Admission interviews are terrifying, absolutely terrifying. They are like job interviews without the free parking. Lucky for you, we do not require admission interviews, although you are always welcome to stop by our office to say hello and play brain ball. Personal statements can be equally terrifying in that, like interviews, you are being judged. Most of us (me included) are terrible writers even though it is something we do on a daily basis. Why is it so difficult to write about ourselves even though every day most of us write about ourselves in fewer than 120 characters?
After reading thousands of personal statements over the years (average of 800-1000 personal statements and I’ve done this now for seven years), I’ve come up with three ways in which personal statements quickly become impresonal. I’ll try to provide some more pointers in the months to come. Truth be told I would write more now but as I write I’m also watching the Duke v. Kentucky game (college basketball is back!) and things are starting to get interesting.
1. Don’t write anything while you watch college basketball.
2. Many personal statements are not personal, instead applicants commonly write what they think admission committees want to hear rather than what they want to say. In making their statement sound academic they lose the personal stickiness of the writing. By academic writing, I mean applicants tend to use big words and confusing sentence structure because they want to sound intelligent. Sounding intelligent is not the problem, you should always sound intelligent. Sounding intelligent and personal is the goal. By using run on sentences and academic words it is easy to lose your voice. The goal is simple: What do you want to do and why do you need a graduate school to help you do it. I recommend writing the statement for someone other than the admission committee first. After they read it, they should have a very clear idea of why you want to attend graduate school and what you plan to do after you receive the degree–then, the editing begins.
3. Resume Regurgitation. If you use your personal statement to tell us what is on your resume, you’ve lost a golden opportunity to share your story. My favorite personal statements do not repeat what the resume already reflects, instead, they give context to previous experience and provide a roadmap for what you hope your resume looks like five years from now. Don’t repeat what you’ve already done, give us some context and by all means, insert some emotion!…but never an emoticon.
4. Never use a quote. Ever. Especially that Ghandi quote about change, which he never actually said.
I will channel my best 10th grade English teacher to say, “FIND YOUR VOICE!” and your statements are due on January 15th.
Director of Graduate Admissions