A personal essay is a very common activity outside Brazil. In the United States, writing an essay is part of the process for you to join and it is critical for your application to be approved. Brazilian students are always welcome in the United States, the land of opportunity. Knowing other countries and their cultures, traveling and learning another language is not only an enriching experience, but also allows you to broaden your knowledge, gain access to vast opportunities and more.

If you are thinking about studying abroad, mastering every step of how to make a captivating and original essay can be the key to a brilliant future in any part of the world.

A good personal essay can move and inspire readers. However, it can also leave the reader with some uncertainty and more questions than answers, a factor that could be very negative if you were applying to study abroad. To write an effective essay, you need to first understand its structure.

The bases that we are going to present next can apply either to personal essays in general, as well as reference for essays in case of applications to universities. Of course you should adapt and focus your essay according to the purpose of it, ie it has to make sense as an application.

You can do this by uniting your personal interests to what schools have to offer, talking about how a grandparent marked your growth and your perception of the future, it is important that your writing has your voice, which reflects who you are.

Organizing Thought

Find an angle for your essay. Your life may not be full of exciting stories or intense drama, but okay. You should try to find an interesting experience or moment in your life. Looking at an experience from a certain angle can turn it into something deep, something meaningful and representing your personality.

For example, you might want to write about an experience in which you learned about failure and how to fail, you have become a persevering, determined person to achieve your goals.

Write about a meaningful moment. A good personal essay should explore a specific experience that has created a sense of conflict in your life. It can be a way to explore how and why you were disturbed, harassed or hurt by experience.

Remember that moments full of strong emotion are always more appealing to the readers. Discuss a specific event that triggered an emotional response. You can also explore a specific event in your life that left a lasting impression on you. Oftentimes, personal essays act as reflections on an event that occurred in your life and have changed you in some way.

Think of a person in your life who has marked you, both negatively and positively, and the influence that all this has had on your life. For example, you might think about why you and your mom stopped talking years ago or why? You’re no closer to a childhood friend. You can also write based on a current topic such as poverty, corruption, refugee camps, etc.

Ask yourself about this topic. How does this subject affect your own experiences? How can you explore a current social issue or event using your personal thoughts, experiences and emotions? For example, you may have an interest in writing about the Syrian refugee camps in Europe. You can then focus on your own status as a person living in another country and how that makes you feel.

Creating a Sketch Before Writing an Essay

After organized thinking and your structured ideas, create an outline. Personal essays are usually formatted in sections. Are they:

Introductory section – It should be a bait to attract the reader by opening lines for the topic you will address
Body section
Concluding section – Include the moral of the story where you reflect on what you have learned from your experiences or how your experiences have changed your life

The Personal Essay – From Mind to Paper

Start with an engaging opening scene.

You should open with an introductory section that is attractive and interesting to your reader. The opening section should introduce the key characters of the essay as well as the central theme of the essay. It should also present the central issue or concern in the essay.

Do not start with a line that explains exactly what is going to be discussed, such as “In this essay, I will address my conflicting relationship with my mother.” If you are writing about your relationship with your mother, you can focus on a specific memory where both disagreed or conflicted.

Write from your own perspective


Personal essays are often more successful when the writer uses a writing voice that entertains and informs the reader. This means using the right choice of words, syntax, and tone to create an engaging narrative voice in the essay. This writing voice can be conversational or it can be more reflective and internal.

Develop the characters so they are well detailed. Bring characters to life with sensory and physical details. You can include some dialogues but avoid overextending them.

Concentrate on discovering a deeper truth.


This means thinking about the deeper meanings that lie at the core of your personal experiences. Try to discuss your experiences with honesty and curiosity, where you are trying to discover a hidden truth or a truth that you did not know was there at the time.

Often, the best personal essays will try to expose a truth that is uncomfortable or difficult for the writer to discuss. Remember that some experiences can be very personal and the reader may have difficulty identifying with it.

Perfecting Your Personal Essay

  • Try different literary techniques
  • Read the essay out loud
  • Review the essay
  • You can add richness to your writing by experimenting with different literary techniques, such as metaphors or personification. Your text can be much stronger when you add literary techniques that show how well you can tell your story. For example, you can use the metaphor to describe the experience of telling your mother a secret. You might describe a reaction as “my mother’s reaction was silent and dazed, as if it had been struck by lightning.”

Once you have written a first draft, you should read through it and hear how it sounds. You can read it aloud to yourself or to a sympathetic audience. As you read aloud, you should highlight any sentences that are confusing or unclear. You should also make sure that your characters are well developed and your essay follows some kind of structure or sense of plot.

After the previous steps, it is time for you to sit down and review every detail of your essay. When you are reviewing, you should consider whether your content is really interesting and with which readers can feel connected, if the reader will understand your writing.

Remember that the important thing is that your essay shows a little of you, your motivation to study at a certain university, your passions and determination. It is important that your voice touches the heart of those who are evaluating you. There is nothing as strong as an emotion. If you can sensitize and touch the person who is conducting the selection of candidates, you will be chosen.

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