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How to Write a Personal Statement

It’s graduation season, and students are starting to think about college and graduate school, but a crucial part of any application process is the personal statement. Below, I’ve listed a few tips to consider before you start drafting your admission essays.

Think of It Like a Job Interview

With job interviews, it’s important to explain why you think you’d be good at the job but also why the job would be good for you. The same is true with schools.

They also want to know what you’re going to bring to the school. Will you participate in extracurricular activities? Will you be involved in the local culture? Schools want to know how the education they give you (in and outside of the classroom) will fit into your ultimate career path.

To see if you’re committed to the company, employers will sometimes ask, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Schools want to know the same thing, but for different reasons. They want to know that you have a plan, and that the education they give you is not just going to be wasted.

Be Specific

Specificity is a crucial part of any writing process, but it is absolutely necessary with personal statements which often have limiting word counts. Also, the person (or people) reading your personal statement has a stack of essays about two feet high to get through, so specificity is your opportunity to separate yourself from the pile.

Look up course listings for courses you’re interested in taking. Name specific courses you’ve already taken. If you’re interested in extracurricular activities, don’t say extracurricular activities; name the actual clubs and organizations. If you’re interested in theatre, don’t say theatre; give the name of the actual theatre company.

As far as the school is concerned you are just a piece of paper with the same story to tell as everyone else, but if you can provide a specific story, with concrete details, then you can transcend the paper and become real. And it’s much harder to say ‘no’ to a real person.

Prove You Know Where You’re Applying

Always have a separate personal statement for each school you’re applying to. Never say, “I’m applying to this school…” Give the name of the school you’re applying to.

It also might be a good idea to look up the mission statement of the schools you’re applying to to better understand what is special about that particular school and the particular program you’re applying to.

Remember that you’re not applying to “graduate school” (or college, or a scholarship), you’re applying to “Brown University’s Literary Arts program” (for example). Schools don’t want to know why you want to go to graduate school. They want to know why you want to apply to their specific program, so prove to them that you know it.

Proofread!

Finally—as is good practice with any piece of writing—don’t just type it up right before the due date and send it out. Proofread it. Have a friend read it. Sleep on it, and then proofread it again out loud.