Tag Archives: personal statement
Writing transfer essays can be particularly hard– how do you tell one school why you’re leaving another?
Like “normal” personal statements, your aim is to show how you’re the ideal candidate. But, you also have an additional directive at hand: why you should join yet a different graduating class, as opposed to the one you are already a part of. It then becomes less, “Why X school” and more “Why X school, as opposed to the one you’re in now?”
Regardless of what your reasons may be for leaving, writing generically won’t help you– it’ll only seem as though you’re just trying to get the heck out of Dodge, which doesn’t suit your purpose of getting in.
But, rest assured, dear readers: here are some do’s and don’ts to help you on your way to hopefully brighter, greener pastures.
DO: Talk about your your time at your previous school.
Highlight what was positive about your old school– don’t worry, an admissions counselor won’t judge you for leaving. If you really are hard-pressed to the positive about your experience (good thing you’re transferring!) then talk about how much you have grown– what have you come to realize during your experience at your soon-to-be-old school? Growth does include learning what you really want out of your school experience, and learning what kind of environment or program you prefer to be in.
DON’T: Talk trash about your old school.
Even if the campus sucks, the professors are awful, you live with a crap roommate in a room without heat, don’t diss it. Yes, you may be unhappy with your school experience thus far, but don’t criticize it in your essay– it will only seem negative or even tacky. Talk less about how much the school failed you in whatever way, but talk more about what your needs and wants in your education or ideal campus life.
DO: Talk about how your prospective school will be an ideal fit for you.
“Why do you want to attend this school?” This question certainly sounds familiar, but it can be answered doubly now that you have spent sometime elsewhere. Why does this school appeal to you so much more than your current one? Consider what your prospective school offers, in comparison to your school now– what attracts you the most? Is its campus life? Or its programs of study? Talk about specifics.
DON’T: Mention how you wish you applied there/attended in the first place. (Or, how you wish you were admitted the first time around.)
Allusions to any of these will make you sounding regretful or even bitter, which will only take away from your essay. Through your personal statement, you should aim to sound positive and hopeful, as a promising future student who looks forward to advancing your education. Don’t demean your previous decision (or, worse, the decision of the previous admissions counselor) by presenting them in a bad light– talk instead about what you plan to do in the future.
DO: Talk about what you hope to accomplish at your new school.
When transferring, you have to a do a bit of homework. Investigate what programs are offered and what their campus life is actually like. Consider what their student body is like; what could you bring to the table? If there is a particular program you are interested in, talk about why. If there is a particular professor you want to study under: why, and how come? Then, what could you provide for the department or research team? If you’re interested in athletics, a similar line of questions are also pertinent. Talk about not only why you want to be there, but what you plan to do once you are there– how will you make the most of this school, and how will the school make the most of you?
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.
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.
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:
- …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.
- …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.
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.
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 those of you keeping up, I’ve been covering the last couple of weeks remedies to help with the personal statement writing process– a series entitled “How to get unstuck while writing your personal statement.” Part 1 dealt with unsticking yourself from the brainstorming process and Part 2 discussed how to become unstuck from proper outlining and structuring techniques. And, now, for Part 3, as the final installment:
If you’re stuck… and you’ve already written your first/second/umpteenth draft.
First of all, if you’re stuck while revising your draft and don’t know how you can go on, then you should probably stop… for a little while, at least. This means: stop writing, stop editing, stop working on your statement. Don’t look at it, don’t even think about it. Work on other parts of your application, continue studying for the LSAT, work on school assignments, whatever. Occupy yourself with other (productive!) things that are not your personal statement. Think of it as a personal statement abstinence.
The purpose of this is to give you some time off– starting at the same 500+ words will make anyone’s glaze over, and that is not how you want to review and edit your own statement. Burnout can cloud your mind and your eyes, allowing for stupid mistakes to happen. Simple grammatical mistakes and spelling errors can go unnoticed, and your whole argument structure can go woefully awry if you’re not careful and on your A-game.Taking time off is one of the few ways certain to prevent burnout and to relieve your stress at least for a short while. If you feel that you’re burnt-out already, taking time off is absolutely crucial.
Taking a break will allow you to refresh your perspective and interest, so that you can pull off the best final draft possible. A few days off will allow for more ideas to come to mind when you return to your statement, as well as for mistakes to surface when you read it over with renewed eyes. You’ll be able to immediately spot awkward phrasing, poor argument structure, grammatical error, and overall roughness. Provided that you’ve allowed yourself enough leeway to do so (and have the self-discipline to get back into it), taking time off is almost never a bad idea.
If you find yourself still stuck even after taking a break, then perhaps you need a refreshing brainstorming session. If you find that even after taking a short break you’re still having trouble, follow my advice in Part 2 of this series to start getting your wheels turning again.
By brainstorming, you can find and develop a new direction for your statement that will make it stronger. Brainstorming and outlining are not limited to just the beginning stages of writing– they can be used whenever you need to refresh your thought process, to further develop ideas or even generate new ones. This, of course, is always welcome, whether you’re at the beginning or end stages of your statement’s development. You want to always be active in your statement writing– not passive in the doldrums– when submitting such an important essay. Do whatever it is you can to keep your spirit up and to stay alert.
Of course, once you feel that you’ve exhausted all your own resources– you’ve done all the above and still feel at a loss, unable to add or edit anymore– it may just be about time to stick a fork in it. Granted, it is always a wise idea to give your essay over to someone for review and, in this instance, it is especially appropriate. You want an objective reader to confirm that you are truly finished and that nothing else needs to be added, fixed, amended, or changed. At times, such an objective reader is the only one to make that call as burnout can often masquerade as that “finally finished” feeling. But, at the same time, you are often your own worst critic and own worst slave-driver and someone else has to tell you to step away from your computer. So, use discretion when deciding to hit “submit,” but don’t be afraid to let go either.
Last week, I posted part one of the series “How to get unstuck while writing your personal statement,” where I covered how to unstick yourself when stuck choosing a statement topic. For Part 2, I’m covering what to do when you’re at the draft-writing stage.
If you’re stuck… and you have a topic, but can’t start your first draft.
Before beginning your draft, you want to ensure that:
- You have a solid argument.
- This argument is supported by relevant evidence– whether it’s anecdotal or describing relevant work or school experience.
- Your topic is explained thematically– meaning, it is a theme that runs through your statement/argument, connecting all your points.
- It ends solidly, tying off all ends, so that it is impossible to poke holes in your argument.
It’s a lot, I know. But, there is hope.
In a previous post, I covered how to organize your topic around a basic argument structure. Those basic principles can be used during the outlining process, which would then get you into a prime position to start writing your first draft.
The answers to all the points I’ve raised above can be seen during the outlining process. Laying out all your material at hand in bulleted points and organizing them in a structure will allow you to get a birds-eye view of your statement as a whole. Doing so will make assessing your statement that much easier, and will allow you to make the appropriate edits.
You’ll also be able to ascertain the weak points of your argument and fix them– whether it’s a certain point needs further explanation or to integrated better into your statement, or if you’re providing too much information and getting too far away from your argument.
Of course, the most brilliant thing about outlining is that it can help you get out of a creative rut. When outlining, you’re forced to think or even reconsider aspects of your topic in new ways, which can allow for new material. This is, in a sense, a more advanced method of brainstorming that can help get your juices flowing to start your first draft. Before you know it, you’ll understand your topic and your aim that much more clearly and will be able to start working on a successful first draft.
Next week, in the final part of this series, I’ll cover how to get unstuck when you’ve already written your first/second/fifteenth draft.
So, you’ve been working on your personal statement. You’ve brainstormed, you’ve outlined, You might even be done with your first draft. But… you’re not getting anywhere.
It’s okay if you feel a little stuck– it happens to everyone. And, people get stuck at all different points of their statement-writing process. So, I’ve written this helpful guide-series that will show you how to get unstuck, whether you haven’t chosen a topic, are hammering out your first draft, or trying to nail down your final draft. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be covering different points of typical “stickiness” and how to get unstuck from them.
If you’re stuck…. and you don’t have a topic yet:
If you’re in the very beginning stages of just formulating your topic, it’s best if you start with some brainstorming or outlining before beginning your draft. Even if you do have a topic, it’s often helpful to still brainstorm to help tweak your topic and refresh your writing muscles (and your mind).
Start thinking about how your experiences have molded and shaped you. How did your experiences during undergrad shape your maturity and understanding? If you’ve been out of school for a while, how did your later positions shape you? What sort of trajectory has your life taken thus far? What has brought you to this point? Consider your answers– how will these affect you in the future, as a law student? As a working attorney?
I’ve posed these questions to coax out a potential argument about,the wealth of material you have scattered in your resume and in your mind. The problem may well be that you have so much to choose from, it’s overwhelming. I know the temptation exists to start to work on a draft right away and, if you really feel comfortable doing this, try. However, think about what I’ve just asked here while you brainstorm– just start writing down what comes to mind in a brief, bulleted list, without the pressure of putting it into a formal draft. Think a bit and see if you can come up. Write down everything you come up with; your material, somehow, has to directly relate to you and your experience.
Then, read over and evaluate what you came up with. See how you can make this all work, and how this relates to you. Do you feel comfortable with it? Can you take it further? You may end up going through many cycles of the above process- twice, three times, you name it. Regardless of how many times you brainstorm, it’s important that you do it. By brainstorming and even brainstorming repeatedly, you will inevitably come up with something good, something you can work with, and something you can write about well.
Next week, I’ll be covering how to get unstuck when writing your first draft, part 2.
Many students come to me when they are at a loss. They have worked on draft after draft, corrected every misplaced comma and spelling mistake, and chose each word meticulously. They have great topics and great experiences to choose from. So, “why isn’t this working?”
The most common mistake I’ve encountered, even including grammar and syntax, is disorganization. There are too many things to say, not enough words to say them in, and they’re in a rush to say them all.
I’ve discussed in a previous post the idea of the personal statement being a form of branding. Now, I’m taking it one step further. With a personal statement, you are asked, essentially, to devise an argument: you are asked to argue why you are an ideal candidate for the admitting class. Regardless of what you end up writing your personal statement about, or how you decide to go about the statement itself, your end-goal is to make this argument, effectively. That is, your goal is to convince the admissions counselor of your side of the argument– which is, of course, admittance.
So, how does one make this argument, effectively?
One of the principles of rhetoric, according to our ancient Greek friends, is disposito, or arrangement– the organization of the argument itself. A large part of the compelling, persuasive strength of an effective argument lies in this organization– the clarity of not only what you’re arguing but also of how you’re arguing it.
With that said, the best way to organize your essay (and your entire thought process, too) is to make an outline.
I know, I know– outlines are usually stressed when talking about writing papers or much longer essays, but they are just as applicable to personal statements.
When you write an outline, all sorts of magical things happen. You will not only be able to organize your essay, but you’ll also be able to fully flesh out what your topic is, in a clear and succinct way.
Many students write about their work/school/life experiences, leading to some sort of conclusion as to why this has brought them to a particular point. Sometimes, this may be about an obstacle or problem of some sort– whether it be professional, academic, or personal– that had lead to a life change or achievement or development of a particular skill set. Others may forgo this model and choose to write about an anecdote that highlights their personal qualities or work ethic.
Regardless of what your topic is, you have to expand upon it enough to create a framework, a structure around which you will build your statement. It, in other words, has to form your main argument.
Experiences —> Problems/Issues Raised —> Solution
This is a quick mock up of a diagram I had drafted up for one of my students. To create this, I took her topic (how working as a case worker in foster care has led her to pursue legislation) and boiled it down to its most basic elements– through her experience, significant issues and obstacles were raised, leading her to propose a solution. The purpose of this diagram is to visualize an argument structure. Seeing how your argument is formed, even in the most rudimentary way, makes writing your statement remarkably easier. Creating a visual can be all the difference between setting up the foundations to your statement and staring at a blank page in a panic.
Once you create a diagram of your argument, you’ll start to see a theme, or even a number of themes, present in your statement. Whether it’s your love for community-building or your own sharp aptitude and drive, these themes will build upon the framework you’ve just created.
These thematic elements are the pieces you will use to build upon your framework– they form the muscular system on top of the skeleton. Together, they are the solid core of your argument. The rest of your statement– the specific examples, quotes, or other creative elements– will be organized around this core. This is when your outline comes in.
How you outline your statement is up to you– you can use a (albeit more advanced) linear diagram like what I had just shown you or simply a bulleted list. For those looking for a more spatial outline, I advise not to use a brainmap as it will be too confusing and unstructured (but I definitely recommend using one during topic formulation). Either way, you want to use an outline to further visualize how your argument will unfold. With everything– your argument and its structure and the specific examples used to develop your story– laid out in front of you, you will be able to organize your ideas and your thoughts better. (Whew!) From there, you can begin to piece your statement together, with a clearer sense of direction and a much-clearer head.