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The Power of the Personal Statement: Summarizing Your Life in One Page

Crafting effective personal statements

Kerri Flinchbaugh

on 21 May 2013

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Transcript of The Power of the Personal Statement: Summarizing Your Life in One Page

The Power of Personal Statements: one page, One chance Why is a personal
statement important? Numbers, letters, and transcipts... oh my!
The personal statement is one part of your
application you have control over and allows
you to make a personal case for yourself. But this can also make it seem rather difficult to write. Some Basic Ideas Exercise your creativity, but
keep your focus on themes and
points that justify your suitability
for that specific school. Consider some basic rhetorical
questions: Who is your audience?
What kind of voice should you
utilize in this writing? What format
and organization will engage your
audience but also assure easy reading?
Are you meeting the audience's
expectations for purpose and content? Example: Voice - Grad schools want bright, hardworking, communicative people. How can you convey these qualities in your writing?
People in medicine usually like to use clear, direct language. Good writing is simple writing. Themes Why [your] course of study? If you have always known this is what you to be in your profession of choice, that's not a fact that you should hide. But don't offer your point in such a cliched, prepackaged way as to make your reader cringe. For example, rather than starting your essay with,
"I have always wanted to be a doctor" or "I've always known that medicine was my calling," you could describe early experiences and then let your interest unfold naturally, describe the direct impact a doctor had on your life or the life of someone close to you can be an effective way to demonstrate what draws you to medicine, or take a twist on the "patient's perspective" approach and describe a time when medicine failed to save or heal someone close to you. How are you qualified? Show your audience what you
have done in concrete terms. These could be a part of your motivation. Idea: organize the structure by a topic or theme and extrapolate insights as they develop. It is important to think of this statement as an integrated whole, not a checklist of questions. If you have been involved in research, focus on your contribution rather than your research topic. No matter how minor your contribution seems, it's better to focus on some tangible input that you had than to describe the project as a whole. TOP 10
PERSONAL STATEMENT TIPS 1. Avoid cliches. Every year, grad school admissions officers read thousands of variations of this sentence: "I want to be a teacher so I can help people." If you demonstrate a penchant for helping others by describing specific activities--community service, for example--it will become unnecessary to declare that desire, as it will already be clear. Focus on the specific actions you have taken. 2. Be interesting. Admissions officers have to read hundreds of essays, and they must often skim. They aren't looking for a new way to view the world; they're looking for a new way to view you, the applicant. The best way to grip your reader is to begin the essay with a captivating snapshot. Notice how the blunt, jarring "after" sentence creates intrigue and keeps the reader's interest. Before: I am a compilation of many years of experiences gained from overcoming the relentless struggles of life.

After: I was six years old, the eldest of six children in the Bronx, when my father was murdered. 4. Details, details, details.
Show, don't tell. Good essays are concrete and grounded in personal detail. "Show, don't tell" means that if you want to relate a personal quality, do so through your experiences without merely asserting it. Before: If it were not for a strong support system which instilled into me strong family values and morals, I would not be where I am today.

After: Although my grandmother and I didn't have a car or running water, we still lived far more comfortably than did the other families I knew. I learned an important lesson: My grandmother made the most of what little she had, and she was known and respected for her generosity. Even at that age, I recognized the value she placed on maximizing her resources and helping those around her. 5. Be concise. Wordiness not only takes up valuable space, but also confuses the important ideas you're trying to convey. Short sentences are more forceful because they are direct and to the point. Before: My recognition of the fact that we had finally completed the research project was a deeply satisfying moment that will forever linger in my memory.

After: Completing the research project at last gave me an enduring sense of fulfillment. 6. Address your weakness, but don't dwell on them. If at some point on your application, you will have an opportunity to explain deficiencies in your record, and you should take advantage of it. Be sure to explain them adequately: Staying up late the night before the MCAT or GRE is not a legitimate reason for a bad performance, while documented sickness could be. If you lack volunteer hospital experience, you might point out the number of hours you had to work to make college more affordable for your family. The best tactic is to spin the negatives into positives by stressing your attempts to improve; for example, mention your poor first-quarter grades briefly, then describe what you did to bring them up. 7. Vary your sentences and use effective transitions. The best essays contain a variety of sentence lengths mixed within any given paragraph. I would encourage you to not worry about this kind of thing until your revision process. Transitions are not limited to words like nevertheless, furthermore or consequently... Good transitions flow from the natural thought progression of your argument. 8. Use action verbs; avoid passive voice. Overuse of the passive voice makes prose seem flat and uninteresting. Passive-voice expressions are verb phrases in which the subject receives the action expressed in the verb. Passive voice employs a form of the word to be, such as was or were. Before: The lessons that have prepared me for my career as a teacher were taught to me by my mother.

After: My mother taught me lessons that will prove invaluable in my career as a teacher. 9. Seek multiple opinions. For example, visit your local writing center. 3. Stay focused.
Don't wander. You aren't writing an autobiography. What is your purpose? Make sure that every sentence in your essay exists solely to support one central theme. 10. Revise. Revise. Revise.
And then revise again. Writing is rewriting. ECU's Writing Center
www.ecu.edu/writing First, let's write. Take seven minutes to brainstorm and write a paragraph or two on the following questions. Why do you want to go to this school/into this program of study? How are you qualified for this field? Do you have any cliches in your brainstorming?
How could they be revised? Take a few minutes. Brainstorm a "snapshot" you may open with. From what you have written so far, underline a couple of possible central themes you could focus on. Find one place in your brainstorming where you tell. Make it a showing statement. Take one sentence that may seem a little wordy. Remove words that are not needed and make it more concise.
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