Overall Tips and Common Errors
- Answer the questions that are asked!
- If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar. Don’t be tempted to use the same statement for all applications! It is important to answer each question that is asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, write separate statements.
- Tell a story.
- Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you’ll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will become more memorable.
- Be specific.
- Don’t, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical—the result of the specific experiences described in your statement. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.
- Find an angle.
- If you’re like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or “hook” is vital.
- Concentrate on your opening paragraph.
- The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader’s attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.
- Tell what you know.
- The middle section of your essay might detail your interest in, knowledge of, and experience in your particular field. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences, classes, books, etc. related to the career you want and explain why you are suited to it.
- Do some research.
- If a school wants to know why you’re applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. You should also research the faculty in the program to ascertain who you want to work with and why.
- Write well and correctly.
- Be meticulous! Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Then proofread again! Many admissions officers say that good writing skills and command of current use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.
- Avoid clichés.
- A medical school applicant who writes that she is good at science and wants to help others is not expressing an original thought at all. Stay away from often-repeated and cliché statements. This is the time for you to be original and find something about yourself that sets you apart from every other applicant, otherwise, you are just every other applicant.
Common Errors to Avoid
The following is a list of flaws that commonly plague personal statements that admissions officers do not like to see.
- Misspellings, poor grammar, and sloppiness
- A personal statement that starts, “I’ve always wanted to be a ______.”
- Not answering the question
- An applicant writing what she thinks the admissions committee wants to hear
- Using the same material for every school’s personal statement instead of creating something original for each school
- A personal statement that doesn’t correspond to the rest of the application (i.e., the application does not support what is stated in the essay)
- A personal statement that focuses solely on deep personal problems or excuses for past performance
- Going over the page limit
- An applicant writing how proud she would be to be admitted to School X when she is not applying to School X
- A personal statement that doesn’t really share anything because the writer is too afraid to take a risk
- Telling the reader about the field rather than telling the reader what the field means to the applicant
- Using “I” as the first word of every sentence or a majority of the sentences
- Using grandiose words that undermine the message the applicant is trying to convey