Back again friends with another post on writing a solid personal statement. Make use of your summer months by getting a jumpstart on them graduate school applications. Libraries have loads of free space and free central air conditioning. Get your life! Get somewhere, sit down and do something productive. Don’t know where to start? No worries; you know I’m here as always with my two cents. As a student and graduate student who has experienced the process of writing and revising my own statement, and now as a professional responsible for reviewing applications and admitting students into the programs I work with, I’ve seen the personal statement from both ends of the table. Although most of us are never formally instructed on how to write them, there are clear and finite do’s and do not’s when it comes to preparing a personal statement most effective in presenting ourselves as eligible candidates for the college/graduate/medical/law programs, of our choice. Below are some examples of common mistakes that I’ve seen in the countless statements that have graced my desk. There are even some no-no’s that I’ve made myself. Through watching and working with faculty and administration in the construction of classes and cohorts I’ve learned (and I’m still learning) what the decision makers are (and are not) looking for. So I'm here to share the wealth. I just want to make sure that we’re all taking the right steps in the right order to realize our academic and professional dreams.
- Follow the directions- I think I mentioned this in my first post, but it’s worth restating. YOU MUST FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS. If they ask you a question, answer it directly. There are no tricks here. It’s just as simple as it’s been your entire academic life. A personal statement does not grant you license to recklessly state your thoughts, opinions, political affiliations, etc. Rather it is essentially a measure of your intellectual capacity, writing/communication skills, creativity and overall academic/professional potential. Failing to read the directions places you at an immediate disadvantage.
- State your business at the door- Your first sentence, paragraph MUST STATE that you are a Masters/Doctoral /Juris doctor candidate in ABCD Program at ABCD school. Oftentimes students think they must reel the reader in with an elaborate, emotional anecdote or random witty phrase. This can be effective if properly executed but it’s often done at the expense of what the statement is all about. Again this is not an autobiographical sketch of your personal, academic and professional experiences to date. Do not spew a wide random range of activities, experiences, beliefs in an effort to appear a verbose, cultured, extraordinarily educated individual. The statement tells us about you and why you feel you belong in our program. Your great grandmother’s dying wish, while significant, in this case is left of the point. Which leads me to the next don’t…
- SPARE US THE SOB STORIES AND WATCH THE CLICHES- This don’t is my personal favorite as this too was discussed in the previous personal statement posts. I understand that the circumstances of our lives often motivate our professional choices and it’s okay to acknowledge them. However, it is important that we don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. We when feature certain not-so-positive circumstances in our statements we become categorized, labeled, and remembered for what we’ve gone through rather then for what we bring to the table. Be careful to structure your personal statement in a way that puts the spotlight on your achievements and not just your adversity. It’s ok to reflect personally and be transparent but remember the focus of you statement should be substantive and specific to what makes you a prime candidate for this particular program/college/graduate school. Trust me, playing the pity card and dwelling on your meager single parent upbringing in the mean urban drug infested streets of your hometown is often perceived as a hook or an angle employed by an applicant who doesn't believe him/herself to be as strong an applicant as his/her counterparts. Think about it.
- It's an essay; ACT like it- You’re statement is an essay and it must be structured as such. An introduction, thesis statement, supporting paragraphs and conclusion are all necessary elements. Sometimes students see the word "personal" in personal statement and get informal in their writing. Be careful of your phrasing, sentence structure, spelling and grammar. These common mistakes are very distracting and can be a deal breaker for some application readers/reviewers.
- Don’t Submit a Standard Statement- We can spot a canned, generic, just change the name of the institution, personal statement a mile away. Be specific and show just how and why you fit into the program that you’re applying too. Doing your research puts your miles ahead of the competition because it shows (not just states) your commitment and sincere interest in the program you’re applying to. Perhaps there is a faculty person you’ve been following and would appreciate the opportunity to work with/learn from. Perhaps there is center or institute specifically devoted to your specific area of interest. These are things that reviewers love to see in personal statements. So check out the website, tour the campus, schedule a call /visit with a faculty person/administrator. We're always looking to admit students who want to succeed at our institutions. You all make our jobs much easier.
These are just a few things to keep in mind. There is more information available in my first post on personal statements. (You can find it here) Again, make use of your summer months by getting a jumpstart on them graduate school applications. Don’t forget to revise, re read and proofread as if doing so will plug that oil-leaking hole in the gulf. It's that serious! Love ya’ll, thanks for your patience and I’ll be back with more posts soon!
Happy Heat Wavin,