What do Personal Essays and Academic Essays Have In Common?

This question is asked rather frequently, though the answer is fairly simple. Personal essays are a category of academic papers. While they have some distinctive features, in general they comply with common basic rules.


Personal essays address certain topics that reveal the writer’s opinion and usually require support in the form of personal experiences, arguments, anecdotes, etc. They are often required in the admission process, as well as for scholarship applications. A personal essay is a kind of a written interview that provides some extra information you weren’t able to include in the application.


In the most cases personal essays follow a regular essay structure that contains introduction stating the thesis, the main body providing evidence in separate paragraphs and a concluding paragraph to wrap it all up.

Style requirements

Bias is one of the main features of any personal essay, so there is no need to aim for objectivity. You are free to use ‘I think’ and ‘I feel’ or any other similar variations. Use active voice for your paper to appear stronger and less wordy. Remember about your target audience. However, if you are writing for an admission board, an appropriate degree of formality should be maintained.


Word limit

A personal essay shall not be less than a page and more than four pages. However, the specifics depend on the requirements of the institution you are writing for. If no instructions have been provided, try to be concise and write as much as you need to cover only the main points briefly. Do not be afraid to cut out entire paragraphs when editing the first draft.

Format requirements

Most personal essays use MLA formatting and Times New Roman 12. The rest (margins, indenting and spacing) is defined according to the requirements of every particular institution.

General tips:


  1. Stick to the point. Giving your thoughts on a particular issue does not mean writing down whatever comes to your mind. Focus and make sure every sentence you write relates to a particular point you’re proving.
  2. Do not be afraid to over-personalize. As long as you respect a certain degree of formality, you can provide any relevant life experiences and anecdotes.
  3. Don’t be humble. Shameless bragging will not do. However, an acceptable degree of self-assurance helps students get enrolled. Your personal essay is a piece designed to deliver some information about you to the admission officers. Thus, make them believe you are a perfect candidate.
  4. Be passionate. Your goal is to make your reader see, hear, smell, and feel what you are describing. So, provide vivid descriptions and metaphors.

A personal essay is a powerful instrument. If it is used wisely, it can help you get what you want.