Last year, a counselor from Atlanta asked me what advice to give a student who wanted to use his personal statement to show colleges that he “gives 110% to everything he does.”
She knew it was a cliché.
But is that bad?
Nope. Not really. I told her it was okay and explained why.
Phrases like I give 110% and I’m a hard worker are clichés, but it’s perfectly fine for students to start with familiar phrases when they want to demonstrate that they persevere or face challenges with grace.
Students have a lot of the same experiences: working as camp counselors, making pizzas, bagging groceries, holding leadership positions in school organizations, sports teams and youth groups.
They face similar tragedies, too: someone they love dies, their parents’ divorce, someone close to them struggles with mental illness.
Colleges want to know who the student is, beyond accomplishments and experiences. As long as they answer the prompt and demonstrate positive characteristics, any topic can work.
I don’t know where my students’ stories will end up when they start writing. I know what they want to convey, so I trust the process, and I listen. I pay attention. I follow the student’s lead. Even if they start with a cliché.
We can edit out cliché statements later. The topics themselves still shine through.
Embrace the cliché. You never know where it might lead you.
Kim Lifton is President and Co-founder of Wow Writing Workshop, which teaches students and educational professionals a simple, step-by-step process for writing effective college essays so students can stand out and tell their stories. Since 2009, Wow has been leading the college admissions industry with our unique approach to communicating messages effectively through application essays, including personal statements, activity and short answer essays and supplements. We teach students – and we train professionals. Kim leads a team of writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out.
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