The personal essay, for many students, is the most difficult essay to write. It is somewhat like its cousin the narrative essay, in the sense that it asks the writer to speak from his or her own point of view about persons, places, and events. The primary difference between the personal essay and the narrative essay, though, is that the personal essay asks writers to explain what experience has taught them about themselves.
The narrative essay, by contrast, emphasizes what experience has taught the writer about an issue, or about the world and other people. The operative question for the narrative essay is "What has my experience taught me about the world, ideas, and human behavior?" The operative question for the personal essay is "What has my experience taught me about myself and my abilities?"
Of course, this distinction isn't as absolute as it sounds.The most common personal essay that students are challenged to write is the college admission essay, or personal statement. Naturally, the college admission essay - as a form of the personal essay - requires that students express what kinds of ideas they have gathered from personal experience, so the notion of ideas and idea development is relevant to the personal essay. However, a distinction can still be made between these two essay types.
Where the narrative essay focuses on the actions of other people in relation to the self, the personal essay focuses on the actions of the writer in relation to the self. What kinds of decisions has he or she made? Why were these decisions made? What were there impact on the personal development of the writer? How did the writer apply lessons from past decisions to future personal events? These are the types of questions that your reader will want to have answered in your personal essay. These are also, therefore, the kinds of questions you should ask yourself as you brainstorm, plan, and write a response to your personal essay prompt.