Month: March 2012

Things to Avoid in a Personal Statement – Part 5 of 5

No doubt about it – when writing a personal statement for a grad-school application, there are a lot of choices to make when deciding what to include. Many positive elements must be there for the statement to make a good impression, and some of those elements or features were discussed in a recent posting. Here, I want to give a bit of advice on the kinds of things that one should avoid in a personal statement, at all costs.

First of all, do not try to guess what the admissions committee is looking for in a personal statement. There is no particular response that they are looking for, and it is always obvious when a student is trying to guess at what is expected. This will undoubtedly make an applicant appear naïve, uncertain, or immature – and such an impression will typically spoil an entire application.

In most cases, it is a mistake to refer to academic achievements or other accomplishments prior to college. To mention the fact that you obtained an A+ in every high school class while you were also captain of the basketball and football teams would create the impression (probably accurate) that you do not know the difference between relevant and irrelevant information. Participation in varsity sports as an undergraduate will seldom be of any relevance.

A common mistake is to be effusive about the passion one has for a particular field of study. No one other than you really cares about your intrinsic interest in the field, so long as you have enough motivation to succeed in the program. The admissions committee should be able to infer from your letters of recommendation whether or not you are motivated enough.

Do not include boring platitudes or generic statements, and discuss frankly any significant weakness that needs to be addressed, such a poor grade or test score. Do not offer weak excuses, as they usually backfire and cause damage to the impression one makes on others. Do not exaggerate your previous accomplishments.

So you don’t risk offending anyone, avoid discussing anything in your personal statement that may be considered to be controversial. Avoid politics or anything that would reveal your own political biases. The same goes for religious views; they do not belong in a personal statement.

What Should Be Included In Your Personal Statement? Part 4 of 5

It is often said that a good personal statement will read like a story. You should be able to cite specific past experiences that contributed to your interest in a particular career. Do not be afraid to include information that is of a very personal nature; it is a personal statement, after all. Clearly specify how your application to this particular program fits in as the next logical step in your story.

Try to answer the following questions about yourself, and keep notes of the responses you come up with. You will later use these notes to make an outline of your statement or essay.

What is special or unique about your personal history?

Are there any features of your life that would help the admissions committee understand who you are and where you are coming from?

Did you have to overcome any special hardships or obstacles to get to where you are today?

How and when did you first become interested in this field?

What has happened since then to make you even more interested in the field?

What are your goals with respect to a career in this field?

Do you possess any notable skills or abilities (such as leadership, analytical, computer, writing, public

speaking, etc.)? How did you acquire them? What evidence could you point to that you do in fact possess these skills or abilities?

Do you possess any notable character traits (such as integrity, sensitivity, creativity, industriousness, persistence, etc.)? What evidence could you point to that you do in fact possess these traits?

Your aim should not be to incorporate all of these things into your statement, but rather to make a collection of points from which you will choose to use a few. When deciding which points to include, however, keep in mind that your statement or essay should have a unifying theme – the main point you want to get across to the reader. All other points should contribute to this message.

The beginning of your essay should grab the reader’s attention. Some options here include a personal anecdote, a compelling question, or a thought-provoking quote. There are more subtle ways to be interesting, too. Try to end the statement in a way that ties it back to whatever you used to grab the reader’s attention in the beginning.

Remember, your goal is to write a personal statement that will leave the reader with a positive and memorable impression of you. Therefore, you want to refer to your strengths and any notable qualities you possess that should help you succeed in grad school, and especially in this specific program.

Next part of the series addresses the things to avoid in a personal statement 

[ If grad school is in your plans, be sure to check out the archives, as well as my most recent posts. I realize that students face a huge information gap that makes it difficult to know what’s really involved, and that’s why I strive to provide the best information and advice about preparing for, and applying successfully to, graduate school.

I have been a professor for the past 18 years. I have been an undergraduate academic advisor, I have served on graduate admissions committees, supervised several graduate students and dozens of undergraduate students, and over the years I have had countless discussions about graduate admissions with Graduate Program Directors and other faculty members, in a wide range of disciplines and domains (sciences, social sciences, fine arts, humanities), and at universities in the U.S. and Canada. I have the perspective of a real insider into what students need to do to stand apart from the crowd, and how to avoid the mistakes that prevent most grad-school applicants from getting in.

You can spend a lot of time collecting bits of advice from all over Internet about dealing with different components of an application, or various steps in the process, but most of it is very basic information that everyone can get (thus, no one gets an advantage from knowing about it), and most of it is just recycled on different websites so that someone can sell advertising space.

The only thing you’ll ever see advertised here is my book and e-book. My main objective with the blog is to provide most accurate and actionable information and advice. I don’t get paid to do it, although if someone buys a copy of my book, or an e-book, I do make a few bucks. So far, however, that hasn’t exactly been happening a lot. So, rest assured, I’m not doing this for the money! ]

Wondering How Long Your Personal Statement Should Be? – Part 3 of 5

Many programs actually specify a limit, which typically is two or three pages. But, even if exact limits are not specified, it is essential that your statement does not ramble about irrelevant things. Remember, your letter will be read by busy people — people who have many other applications to look at, and who will get annoyed if they have to spend more time than they want to reading any individual personal statement. A few short paragraphs covering one-and-a-half to two pages is almost always enough, unless the instructions in your application package specifies that you need to provide particular details that require more space than this.

Do not try to say everything you think might be relevant. Highlight two or three or maybe four important points and keep it at that. Before you start writing, plan the order in which you want to make your points. The people reading it will appreciate a concise and well-organized personal statement.

If you need help preparing your personal statements for grad school, check out my consulting services FAQ section or fill out the pre-consult form using the following password: consult2017#mgs

Part 4 : Wondering What Should Be in Your Personal Statement?