You don’t have to have a life changing, dramatic story to write a legendary personal statement. Any story can reach legendary status with basic writing skills and structure.
For most, writing about yourself is difficult. Shit, it was difficult for me (ask my Mom or my closest mentor Mallom). It took me 4 months to get my personal statement(s) to the point where I was pleased. In fact, I worked on perfecting my essays until the very last day that I could submit. Because, I knew that for me, it was my story and my character that would open the door for an interview. I had to rock it as best as I could.
Writing a memorable personal statement takes time and intense self-reflection if you are serious about it. For me, it connected dots in my life and career that I did not see nor understand prior. I laughed and I cried as I wrote and read and edited… and wrote and read and edited. It was transformational – and I don’t mean that lightly. If you haven’t read my personal statement, you’ll see what I mean after reading. By the end, it truly became my life on paper.
As someone that helps and consults others on how to tell their stories through personal statements, it is quite funny how quickly I can transform and evolve a storyline versus how long it took me to do the same for my own. So, I feel your pain whether you are writing for business school, law school, medical school, dental school, etc. IT’S NOT EASY. But, it’s worth your effort.
Nevertheless, the admissions readers should be able to ascertain key takeaways about who you are as a person, because it is the only piece of your application where they truly get a window into who you are as a person and get to know the “real you”. Here are my tips as you begin to construct your story and craft your statement regardless of the graduate school that you are applying to.
Sit down and reflect on your path that got you to where you are today. What were defining moments in your life? Ask yourself how you ended up making certain decisions or taking certain positions throughout your educational or professional career. Who guided you through your decision making process? Who inspired you? Why are you considering going back to school and continuing your education?
What are continuous threads throughout your life? What have you always believed in or worked towards?
Going to graduate school is not just about you. I know you want to advance in your career and make more money. However, in an idealistic world, you are going back to school to better serve various communities and the world through your respective industries. As you write your statement these three points should be made very clear:
- Why is going to _____ program important to your life?
- How will your experiences and character contribute to the makeup of your class? How will you influence your classmates?
- How will you going to _____ program impact the world around you?
You’re going back for the greater good and are expected to use the skills and network that you’ve garnered to be a better contributing member of society. Make sure that the school knows that you understand and are not an ego-maniac.
4. craft your story
A well written personal statement should read like a story. Below is the hero’s arc that I use as a framework when writing anything and everything. This tool is a major key. Utilize this story arc as you create your outline.
I like to list out the main high level themes or characteristics that I want to get across and then lay out the examples that support and bring life to them. You can turn this into a linear outline and fill in the blanks.
5. Write your story
If you have taken the time to reflect, figure out the themes that connect your story, what you want the reader to take away from it, and picked the examples that support your want to go back to school – you are half way there. Now, you can take your outline and simply fill it in to actually write your story. This guide rail and safety net prevents you from being totally lost on where to start. Take advantage of it. It’ll make your life easier.
6. SIT ON IT
After you write a draft or two, sit on it. You may come back to this step multiple times and thats okay and should be expected. Fresh eyes work wonders when writing. Make sure you give yourself enough time between edits so that when you come back you’re in a refreshed headspace that will allow you to appreciate both the positives and negatives about what you have written.
Editing is the hardest part of this process. You may have too little or too many words. You may be repeating the same points multiple times. You may have sentences or paragraphs that need to be rearranged. The editing phase is the best time to do that.
By doing so, you will be able to catch more grammar mistakes and awkward verbiage that you would not have noticed otherwise. Ask yourself:
- Do I clearly answer the three triangulation questions?
- What are the key takeaways that I get after reading?
- What is memorable? What is my hook?
- Is my theme continuous from beginning to end?
- Which examples or strong? Which examples are weak and need to be strengthened or replaced?
- Am I re-stating content that I already share in other parts of my application? If so, this may need to be removed.
- Do I utilize any words multiple times? If so, what other words can I replace them with?
You want to make the most of your word count. Practice word economy. Make sure that each word has a purpose. Make sure that your tenses are all the same. Editing is just as important and as difficult as synthesizing the original content. Give yourself the same time and space to edit – you will need it.
if you choose to share and ask for advice:
- Be specific in what you ask a peer reviewer for. The more specific you are on what you ask of someone, the more tailored their advice will be. The worst advice is – hey yeah this is good, or this is great. Of course people in your inner circle are going to tell you you are great, because they know you well. Help those that care about you give you critical feedback. Examples of how to do this well are:
- Mentor: What key takeaways about who I am do you get from this statement? What am I missing?
- Current Student or Graduate: Can you please let me know if I am showing enough of the character qualities that the school is looking for? O
- Best Friend: Does this embody who I am? Am I being honest and vulnerable enough about my real story?
- A Friend / Mentor that is a great writer: Can you give me advice on the flow and check my grammar?
- Understand that every person you send your statement to will give you different advice and viewpoints based on their experiences, age, understanding of the admission process, and their personal relationship with you. Take each piece of advice with a grain of salt.
- Some advice is best left on the table. While you may get some outstanding pieces of advice or edits, some may not be valid and can potentially do more harm than good
- Do not be offended if someone gives you harsh or critical feedback. Feedback is a gift. That person would not share it with you if they didn’t care.
Not everyone is a writer, if you fall into that category then that’s okay! I hope this gives you a foundation and the tools necessary to write a personal statement that not only gets your foot in the door for an interview and ultimately your acceptance, but helps you create something that you can look back on and say I showed them exactly who I was then and look at where I am now.