Sunday, November 16, 2008

Personal Statements

Several people recently asked for help with personal statements (must be that time of the year) and so I decided to compile this quick list to help plan and write. Of course this is my personal opinion, based on my understanding of what Colleges and sometimes Universities (mostly in the US) want to see in a personal statement. It may or may not be relevant, so take what seems right to you.

Since personal statements are generally restricted by a very tight word limit, don't waste your time saying something that is already clear from the rest of your application. This may include your name, your high school or other such details. Any detail that you do add, should be added with a clear purpose (unless you can show a clear connection, its not relevant to talk about your experience with a High School Choir when applying for a Master's Program in Public Health, for example). Also, don't beat around the bush, using ten words to say something that can be just as clearly expressed in five. Instead of "I was working as a teacher, teaching X" say "I taught X."

A personal statement is not a list of courses you took, jobs you held or places you traveled to. Of course any of these may be relevant, but remember to draw a clear link. What did you learn from a job that will be directly relevant to the course you want to study?

Remember your audience. The statement will be read by someone at an Admissions Office, someone who probably has to read far more statements than there are positions in the program. They are trying to use this short piece of writing to decide who the best candidates might be. As an applicant, you want to get their attention, stand out from the rest of the applicants, while still being straight forward. The statement may only have a few seconds to both get someone's attention and convince him or her that you would be a very strong candidate for the program, so avoid too many literary maneuvers that would take too long to be understood. While a level of creative writing can make your statement unique, don't write a poem. The chances of it not being appreciated are high.

You are essentially answering two main questions in the personal statement: why you are a great candidate for a program (what you would bring to the table) and why the program is perfect for you (what exactly is personally relevant). Saying that you are applying because it's a famous program, it's in a country of interest or because it's cheap, for example, are not the best reasons. If there is something about the program that cannot be found elsewhere- a faculty member with ground-breaking work, for example- praising it would probably be a good idea.

Another element that you might be juggling with while writing a personal statement is how this program and your time with it would fit into the larger scheme of things. What in your past prepares you for the program, and what will successfully completing the program allow you to do in your future?

Of course these are a lot of details to juggle with (and this post is probably a bit longer than your personal statement should be) but I hope this is helpful.

1 comment:

Akshay said...

Thanks a lot for this passage. Though I know most of it.. It helped me in pushing me towards writing it. Nice writing.