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Character Defining Moment Personal Essay Prompts

You make thousands of decisions every day. Some are simple, such as hitting snooze on the alarm clock or choosing what to eat for breakfast, while others – like deciding who to marry, or what career to pursue – require deep reflection, thought and analysis.

Each choice shapes what is to come in some small way, but occasionally, a decision has the magnitude to be life changing. This kind of moment can change who we are and what we value, with reverberations throughout our careers and personal lives.

What coping with cancer taught me about letting go

While it’s still up for debate exactly how much of our morality comes from personal experiences, many of us can think of at least one experience that has defined us and our beliefs.

Lain Hensley, chief operating officer at Odyssey Teams, recalls the fear and loneliness he felt when he was diagnosed with cancer, for example. His illness exposed weaknesses in his leadership and as a result, he writes, he has become “a better man, husband, father, employer, speaker and friend”.

Other influential moments can come down to a single conversation. After her boss, former Las Vegas mayor Jan Jones, pointed out in a speech at a gala that Gwen Migita was afraid that she wouldn’t be accepted if she was honest about her partner at work, she found the courage to be open about her sexuality. Migita went from hiding her real self at work to setting up the gaming industry’s first LGBT employee group and publicly marrying her partner.

Why I decided to be honest about being gay at work – after my boss outed me

Now it’s your turn

Tell us about a defining moment in your life. It can be an experience that shaped your values, a conversation that determined your career, an event that changed the course of your life or anything else that you believe has defined who you are.

Submit a short blog post of no more than words describing the experience and how it has influenced you. Let us know if you’d like to submit audio or video by checking the appropriate box below.

Once you’ve sent us your story, we’ll get back to you and let you know if you’ve been selected for publication on the Guardian. We’re looking forward to hearing your stories!

The values-led business hub is funded by SC Johnson. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled ‘brought to you by’. Find out more here.


Ready to write your personal statement essay?

It can be for your Common Application essay, or other university or college prompts, or transfers, or medical or law school, or even scholarship applications.

To start, always read the prompt.

If it asks you to write something fundamental about yourself (such as all seven of the Common App prompts), then they want a personal statement essay from you.

The next step is to start brainstorming.

You want to find a topic for your personal statement that will help the reader (college admissions officers) get a take on what you are all about, what makes you tick.

Before you start fishing around your past for topic ideas, it helps to know what you are looking for.

I&#;ve narrowed it down to two important, if not key, components of effective personal statements.



Character and Personality.

There&#;s potential crossover in these two concepts, since each defines some part of your individuality.

At the same time, they are distinct and critical to helping convey who you are to your target schools.

The beauty of featuring both your character and personality in your essay is that it will help you balance the portrait you are painting of yourself through language.

Character tends to be more serious, deep and analytical while personality usually is lighter, creative and entertaining.

In both life and personal statement essays, balance is usually a good thing.

Here&#;s how I define character and personality, and why you need to find ways to convey and express them BOTH in your personal statement.


Character in Personal Statements

Character is what helps you stand out in the world through your &#;mental and moral&#; qualities.

I call them your core values, or on a more personal level, your defining qualities and characteristics.

The best personal statements capture and convey the writer&#;s character because schools need to understand what you value, how you think and what you believe.

When you are brainstorming topic ideas for your personal statement, first identify a single core quality that captures or expresses something about your character.

For example, integrity, persistence, creativity, humility, empathy, wonder, etc. It should be something that you value above almost all else.

Pick one. Yes, just one. (This makes sure you don&#;t try to say too much in your essay, and end up on the dull side.)

These qualities are pretty universal, so writing about them can be tough to set yourself apart from other students, many of whom hold similar values.

So how do you showcase your all-important character in your personal statement and distinguish yourself from others at the same time?

Personality in Personal Statements

That&#;s where personality comes into play.

Personality is not universal.

Only one person on the planet has your personality: YOU.

Personality is how you&#;and only you&#;express or demonstrate your character on a daily basis.

It&#;s your unique personal style of expression in the world.

If you can figure out a way (a topic!) to highlight BOTH your character and your personality in your personal statement, you will nail it. Hands down.

But how do you that, and still craft an essay that is interesting to read?

It&#;s actually pretty simple. And time to start that brainstorming process.

What you need is a real-life experience or incident that you can share in your personal statement that shows you&#;and your personality and character&#;in action.

I&#;ve written many super helpful posts on exactly how to find those moments or experiences and spin them into killer personal statements&#;and showcase BOTH your character and personality at the same time.

I share many writing tricks and tips on how to identify those magic moments, as well as how to make sure your essay is focused and engaging.

If this approach makes sense to you, I would advise you to spend a few more minutes and read these posts.

How to Write a College Application in 3 Easy Steps

Find Your Defining Qualities and Characteristics

The Secret to a Killer College Application Essay

If you want to keep going and learning more about how to write a personal statement, there are blue links to more posts in the ones you just checked out.

This may be all you need to get you well on your way.

If you want more help, in the form of more in-depth, step-by-step instruction, check out my writing guide, Escape Essay Hell!, and/or my online essay writing course.

I also highly encourage you to check out some sample essays to see the type of personal statement essay these resources will help you write. (Notice how they all showcase the student&#;s character and personality.)



Character and Personality
Checklist for Your Personal Statement

Once you crank out a rough draft, here are some questions to ask about what you have written to check if you have captured and expressed both your character and your personality:

Do you feature a moment or experience that reveals one of your defining qualities or characteristics?

Do you share some type of problem (challenge, obstacle, failure, set-back, etc.) from your life that allows you to explain how you thought about it and what you learned in dealing with it?

Do you include how you felt during whatever moment or experience you shared, and explain the specific steps you took to handle it? (

Can you identify the main core quality, characteristic or value that you essay is about?

Can you write in one sentence or phrase what your unique style is in handling the problem you shared?

Did you include what you learned about yourself and the world from the experience/problem you shared?

Good luck with your personal statement essay!

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