A personal essay is an expressive statement about an individual's thoughts and life experiences. Creative personal essays are usually open-ended and tell thematic stories that enlighten readers about the writer's character, or they relate the writer's individual experiences to specific aspects of society. Personal statements are included in many college or fellowship applications, which often require writers to answer specific questions. In both cases, the writer uses subjective experiences to make observations and relate to readers.
The most important elements of a personal statement are an opening hook, a conflict and a deeper meaning. As they are often short and describe outwardly mundane scenarios, personal statements need hooks to give readers reasons to care about strangers doing ordinary things. Conflicts may be absolute or abstract, but the writer should face a dilemma that requires asking questions and analyzing the experiences presented, leading to the deeper meaning.
The content of a personal essay depends on the writer's intentions and unique narrative voice, making it a diverse nonfiction art form. For example, a person applying for a fellowship should choose stories that demonstrate skills, passion and experience related to the target industry, whether or not the application includes specific questions. An open-ended essay focuses on introspection and analytical thinking, so good compositions require honesty and openness about personal ideas or situations. They often address emotions and subject matter that are normally considered private, but the writer must find a creative angle to make readers feel as though they have a personal stake in the story.