PERSONAL STATEMENTS REQUIRE THOUGHT
"I don't want to be a foregone conclusion."
--Catherine Banning in the film, The Thomas Crown Affair, played by Rene Russo
During any semester students come and want help on personal statements. Personal statements have to be written for law school entrance and other activities, such as graduate school. As one law school mentioned in its catalog it wants to see the student's comments about:
- special interests
- personal qualities
- social and academic background
- assessment of applicant's potential.
Often, a student is left with consternation about what to write. What do I leave out, and what do I include? The key word to use in this kind of writing: be personal and be human.
Personal statements take many forms. You may have to apply for a scholarship. Do you write a memo? Do you write a letter? What do you include? Lately, some newer books have been published that help us immensely with the setup of personal statements:
- Stewart, Mark Alan. Perfect Personal Statements: Successful
- Application Essays from Students at America's
- Top Graduate and Professional Schools. New York: Macmillan General Reference
- ARCO book, 1996.
In the previous book Stewart gives a list of do's and don'ts when writing any personal statements. You may find list valuable when you are applying to law school or seeking scholarships:
- Do strive for depth rather than breadth; narrow your focus to one or two themes or ideas.
- Do tell the reader what no other applicant will honestly be able to say.
- Do provide with insight about what drives you.
- Do be yourself rather trying to become the "ideal" candidate.
- Do get creative and imaginative in the beginning lines.
Think about: I would add: to a point. You don't want to detract from your main message.
- Do address the school's particular features that attracted you.
Think about: In a scholarship application talk about how the scholarship will assist your goals and make possible dreams never realized.
- Do focus on the affirmative in the personal statement.
Think about:: Be careful about painting yourself as victim. No one wants to read that.
- Do evaluate your experiences rather than recounting them.
- Do enlist others to proofread your essay.
Think about: You are judged by the words you place on paper. Those sentences should be checked for syntax and any problems with grammatical construction. You should not excuse yourself because English is not your first language. Check for punctuation and style, too.
- Do use a highly readable typeface with conventional spacing and margins.
(all from p. 21 with my comments)
Isn't that a terrific list? The next time you have to write such an essay, the job may be easier. Some of the don'ts from Stewart's book are probably worth mentioning (adapted from pp. 21-22):
- Don't submit an expository essay, such as a repeat of words from the application.
- Don't complain or whine about the "system" or your circumstances in life.
- Don't get on a soapbox and preach to the reader.
- Don't talk about money as the motivating factor in your life.
- Don't discuss your disadvantaged situation or being a minority unless you have a compelling story to go with it.
- Don't waste your personal statement with a hackneyed opening or conclusion.
- Don't use a gimmicky style or format.
- Don't submit supplementary materials unless the school asks for them.
- Don't get the name of the school wrong or spell people's names incorrectly.
Professor Bruce Pegg, Writing Center Director, Colgate University, has given permission to link his pages on "Writing a Personal Essay for Graduate and Professional School" to this link. You may find how to write a personal essay quite helpful as you apply to numerous graduate schools. His list of brainstorming questions alone is worth viewing this link.
So many writing opportunities abound in our society. What do you do as an interested person if you want to apply for a role of leadership in the military? You would like to be an officer in the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, or the Air Force. Where do you start in your writing? In any kind of writing of this kind, you start with your strengths and what the military expects. Let's make our list:
Does that give you a start on your thinking? The next time you receive a piece of paper that starts: "I want to be an officer because. . .", can you complete it more fully? Do you know your strengths that will help the military achieve its goal and its missions?
- What are my leadership qualities? Am I good at leading men and women? How?
- How flexible am I? Do I adapt well to new situations?
- Do I have a college degree? How can I use this knowledge to the benefit of the military?
- What issues from my past would qualify me to participate in hard work?
- You always hear the terms together, officer and gentleman or gentlewoman. What have I done to help others? How am I a good citizen of my community?
- How do I manage paperwork? The military is made up of a great deal of paperwork. How have I found ways to manage my own paperwork and the paperwork of others?
- How do I see my role in the military?
- Have I done anything in my life I am particularly proud of?
Don't forget to check the home pages for additional help, including the resume and employment communications, ethics, and presentations.
copyright(c)G. Jay Christensen, All Rights Reserved
Last updated Friday, September 4, 2002