Looking at my checklist for the grad school application, I was down to the final element: My Personal Statement. Ugh. (Sigh) It was time to get it done.
The logical side of me thinks that Personal Statements, Goal Statements, Letters of Intent… whatever you want to call them, are a really smart idea. Who wants to be judged solely on their test scores and grades? That doesn’t REALLY say all there is to say about you. It’s good that you have the recommendations of three people you’ve chosen to speak on your behalf, but still, that’s not YOU. It’s wise to really put some time and effort into the only true “voice” you’ll have in your application.
Of course, my lazy, childish side says it doesn’t WANNA write another schmoozie letter about why they should choose me. We just got done putting together all that stuff for those stupid recommendation letter-things and they should just LET ME IN ALREADY!
So having completed my little tantrum, I put on my big-girl pants and went to work. This is just the first of MANY, MANY papers to come in the future, so I guess I’d better get used to it.
All good papers and sales pitches begin with research and this was no different:
- Know the Rules. Check with your college’s and department’s websites for any requirements as to format, length, content, etc. You want to make sure you’re giving them what is required. If you can’t even follow instructions, why should they admit you to their advanced educational program?
- List of Qualities and Accomplishments. I brought out the list of qualities and accomplishments I had provided to my letter writers to assist them in writing their letters of recommendation.
- Departmental Expectations. Going back to the my department of choice on the grad school website, I printed a couple of pages from the online handbook that addressed the qualities and skills necessary to become a successful Speech-Language Pathologist.
- Brainstorm. After reading through all these pages again, I started brainstorming on a separate piece of paper, listing events and achievements that corresponded to the qualities and skills they would be looking for in an ideal applicant. Give them specific examples when you’ve been an “excellent communicator” or a time when your “tenacity” was proven. It’s one thing to spout characteristics you say you have, but it’s much more convincing to PROVE it with examples.
- Start Writing.If you can come up with an outline for your paper first, that’s even better. The point is to not just stare at the blank screen or piece of paper. Just start discussing one of your examples and how it depicts the corresponding characteristic. Then write about another one. And another one. Get the ideas OUT there.
- Organize Your Thoughts. Now take all that wonderful raw material and put it in an order that makes sense. Tell a story or put the ideas in to common categories that can become paragraphs. Hopefully, if you’ve put thought and effort into it, you’ll have WAY too much material at this point. That’s good.
- Write the Opening and Closing Paragraphs. Take a break from the meat of your creation and rough draft the bread of your essay sandwich. I started mine with a brief note about my age and how I think it will be an asset to my educational experience. The next paragraph discussed how I came to the decision to become an SLP and the research I had done prior to my decision to go back to school. For the closing, you don’t have to say everything all over again, but you do need to express your enthusiasm for entering their program, reiterate one or two of the most important points and thank them for their time and consideration.
- Sharpen Your Machete. They are going to be reading a LOT of letters. Don’t bore them to death with a 10 page history of your life. The general consensus I came to in my research was that anything over 2 pages is too much. Again, check the school’s guidelines on this one.
- Revise, Revise, Revise. Look at your sentence structure. Do you start with “I” too often. Are your sentences varied and interesting to read? Do you repeat certain words too often? Check grammar and spelling at least twice. Make sure your verb tenses agree.
- Fresh Eyes. Have at least two other people read, markup and comment on your work.
- Set a Deadline. You can work an essay to DEATH, so know when to stop. Set yourself a deadline at which your efforts will be finished whether you are completely satisfied that you’ve accomplished absolute perfection or not.
Good advice I got from Claremont Graduate University‘s website:
Avoid the “what I did with my life” approach.
Avoid the “I’ve always wanted to be a” approach.
Avoid a catalog of achievements. This is only a list of what you have done, and tells nothing about you as a person. Normally, the statement is far more than a resume.
Avoid lecturing the reader. For example, you should not write a statement such as “Communication skills are important in this field.” Any graduate admissions committee member knows that and is not trying to learn about the field from the applicant. Some statements do ask applicants about their understanding of the field.
Words and phrases to avoid without explanation:
significant appealing to me meaningful
interesting appealing aspect helping people
challenging feel good I like helping people
satisfying/satisfaction I like it remarkable
appreciate it’s important rewarding
invaluable meant a lot to me useful
exciting/excited incredible stimulating
enjoyable/enjoy gratifying valuable
I can contribute fascinating helpful
My “masterpiece” took about 4 weeks to perfect, so make sure you give yourself PLENTY of time to get it done. This is not something you want to throw together at the last minute. It will show. They will know. And it will speak VOLUMES about your future efforts as a student.
Good luck in your writing. Sell it, baby!
I hope your application is accepted with enthusiasm (and scholarship money).
- Getting Into College: The Personal Statement (education.com)
- Writing the Graduate Admission Essay (about.com)
- Admission Essay Do’s and Don’ts (about.com)