From the first sentence, your readers should feel that you are a person who is worth getting to know better. Give them every chance to enjoy what is best about you. By the end of the essay, your readers should feel glad that they came across such a wonderful person as yourself--they should want to give you whatever you have applied to get.
When admission officers consider your case, they will focus not only on what you have done and might do in the future, but also on your personal qualities. They might remember you as the person who ate ice cream while blindfolded, or they might remember you as the one who showed tremendous "courage" or "fairness" or "hospitality." Successful essays often demonstrate one or more of the following personal virtues. You can construct an entire essay around one of these virtues:
Prudence. Making good decisions; doing the right thing at the right time, in the right way. For example, perhaps you faced a difficult decision and made a wise choice, or you learned from a mistake and made the right choice on your second try.
Justice. Being fair; being honest about a situation; looking for several sides to an issue; giving people their due. For example, perhaps you committed a small offense and then submitted yourself for punishment, or you changed your mind about a significant moral, political, or religious issue.
Moderation. Being dedicated without overdoing it. For example, perhaps you used to practice a musical instrument for 5 hours a day, but you were really only productive for the first 3 hours, so you cut it down to 3 hours a day and had more time to accomplish some other goal. Moderation often involves self-knowledge about your abilities.
Moral strength. Facing difficulties by taking a stand or without falling apart. For example, perhaps you faced the illness of a family member, poverty, a natural disaster, or racism by writing a blog about your experience and by getting support from your friends.
Courage. Knowing not only when to act in a dangerous situation, but also when to retreat, and following through. For example, perhaps you escaped from a fire at home and chose not to return inside to try to save your pet, or you have just returned from military service where you put your training into action.
Generosity. Giving your time, money, attention, or other resources to others, for their sake. For example, you might engage in community service or cook meals for your friends.
Love/Honor. Enjoying and honoring what is good about yourself and the world, without too much pride or humility, and without too much critique. For example, you might be excited about a research project you completed and be ready to deepen your knowledge, proud of your achievements so far, but acknowledging that you still have a lot to learn. Or you might keep up with the lives of your family members by having dinner together seven days a week.
Self-control. Only getting angry or emotional in the right circumstances, and then acting appropriately. For example, you might have become angry with someone who committed a crime against you, but you called the police instead of picking up a gun to even the score.
Friendliness. Having friends and enjoying yourself; being witty; expressing your thoughts and feelings and paying attention to the thoughts and feelings of others; warming up to others quickly. For example, you may have struck up a conversation with somebody on the bus who turned out to be fascinating, or you go to the same coffee shop every week with your friends and never run out of things to talk about.
Faith. Being true to what you believe in, even while you genuinely engage with others who believe in something else. For example, perhaps you gained new insight into your own moral position on an issue as a result of arguing with someone about it (or you changed your mind!), or you have explained to someone why you engage in a certain religious practice, or you learned something important by carefully reading a sacred text.
Understanding. Really knowing how something works. For instance, you might have worked on a sailboat and can explain why the sails are shaped a certain way, or you could have an insightful interpretation of a work of art or literature.
Technical skill. Being able to do something well. For example, maybe you can pick 25 pints of blueberries in an hour without letting any bad ones in, or you can speak for 30 minutes on any topic someone suggests.
Discernment. Being able to see general principles or trends in the details of life; being able to "see the forest for the trees." For example, perhaps something in everyday life strikes you as an example of a larger pattern in society.
Knowledge. Knowing truth from falsehood; knowing facts rather than just having opinions; having clear and distinct ideas; being able to think something through and get the details right. For instance, you might have learned the Pythagorean theorem in algebra class, but now you can prove it, and something really clicks in your brain every time you go through the proof.
Wisdom. Being able to go back and forth seamlessly between general principles that you have internalized and specific facts that you know. If you are applying to an institution of higher learning, you can suggest that wisdom is your aspiration and your hope rather than a quality you have already achieved.