Every applicant who needs to write a personal statement for their high school, college, or graduate admissions struggles with structuring their personal statement. It is hard enough to muster the courage to brainstorm your most salient life experiences on paper; now, the most important part is structuring your personal statement with your thesis and topic sentences.
What's a thesis?
Your thesis and topic sentences are tools – think of them as signposts for your reader to follow the map of your argument. Without clear, well-marked signs, the reader will be lost. A thesis statement is the main point you’re trying to communicate. That’s it.
However, there are many features of a good thesis statement that you should consider when drafting your own:
A good thesis statement is arguable.
This means that you’re making a claim that others may dispute. Without this feature of a thesis statement, the paper will lack tension. Oftentimes a main point that isn’t arguable is boring, and/or stating the obvious.
A good thesis statement anticipates what’s to come.
This is essential – the think of the thesis statement as establishing rules for the game of the paper. You want to be sure that what follows the thesis statement is aligned with the theme and the evidence that you’re using in the body of your paper.
A good thesis statement is clear and specific.
Though you probably have many examples and themes that you want to include in your personal statement, it is important to stick to one central argument. A good thesis sentence will hold you 12 accountable to this – if you find yourself bleeding into two or three sentences, it is probably an indication that you’re trying to fit too much.
How to create a thesis
Now that we’ve defined a thesis, you’re curious how to create one of your own, aren’t you? Before you develop a thesis, you need to look at the evidence you’ve gathered to see if it falls in line with a clear point or idea. You’ve already done the work of grouping your evidence into buckets of theme, so now your job is to write down a “working thesis” – a point that serves as a starting place for your argument, but may change over time as you continue to tease out your evidence.
What are topic sentences?
If the thesis is the focus of the statement in its entirety, the topic sentences are the focus of the body paragraphs. Topic sentences are the most important sentence of the paragraph, and oftentimes extend or embellish the thesis by introducing the evidence of the paragraph.
Some things to keep in mind when writing your topic sentences:
A good topic sentence always supports the thesis of your paper.
The topic sentences should be a litmus for staying on track with your argument. They should certainly extend, complicate, and develop your argument, but they should always support it as well.
A good topic sentence should introduce the evidence that supports your claim.
If you think about your paper as a court case, think about your topic sentences as a lawyer’s address to the jury. A topic sentence should always introduce the evidence that you are using to persuade a group of people – a jury of your peers.
Now that we’ve discussed the definitions of our topic sentences, you can revisit your working thesis. Keeping in mind the evidence that you’d like to use in each paragraph to support your working thesis, go ahead and write the topic sentence above the correlating piece of evidence on the following page.
Are you struggling to put together a personal statement for your admissions essays? You should reach out to our writing coaches, who have tons of experience teaching writing and helping applicants create compelling narratives!