A white peacock.


A field of tulips.


“How am I unique?” you may ask. As applicants review the first draft of their personal statement to NYU, they often struggle to find unique personality traits to share. After all, all their classmates and friends have very similar lives, so how can they be that unique? Sound familiar?

This may not be obvious at first, but remember you are indeed unique. How can you come to this realization? In fact, self-awareness and self-objectivity are hard to achieve. Besides, we think we know ourselves, but do we really? So how do you identify—and then share—personal qualities without underplaying them or boasting about them? Of course it’s not easy, but it’s worth trying.

How Does This Help Your Essay Stand Out? Thoughtful Authenticity

“Being yourself” in the personal statement is not about being perfect. It’s not about pretending to be what others may expect you to be. On the contrary, it’s about recognizing, in the context you’re in, what matters to you and how it informs the way you experience life and interpret the world. Ultimately, you’ll need to find the best way to express it in writing.

Your sense of humor or taste in art, food, or clothing, what moves you or what annoys you…These are just a few examples of what makes you, well, you. Definitely use these realizations, and many more, to fuel your writing. By reflecting on who you are and what you find worth supporting, you’ll come across as genuine in your personal statement. Consequently, you’ll become a real person, distinct from any generic template found online. Always be honest. Stay authentic.

No matter how much help is on offer, YOU should be the one writing your essay.

The Context of Your Life Experiences

Many pebbles.

Be they incidents, successes, failures, or happy events, the defining moments of your life are impacted by your circumstances. Surely the socioeconomic realities of where you live, your cultural and/or religious background, and your affirmed identity matter. Personal context has meaning.

These important moments may also depend on what drives you to go beyond context through passions and goals, risks taken, limits set. A thirst to learn and grow is also at play. For instance, are you curious about the world? Are you motivated to create opportunities for yourself and others? What do you excel at? Do you try to do good for the people around you?

Take the time to reflect upon how unique and defining all the special moments you’ve experienced are.

How Does That Help Your Essay Stand Out? Specificity of a Key Moment

Which singular, unique life event do you remember vividly? Think about it for a few minutes. Why did it have such an impact? How could you describe it carefully so a reader can get to know the real you through this story?

For example, you just came back from a weeklong trip to a new city. Would your friends enjoy a long but superficial account of everything experienced and done? Or would they prefer to get the specific and detailed story of an unusual, tragic, or funny event that happened to you so they can either empathize or have a laugh?

Focusing on one single moment often helps weave an engaging story.

Sharing Your Inner Thoughts

A collection of small cups.

Recently, I came across a meme showing someone being amazed that there are some people out there who don’t have a constant internal monologue. I was surprised too! I thought everyone spent a lot of time daydreaming and talking to their internal selves. Just me? OK.

Truth is, we are thinking and feeling creatures. We constantly operate in the world by checking our inner thoughts for answers. Whether we’re navigating new situations or trying to decide which ice-cream flavor to choose, we ponder. We contemplate and we act. Most importantly, we do it in a unique and personal way.

How Does That Help Your Essay Stand Out? Implied Vulnerability

Even if you don’t spend hours monologuing internally on a daily basis, simply take the time to reflect on your feelings and thoughts, past and present. First, take notes, even if it is stream of consciousness. What did you feel during the situation you’re writing about? Are you ready to explore this subject in depth, externally and internally?

Do more than list basic facts in the essay. Instead, share your more private state of mind. As a result, the reader will connect with you on a deeper and more personal level. Choose detailed descriptors, use all five senses, and include intriguing memories in your writing.

Bring your story to life on the page.

How You Interpret the World

A terrier dog.

Here is a random picture of a dog. For the sake of this exercise, I’ve used one of my dog, Cooper (who is now on his way to international stardom, surely). I perceive an adorable rascal who brightens my days. Unlike me, you may observe a scruffy little terrier and worry he barks a lot (he doesn’t!). Someone else may recognize him as a canine threat to their outdoor feline. Another person might start shaking at the idea of crossing paths with him since they’re afraid of dogs. Bottom line—we all perceive things differently.

From educated guesses to the ability to think critically, your opinions, beliefs, and values all inform how you interpret the world. Evidently, your own life perspective also helps define a sense of uniqueness.

How Does That Help Your Essay Stand Out? Fitting In

Being genuine, focusing on one moment, sharing your thoughts and feelings—place all these into the context of how you approach life. This frame of reference will give the reader special insight into your world. In return, think about what the reader will envision when they get to the end of your personal statement. What impression do you want to leave them with? Spoiler alert! Clearly, a good, insightful one.

Use all these tips and techniques to help admission counselors realize you’ll be a great fit at NYU! Happy writing!

Lisa is a Senior Assistant Director of Admissions for NYU Abu Dhabi and the Global Admissions Team, based in the London office.
Born and raised in France, Lisa also lived in Denmark and spent a couple of years in leafy upstate New York.  She is a dedicated gardener, a keen traveler to India and Japan, and loves watching the tennis at Wimbledon. She now spends her free time playing with her little rescue terrier dog, Cooper.