There comes a time for many of us, where you may be asked for a personal statement. At first glance it may seem like a straight-forward hurdle on the road to a major achievement, however, the open-ended nature of the task can easily lead to hours of frustration and unproductive brainstorming. Given the growing importance of personal statements in applying to lucrative jobs, coveted academic work, or even exclusive fellowship programs – a lack of inspiration can feel particularly frustrating. If this is you, don’t despair, we’ve got some quick tips to help you on your way to that MBA, JD, or resume-boosting dream job.
First of all; let’s clear up the purpose of the personal statement. Similar to the familiar undergraduate admissions essay (e.g. Common or Coalition Application), personal statements require some creative brainpower, your best writing skills and a compelling narrative all tied together in an easy-to-digest flow. So to begin, it’s important to carefully consider any direct questions posed so you start brainstorming with an appropriate narrative in mind. For instance; you may want to jot down your reasons for pursuing the degree or program of interest. Why now? Why the specific degree? Why this school? If you’re lucky, some applications provide a list the questions that they expect to be addressed, so writing out some rough responses is generally going to be the best starting point.
Once you’ve got the main points that you want to address, you can begin with a first draft; luckily, unlike writing undergraduate essays, you don’t necessarily need to adhere to a storyline type of rhetoric. You do need to elaborate on your experiences and provide strong unambiguous reasons for why the program is a good fit for your career or academic goals.
Since answering those ‘why?’ questions tends to be the hardest part of the process; we’ve compiled a brainstorming directive below to get you through the process as effectively as possible:
What are your career goals?
When describing career goals in a personal statement; they should be directly related to the program you’re applying for. Yes, “goals” is intentionally plural; having one goal generally reflects an unprepared applicant. In general, you want to develop both short, and long-term goals that complement each other and the program of interest. Once you’re clear on the goals, then you can extrapolate on how elements of the program will help you during your journey. Are you interested in starting your own firm, and having an MBA will help you achieve that goal? Well, start by thinking how the core or elective components of the program will help develop both your technical skill set in addition to relevant soft skills; don’t skimp on how you plan to involve yourself in the program to accomplish those goals. Paint the picture of your vision.
Think about the broader career impact of completing the program or degree.
Graduate and professional degrees often result in a specific ladder of advancement. For the MBA, you could pursue that consulting opportunity and eventually move up to a senior or director position. For the JD, you are on track to become a practicing lawyer in any specific field of your choosing. But is there anything you want to change in the region or area you aspire to work in? Some examples are raising the standards of a specific industry, improving social issues with your education, and more. Think about the lasting and impactful changes you have on your mind and convey that clearly in your statement; it will make you a stronger candidate.
Put your undergraduate studies into perspective.
If you are making a career change, you’ve likely completed a bachelor’s program that is different. Even if this is not the case, you should still think about what you learned and experienced during the degree program that has led you to conclude that this career path is the right move. Think about the lessons and experiences from that period and how they contributed to who you are today.
Review the program curriculum and integrate offerings into your personal statement.
Schools, and institutions want to feel unique and believe that you did your research. Sure, you are likely applying in part because it is highly ranked, but any mention of rank or prestige is a major faux pas and will be frowned upon. Mentioning rank in a personal statement is not only poor form, but it also consumes word count while doing nothing to convey why the program should accept you. Instead, take a good look at what they offer, how they differ from similar programs or roles. For instance: Do any classes that catch your eye? Are you interested in the internship or study abroad opportunity they advertise? Do any clubs or extracurricular opportunities jump out as relevant? Besides knowing that you can succeed at their institution, schools want to know how, and why you’ll be involved. Again, intertwining your goals as a motivator for involvement is a great move. Getting involved just because you think “it looks good” ironically doesn’t look good at all.
This is only meant to be a concise list of thinking points, so be sure to spend a lot of time thinking about your past and future, and connecting that to the program you’re applying to. Likely, you will end up spending hours on the program’s website, but it’s well worth it! Lastly, if you’re applying to multiple programs and plan to recycle any overlapping points in-between your personal statements, be sure to proofread after you’re finished to ensure you’re not plagiarizing yourself or heaven forbid using the wrong name to address the program. For more on self-plagiarism check out our article “Is Self-Plagiarism Really a Problem”?. For more on getting past writers block, we’ve got you covered “Writing tips for people who hate writing”. Best of luck!