Tag Archives: applications

Letters of Continued Interest: What they are, and how to write them.

Letters of Continued Interest. (From Muffet on Flickr.)

So, you’ve been waitlisted. Or, you’ve been deferred. Now what?

Well, you can do one of two things: you can either sit on your laurels or you can write what’s called a letter of continued interest.

A letter of continuing interest (or, if you’re cool, a LOCI) is essentially what it sounds like: a letter to the admissions committee stating your continuing interest in their school.

While a LOCI doesn’t bear as much weight as other parts of your application like, say, your personal statement, it is still a very good idea to send one. If you’ve been waitlisted, deferred, or otherwise on hold, a LOCI could perhaps be the extra nudge you need to get in.

Here are a few tips to help get you out of limbo:

Write it as soon as possible.

“When should I submit one?” is usually the second question I’m asked. (Following what a LOCI is to begin with, of course.) My answer, as it is in many scenarios, is as soon as possible. Meaning, you should begin working on your LOCI as soon as you receive your notice of deferral or waitlist letter. Sending it out quickly shows your seriousness as an applicant by illustrating just how badly you really do want to go to this school. Also gives you a practical edge over the rest of the applicant pool– you’ll beat them to the punch.

Your LOCI should ONLY be one page.

Yes, this should only be a one-page letter. You have already written a personal statement– perhaps even a diversity statement as well. Your LOCI is a letter of continuing interest; there’s no need to rehash your application again. In terms of format, your LOCI should resemble a business or cover letter– it should include all relevant contact information as well as the appropriate greetings. (“Dear Mr./Ms. X,” works as an opening salutation, and “Sincerely,” to close.)

Explain why you’re still interested in attending.

Ideally, if you’re thinking of writing a LOCI, you still want to attend a particular school. So, be sure to explain how this school  is the perfect match for you– what specific programs are you interested in? Is there a particular professor you’re interested in studying with? In other words, why do want to get in, and what will you do there once you are admitted? Consider these questions, but be sure your answers are concise. Also, if you’ve visited them since applying, let them know– it will really drive home your veritable continuing interest in the school.

Provide updates to your application.

Surely, some time has passed since you first submitted your application. Has anything changed since then? Have you accepted any new positions or received any awards since you first applied? Have you completed any interesting research or published anything? Be sure to include updated information– don’t be redundant. By now, they have already reviewed your application, so repeating it all over again would be unnecessary and even unwanted. However, if there are some serious changes — like internship or thesis credits–  you can send them an updated transcript or even an additional letter of recommendation. It will not only confirm what you’re saying but also bolster your open application, giving them more reason to possibly admit you.

Address it to the right person.

Following what I said earlier, your LOCI should resemble a business letter. As such, it should be addressed to the appropriate person– in this case, the person who signed your deferral or waitlist letter. If no one signed your letter, send it to the Dean of Admissions. You can also do a little detective work on the school’s website or even call the admissions office and ask who it should be addressed to. Be sure to address the letter to an actual person, lest it end up lost in the shuffle somewhere and not seen by the right person.

Mail it. (And, no, I don’t mean by email.)

Following what I said above, you should physically mail your letter rather than email it. As you can imagine, an admissions office inbox is a crowded place where things can get lost, misplaced, and, worse yet, unread. As such, you want to send your LOCI in a manner that you know will be physically opened, read, and sorted by a real person. This sounds terribly archaic, yes, but there is something to be said about physically receiving, opening, and filing a physical letter over receiving an intangible email that can be easily skipped over or even accidentally deleted. By using snail-mail, you’ll be reducing the chances of clerical error as well as increasing the chance of it being read by the right person. (Hence, the importance of addressing it appropriately, as I said above.) Also, a physical letter is more professional and, dare I say it, even nice— almost like a thank-you note.

Follow the directions given.

As I’ve said so many times before, to be admitted anywhere for anything, you must follow the directions. Some schools specify to not send any additional materials at all, ever. Others ask for an extended response, requiring more than a single-page letter. Granted, there are only a few schools are such exceptions, but make sure your school in question is not one of them. If the admissions committee is still on the fence about admitting you, don’t make the decision for them by not following basic directions. So, if you can write one, by all means do so. But, if the school says specifically not to, then don’t– it’s pretty simple. Of course, if you’re not sure, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

 

 

How to become an interesting student.

How to become an interesting student. (By AMagill on Flickr.)

Last week, I was invited to lead a college essay writing workshop for Camp G.O.A.L.S. for Girls, an incredible program dedicated to high school girls pursuing math and science degrees.

The students in attendance were between the ages of 13 and 16. Most were in the very beginning stages of the admissions process for next cycle but others were definitely on the younger side of my usual student pool. While college admissions requires plenty of time management and diligent preparation, it was almost too early for some of these girls to work on their essays proper. But, these highly driven underclassmen weren’t going to let me get away scot-free. After a break, I was approached by a freshman with a great question: “What can we [underclassmen] do to prepare for a great college essay now?”

Of course, there are a number of immediate answers that come to mind. Successful writing skills– adept knowledge of writing mechanics, style, and grammar– come with practice and persistence, which students of any and all ages should be conscious of. (It also helps if you follow this blog!) Likewise, choosing an appropriate topic for your essay comes through careful consideration and a thoughtful process of elimination. But, the question posed was begging for an answer that is even deeper than all this; after all, several of the attendees had only just begun high school. How does one really develop great potential topics to begin with? How do you create them? In other words:

How do you become an interesting student?

While we all like the preternatural-prodigy story– where magnetism and intriguing qualities are seemingly innate and one is simply born interesting– these attributes are often discovered and, later, developed and cultivated. Sure, there are some who are born with the knowledge of what they like, the ability to be good at it, and the all-around support system to nurture it, from the beginning. But most have to investigate at least one if not all three of these qualities.These students are no exception. These particular girls are at beginning of their academic careers and are now forming these interests of their own– ones that will likely permeate through to their specialties and professions. But, through careful search, dedicated practice, and active involvement in these interests, they are on their way to not only becoming dedicated, driven students, but genuinely interesting ones at that.

How does this work? Well, here are three steps to do so.

1. Find out what you like (or don’t like).

Finding out what you like is critical to being an interesting student. How?

When you find something you like, you develop a potential genuine interest. These potential interests are kernels of promising growth that can possibly be expanded upon and developed fully into, well, a genuine one. Things you like tend to become things you care about– qualities that will enhance your experience and, in effect, your personality. Genuine interests, in turn, are what make you interesting.

To find what you like, you have to search, to really explore. Keep your ears and eyes open for whatever it is that grabs your attention. And, when they do hold your attention, investigate them! Find out what it is that you like about it and, when you do, keep doing it. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. If you realize after trying it a few times that you don’t like it, don’t fret– narrowing down these potentials is as much a part of this investigative process as it is finding that sweet spot to begin with.

These girls, by participating in this event, have at the very least least started the search process and are actively honing in on what it is they do like, whether it is medicine, engineering, computer science, or robotics (!). These interests are informing their high school experience and, in turn, their own unique personalities, allowing them to differentiate themselves from the rest. Their pursuit of what interests them are what makes them interesting.

2. Stick with it.

Following what I said above, you’re more likely to follow through with something you like than you would with something you don’t. That being said, once you do find something you like, you have to solidify that commitment.

Immersion learning is the best method of learning a language and the same is true for learning a new skill or discipline. Athletes practice during the on- and off-season to keep their minds and bodies in prime shape for competition, year-round and at all times. Likewise, students of every discipline must keep themselves sharp by consistent practice and dedication.Through this kind of persistence, interests become specialties and areas of expertise.

How does this happen? Simply put, people pursue what they like. When you enjoy something, you’re that much likely to remain committed to it. Being immersed in something you like is definitely a lot more pleasurable than being mired in something you don’t.

From this kind of commitment, your personal expertise and knowledge grows– after all, there is a reason that people tend to be good at the things that they happen to like. And, with intimate knowledge comes the ability to communicate freely and confidently about these interests. The ability to relay this interest to others –friends, teachers, admissions counselors, and professors alike– is what makes you interesting to them in the first place.

These students, by their own admission, are completely dedicated to their academic pursuits. They eat, breathe, and sleep math and science. Their attendance clearly spoke of this dedication but I was continually told of their active participation in other areas relating to their individual interests, from building computers for charity organizations to volunteering in projects dedicated to environmental conservation and sustainability. They not only found what they liked, but they involved themselves in everything they could to further themselves within it, and did so tenaciously. And, having done so, they were able to speak confidently about what their passions and drew me in, even as a decidedly “non-math” outsider. Their dogged interest interested me.

3. Cultivate it.

Aside from finding that thing you like and dedicating yourself to it, you have to allow it to grow. This all is a continual process that needs to be fostered by not only you, but by others as well.

Involve your peers in your interests. More likely than not, there will be some sort of club or organization devoted to this recently discovered interest. If there isn’t, then this is an opportunity to make a space for yourself and those like you to join forces– chances remain high that you are not the only one interested in this particular thing, nor will you be the last one to be. Involving others in your interests also creates fertile, creative ground to explore and investigate them further. The best and most creative ideas often come from such collaboration, especially when new territories are concerned. This will also help foster greater dedication; as any fitness nut or otherwise athletic person will tell you, it is easier to retain — and keep!– commitment when others are joined in with you.

The G.O.A.L.S for Girls campers certainly inspired each other– the camp comprised of a competitive pool of girls with similar interests and background, working and learning together for six weeks. Surely, a camp full of high school girls can make for an interesting experience in and of itself (I can definitely attest to that from my own experience, oh-so-long ago) but the opportunities like this to inspire and challenge yourself and others in a fertile environment is critical to the success and longevity of these interests.

Similarly, these interests need to be nurtured by you and those like you, first and foremost, but they also need to be nurtured by others with greater and more expansive knowledge on the subject as well. Aside from securing letters of recommendation in the future, involving teachers, professors, and organizers will also allow you to delve deeper and become especially good at them. Self-teaching can certainly go far but having guidance will help you not only develop your skills even farther, but also cultivate your own interest level, in both the thing itself and in your own “interestingness.” Enhancing your own understanding will doubly enhance your own experience within and outside of this process– thereby make your experience, your personality, and, by extension, you that much more interesting as a whole.

How to write a successful cover letter.

How to write a successful cover letter. (From Drongowski on Flickr.)

Writing cover letters can seem astronomically hard. Yes, this struggle is similar to personal statements– you know yourself better than anyone else yet writing about “you” as a formal subject is a hard task.

But, there is a major difference. Personal statements ask you to show why you should be considered as part of a pool of accepted students by writing about an anecdote, specific event, or your life history thus far. Cover letters, on the other hand, ask you to showcase not only why you should be considered for the job but why you deserve this position over anyone else, period.

Now what?

Well, to begin, you have to do some introspection. Like personal statements or papers, you have to do a bit of brainstorming to formulate an appropriate topic or a particular bent. So, sit down and think for a bit: What is it about this position that is so attractive? Granted, ITE, you are most likely considering this position along with many others, sending a slew of resumes into cyberspace at large, and hoping for a response back. Or, this could be your dream job/internship/position that you’ve been fantasizing about since you were six. Either way, you have to consider: What do you like about this particular position? Make a list of your ideas: write down every reason, whether it’s the field, the particular company/brand you’re interested in, or even the increase in pay, better benefits, or better location. Then, consider what you offer: What makes you the ideal candidate? Is it your problem-solving skills, your punctuality? Maybe, it is your “go-get-it-ness” and genuine drive to be in this industry? Or even just your desperate need to get out of your current job or industry?

Now, consider how these intersect: How will you utilize your strengths if you’re given this position? How will this position satisfy your needs? And, in turn, how will you satisfy the requirements of this job?

Think carefully about your answers. These questions I’ve just posed are meant to get your juices flowing and to get you to start thinking about your selling points– and, how to market them to your prospective employer. You want to prove that you are not only a shoo-in for this job but also a natural fit.
Lastly, here are a few tips to get you on your way:

  • If you’re responding to a job posting or ad, follow the directions. Meaning, if they ask for specific information in your cover letter (the specific position you’re applying for, your salary requirements, etc) then you must provide it. Also, if it says “no phone calls”, don’t call. I’m serious.
  • Proofread. If you take away anything from this post (or even this blog), please proofread your work. Remember, mistakes reflect carelessness– the total opposite of “detail-oriented.”
  • Keep it simple… and short. Purple prose is always a no-no, but this is especially applicable here. Be concise; most cover letters are only a page long. If it must be over a page, make it only a page and half, tops. So, don’t send a missive, send a directive– keep it short and sweet.
  • Keep it professional. Use a professional-sounding email or, at the very least, your school email when including your contact information. As hot as “spankmebaby69@aol.com” sounds, it’s incredibly jarring to Human Resources. Don’t be the office joke, and sign up for a nice, normal-sounding Gmail account that includes your name and not any weird proclivities.

How to get a great letter of recommendation.

How to get a letter of recommendation (From staralee on Flickr.)

Nearly every program and school asks for at least one letter of recommendation in the application packet– often, they even ask for two or three. The good news is that these recommendations are written for you– for once, you don’t have to outline! That being said, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t any preparation involved.

Hard data, like your GPA and test scores, and your essays, like your personal statement, diversity statement, or addendum, are relatively in your control, based on your own preparation, hard work, and writing skills. Letters of recommendation, however, are a different animal. When getting a recommendation letter, you are entrusting someone else, your recommender, to write about your intellectual ability and academic capability.  You are essentially leaving it to your recommendation writer to inform the admissions counselor —directly– of what they can expect of your performance.

The purpose of a recommendation is to provide an insider’s view for the admissions counselor– your letter writer is essentially telling your prospective school of what expect of you within the classroom, from administrator to administrator, tête-à-tête. A recommendation then functions very much like a reference when applying for a job; it provides valuable information to admissions committees with information that isn’t found elsewhere in the application. It is a detailed discussion of the personal qualities, accomplishments, and experiences that make you an ideal candidate.

To guarantee a good recommendation, you clearly have to choose someone who will vouch for you in the best way possible. So, you will have to do some careful thinking. To help you, here are some tips on how to ensure your recommendation letter is a great one.

 

Choose recommendation writers who know you best.

There are a number of factors you need to keep in mind when considering possible recommenders. Obviously, you need to find someone who can describe you in a positive light; however,  the writer in question must also know you well enough to back up their high opinion of you. Your letter should be more than just a good description of your abilities– it should also be well-written and knowledgeable of who you are as person, an applicant, and as a student. Be sure to choose someone who not only knows you, but also knows your work and who would then be able to write about you with confidence and with authority. You should also consider how favorably this person could compare you to your peers.

That being said, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your writer should automatically be the person who knows you for the longest. You need to find someone who can speak of the breadth of your work– ideally, the person who has worked the closest with you and who knows you better, however long that may have been.

 

Your recommendation should reflect your past achievements.

Much like your personal statement, your recommendation should explain why you are an ideal candidate. Now, a recommendation is essentially professional’s opinion and, as such, as recommendation should be backed up, with concrete examples.

Don’t take for granted how much your recommendation writer knows about you. If you’ve been following along, they should already know you better than most. But, by all means, you should give them a fuller picture of what you’re accomplished and what your interests are. The more informed they are, the better and stronger their recommendation will be of you and your abilities.

So, when you meet with your advisor or professor, bring your resume. You can also bring a draft of your personal statement or diversity statement, if you’ve started working on them already. Don’t be afraid to talk about other aspects of the admissions process; after all, your recommender is there to help you get in. Talk to your recommender and discuss the achievements you’ve been awarded or accomplishments you’ve made in other classes, at work, or elsewhere. Allow your recommender to have full knowledge of all that you’ve have done; remember, their recommendation can only be as well-informed of your accomplishments as they are themselves.
Your recommendation should also include your future professional and academic goals.

Yes, when you ask someone to write a recommendation letter for you, you are already involving them in the process of applying to prospective schools. However, their involvement is more than just writing a letter for you; they are directly speaking to the admissions counselor on your behalf. As I said above, you want to choose someone whose recommendation can speak well of you. He or she will also know that you are clearly applying to a particular school or program and are hoping to get in. But, do they know know what your goals are exactly?

As I had said above, your recommender will only know as much as you tell them. When asking for a recommendation, talk to your letter writer. Discuss at length what your goals are, and what you are hoping to accomplish in the future. Your letter should ideally reflect your professional aims– by doing so, you will bolster your application two-fold: it will show that you are serious enough in your goals to involve others in your career planning and give you that professional affirmation that you are committed to succeeding.

 

 

 

Personal statement tips: How to write concisely.

Often, when starting your personal statement, reaching the word count limit seems like daunting, nearly impossible feat. (“Wait, I’m supposed to write about myself in 500 words?!”) But then, a magical thing occurs and, suddenly, your word count reaches a dizzying height– you now have too much to say and you’ve running out of space to say it. After working so hard on your essay, you now have to cut it down.

I understand that awful, downright painful feeling of having to trim down your own writing; in fact, I go through it nearly every week. It’s a skill that comes with time and practice, but it’s a worthy one to develop. Even when not working on your personal statement specifically, writing concisely is a crucial skill to writing effectively.

This is when the Paramedic Method comes to the rescue. Developed by Dr. Richard A. Lanham in his writing manual, Revising Prose
, the Paramedic Method is a method of shortening your writing to be more clear, more concise, and, by extension, more persuasive. Your statement, of course, should embody these qualities.

How you use the Paramedic Method within your personal statement:

 

  • Circle the prepositions.Go through your statement, and circle every preposition. (As a reminder, prepositions are words like “at,” “from,” “in,” and “of.”)  Using too many prepositional phrases can muddle your writing and, worse, confuse your reader. Go over your statement and circle all prepositions. Then, see how many superfluous prepositions can be substituted with strong active verbs. This will help get your point across and make for a direct, compelling essay. Of course, some are necessary to include, so exercise discretion.

Example: In this post is an example of the use of the Paramedic Method in writing.

Revised: This post exemplifies the Paramedic Method in writing.

  • Circle the “is” verb forms.Verb structures that rely on “is,” (especially passive verbs) can be weak and unconvincing. Review your statement and circle all instances of  “to be” verbs. Then, see how many you can replace with action verbs, replacing as many verbs in passive voice (“is explained by”) with ones in the active voice (“explains”).

Example: The point I wish to make is that the Paramedic Method works well and helps by improving your writing.

Revised: The Paramedic Method works well and helps improve your writing.

  •  Ask yourself: “Where is the action?” If you get stuck with a passive sentence, always ask the question: “Who does what to whom?” This will help you rewrite passive sentence as active ones. Following the above, make an effort to rewrite passive voice verb structures.

Example: This post is considered Pulitzer prize-worthy by some people.

Revised: Some people consider this post Pulitzer prize-worthy.

  •  Create the “action” with a simple active verb. Avoid using complex verb structures; they will lessen your writing’s impact. Remember, keeping it simple will make your writing that much more effective– Conciseness leads to persuasion.

Example: Quantum mechanics isn’t discussed in this blog.

Revised: This blog does not discuss quantum mechanics.

  • Open strongly, without slow build-up. Be demonstrative at the beginning of each sentence; slow build-up will lose the admissions counselor’s attention. Be direct and confident in what you’re saying by avoiding sentences that open like these:

My opinion is that…

The point I wish to make is that…

The fact of the matter is that…

 

Still not sure whether this will work? Try the above examples out by copy and pasting it into a word processor or an online word counter to see what I mean. With the exception of the “create action” example (where the word count remained the same but it became infinitely clearer), I managed to shave off up to 9 words from the above example. Pretty amazing, huh?

For more on this method, be sure to check out Dr. Lanham’s book, Revising Prose.
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Application tips: How to survive the home stretch.

In a previous blog post, I gave application tips for those who are basically finished as well as for those who haven’t even started the admissions process yet. Now, I know a lot of you may not have fit into those categories– and, you are not alone. Most of you in fact lie somewhere in the middle– you’ve gotten the ball rolling a long time ago, but you’re not quite done yet. You are by no means green– you have gone over what goes into the admissions process time and time again, and know exactly what is required of you. Yet, time is ticking, and deadlines are approaching and the pressure is on.

Well, unfortunately, the pressure is on– to some extent. By now, you should have already taken the necessary exams and, hopefully, gotten the scores you want. Or, you are either awaiting new scores to come in or planning to retake very soon. Clearly, this is a crucial step in the whole process as test administration dates can frame your entire application timeline– this is especially the case for college and law school applicants. So, ideally, you should have completed this step by now or, at the very least, know when you will be doing so. If not, see my previous blog post about how whether to start the application process from the beginning this late in the game.

With that said, where do you go from here?

First off, breathe. That’s step one. You are almost there. Then, start cracking.

Compile a list of deadlines. To have a full handle of this process, you should have in mind some sort of time-frame of official deadlines and even “unofficial” ones. Meaning, you should know when your schools officially stop receiving applications and when you are hoping to get your applications in by. This list should function as an official tally of when your application materials must be completed by.Most of you should have done this by now. If you haven’t, drop everything right now and figure it out, stat. If this is a mental list, get it down on paper or on-screen; it is more helpful to see this list written out, chronologically, in front of you than juggling it somewhere in your mind. If you have this already written down, pat yourself on the back. Then, revisit it. Be mindful of when everything is due, and when you would like to have them completed by.

Now, time to consider your applications themselves.

Take note of what remains outstanding.  Write down what you have completed already, and congratulate yourself on having done so. Then, concentrate on what remains to be done, and write them down. This will be your “Remaining Items” list. Your list could look like this:

  • Letter of recommendation from Professor Thom
  • Study-abroad transcript from Narnia University
  • Addendum for freshman year “open container” issue
  • Resume
  • Personal statement
  • Diversity statement

I know this seems like a lot– in fact, it may seem like your entire application. However, these are examples of items that you might not have finished entirely and, as such, they are outstanding.  And, chances are, these examples may very well be on your own list, too. So, what now?

Compile your “Next Action” list. Consider what you have listed above. What are the steps necessary to make this “Remaining Items” list a “Completed/Stick a fork in it” one? Think about what actually needs to be done, and write those items down. It very well look like this:

  • Email Prof. Thom to follow-up
  • Check the status on my transcript request from Narnia U.
  • Call admissions rep of XYZ University to find out if I have to disclose an “open container” violation or not
  • Proofread resume
  • Submit personal statement electronically
  • Make final revisions of diversity statement.

Okay, great. Now, your “Remaining Items” list is in a more digestible form– a truly detailed, precise “To Do” list. So, while looking over this new list, think: what can be done immediately?

This, of course, is largely a judgment call– for example, proofreading your essay can be an easy task for, say, me but it can be  a more time-consuming and arduous task for someone else. Also, if you have been working on your personal statement nonstop the past couple of weeks, you may feel that it’s time to work on other parts of your application. So, carefully consider what can be done right now, and what should be worked on in the long run. Submitting an essay electronically certainly takes less time than revising a whole diversity statement so, if you have a few minutes to spare, you can definitely squeeze in the former in the meantime.

This, of course, is an exercise in effective time management— of how to fit in what needs to get done in the time that you have remaining. So, taking these lists into account– your deadlines, remaining items, and next actions– you should be able to create and maintain a firm grasp on your application process. Now that your oh-so close to the finish line, you must have the utmost control over what needs to get done, and when. Being mindful of when your materials need to be in, what remains to be completed, and what remains to be done is only way to do that.

Application tips, the Black Friday edition.

Ah, Thanksgiving. Its passing signifies so many things. The start of the Christmas shopping (or groaning) season, winter weight gain, basketball, and admissions. Thanksgiving is often considered the unofficial admissions deadline for the following fall semester. While most early-action and early-decision deadlines have ended already (most early deadlines are either October 15th or November 15th), the ever-growing application rate has only exacerbated the need to submit applications early and “go complete” as soon as possible.

So, now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, it’s crunch-time.

I’ve gotten many emails from students, all under varying degrees of duress: from those who have only very recently decided to apply to school, to those who are chewing their nails before hitting “submit”. To help staunch your panic, here are tips to help you survive this season.

If you’re applying this cycle… and breaking a sweat about hitting “submit”.

You’ve gotten your test scores back, your transcripts have been sent, and your letter writers have sent in their recommendations. Now, you’re tying up loose ends: editing and proofreading your addendum, your diversity statement, your resume, and, most important of all, your personal statement.  You’ve drafted and re-drafted, and have finely honed your writing materials to such a degree, you can’t possibly add or subtract anymore. Everything is done… right?

First off, it’s completely understandable to have less-than-itchy trigger fingers. You are only beginning on a process whose end-result could have serious, life-altering effects. So, yes, stress is to be expected.

If you have most of the necessary components in line– your transcripts, letters of recommendation, and test scores– and are only working on your own parts, you can breathe a little easier. Unreliable letter writers and unhelpful university policies can be the cause of a huge amount of stress; so, if you were able to get past those in good time, congratulations. You have gotten the relatively uncontrollable parts of your application out of the way, so relish in the fact that your application rests now on you, not on outside circumstances.

At the same time, you can’t prevent yourself from letting go. You are your own worst critic and, at times, your own worst slave-driver. So, don’t beat yourself up and nit-pick your application to death– doing so will only allow more and more time to pass.

To ensure that you’re not holding yourself back, entrust your written application materials with someone else. Whether it be with an editor, your advisor, a professor, or even a close friend. Get another set of eyes to look at what you have written so far and give you honest, reliable feedback. Ask them: Does your writing need further tweaking? Are your statements concise, well-written, and well-argued? Does your resume make a positive impact? Your reader of choice should be able to give you an accurate assessment of your work as it stands and tell you whether you can send it in, or need to work on it a bit more. That being said, they should be able to tell you if you’re almost there or are ready to go– and, chances are, you may be that much closer to the latter than you think. So, listen to their advice; if you have chosen your reader carefully, they are usually right.

If you’re applying this cycle… and haven’t started your application yet.

These kinds of emails are certainly the most panic-stricken ones, to say the least. You’ve decided, at the last minute, that you want to apply and give it your best shot. Well, here’s the deal.

The application process is an arduous one, requiring a lot of preparation, time, and, of course, work. If you have read the above, you will find that the application packet entails the following:

  • The application form. Yes, it’s a form but a long, often tedious form.
  • Transcripts. Depending on the school, this can be an easy or mindbogglingly difficult task. Also, be mindful of processing times of both the school and the admissions board.
  • Letters of Recommendation. These will have to be completed by either your professors, advisors, or (if you have been out of school for some time) employers. This could mean tracking down someone you haven’t worked with or seen in some time and asking them to complete a major aspect of your application on their own time. The obvious potential issues are obvious.

These, of course, are not considering your own parts of the application– you will still have to submit a personal statement and a resume. And, you will also have to consider supplementing your application with an addendum or diversity statement– additional materials that are not necessary but, if needed, are in fact additional work for you to consider.

I’m a big proponent for optimism and I certainly don’t mean to discourage you. However, you do have some serious thinking to do.

Will you realistically have enough time to complete these tasks? Consider your work/school/personal schedule and situation. Can you feasibly do this? If you feel that you may not be able to, then you have your answer. Wait this cycle out and try next time– you’ll be better prepared and will be more successful than this go-around, guaranteed.

If you feel that you could very well pull it off, ask yourself: Will rushing have a detrimental effect on my application? Rushing to get your application in and getting dinged the first time around is no better than waiting until next year and trying with a better hand.

I understand having your heart set on getting that degree or attending that particular school. But, if you are just deciding to do so now, you should give it some more thought. If you’re worried about not being able to do it next time around, then consider the time involved– if you can’t apply by next cycle, then will you be able to even attend next fall?

You’re making some pretty big decisions very quickly. And, if you’re finding yourself scrambling to make this happen, you could very well be forcing yourself to make these huge decisions even more quickly which can be problematic. Take some time and think: Can you do this, or should you wait? Is this for you? Is this a fluke, a rash decision? Is this even possible? Be honest with yourself.Think very, very carefully and be mindful of your answers– yes, these are big things which is precisely why you need to be slow and steady in your decision making.


How to write a diversity statement.

How to write a diversity statement. (From rutlo on Flickr.)

Last week, I covered what a diversity statement is and how to decide whether a diversity statement is right for you. Now, for those of you who will be writing one, I will cover how to do it.

Generally speaking, your diversity statement should be written very much like your personal statement. However, the approach you will take will differ slightly.

In your personal statement, you are presenting yourself to the admissions counselor as an ideal candidate for your prospective school. You are to show them how your experience is indicative of your qualities and drive and how these traits are proof of how you’ll succeed, at school and in the future. These experiences can be either personal or professional, but, either way they have to somehow exemplify your abilities as a prospective student.

With your diversity statement, you have to provide yet further examples of your experience, and talk about how these have made you a mature, more diverse person. Meaning, you will have to discuss your personal background and how this has affected you. Some people talk about the diversity statement being akin to an adversity statement, but that’s not necessarily the case– it doesn’t have to necessarily be about obstacles. However, it does have to involve is your personal experience, and how this has given you a different or more diverse perspective than most other students.

Note the marked differences between these two types of statements.

While both the personal statement and diversity statement serve the same purpose– to shed more light on your personality for the admissions committee–  they differ in the manner in which they do that.

Like any writing task, you should start with a brainstorming session. However, the diversity statement can be much more, well, personal than the personal statement– as such, your brainstorming should naturally be different along these lines as well. In last week’s post, I wrote some basic questions you should ask yourself when considering whether to write a diversity statement or not. Your brainstorming should stem from the answers from these questions.

Once you have narrowed it down to one– or even a few– topic ideas, start outlining. The only way to test drive the solidity of a possible argument is to outline it; if you can come up with enough material to develop your argument from start to finish, think about it a bit further and consider using this as a viable topic. If you find yourself scrambling to fill out this outline, then drop it.

Because of the often deeply personal nature of diversity statements, you will have to spend a fair amount of time on this. Granted, the word-count for a diversity statement is not nearly as much as a personal statement. (Personal statements should be about 2 pages, double-spaced with reasonable font and margin sizes, while diversity statement should be about a page, page and a half, tops.) However, the diversity statement does needs extra consideration– certainly more thought than, say, an addendum. Chances are, your diversity statement will be dealing with some pretty sensitive issues. Take time and precaution with how you treat your topic, as failing to do so can turn an otherwise compelling and moving statement into something trivial or, even worse, bad.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

DON’T:

  • …be antagonistic. Being critical of greater social and cultural forces is one thing, but using your diversity statement as a soapbox is another.
  • …throw yourself a pity party.  Admissions counselors want to see how you’ve matured and grown. Don’t trivialize yourself by coming off as if you’re complaining or whining.
  • …blame others. Instead of pointing fingers at who or what may have complicated your background, talk about how these things have changed you for the better. Playing the blame game will only make you seem immature and close-minded.
  • …talk about “would have, should have, could have”. Your life, up to this point, is what it is. Take ownership of that, and talk about the past in how it reflects your present and your future, but don’t talk about rewriting anything. Talking about ” what if”s can be a waste of time and, in this case, precious word-count.

Instead, DO:

  • …talk about how your life has changed because of your experience. Admissions counselors want to know the level of maturity and self-confidence you will bring to the admitted class but they also want to know how you have grown to achieve that. Shed light on how you’ve grown and developed into the person you are now, at the precipice of entering into a new degree-track.
  • …use some humor, but tastefully. You can have a healthy sense of humor about your background– it doesn’t have to be all gloom-and-doom. However, don’t be crass, crude, or morbid. That can be a party and application killer. So, don’t be that guy.
  • …talk about the positive aspects of your experience. What good came from your diverse background? What are you grateful for?
  • …draw upon your personal statement or letters of recommendation. If there is a common tie between your career goals and what you talk about in your diversity statement, then make that connection. Don’t be afraid to be thematic in your application, stemming connections and ties across your diversity statement, personal statement, letters of recommendation, and even addenda. It would only help to make your application a more solid package.

 

 

 

 

Should I write a diversity statement?

Blank page. (From Birohi >H!ROK< on Flickr.)

Now that applications are fully underway, I’ve received tons of questions about supplemental essays.. Applications call for more than just a personal statement— often, a secondary “Why [insert school name]?” also known as a “Why X” essay, may be included. Also, students may need to include an addendum.

Another type of supplemental essay that is the diversity statement.  I describe in further detail how to write a successful diversity statement in a later post but, first, let’s break down what a diversity statement actually is.

Many of you already have the right idea: that it’s an essay that explains your diverse background or experience. But, there is some confusion after that.

You don’t have to an Under-Represented Minority (or, URM) to write one. There is a common misconception that a diversity statement should be about only ethnicity or race. It’s not. A diverse experience can be related to, yes, ethnicity and race, but it can also relate to your sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ability, religious belief, or age. It is more than just the color of your skin; it is about any circumstances or experiences that have made you outside the mainstream, different from the rest of the applicant pool. This also applies to your home life or household as well– whether you grew up in a non-English speaking household, an adoptive home, or any otherwise “non-traditional” household.

It’s up to you to decide what your diverse experience is. Again, what constitutes diversity is often misunderstood, so only you can be the best judge of that. But, here are some questions for you to consider, when deciding whether you should write one or not:

  • Did you have a diverse experience, background, or upbringing?
  • Does this background make you genuinely different and more diverse than others?
  • Did these experiences allow you to have a different perspective?
  • How has this diverse perspective changed your outlook? Your career and life goals?
  • How will this experience help diversify the student body? What about your experience can you bring to the table as part of the admitting class?

Carefully consider these questions. Now, there is one more important factor you must consider as well.

As an applicant, you want your application to be as competitive as possible. One of the ways to do so is to possibly include a diversity statement in your application packet. After all, you would not considering adding yet another essay on top of a long and arduous process if that was not the case. I’m glad you’re a kind of achiever that is willing to do the extra work, but, as an optional essay, there is a risk.

Diversity statements are not mandatory. As such, not including this optional essay will not detract from your application. Your application packet– the application itself, test scores, letters of recommendation, personal statement– can very well get you into the school that you want. It is perfectly possible for applicants to get in with only these items and plenty of applicants before you have gotten in without any supplementation or additional materials at all. The admissions package is designed to, at its barest bones, to do allow admittance– that’s why they are the required parts of the application over others.

A supplemental essay, by definition, is supposed to do exactly that– to supplement your application. It’s an opportunity for you to present yet another side to your personality to the admissions committee. And, it’s an opportunity for the admissions counselor to get to know you further and possibly find more reasons to admit you.

If your essay is well written, well-composed, and truly compelling, it will do all these things. However, if your essay is not, then you risk taking away from your own application. By presenting additional information, you’re giving them more to look at which, as I said, can work to your advantage. But, in doing so, you’re also giving them more written material to judge you on and, by nature, giving yourself more room for error.

This is why you must be particularly selective and careful with your decision. Just as you have to be selective with your recommenders, your statement topic, and your methods of LSAT studying, you also must be selective in the supplemental materials you provide.

If, when considering all these factors I’ve listed, you still feel uncomfortable or unsure, then don’t do it. You won’t lose out by not doing a diversity statement, but you can lose out by doing a bad one. If you find that you’re forcing yourself to write one, that awkwardness will be evident to the admissions counselor. Trust me– they look at up to thousands of these kinds of essays and forced, awkward writing is easy to pinpoint and with good accuracy, too.

I’m not trying to scare you, I promise. However, I do want you to be realistic– don’t write a diversity statement just to write one. Write one because, as a diverse person or one who can bring diversity to your prospective schools, you have something strong and meaningful to say. If you feel that you do and feel comfortable with the material enough to write about it, then by all means do so. This essay is supposed to serve not only as a supplement but as a complement  to your application package. If you treat it as such and write a genuine, well-meaning essay, then it will.

If, at the end of this exercise, you have decided that a diversity statement is the right choice for you, then check out my post on how to write one.


Stefanie Arr
Stefanie@TheAdvancedEdit.com

Interview with LSAT Blog

LSAT Blog by Steve Schwartz

Steve Schwartz of LSAT Blog was kind enough to interview me earlier this week. In our interview, we discussed burnout (and how to fight it), diversity statements, and addenda.

Here is an excerpt from our interview:

2. Now, about supplemental essays. What do you tell your students about writing diversity statements?

There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the diversity statement. Two of those are that:

1. Diversity statements is only for underrepresented minorities (URMs)
2. Diversity statements are mandatory.

Both of these statements are far from correct.

You don’t have to be an underrepresented minority to write a diversity statement. Similarly, diversity statements are not adversity statements, either. Anyone who feels that their background or upbringing has allowed them to have a more diverse experience can write one. This also goes for anyone who feels that, by being part of the representative admitted class, will bring diversity to the student body of their prospective school.

That being said, you don’t have to write a diversity statement. Yes, it can be a valuable asset to your application package, but it’s not mandatory and, therefore, isn’t necessary. If you are considering writing a diversity statement, be sure that you have something well-argued and genuinely compelling to say; it’s better to submit your application “as is” with its required materials than to submit an extra essay that is questionable or, worse, written poorly.

For all my dear readers out there applying for law school, LSAT Blog is one of the best resources for help with LSAT preparation on the Internet, hands down.


Stefanie Arr
Stefanie@TheAdvancedEdit.com