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How to Mess Up Your Personal Statement for Graduate Or Professional School Applications
When you applied as an undergraduate, your personal statement probably didn’t make much of a difference, because college admissions are very much based on numbers (GPA, test scores, etc.). Graduate and professional school admissions are different! Your competitors will have grades and test scores similar to yours, because most people who have the motivation to pursue an advanced degree did well as high school students. As the number of applicants increases and academic budgets are cut, each year there is more competition for fewer admission openings.
How does the committee determine that you have what it takes to succeed in advanced studies? You guessed it. Your personal statement will play a determining role in whether your application is successful or not.
So you know you need to write the strongest and most persuasive personal statement you can. But here are two facts you may not know. First, most reviewers only spend a couple of minutes scanning your personal statement. Second, because their job is to reject most applications, critics look for reasons not to recommend them for admission.
Avoid common mistakes that will land your application in the waste pile. Read on for 10 simple ways you can break down your personal statement:
1. Say thank you
Your parents and elementary school teachers taught you to be polite in writing, and you know it’s a good rule to follow. But don’t waste words thanking the committee for reading your application. It’s not the same situation as applying for a job, because you pay the school to review your application so that, hopefully, you can pay to educate and train. Beginning or ending your statement with phrases like “Thank you for reviewing this application” or “I appreciate your consideration” can make you seem immature, obsequious or ignorant of academic culture.
2. Make excuses
Many applicants have weaknesses in their application files, especially in their transcripts. Maybe you got a low grade in your first year. Maybe you have to leave school and work for a while. Maybe you got an F in that stats class and have to retake it. Or maybe you have a degree in one field and are applying to graduate school in a different field; or you didn’t pass your medical residency exams the first time.
Whatever your weakness is, don’t make excuses and don’t hurt anyone. So it wasn’t your fault that the professor flunked your final exam and flunked you, or jobs dried up in your original field of study, or you had the flu when you took the GRE. Don’t say anything that sounds like an excuse or sounds like you’re blaming someone else for you not achieving a goal. Even if this is true, it can make you seem lazy and unable to accept responsibility for your actions. Instead, address the weakness at the end of your statement, and explain how you overcame it, learned from it, and are a better candidate now because of it.
3. Summarize your resume and transcripts
Many applicants try to summarize their professional resume and academic transcripts in the personal statement. All this information is requested in the application itself and the reviewers will see it. Personal statements are too short to waste space explaining what you have right A is your senior. Instead, describe experiences and accomplishments that are relevant to your development as a potential professional in your chosen field.
4. Be nice or funny
Maturity is one of the most common adjectives that admissions committees use to describe the ideal graduate or professional student. Apply to eventually become his colleague, a professional partner. Show them that you take their time, their schedule, your future, and yourself seriously by maintaining a positive and professional tone. Unless the application directs you to submit a creative writing sample, leave the stand-up routine for the comedy club.
5. Suggest that the program can correct a mistake by admitting you
Remember that committee members are busy professionals who only take a couple of minutes to draft your statement. On the one hand, affirming that you will make a unique contribution to your program and bring a new perspective by adding to the diversity of its students is a smart move and shows you as a positive and professional team player. On the other hand, asking for admission for the sake of correcting a previous injustice runs the risk of making you seem unqualified and/or confrontational.
6. Be sarcastic
This doesn’t need much explanation. Your wry comments and sarcastic jokes make your Facebook friends laugh, because they know you. The admissions committee is not. They can easily misinterpret sarcastic comments, or decide that you are flippant, cynical, pessimistic, or a know-it-all.
7. Say something potentially offensive
Again, not much explanation is needed on this one. You know nothing about the people reading your personal statement. Let’s assume that they are very sensitive about all the issues and write like that. Don’t assume they agree with any of your political, social or religious views.
8. Show your inferiority complex or your superiority complex
Many candidates have trouble finding the balance between promoting themselves and not coming off as arrogant in their personal statement. A personal statement is a marketing document and should demonstrate your strengths. However, many candidates err on the side of humility, such as using self-deprecating language; or describe previous weaknesses and failures without explaining how they worked to turn those weaknesses into strengths. Admissions committees do not admit applicants out of pity!
Other candidates err on the side of conjecture, giving the impression that they don’t really need advanced training because they know so much about the field and have so much experience. They cannot describe what they expect to gain from a specialized course of education. You want to walk the line between these extremes. Affirm that you are highly qualified to start this course of study, and that you have the preparation, motivation, maturity and focus they are looking for. Then emphasize your planned specialization, what you will gain from attending their program, and how you need the training they offer to succeed as a professional.
9. Plagiarize your statement, or submit content that you paid someone to write
Most graduate and professional applicants have not read hundreds of personal statements and are unaware of how unique each person’s writing style is. It doesn’t take much for admissions committees to notice that the language and style of the applicant’s personal statement is different from the writing found in other parts of the application. There are also a few dozen sample personal statements on the Internet that are often copied and submitted as the applicant’s essay. The committees are well aware of this! You can also hire someone to write a personal statement for you. It may sound good to you, but you should understand that such essays are based on a template that will only be customized for you, using the same organization of paragraphs and sentences. It is a smart move to get an expert to help you revise and polish your words into a persuasive statement. It is risky to plagiarize a statement from the internet, or hire someone to write the entire statement for you.
10. Use bad spelling or poor grammar
This should be pretty obvious. Academics in admissions committees are usually high achievers with high standards who will not overlook even simple typos. If your personal statement is not technically perfect, it can make you seem sloppy, lazy, or inattentive, which are not qualities anyone wants in a future colleague. Remember that people who delete your essay are looking for a reason to reject your application and make the pile of possible admissions smaller. Always get someone with strong writing skills to review your essay.
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