(Image: Polka Dot/Thinkstock)
Whether you’re applying for an undergraduate school or trying to get into graduate programs, many applications require a letter of intent or personal statement. Personal statements are one of the most important parts of the application and sometimes the deciding factor for admission.
Personal statements give a better understanding of who you are, beyond the rigid constraints of the “fill-in-the-blank” application.
Like many around this time of the year, I am finishing my graduate school applications. Looking for advice and guidance, I decided to compare different schools’ personal statement requirements and ask admissions offices for advice. Here’s what I found:
1. Be yourself
The Columbia Graduate School for Journalism encourages students to write about family, education, talents or passions. They want to hear about significant places or events in your life; about books you have read, people you have met or work you’ve done that has shaped the person you have become.
Schools want to know about you so don’t portray someone else in the essay. It’s almost like going on a first date. You want to display your best qualities but be yourself at the same time. You want the other person to like you, not someone you’re pretending to be.
2. Show diversity
Rayna Reid, a personal statement guru, received her undergraduate degree at Cornell, Masters at the University of Pennsylvania and is currently pursuing a Law degree at Columbia. Reid says a personal statement is really just a way to make the college fall in love with you.
“The essay is where you really get a chance to differentiate yourself from the other applicants,” she said. “Explain why they should accept you. What will you contribute?”
Sean Carpenter, University of Southern California Student Services Associate and undergraduate student, reiterates the importance of differentiating yourself from other applicants.
He works in the Annenberg School for Communication admissions office and deals with prospective students daily. Carpenter says USC or any major school want to see diversity.
“They want to see how you’re different from all other applicants, especially through diversity. What makes you unique out of all the other applicants?” Carpenter said, “Tell things that has helped you grow as a person and built your character.”
3. Do research and tailor each essay accordingly
Every college is different, so each personal statement should be different. Many students try to get away with having a universal essay but admissions departments will notice.
“Do research to give concrete reasons why you’re interested in particular program,” Carpenter said. “Speak with a faculty member that you’re interested in working with or doing research for and mention that in your statement. It would also be beneficial to say what classes you’ve taken that were relevant to the field of study.”
4. Be concise and follow directions
Make sure you read the directions carefully. One of the biggest red flags for an admissions office are students who don’t adhere to word limitations. Don’t give them a reason to throw out your application.
Believe it or not, there is a way to say everything you want in a page or less. If you need some help, ask several faculty members to read over your essay and give you feedback.
5. Go beyond your resume, GPA and test scores
Many students worry about how their GPA and test scores will affect the admissions process. The personal statement is an opportunity to explain any strengths or weaknesses in your application — such as changes in major, low GPA or lack of experience.
For instance, Reid was worried about not having a 4.0 GPA. Since Reid didn’t have the perfect GPA, she explained what she did with her time to make up for that fact. Being on the Varsity rowing team and a Teach for America Corp member are great examples of how devoting her time to other things made an impact on her GPA.
6. Tell a story
“Nothing makes someone fall in love like a good story. It does not have to be the next Pulitzer winner,” Reid said. “For college, one essay I wrote was about how I have often felt like my life was a movie and how Dirty Dancing (yes, the movie) changed my life. My sister who currently goes to Princeton even wrote about killing a fly!”
One of the worst things you can do is bore the admission officer. Make yourself memorable by telling a story about something distinctive from a creative or different angle.
With this advice, your personal statement will be the highlight of your application. Good luck!
Alexis Morgan is currently a senior at Penn State University. She has extensive experience in public relations, broadcast journalism, print journalism and production. Alexis truly believes if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life. Follow Alexis’s career on her website.
Alexis Morgan, Columbia University, Cornell University, grad school, Penn State University, the application, University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California, COLLEGE CHOICE, VOICES FROM CAMPUS
Writing a Personal statement for Fulbright Scholarship
Posted by Talha Omer on September 11, 2013 in Fulbright Pakistan, Personal Statement | 24 comments
This post was updated in May 2017 to maintain freshness and up-to-date tips on writing Fulbright personal statements
So the 2018 Fulbright applications and interviews have almost come to an end. Last year, 1,300+ students applied for the Fulbright scholarship from Pakistan and around 150 were selected. It is yet to see who got in and who got out but this year I have had the opportunity to help over 100+ students with their Fulbright personal statements and got to read over 170 personal statements of Fulbright applicants.
Today I am going to write about the things that were common in all successful Fulbright personal statements. Along with that I am also going to write about the common flaws in the unsuccessful personal statements.
SEE ALSO: Here is a Sample Personal Statement which has used quotes effectively.
For those of you who don’t know yet or are applying for Fulbright scholarships next year for 2019, you will have to write a 700-750 words long personal statement. In order to write a personal statement, you must first understand the real purpose and value of a ‘Personal Statement’. The basic idea behind a personal statement is to get a piece of original writing and a peak into the mind of the applicant.
Writing a personal statement could be a very daunting task for students in Pakistan, many a times, as they don’t have any prior experience in writing something like this. Also, this could be one of the best chances that you will get to impress the Fulbright committee, who will be reading your personal statement. I personally believe that a personal statement is a kind of a quick interview of a Fulbright applicant – except that you don’t have to answer the interviewer in person but on a piece of paper.
Fulbright personal statement or the Fulbright statement of purpose is not like any other ordinary type of essay writing we do in Pakistan. If your writing matches to a typical essay, it won’t stick to the minds of the Fulbright admissions committee and you will most likely lose any chance of getting in. An impressive personal statement will most likely increase your chances of getting a recommendation for Fulbright interview initiation.
To help students write a personal statement, here are some do’s & don’ts of a Fulbright Personal statement:
What to Write in a Fulbright Personal Statement
Mention Important Points: Never forget to mention the important points in brief. For e.g., give your top reasons to pursue the course that you did in the past etc. While your Curriculum Vitae or Resume would give details about the courses you have done, this is the best chance for you to explain why you chose that course and your passion for it. Fulbright would love to know why you made such a decision in the past.
Don’t Choose Redundant Opening Lines: Whenever Fulbright applicants come to me seeking assistance with their personal statements I always tell them not to write something like: “I want to help the Pakistani society” or “I want to help the poor in Pakistan” or “I want to make a difference to Pakistani people”. Well! This line does look impressive, but when hundreds of Pakistani Fulbright applicants write the same lines, your first impression at the Fulbright officer will be lost.
Give Real life Examples: A personal statement for Fulbright application is the perfect time to think outside the box and to think about different aspects of your life. You can review your life and add important points to your essay. Don’t include your whole life story; present it in an impressive way which highlights your strengths, skills and talents. Portray everything using examples rather than just listing your strengths.
Follow Instructions given by Fulbright Scholarship: It is always advisable to follow the instructions provided. If they have asked for 700-750 words, then provide your content for 700-750 words only. Just follow the instructions.
Write About Yourself: Everyone has their own stories and experiences to share with the Fulbright people. If you have an exciting story about yourself, don’t forget to mention it in your personal statement. Don’t write your story just for the sake of impressing the officers; present it in a sincere manner.
How to explain a low GPA in your personal statement?
What Not to Write in a Fulbright Personal Statement
Don’t Write to Impress: Whenever you write a personal statement, it is a human tendency to think of those points that would impress others. However, this will get you go off the track. Try to be genuine and give only those points which you really feel are important.
Don’t submit Resume: It is okay to pick a couple of things from your resume and elaborate on them; but if you are thinking of writing everything what is already there in your resume, it would definitely kill the chances of your personal statement being the most impressive one.
Don’t submit without checking with a third person: If you are thinking of submitting your personal statement without checking with a third person, think again. There are possibilities of grammatical errors, spelling mistakes etc., which may not be visible to your eyes. Only a third person can identify all those. Moreover only a third person can tell you whether or not he/she was impressed after reading your statement.
Present small negatives in a positive way: If you think that some of your past records may become a cause concern to the admission committee, like a gap in studies, a low GPA, or even a tough semester, present them in a positive way. Personal statement is a great chance where you can address these issues, by mentioning all the good things which you have learnt during the bad time. You can also explain the good reasons behind such small negative things.
Always write a Fulbright personal statement, keeping all the above given points in mind. This will definitely help you to get the best impression from the officers.