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Gregory Nesmith, Aliah Harris, Kayla Daniels Redden, Siani Ross, and Justin Glover, all recently spoke with Melissa Rowe, M.Ed, about tips that she has for high school students who are writing personal statements, how students can improve their writing, and how to overcome writer's block.

Writing Your Way To Success with Melissa Rowe

Welcome to the Bridges to Wealth (B2W) blog series that explores how first-time entrepreneurs and investors in Philly navigate business ownership, financial literacy, and education. Bridges To Wealth is a non-profit organization based at the University of Pennsylvania and on a mission to close the wealth gap in Philly through education and opportunity.

Writing is a crucial skill that can lead to academic success now and have a lasting impact on your life. As we approach the end of the school year 12th graders are continuing to get their college scholarship applications finished up and submitted. A personal statement and scholarship essay are usually required to complete most applications. These statements and essays can have a significant impact on the overall college application process and capturing scholarships. I, along with B2W Bridges To Entrepreneurship Program students and mentors Aliah Harris, Kayla Daniels Redden, Siani Ross, and Justin Glover, recently spoke with Melissa Rowe, M.Ed, about tips that she has for high school students who are writing personal statements, how students can improve their writing, and how to overcome writer's block. Melissa Rowe, M.Ed., is a Writer, Educator, and Founder of Capture Greatness!.  

We began by discussing what type of writing students will be required to do in order to write a strong personal statement. Melissa said, “The personal statement is so important because it's the essay where students have free reign to say this is who I am and this is who I’m becoming and this is why I want access to this opportunity”. You’re going to want to write your personal statement in narrative form. When you begin to write your personal statement you should think about it as a paper interview. When you’re interviewing you are having a conversation with the person who’s interviewing you about why you’re a fit for the position. Your personal statement should explain to the college admission team or the scholarship review committee why you’re fit for the opportunity. However, Melissa says, “the challenge with the personal statement is there’s no two-way communication, so you almost want to predict what questions your interviewer would have for you and then put those things in your personal statement.” You may want to mention things such as what may have caused a bad grade and what you have been doing to prepare for college and show that you are serious about furthering your education and your life. You want to figure out what the college admission team or the scholarship panel wants to know about you in order to convince them that you are the right person for the opportunity, and you want to make sure you include those things in your personal statement.

Melissa suggests using the following framework when you’re writing your statement. This is the same framework that is mentioned in the “Capture Greatness! Personal Statement Workbook”, it’s called the “Easy Essay Menu”. Basically, the first paragraph is like the appetizer - it should whet the reader's appetite and get them ready and excited for the full course, or in this case, the rest of the essay. The next paragraph(s) would be like the main dish. In these paragraphs, you want to include things that will sustain the reader. You should include two major goals that you want to accomplish with your degree. Melissa says, “It’s important to note that getting the degree alone isn’t the goal. We’re not investing in students just because they want to have a piece of paper, but what will this piece of paper allow you to do?”. You also want to add in who or what the source of your motivation is and what value you will add to the college's community. You then want to move onto the final paragraph of the essay or the “dessert”. You want to make your conclusion nice and sweet and leave your reader wanting more. Melissa says in this paragraph “You want to bring it all in together, you want to give someone something that’s nice and concise. Your dessert paragraph should be something that could ultimately stand alone.”

Melissa then shared with us some tips to help us improve our writing. She said that her number one rule for any narrative writing is to “show and not tell”. It is helpful to open our personal statement up with action and bring the reader right into the story. You then want to figure out how you can assist the reader in relating to your story. She said “If you tell your story well other people not only get to see and understand you, it’s like they got to be on part of the journey with you. Good stories are the stories where your protagonist goes on a journey but, a great story is a story where your reader gets to take the journey with you.” If you would like more tips to improve your writing you can go to, and take a look at the examples and tips in the workbooks.

We then moved on to talk to Melissa about writer’s block. Justin asked Melissa what advice she would give to students who say they experience writer's block? Writer's block is a tricky thing that happens to all of us at some point. A blank piece of paper can be very intimidating when you don’t know where to start. Melissa says that “writer's block is often a symptom of not having clarity”. In order to overcome writer's block, she recommends getting clear on who your audience is and what point you’re trying to get across to them. In order to organize your thoughts and get a sense of what you want to say it is sometimes helpful to have a conversation with a friend or out loud to yourself in a mirror about what you’re going to be writing about. Don’t get too caught up in “proper writing” at first. Melissa says to remember “No writing is good writing unless there is clarity and thought. So you really want to give yourself space to figure out what it is that you want to say or what you think would be good and appealing for you to say in this situation.”

In conclusion, when writing your personal statement it’s important to remember that you write in narrative form, focus on telling a story, and be clear on what you want to write about so you can avoid writer's block. Writing is a crucial skill that you will use throughout your life and hopefully these tips will help you improve your writing and become more successful in your writing endeavors. Life may seem uncertain and uneasy right now, however, we can stay connected and support each other through this. Stay focused on your goals and we will get through this pandemic together.


Written by Gregory Nesmith, Community Relations Director & Entrepreneurship Mentor at Bridges To Wealth, Philly native, Founder at UNderdogstuff, and recent Wharton School alum.

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B2W YouTube Channel

March 2, 2021