay goals.
Tip #4: Contribute to the University
Remember that one of the goals of the admissions board when reading college admissions essays is to find students who will enhance the educational experience of other students. In other words, how can you contribute to other students’ learning? As with tip #3, you already have an edge by being an international student.
One of the general goals of education is to broaden people’s experiences, so that they come to realize the limits of their own intellect, and then grow beyond those limits. As an international student, you offer other students an opportunity for cultural diversity. As with Tip #3, it is not enough to assume the college admissions board will recognize this benefit. You need to highlight it in your essay. Again, a sentence or two should be enough to accomplish this goal.
Again, remember that you are more than just an international student. You have so much more to contribute to the campus social and learning environment than just your home culture. Take a few moments to consider what else you may contribute.
- Maybe you are excellent at study groups or other forms of collaborative work.
- Maybe you will join a student organization or athletic team.
- Maybe you will write for a student newsletter or blog.
Whatever you feel you can contribute, add that to your list of essay goals.
Tip #5: Understand and Answer the Essay Prompt
At this point, you’ve come up with more ideas than you can possibly fit into one essay. Now you need to focus your goals to only three or four ideas – the ones that will make you the most attractive to the college admissions board. No matter what the prompt asks, you want to ensure you include those three or four ideas in your college admissions essay.
The concept is to present a few ideas very well, rather than list all your ideas poorly. A narrowly focused essay will be much more effective than a general, vague one.
Reading and answering the prompt may seem a bit obvious, but it’s often the obvious that people ignore. You should take the time to read and re-read the essay prompt, so you can answer it fully. Don’t be intimidated; unlike some college exams, the college application essay prompt is not designed to trick you. However, you must demonstrate that you can read and follow directions. Think of that great pile of applications. The admissions officers are looking for a reason to disregard candidates. Don’t let them reject you because you hastily overlooked a sentence in the essay prompt.
On the other hand, the prompt is designed to give you some freedom for creativity, which will allow you to work in those three or four key ideas that you have developed through tips 1 through 4. You are encouraged to find novel ways of answering the prompt, so long as you do indeed answer the questions provided.
If you need more help choosing a topic, you can find some tips on our Choosing a Topic for Your College Essay page.
Section 2: Writing Your Essay
At this stage in the college admissions essay writing process, you have considered the goals and psychology of the college admissions board. You have produced a list of ideas/attributes/details about yourself that colleges will find appealing. You have narrowed that list to the three or four most important ideas – the ones that will get you into your preferred college/university. Now it is time to actually write the essay.
Tip #6: Write with Specific Details
The key to excellent and memorable writing is to write in fine detail. The more specific your essay, the stronger an impression it will make on the admissions board. If you are trying to show that you are a dedicated scholar, don’t write: “I never missed an assignment deadline, no matter how poorly I was feeling the night before.” Instead you write: “In my junior year, I came down with a terrible case of pneumonia. Despite having a 103 degree fever and being required to stay in bed, I still completed my draft speech on the possible impacts of global warming on agriculture.” The latter will make a stronger impression; and people vote for the people they remember.
As you are writing your essay, ask yourself:
- Is there a specific instance or example that shows this?
- Can I add imagery (colors, shapes) to make it more interesting?
- Can I replace general nouns (“class” or “car”) with something specific (“Honors Geometry” or “Honda Civic”)?
You may be thinking, “I don’t really like to boast about my personality; I prefer to let my record speak for itself.” While you should try to avoid sounding too arrogant, the college application essay is not the time for modesty. The admissions officers are expecting you to celebrate yourself, to underline your strengths and personality, so they can make a quick, accurate judgment about you.
Tip #7: Demonstrate College-Level Diction
Diction (word choice) is the fundamental structure of writing. Your word choice reveals a great deal about your personality, education and intellect. Furthermore, as an international student, you want to reassure the college admissions board that you have an excellent command of the English language (remember: they want you to succeed; they need to know that you can actively participate in English-only instruction).
With this in mind, you should replace lower-level words (bad, sad, thing, nice, chance) with higher-level words (appalling, despondent, phenomena, comforting, opportunity). You might consider looking up SAT/ACT vocabulary words and working a handful of those into your essay.
You should also remove any slang or casual diction; the university is not interested in casual language in their admissions essays.
Tip #8: Demonstrate College-level Style
An American proverb states, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” In other words, you want to present yourself as being ready for the next job. In this instance, you want to show that you already have college-level writing skills. So, in writing your college application essays, you should write with the following features in mind:
- Write primarily in complex sentences, rather than simple or compound sentences;
- Include figurative language such as a metaphor, a simile, personification; and
- Include a trope or scheme, such as chiasmus, oxymoron or anaphora.
As with tip #7, this serves two functions: 1) it distinguishes your essay from those that are poorly written; and 2) it reassures the admissions board of your excellent command of written English.
Tip #9: Have Someone Proofread Your Essay
This is one of the most important tips on this list. Everyone who writes knows that the words in your head don’t always make it onto the page the way they should. Because you know what it should say, it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking the essay says something that it doesn’t. For this reason, you should ask a friend or a relative (or an English teacher) to look over your essay and check your:
- Grammar: did you write in complete sentences? Do all your subjects and verbs agree?
- Diction: are all the words used properly for an American audience?
- Organization: have you grouped sentences together coherently?
Tip #10: Pay Attention to Deadlines
College admissions essays require a tremendous amount of work. As you work and rework the essay, pay attention to the admission deadlines and requirements. Every school has their own system for how and when to file your application. Do not assume that, because one school uses e-mails and PDFs, that another school does as well.
The best way to stay organized through the college admissions process (and at the university when courses begin) is to rigorously maintain a calendar that includes:
- Final deadlines
- Reminders of upcoming deadlines
- Process deadlines (breaking larger tasks into smaller steps)
Bonus Tip: Post, but Don't Panic
At some point, you will file your college admissions application. After you post it, please don’t panic. With these tips, and your determined intellect, you have an excellent chance of being accepted to an American university.
Take a look at our college essay samples to get an idea of what colleges are looking for in your essay.