An essay about yourself should present you in a positive light, but also leave your reader with a greater understanding of what it is that makes you tick. What’s your inspiration and motivation?
In this article, I’ll give you a range of ideas to include in your essay about yourself. These ideas will show you how to tell a compelling story about who you are.
Pick one or more of these ideas and use it in your essay to improve its quality.
1. Come up with One Word about Yourself and Put it in your Title
Your essay heading sets the tone for the rest of the essay.
One way to get yourself started on the right track for your essay describing yourself is to ensure you have the one key word that describes you in the title.
How would you describe yourself in one word?
Here’s a few ways I’d describe myself:
Now, if you need to write your essay in a way that presents you in the best way possible, then of course you’d select the one that does that!
So for me, that’d be ‘optimistic’.
I could then set my title to something like: “An Essay About Chris, the Eternal Optimist.”
Here, your reader has been introduced to the central trait I want to reinforce in the essay right away. You’ve set the tone now.
Now that you’ve used that key term at the start, make sure you follow-up by using that same term a few more times throughout the piece so that you keep it as a clear motif throughout. I’d recommend at least using it in the introduction, body and conclusion.
2. Make it Personal using Anecdotes
The difference between a good and great essay about yourself is the use of personal anecdotes.
You want your essay to stand out because it’s thoughtful and unique.
Anyone can tell a story of who they are. Anyone can say: “Here’s who I am and here’s what’s good about me.”
Not everyone can tell a detailed, thoughtful and personal story that’ll show (and not tell) people who you are.
Personal anecdotes might include:
- A discussion about your ancestry;
- A story about how your ancestors came to your country;
- A story about how your parents came up with your childhood nickname;
- An important story from your childhood;
- A personal challenge that you currently face;
- A personal challenge from the past that you’ve overcome
Or anything else that shows your personality! So, let’s zoom in and take a look at how you could write about each of the points from above.
3. Describe your Ancestry
Dig deep – way back. Who are your ancestors?
Two of the best questions you can ask to tell a really good story about yourself are these:
- Who are your ancestors?
- How did your ancestors shape who you are?
- What is your connection to them?
Let’s take them one at a time.
Who are your ancestors?
Your ancestors might be Greek, or Scottish, or Irish, or Italian. Maybe you have some Native American ancestors or maybe they were Pioneers heading to America?
You can start this essay by explaining your ancestry to really start shaping a quality story about yourself. One example is to tell a story about how your ancestors came to your country.
For me, I’d talk about how my Ancestors were a loose collection of quirky characters who came to Australia for a better life. Some were “10 Pound Poms” – British people seeking a better life. The paid 10 pounds to get on a boat and head to a new world. And others were convicts, sent out for stealing sheep.
Is there an interesting hook about your ancestry to start your essay?
How did your ancestors shape who you are?
Your ancestors should mean a lot to you. They should show you the path to a better life. What sacrifices did they make for you to be who you are today?
I could talk about how they had a tough life to come from working-class backgrounds. They worked the land and battled hardship to give me what I’ve got.
Now, I’m a happy, free, relatively wealthy person because of their hard world.
What is your connection to them?
Who you are is because of your ancestors.
For me, they are the reason I value hard work. I also know my grandfather fought hard for a good wage for people on the railways. So, I have a sense of solidarity with hard-working working-class people because of him.
I also believe strongly in the importance of living a free and happy life because my ancestors are Australians. We’re Aussies! We work hard and have fun. That’s something my ancestors gave me, and I’ll carry all those values forward for my children one day, too.
Can you see that telling a story of your ancestors can really reveal a lot about what’s deep inside you? They show you your values and they’re your guiding star.
4. Tell the story of how you got your Childhood Nickname
Here’s another interesting story idea that can get your essay started on the right track.
How about telling the story of how you got your childhood nickname?
Here’s an example: My sister’s nickname was Boo Boo.
(She’d be made at me if she knew I told you that!)
She was called Boo Boo because she was always hurting herself! She was always having “boo boos”, which was our slang for “mistakes”.
Here, her nickname tells a story about herself. It tells a story about how she can sometimes be a little bit clumsy. This could be a good personal story to use to introduce herself to the reader.
Do you have a unique nickname story?
5. Tell an Important Story from your Childhood
Do you have any childhood stories that really reflect who you are?
This story might be:
- Tell the story of a childhood family holiday: Your story of your family holiday might highlight how important family is to your sense of who you are. Did the family holiday show you how much family is important to you?
- Tell the story of a time you realized something: I remember seeing a kid at school being bullied once and feeling really uncomfortable about it. I ended up sitting with him during the lunch period because he was upset. That was the day I really realized that something deep inside me is a sense that kindness is one of the most important things in the world.
Have a think. Are there any stories from your childhood that you can tell that reveal something about who you are and what your values are?
6. Start with “When I’m old I will look back and reflect on…”
Here’s a strategy that works really well.
When you start from the perspective of someone looking back, you often reflect on the things that are most important.
Have you ever seen an older person telling a story? It’s often a story told from the perspective of wisdom. We might call this 20/20 hindsight.
So, start your story by discussing what you’ll look back on about your life: what will you be proud of? What parts of your personality would you want to reflect on with pride?
It might be:
- “When I’m old I will look back and reflect on the things I did to help other people. For example, one time I … [did this]”
- “When I’m old I will look back and reflect on the quality time I spent with my family. My family is the most important thing in my life. One of these quality times is when …”
- Any other ideas you have?
7. Or, Start with “In ten years I will be…”
We can flip Step 6 on its head, and talk about where you want to be in 10 years. This will force you to reflect upon what’s most important to your future.
When talking about your goals and how those goals are linked to your values.
Here’s some examples:
- “In ten years time I will be just returning from an amazing trip around the world. I have a strong sense of adventure and I want to spend the next 10 years fulfilling my dream of adventure.”
- “In ten years time I want to be busy working in a not-for-profit doing something for people less fortunate than me. This vision drives my decisions that I make today. It drives my desire to … [study a course?]”
- What will you say if you start with “In ten years time…”?
8. Describe your Interests
No matter how you start your essay, you need to make sure that your story shows what you are interested in.
Your interests are what you do in your spare time
You might, for example, be interested in a particular topic. This will show how you’re set apart from others. We all have different interests.
Here’s a few examples of people’s interests:
- Dinosaurs: Ross Gellar from the TV show Friends would write in his story that one of his biggest interests is dinosaurs!
- Sports: Many people put sports at the center of their interests and motivations. Are you passionate about a sport that you watch or play? This could be included in your essay about yourself.
- Reading: Many young people love to read. You can talk about this as something you love, and then discuss how reading helps you think more deeply about issues in this world.
What are your interests? Could you use these as the basis of your essay about yourself?
9. Describe what Motivates You
Right at the core of your essay about yourself should be a message about your motivations. What is it that you dream about? What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning?
A motivation is different to an interest. Your interest is what you do in your part time. Your motivations are your long-term goals that will give you fulfilment.
People want to see what makes you tick.
Your motivations don’t have to be for money or a career. A lot of people are deeply motivated by their passions like:
- Getting fit, or pursuing fitness goals;
- Being a part of a community;
- Helping others out, especially the less fortunate;
- Making their family proud;
- Seeing amazing, remarkable things;
- Inventing or discovering something that improves the world
For me, my biggest motivation is my blog. I take pride in it and how it helps people out. So maybe I’d tell the story of my blog, and how it reflects my intrinsic desire to help people learn new things.
So, what motivates you?
10. Identify your Current Personal Challenges
Teachers like to see that you are taking a proactive role to address or overcome personal challenges. So, you can base your essay about yourself on a current personal challenge.
The important thing for an essay on a current personal challenge is this:
- Identify what your challenge is; and
- Explain how you are working hard to address it.
Your challenge might be a personal disability, a setback you’ve recently had, or a goal that you’re working towards achieving.
Here’s some examples:
- Wanting to join the military: You could talk about your major challenge being a career goal like getting accepted into the military. Then, you’d need to show something about how you are addressing this by, for example, following a rigorous exercise regime.
- Living with a disability: Maybe you have a disability or medical problem that you need to address. You could talk about how it hasn’t stopped you from believing in your ability to achieve. While it might make life harder, show how you’re a determined person who won’t let adversity get in your way.
By revealing how you are overcoming your challenges, you’re revealing something about yourself. You are showing your marker that you’re a hard, diligent worker. That you have resilience and drive. And that you’re someone who strives to achieve.
11. Identify the Biggest Challenge you’ve Overcome
If there’s challenges in your rear-view mirror that you have already overcome, you can also talk about that.
Pause for a moment and think about the biggest achievement of your life. Was it getting that score you wanted in a science test? Was it making it into the football team after a lot of training and practice?
By telling the story of a personal challenge that you have already overcome, you’re showing how you’re a competent, capable and resilient person.
Here’s some examples of overcoming challenges:
- Winning a team sport: Talk about all the work you did as a team in the lead-up to the win. Did you take advice from the coach and use it to become better? Did you learn that you had to work as a group to succeed?
- Getting an award: Were you awarded once for your skills? What did you need to do to win the award? Was it hard work that paid off?
12. Be Humble
It’s important to strike the appropriate tone for your essay about yourself.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they too hard to sell themselves. This usually makes you sound arrogant and self-absorbed.
One of the best ways to sound humble is to express gratitude. When discussing who you are, what you achieved and what your strengths are, remember to mention who it was who helped you get there.
People you might be grateful for include: parents, teachers, siblings, friends, your country and mentors. Talk about how they were instrumental in your success. Maybe they were patient with you, presented opportunities for you, or forgave your mistakes.
It’s also good to make sure you don’t compare yourself to others. It’s not a good idea to say “I achieved better than anyone else.” Focussing on how you worked hard for your achievements is enough: there’s no need to talk about how you’re better or the best. Focus on the effort you put in, not the fact that you’re better than anyone.
To learn more about tricks on being humble, I recommend this good summary of ways to be humble from Forbes.
13. Describe your Personality Type
Here’s another interesting way of approaching the essay.
If you’re struggling to explain yourself, you can take a quiz that tells you what your personality type is. Something really nice about these quizzes is they not only give you words to explain what your personality type is, but they also give you some ideas to talk about.
Here’s a few good personality type quizzes:
- 16 Personalities: This quiz decides which personality you are from 16 types, such as debater, entrepreneur, adventurer and entertainer. I got the ‘Advocate’ meaning I am driven by “idealism and morality” and am mainly an introvert. What are you? Share in the comments below!
- Learning Styles: This quiz finds out how you learn. Are you the sort of person who learns in solitude or with others? Are you an introvert or extrovert? Another alternative is the VARK quiz which sees which sort of category of learner you are: Visual, Auditory (sound), Read/Write, or Kinesthetic (using your body).
- Career Quiz: This quiz asks you a range of personality questions to give you ideas about what you want to talk about. Then, it’ll suggest the ideal career for you based on your personality!
14. Include Details you’d put on a CV
You want your essay to tell a story about yourself.
But you also need to include hard, solid details.
So once you’ve told your story of yourself, go through your CV (or ‘resume’) and see what else you can include. Can you include details about your strengths that you have listed on your CV?
Maybe you can also include points about your previous jobs or education achievements that you have listed on your CV.
This will help back up your story with hard evidence.
You might also find out that there are a lot of details on your CV that will give you story ideas. You might not think you’ve achieved remarkable things until you look at your CV and reflect on the hard work you put into each of the jobs or achievements you have listed there.
15. Describe your Physical Attributes
Another thing you can weave into your story is an outline of what you look like!
It’s one of the first things you read about someone in any story.
Here’s how Mr. and Mrs. Dursley in Harry Potter is introduced:
“Mr Dursley was the director of a firm called Grunnings, which made drills. He was a big, beefy man with hardly any neck, although he did have a very large moustache. Mrs Dursley was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent spent so much of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbours.”
How would you describe your physical attributes? Remember not to be negative about yourself, but you could describe yourself as tall, short, stocky, or lanky. How about your hair? Is it frizzy or straight, long or short?
16. Explain who is your Biggest influence and Why
The person who is your biggest influence would reveal a lot about who you are. Are you influenced by someone because of their power and strength, or wisdom and insight? Are you influenced by people for their nobility and patriotism, or their sense of adventure?
This will show your reader what makes you tick.
One of my big influences is Alex Honnold. He is a famous rock climber. What does that reveal about me? Well, it shows that I admire adventurous people and people who follow unconventional careers.
Who is your biggest influence? What does this reveal about you? Can you weave this into your essay about yourself?
17. Conclude by Returning to your Opening Hook
In this article I’ve shared with you a ton of ideas that you can use for your essay about yourself.
No matter which idea you select, I recommend including this last tip.
You should start your essay with an interesting ‘hook’ or anecdote about yourself.
I recommend concluding your essay by returning to this opening hook. We call this the ‘closing the loop’ method. You can start it something like this:
“I began this essay by telling the story of how I’m inspired by my father. I want to return to this point, as it’s the most important point in this essay. All of the points in this essay about myself have highlighted how I’m driven and motivated to live up to his amazing example. I have discussed…”
…And then you’d sum up what you discussed!
I outline the exact process of how to conclude an essay using this ‘closing the loop’ method in this post on how to write great conclusions.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.