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Personal Statement Writing - Get Your Game On!

October 02, 2015 - Posted toStudy

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Personal Statement Writing  - Get Your Game On!

Right about now, you may be thinking that a root canal would be preferable to writing those personal statement essays. But you can’t get your grad school application in without them, and that deadline is approaching. Time to strap yourself in and just do it. And if you are unsure about how to do it, then read on.

First, Getting to a Definition

Obviously, a personal statement will be somewhat autobiographical and will address some event, circumstance, goal or value that you will relate in response to a prompt. It is your opportunity to highlight accomplishments or values, to describe events that have impacted who you are and what skills and talents you have today. That is as close to a definition as is possible, because the essence of the content of each essay will be quite different. Personal statement writing is, well, personal.


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Topic Selection

While you do not have complete freedom in the selection of topics for your personal statement essay, you will have options. And, usually, these options are divided into two categories, and you will be asked to select one from each category. There are two big things that you must consider in your topic selection:

  1. Start early. Most grad programs publish their personal statement options well in advance, and many do not change those options over a several year period. There is no reason to wait until you are actually in the application process before you tackle these essays.
  2. Spend some time reading and reflecting on each option – more than one day, actually. You must be absolutely certain that you understand each prompt. More than one students has written an essay that did not really address the prompt, and that is truly a disaster.

The Process – It’s Basic but Critical

If you are really unsure about how to write a personal statement essay, then this guide will be your “Bible” as you go through the process.

  • Start early. This is repeated because it is really important. When you read and study those prompts, you may have selected one that you think is just right. Then, down the road, you realize that it really isn’t just right, and you need to go back and take another look.
  • Start making lists of thing that might relate to the prompt. For example, if you have chosen a prompt that asks what events or circumstances in your life led you to select the major field of study that you did, you may have to go back many years and pull up memories. If you have selected a prompt that asks you to recount a time when you were in a leadership position and how you determined what leadership style you used, then you may have more than one such experience. You will need to decide which one is a better reflection of some really great skills that you developed. Your “lists” should be developed over a period of time, preferably months, so that you don’t leave out anything that might be really compelling. Use an app that lets you pull up our lists for each prompt and add to them as things come to mind.
  • Ready to Start. Okay. Now you have your two prompts. Begin with the one you believe will be easiest, because as you complete it you will gain more confidence to tackle the harder one.
  • Create your outline or some other organization structure for you essay. In many instances, personal statements may be chronological; in others they may require some type of categorization. For example, if you are asked to recall an event or situation, you will want a chronological treatment. If, on the other hand, you are asked to list the qualities that you believe are most important for a leader in your field, then each body paragraph will address one of those qualities.
  • Develop a thesis statement that will guide all of your writing. You might say, “The day I was chosen to be the captain of my Little League soccer team began my journey into leadership.” Now the reader knows, you are going to address that journey and what you learned along the way. Or, “If I were to define he qualities of an effective leader, I would be defining my mother.” Now the reader knows that you are going to be addressing leadership qualities and what you learned from your mother about them.
  • Write your body paragraphs. These should flow directly from your outline, so that content should not be a problem. Focus on using action verbs, varying your sentence lengths and providing really good transition sentences between those paragraphs. Don’t worry about spelling and punctuation right now.
  • That Introduction. You already know that your thesis statement will go in your introduction, but what else? The most important thing about an introduction is that it “hooks” the reader from the first sentence forward. Make a shocking statement. Tell a brief anecdote – anything that will make the reader want to go on. This will require some creativity and if you are “fresh” out of it, find someone who is not to help you. Personal statements that win will always have a really engaging and compelling introduction. Here is an example:

“I don’t want to think of myself as a murderer, but now I knew I must become one.” Wow – any reader is going to continue reading after this first sentence. Actually, this was the beginning of a personal statement essay related to problem-solving skills, and the student’s problem was how to get rid of a fly that was buzzing around in her room while she tried to work. Essays like this one win because they are unique and really engaging.

  1. Creativity. This is something that we tend to have or not; it is also something that we may have at some times and not at others. If your creativity is lacking, then you really need to enlist the help of a friend or relative who is. Discuss the project, and let them provide suggestions. Barring that, you might want to turn the prompt and your information over to a creative writer with a professional writing service.
  2. Editing and Proofreading. Do not dare to review and edit your own essay you will have a fool for an editor. Get someone who is really good at this to go through it word by word, sentence by sentence. You cannot afford even a single grammatical, spelling or punctuation error.
  3. Put the finished piece away for a couple of days. Bring it out and read it out loud to yourself. How does it sound to you? Is there anything you would now change? This is your final chance!

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Some Do’s and Don’ts/Key Points

Here’s a short list of some things to remember:

Do's Don'ts
  • Go into depth and study each essay prompt before selecting the one or two you decide to take
  • Never write your introduction until the rest of the essay has been composed. You need to have the whole picture in your mind.
  • Have a stunner of an opening. And you cannot think of one, leave it alone for a day or two something may just pop into your head. If not, get a creative person to help.
  • Never write more than two pages is even better. These are not long treatises; they are essays that over- worked decision-makers have to read.

Feel free to experiment with different structures if you think they will work. One student who selected his mother as having the qualities he admired in a leader, wrote a list of those qualities and showed how his mother, who had 8 kids to keep organized, exhibited skills such as setting schedules and timelines, delegating task responsibilities, exhibiting authoritarian skills when decisions had to be made quickly or a democratic style when there was time for everyone’s input. His essay as a winner too.

Common Mistakes

Most of the common mistakes are listed above, but let’s just repeat them.

  1. Making the essay too long. Yes, you may have a lot to say, but you have to be succinct – reduce, reduce, reduce!
  2. Editing one’s own paper – don’t be a fool.
  3. Having a boring kick-off – you won’t engage the reader
  4. Veering from the prompt – you’ll irritate the reader

Personal statement essays that impress are well thought out, creatively written, and focused precisely on the selected prompt. Make sure yours is a winner.

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