The Purpose of Your Personal Statement

What’s the big deal with personal statements anyway? If you have earned your decent high school and undergraduate grades, studied hard for admissions tests like the SAT and GRE, and have made an effort to gain relevant work experience, why do admission essays even matter? Why Does it Matter? We will let a pro answer this. According to Dr. Liza Cariaga-Lo, Assistant Dean, Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, “The personal statement is seriously important, as it is often (in cases where there is no interview requirement) the only opportunity for the student to share information about relevant to the pursuit of graduate study.” In other words, your individual composition is your one shot for admissions committee members to see you as a person, not just a smattering of grades and a modicum of test scores. Self Promotion While the purpose of the personal statement is, in essence, to “sell” yourself, there are a few things to keep in mind when self-promoting. The concept of self-promotion: Does NOT mean re-hashing the many achievements on your résumé. Though your academic performance might be stellar, there is more to you than that! The admissions committee members will already read your résumé. Give them something new here! Does NOT mean pretending you are perfect. Some of the most compelling stories involve overcoming hardship. Have you used any struggles in your life as learning experiences to make yourself a stronger person? This applies to things the admissions officers will find elsewhere in your application, like low grades. Use negatives to your advantage instead of pretending they don’t exist. DOES require that you focus on your desired program. Instead of just listing your successes, take the time to...

Personal Statement Preparation: Understanding Your Reasons to Attend

Think Closely Think closely about your reason to attend college or graduate school for two reasons. First, if that reason is weak or unclear, you should rethink the choice. Second, if your reason is solid, it’s time to think about how that reason will affect your personal statement. Do you want to attend because of the program’s specific focus? Or is it because the faculty’s work mirrors your own goals? Or maybe it is due to the school’s proximity to employment opportunities in your field? Understand the Reason Understanding your reason why you want to attend will help you decide how you want to focus your personal statement. Think of your reason for attending as the “theme” of your essay and always direct back to that point in your writing. This will build a coherent story and chronicle the details. You want to avoid reasons that make you sound moneyhungry, desperate, or egotistical. For instance, don’t mention financial gain as the sole reason for graduate school attendance. Also, if you hope to land a managerial position with a major company, don’t focus too much on that. It will come across that your ambition is based solely on ladder-climbing. Are You Sure? Before you jump too far into the application process, now’s the time for a gut check: Are you sure you want to go enter a college program or attend graduate school? Advanced education is a huge commitment of time, energy, and often money. Worse, if you clearly aren’t ready for advanced education, admissions faculty will notice. As Gregg Glover, Associate Director of Admissions, Harvard Graduate School of Education, explained, “…if an applicant demonstrates a lack of relevant experience, sounds naïve, inexperienced, or unfocused and unprepared for graduate study in an essay, it can hinder his...

What is a Personal Statement?

Are you applying for a college program or graduate school? If so, you are not alone. Enrollment in college is on the rise—between 1985 and 2010, it spiked 78 percent. That means programs are more competitive, admission is more coveted, and applications have to be more spot-on than ever before. The Numbers 21 million – The number of students expected to enroll in American universities in 2014, a 6 million increase since the year 2000. 5.5 million – The number of people who will attend private colleges. 4 million – The 18 to 24 year old U.S. population increased by 4 million (from 27 million to 31 million) between 2000 and 2010. 2.6 million – During the 2012 to 2013 academic year, schools awarded over 900,000 associate degrees, 1.8 million bachelor degrees, 750,000 master degrees, and 175,000 doctoral degrees. How can applicants stand out among the countless others who may have similar academic credentials? The key is the personal statement. This portion of your application is where the test scores, the grades, and the lifeless facts stop speaking for you. This is where you get to describe, in your own words, why you are a strong college program or graduate school candidate. What is a Personal Statement? The personal statement is an essay that tells the admission committee members details about the applicant. What’s more, it is an opportunity for you to explain the details of your resume and academic experience. The individual composition should explain why you are suited for this profession, what qualities and qualifications will help you succeed in this field, and how you can cope with the demands of the course study. Why is the Personal Statement Important? What’s the big...
3 Email Templates for Asking for a Letter of Recommendation

3 Email Templates for Asking for a Letter of Recommendation

So by now you’ve read my earlier post, 5 Rules for Requesting a Letter of Recommendation via Email. If you follow the rules laid out there, you should have no problem getting your professors to agree to write you a letter of recommendation. But I know that some people want a little more help. Asking for a letter of recommendation can be intimidating. That’s why I’ve created a few sample emails for different scenarios.  All of them follow the 5 rules. Please share some of your successful email templates in the comments. One last thing before we get started. I wrote another article specifically for Premed students on my new blog Premed Revolution. Check it out here: Socially Awkward Premed Part 2 – Request a Letter of Recommendation Over Email.   1. The Standard This template is designed for classes in which you did fairly well and had at least minimal contact with the professor either by email, after class, or during office hours. Professor [Xavier],   My name is [Ben Frederick]. I took your [organic chemistry] course [last semester]. You may remember me [coming to your office hours after every test to go over some of my wrong answers.] [Organic chemistry] was a very challenging subject for me and I was proud of the [A-] I received in your class.   I know you are busy so I’ll get to the point. I am currently in the process of applying to [medical school] and I am trying to gather a few letters of recommendation.  Because I enjoyed [your class and teaching style so much], I decided to start...

5 Rules for Requesting a Letter of Recommendation via Email

When I was applying to medical school, asking for letters of recommendation gave me a big headache. Unfortunately, whether you are shooting for med school, dental school, PA school, or any other kind of health profession, requesting letters of recommendation is a necessary evil that you must endure. Hypothetical conversation: “Hi Professor X, um… my name is John. I was just wondering if possibly, maybe, you might be able to write me a letter of recommendation.  I’m applying to medical school and, um..  and they asked me to get a letter from some science professors. So do you think that maybe you could write me one?” That is a situation to avoid. Why Email? First of all, let’s face facts… you and I are awkward.  It’s almost a prerequisite for acceptance to medical school or any other health professions. Luckily for us awkward people, email has become ubiquitous and is now socially acceptable for something like asking for a letter of rec. You may have been advised to request letters in person or over the phone in order to make a more personal connection.  However, I like to create a more controlled environment in order to minimize the pain and awkwardness. Making first contact with your professors via email prevents you from screwing it up! Second of all, it lets your professor consider the request on his or her own time.  The last thing you want them to do is agree to write you a letter of rec because you put them on the spot and they just want you to go away. But why?  Isn’t the point of...
Best Ideas for Starting Your Personal Statement

Best Ideas for Starting Your Personal Statement

    Coming up with the perfect personal statement topic can seem overwhelming, but never fear, Sam trap on your thinking caps and let’s get going. These topics may be combined. Use your best judgment. For example, if you pick a #10—A childhood accomplishment, pick something that was particularly formative in your development or shows off #21—An interesting (and relevant) aspect of your personality.       The moment when you first realized you were an adult An experience travelling in your own country An experience traveling to a foreign country A research or academic project you are particularly proud of A victory in a sport A loss in a sport A non-traditional upbringing A non-traditional academic career Returning to school after a hiatus A childhood accomplishment A childhood tragedy A crossroads in your life where you made the right choice A crossroads in your life where you made the wrong choice A move from one place to another A critique of a cultural foible Someone who inspires you Someone who you were formerly inspired by A risk you took Your reaction to a quote A time when something didn’t turn out quite like you thought it would An interesting aspect of your personality An analysis of your family An important conversation A time when you really messed up A time when you achieved something great Commentary on a current event An unusual anecdote A school field trip A visit to a relative How your religion has shaped you How not being religious has shaped you Do you have a great idea for starting a personal statement?   Leave it...