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Step 1: Strategy
Research! Research! Research!
Research the schools you are applying to. Most schools will provide you with a brochure that provides information about the school’s expectations from its applicants. Talk to people you know who attended that school and its graduates. Take full advantage of the school’s alumni program to network with graduates. Call the school and make an appointment with an admissions counselor or another official. The more you know about the school, its programs, and its faculty members, the better you will be able to structure your essay and show that you are truly interested in the school. Additionally, this extra research effort pays off by notifying the reader that you have taken more time to learn more about the school than other applicants. Extra research leaves the reader with a favorable impression of your diligence, dedication and interest in their institution. This extra knowledge and information does not have to be mentioned in every sentence or otherwise be overstated. Your statement need only contain enough information to convey the impression that you have gone the extra mile.
Know the Stakes Involved!
Understand the importance of the Application Process. Always remind yourself of the high stakes involved in being admitted into the school of your choice. Be aware of the impact this will have on your future career trajectory, earnings expectations, and career options. Instead of feeling overwhelmed or anxious, use the gravity of the process to motivate yourself and write the best essay you possibly can.
Know the Question Being Asked!
Depending on the type of school, department, or reputation of the school you are applying to, the Admissions Committees will be reading hundreds if not thousands of personal statements. In order to make your statement engaging, memorable, and distinctive you must apply the basic strategy of isolating and focusing on the central theme asked in each question–answer it! Think it through. What exactly are they asking for? What is the Scope of the question? Application questions often range from the extremely specific [e.g., what are the personal challenges regarding interpersonal matters that you feel brought out your conflict mediation and management skills?] to the open-ended and amorphous [e.g. tell us something about yourself regarding your desire to become an attorney]. In addition to the question posed, most schools provide guidelines for answering their questions. Follow these guidelines carefully. Don’t deviate from them.
Some question formats pose one general question and several more specific questions. Don’t let your answer to the general question be a mere repetition of the specific queries. Pay close attention to the precise question asked and avoid being repetitive. Reserve all other information worthy of some detail for the general personal statement. Make your general statement a “catch-all” document which gives the Admissions Committee the impression that there is more to you than you have previously revealed.
Avoid redundancies among the differing parts of your application package. Don’t just recite your GPA and/or courses taken in your personal statement. These will probably be given adequate consideration elsewhere in the application. However, you may mention your GPA and courses taken if you believe they require explanation. For instance, you may state that your GPA discrepancy was due to an illness that required hospitalization or due to family problems. Aside from such situations, do not make “excuses” for your grades. The Admissions Committees probably run into hundreds of such excuses each and every year.
Beware of a “one size fits all” attitude!
Once you estimate the parameters of what the personal statement question is asking for, you must discern the type and structure of an essay that would be the most efficient and responsive to the question posed. With this in mind, beware that there is no ONE generic personal statement that could possibly meet all the questions posed by the schools you are applying to. Most schools vary in the personal mix of people they wish to admit. Your must tailor your statement closely to the questions the application package asks. Although one personal statement might generally meet the requirements of more than one school. Ideally, a separate personal statement should be written specifically for each and every school.
The Bottom Line
Your personal statement is your chance to shine. Plan it accordingly.
Discuss accomplishments, not failures; valuable experiences, not defeats. Emphasize the positive and empowering, do not bore or depress the reader. Make sure your personal statement is bright, involved, engaging and motivated. Remember that the Admissions Committees are composed of experienced professionals who probably collectively combed through thousands of personal statements over the span of their careers. They will be able to read between the lines!
Writing Tips (step 2 of 4)
Step 2. ORGANIZATION
Keep your goals in mind
Telling your personal story, like any storytelling, can take many
forms. From short and choppy to verbose and ornate. Introducing one’s self in a personal statement can take many forms and shapes–as varied as individuals themselves speak. However, a successful personal statement is a narrow form of introduction which narrowly focuses on the question posed by the application form by answering two central questions–”Who am I?” and “What Can I offer?” The successful personal statement never strays from these twin objectives–introducing yourself and describing your potential as a successful candidate. Hence, it is important to isolate key accomplishments, turning points, and events in one’s life which shed light on these central themes. Analyze your resume, personal history and memory to isolate certain key “defining moments” in your life.
The personal statement writing process can be an exciting process because it presents the opportunity to tell and explore your own personal history. What we write down, what we focus on, what we highlight and explore gives an insight as to our own particular and unique values, hopes, aspirations and ideals. Keep this in mind. The information you present, as much as how you present it, can portray you either as a positive and eager individual or as an easily discouraged person merely going through the motions of the application process. Always keep in mind the particular image you wish to portray when sifting through your personal facts and writing your essay.
Some of the topics to explore and develop for essay purposes include:
b) projects you have completed
c) particular jobs and responsibilities
d) accomplishments — both professional and scholastic
e) major life events that you believe have changed you
f) challenges and personal hurdles you have overcome
g) life events which motivate you to apply for this particular course of education.
h) individuals who influenced, prepared, or motivated you to pursue
a particular profession or school
i) particular traits, work habits, attitudes or sensibilities that you have developed which will insure your success in school or in a profession.
j) your goals
Always remember to explore these topics with the underlying purpose of showing how these events, experiences and people have affected you in such a way that will help you succeed in the school you are applying to. Keep in mind, as you create your list, that you wish to give the reader the impression that you have the motivation, direction, and drive to succeed in their school or program.
At this stage, focus on writing down, as specifically as possible, the different events and accomplishments that you feel should be mentioned. You need not be concerned with grammar or other technicalities this early on. The important point is that you adequately describe your chosen events and accomplishments.
Now that you have listed your interests and past jobs, read these facts carefully and isolate the emotion that each fact/event triggers. Does the memory of an event or activity or accomplishment trigger pride? Resolution? A sense of “making peace and moving on”? Does it motivate you to forge ahead and do more to correct a mistake? Once you are emotionally engaged, try to identify one trait that make yous feel good or particularly proud of AND isolate the personal trait that you feel was improved or took some time to improve. Then isolate the events, experiences, or people with personal traits, goals and motivation. Circle the facts and pair them with specific personal traits or personal qualities. You should then write short sentences explaining how each pairing would help you become successful in the particular school or program you are applying to. Now you are now ready to find an organizing structure or format for your essay.
Choosing a Format
Just as stories could be told in various forms, ranging from the novel to a short story to parables and allegories, one’s personal story can fit into many types of presentations. Nevertheless, certain formats predominate over others because these formats are more commonly used. Below are just three popular organizing and thematic formats AdmissionsEssays.Com uses in developing custom personal statements.
1. OVERCOMING ADVERSITY
This format emphasizes one’s tenacity, patience, and diligence in dealing with, overcoming, or making peace with unpleasant life-transforming events or characters. Far from placing blame or making excuses, this format isolates the applicant’s ability to thrive despite external
and/or internal hindrances.
i. Be Descriptive.
Use facts to back up ALL your assertions. Never state specifics–describe them. How exactly are you “more mature”? What experiences have you had that would warrant an attribution of “entrepreneurial” and “creative”? Although most Admissions Committees are not looking for
statements that describe some sort of personal revelation or enlightenment, use your personal facts to describe who you are and why you are exceptional.
ii. Emphasize your positive attitude by stating your future plans.
Fit this material with certain facts or programs about the school that you have researched.
iii. Show a proactive attitude through your word choices and sentence sequence.
i. Do not dwell on how you suffered or how much of a “victim” you were.
Don’t place blame or judge–you don’t want to come off as bitter and angry.
ii. Don’t engage in self-pity.
2. PERSONAL GROWTH
This format surveys the achievements and accomplishments of the applicant and comments upon these events. The comments trace the evolution and transformation of the individual into a
successful and determined candidate.
i. Use a positive, active voice
ii. Focus on the changes in your attitude and perspective giving concrete factual examples of these changes.
iii. Give a clear, concise and adequately developed description of key events from which you derived personal growth and wisdom.
i. Make excuses for failed and dashed expectations.
Explain why things did not work out and most importantly what you have done to cope with disappointments. However, outside of illness or other unforeseen circumstances, don’t explain away bad grades or bad semesters. If applicable, do explain how personal setbacks have given you a new attitude which translated into a concrete accomplishment.
Try not to overfocus on personal enlightenment but focus instead on concrete outcomes or consequences of such personal revelations.
ii. Appear to feel sorry for yourself.
iii. Focus on just ONE achievement.
iv. Appear angry or bitter.
3. FAMILY HISTORY
This format tells a family member’s story and how the applicant interacted with that person’s legacy or was inspired by that person’s achievements. This format is often used to show how historical influences color and shape an individual.
i. Isolate personal traits and attributes
ii. Briefly describe a family member who has inspired you to pursue your education or particular professional vocation.
iii. You may discuss, briefly, any struggles that your family has overcome.
i. Overstate family problems.
ii. Appear to be asking for pity.
iii. Place so much importance on your family’s struggle that you lose focus on your own struggles and achievements.
Remember that the Family History format’s purpose is to highlight YOUR achievements & YOUR ability to cope with family obstacles.
Writing Tips (step 3 of 4)
STEP 3. EXECUTION
Writing with a Distinctive Voice
Once you’ve gathered your information and selected a structure for your essay, you are now ready to write your statement. A key element of the writing process is choosing a particular point of view from which to present your information. Of course, your choice of perspective depends on the particular style you have developed over the years. The following is an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of applying a particular writing voice to personal statement drafting.
1. Third Party Narrator
In terms of personal statement drafting, this approach is creative, different, and, if done correctly, very effective. A third party’s viewpoint is particularly effective in telling stories of personal growth and evolution. This narrative voice often employs the perspective of a teacher, parent or a friend telling your personal story.
2. First Person
This is the most basic and common voice. This employs the use of the word “I.” This approach is great for most formats. Professional and graduate school applicants most often use this approach because it is the most direct. The greatest danger this approach presents, is boring the reader if you do not vary your sentence structure. Avoid placing subjects in front of predicates consistently throughout the essay; reverse their order. Pay attention to sentence length and word choice to vary the look and feel of the essay.
3. Second Person
Uses the word “You.” This is a rarely used voice but crucial for building empathy between the reader and the applicant. It is often used in a storytelling format. The problem with this approach is that it may be too personal for the reader.
Writing the Statement: the Power of a Good Introduction
Your introductory paragraph may be the most crucial portion of your entire essay. This is your opportunity to grab the attention of the reader and encourage them to read your essay intently. Take your time and think through possible alternative approaches for presenting your information. For example, you may employ an opening quote, anecdote, or narrative passage among many other approaches. Instead of saying, “This is my personal story….,” try, “[Written from the perspective of Joe's 5th grade science teacher] I first met Joe when he was a shy, young freckle-faced boy sitting at the back of my Science class. He was always curious about stars and moons, often asking me …”
An effective opening line engages the reader and draws them in to your essay, compelling them to read your personal story closely. The rest of your introduction should be a short summary of what is to come. However, don’t just write a summary. Dramatize and highlight the following paragraphs of your essay. In essence, your introduction should be an exciting preview of the body of your statement.
The Body: Getting the Message Across
The main paragraphs should consist of events, experiences and activities you have already organized in chronological order or in order of importance. You should feel free to give special prominence to “play up” those accomplishments that you believe deserve particular attention. Be specific and detailed. Tell the readers that you deserve to get admitted to their school. Let them know in no uncertain terms that you qualify over and above the rest for a spot in the entering class. Be careful not to sound redundant. Each and every paragraph should have a separate theme, and developed within and throughout the paragraph. Your final body paragraph should end on a positive note restating your goals in terms of its anticipated fulfillment at the institution to which you are applying.
The personal essay, like any persuasive writing piece, is a “front loaded” document. Emphasize your point at the beginning of the document. Thus, dramatic flourishes should not be reserved for the conclusion of your essay. Conclusion paragraphs may not be needed if the last paragraph of your body is striking enough. However, if you decide to write a conclusion, make sure not to merely restate your introduction. While it’s acceptable to restate your goals and motivations, you should do so in a manner that will leave a lasting impression with the reader. Rather than claiming, “I have worked hard in school as a tutor, and I believe that I will be successful at your school,” try, “my GPA, experiences, and incomparable traits make me the outgoing, accomplished and promising candidate that your school is looking for.” Be clear, straight forward, and end with a bang!
Writing Tips (step 4 of 4)
Step 4: Quality Control and Revision
Review and Revision
This is perhaps one of the most important essays you will ever write, so do not submit your first draft. Read it aloud, have a friend read it, then revise, revise and revise! While a few schools conduct personal interviews, in the vast majority of cases, the personal statement is your only chance to personally connect with the person who holds the decisionmaking power to admit you. Thus, if the essay does not feel right, never hesitate to revise once more. Make sure the essay has the overall content, tone and feel that you intend to convey to the reader.
Do not hesitate to analyze your essay line by line. Question whether each line fits and connects with the others. Ask whether it is concise, effective, and illuminates the general theme or supports an assertion. Make sure that all sentences follow the preceding ones in logical order. If something is not absolutely clear to you, it certainly will not be clear to the reader who knows nothing about you.
Eliminate all redundancies
Read over each paragraph and make sure that each is dedicated to a separate thesis or theme. Repeating the same topic or theme over and over again will bore the reader, and the essay will lack the professional feel that you are trying to convey.
Look at the essay as a whole.
Are there any missing parts which would aid your thesis? If so, go over your “paired” list (pairings of facts and personal attributes) and provide the material for the missing sections.
Support all assertion
Find any claims or assertions that are unsupported by facts, events, or other descriptive material. Compare “I am an enterprising individual” with “While going to college and taking a full engineering course load, a couple of friends and I decided to form our own software company …” If these gaps exist, use facts to link your particular experiences with the message you are sending. Every line should make logical sense, every fact must support and support your thesis.
The Final step of your writing process should be to have two or more people read your essay. One person should be someone very familiar with your personal background. If pertinent information is excluded in your essay, that person will be able to point it out. The second person should be someone who is casually acquainted with you. Since any areas in your essay which are unclear to this reader will also likely be unclear to the Admissions Committee, this reader should be able to point out the problems. Lastly, but very importantly, a third person should check for grammatical and spelling errors. You must make sure that there are absolutely no errors in your essay. After all, you are trying to convey a professional image of yourself. You’d be surprised how bad an impression a single spelling error makes on the reader. Reread, reread, and reread again!
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