How to Write a Personal Narrative

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A personal narrative is common to write when applying for a college or trade school. It’s an autobiographical essay usually about a critical time in your life and the lessons learned from it. Common characteristics of a personal narrative include:

  • An important personal event or experience
  • An idea or theory about life and/or human interaction
  • Indicates a person of significant influence
  • Includes a range of academic interests (educational mix)
  • Written in 1st person
  • Conversational tone/voice
  • Use of sensory and vivid details (show and not tell)
  • Dialogue (optional)
  • Limit of 200-500 words
  • Typed in MLA format

“So where do I start?” you might ask – choose one of these prompts to help brainstorm a perfect personal narrative:

  1. What special background, identity, interest or talent do you have that is meaningful enough to be shared in an application?
  2. Recall a time when you faced a challenge or failure – how did it affect you and what did you learn from that experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned a belief or idea – what prompted your thinking and what was the outcome?
  4. What is a significant problem you’d like to solve? What steps could you take to reach a solution?
  5. What was an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others?
  6. Describe a favorite engaging topic, idea, or concept that makes you lose track of time – why does it captivate you?
  7. Share an essay topic of your choice!

The personal essay is structured in 3 paragraphs with an opening, body, and ending. For the opening, think about how you would introduce the topic and gain attention of the reader. Describe the main conflict and background knowledge, if necessary. The body is where you should write the key actions or events in relation to personal thoughts, feelings, and sensory details that add to depth and perspective. Include a climax that stands out in the essay. Finally, the ending is where you should conclude the essay with what you have learned from those experiences.

Writing a personal narrative can be fun; it’s a great way for colleges or trade schools to know you better, and even consider you to join them! Be creative and good luck writing!

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