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Graduate School Personal Statements: Purpose, Strategies, Utililty

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This presentation helps upperclassman with writing personal statements, but refreshes experienced writers about narration. Anyone reflecting and writing about their professional experiences could benefit from this presentation, even those writing letters of application.

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Graduate School Personal Statements: Purpose, Strategies, Utililty

  1. 1. Strategies for Writing Personal Statements Authored By: Alexandria Lockett, Ph.D.
  2. 2. Contexts When will you write a personal statement? ●  Graduate, Professional, and Medical School Applications ●  Summer Research Program Applications ●  Fellowship Applications ●  Study Abroad Scholarships The document may also be referred to as a: statement of purpose, letter of intent, career goal statement, biographical essay
  3. 3. Purpose 1. What makes this candidate distinctive among other competitive candidates? 2. Does their personal and academic history convince me that they are committed to, and capable of pursuing their goals? ➢ A glimpse of your identity, personality, style ➢ Shows, rather than tells, your interest in the program ➢ The way we talk about ourselves reveals a lot about our character Tip: Personal statements are personal because they are a narrative of your experience. You will not establish a connection with a committee if you simply run through a list of the same accomplishments they read in your CV. They already know you are high achieving, but they don’t know what kinds of obstacles you faced to believe that you will effectively contribute to their organization.
  4. 4. Committee Uses ★ Heavily weighted, narrows down candidates ★ Offers another major way to measure your writing and communication skills ★ Presents an opportunity to consider non-quantifiable criteria ○  Intellectual curiosity might be detected through writing samples, but not necessarily a GPA ○  A first-generation college student with an above average GPA may have a more compelling reason to want to pursue advanced study than a student with perfect test scores who wants to be a teacher because his parents are teachers ○  Someone working full-time in college who needed to withdraw classes for financial reasons may be as competitive a person with a flawless transcript
  5. 5. Broader Uses ●  Account for gaps in education, poor grades or test scores ●  Self-reflection and discovery ●  Practice assessing organizations, paying attention to why you are a “fit” o  Learn more about the program through their marketing materials. Examine their language, visual images, recurring words, unfamiliar terms, what kind of evidence they present that establishes their ability to enable you to meet your goals o  Read administrative documents--how long is the program, how long will you receive financial support, how many people receive job placement or graduate admissions, is the bulletin up-to- date, are the classes listed actually offered on a regular basis, who is the faculty--are they editing publications, consulting organizations, excellent teachers, self, by paying attention to what convinces you to want to be part of a program ●  Interview Preparation ●  Cover Letter Content for Job Applications
  6. 6. Persuasive Characteristics ●  Can they trust your commitment and capability to successfully complete the program? (ethos) ●  Do they feel inspired to admit you and help you become a member of their professional community? (pathos) ●  Do your experience--past activities and accomplishments--and current academic/career goals demonstrate that you are capable of becoming a productive, inventive member of the field? (logos) ●  Does your narrative prove that it is the right time for you to be in their program? (kairos)
  7. 7. Challenges ●  Failure to be personal ●  Verbose (conciseness) ●  Vague (clarity) ●  Rambling/Repetitive ●  Self-evaluation/Genuineness ●  Time-consuming ●  No set model ●  Avoiding cliches ●  Fine line between honest, unique, and exceptional vs. controversial.
  8. 8. Personal Statement Writing Process MESSY MESSY MESSY. MESSY MESSY MESSY. MESSY MESSY MESSY. ●  Consider your competition ●  Consider your audience ●  Embrace moments of truth: Is the school really a fit? ●  Evaluate your raw materials ●  Get feedback on every draft (both academic and non-academic)
  9. 9. Some Organizing Principles Where have you been? ●  What events led you to become interested/involved in the field (a person, experience, a book, some aspect of your cultural identity?) Where are you now? ●  What activities/projects/research/service do you do that can illustrate your interest in the field? Where are you going? What do you visualize yourself doing once you've been admitted to the program? (e.g. faculty you want to work with, research you want to do? What are your career objectives, more broadly? What will you do after you've received the degree? (e.g. go on to get a PhD there or elsewhere? Get a job?)
  10. 10. Self-Evaluation ●  Do you suffer from imposter syndrome? ●  Do you just want to be in the field because of prestige? ●  What convinced you to want to become part of the field?* ●  Were you going to take another path?* ●  In what ways do you think this field adds to the evolution of human thought?* ●  Why do you feel capable of being a productive member of the field?* ●  How do you want to contribute to the field?* Tip: Answering any of the *questions may enable you to compose substantive content for your first personal statement draft and help you develop an “angle.”
  11. 11. Getting Started Beginners and Writers-in-Transit ●  What is notable about your personal history? ●  Which special hardships or obstacles helped you get to where you are today? ●  What has retained your interest in the field? ●  What are your career objectives? ●  What specific activities have taken up the past 3-5 years of your life? (List) ●  Which important skills, abilities, or character traits does your list illustrate? ●  Are there any problems you need to address in regards to poor grades, test scores, or gaps in education?
  12. 12. Getting Started (In Detail) Beginners: ●  Can you remember an "aha moment"? If so, consider who was involved, where you were, what you were doing, and when you recognized that you needed to go down this path ●  Why are you interested in the field? Are there certain texts, projects, activities, hobbies, or hardships/challenges that led you to this place?
  13. 13. Program Evaluation ●  After researching, what are the top three things that stand out to you about their program? ●  In what ways will the program contribute to both your professional and personal growth o  Facilities o  Faculty o  Organizations o  Programming o  Graduate Student/Alumni Network o  Reputation Tip: Early in the drafting process, I recommend crafting two paragraphs--1 is about the specific faculty you want to work with, the other is about departmental and institutional benefits.
  14. 14. Preparation and Revision ●  Check each program’s specific rules for writing personal statements: o  Are you being asked to respond to a specific question? o  Do they have a word limit? o  What kind of document design do they specify? (e.g. a certain header, font type, font size, spacing) o  When are the deadlines--If you apply to a non-U.S. school, take shipping times into account ●  Customize your statements--one size doesn’t always fit all, especially when applying to multiple programs ●  Contact faculty and use the memorable aspects of the experience as part of the statement ●  Use narration and description. The personal statement is a story! ●  Spend a lot of time making sure the first paragraph’s “hook” can effectively organize the statement ●  Get plenty of diverse feedback, but listen very carefully to people who actually serve on admissions committees in your field..
  15. 15. Final Cautions! ●  Don’t regurgitate your resume or hide inside of academic jargon ●  Explicitly discuss how you perceive connections between certain experiences. ●  Too much emphasis on your knowledge about the program and faculty accomplishments distracts readers from who you are ●  Humble pie, anyone? We know it’s all about you, but tact, respect, thoughtfulness, and friendliness can be detected in: o  Use of correct grammar and the active voice o  Careful selection of appropriate details o  Well-organized events sequenced as a story o  Balance between what you can do for the program and what the program can do for you
  16. 16. Contact Information Dr. Alexandria Lockett: alexandrialockett@gmail.com Office: Cosby 305 For more resources, visit: A.Lockett's Personal Statement Resources Page