• What's special, unique, distinctive, or impressive about you or your life story? What details of your life (personal or family problems/ history, any genuinely notable accomplishments, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
• When did you originally become interested in this field and what have you since learned about it—and about yourself—that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
• How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
• If work experiences have consumed significant periods of time during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has the work contributed to your personal growth?
• What are your career goals?
• Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades and mediocre LSAT scores, for example, or a distinct improvement in your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)?
• Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (e.g., economic, familial, physical) in your life?
• What personal characteristics (integrity, compassion, persistence, for example) do you possess that would enhance your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
• What skills (leadership, communicative, analytical, for example) do you possess?
• Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school—and more successful and effective in the profession or field—than other applicants?
• What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?
It won't be easy to answer all of these questions, but this is an exercise that will have great practical benefit in readying you to write an outstanding personal statement.
Probably at least part of the answer to the question "What's most important for the admissions committee to know about you?" will be contained in the first paragraph of your essay. But one thing is certain: Once you complete your essay, you will know exactly what you would say in that hypothetical meeting with the admissions committee member. If you've written the essay in the correct way, you will have thought about yourself, your experiences, and your goals and formulated an interesting and persuasive presentation of your story.
The personal statement is (in many cases) just that: a sort of story. By that I don't mean that you should fabricate or invent anything; be truthful and stick to the facts. What you should do, however, is think in terms of telling a story. If your statement is fresh, lively, different—not to mention articulate—you'll be putting yourself way ahead of the pack. Why? Because by distinguishing yourself through your siory~by setting yourself apart from other applicants—you'll make yourself memorable. If the admissions committee remembers you because what you wrote was catchy (without being inappropriate), you have an obvious advantage; much of what is submitted to the committees is distressingly homogeneous and eminently forgettable, if not sleep-inducing.
It never hurts if the story you tell has drama. Some people have life stories that are inherently dramatic For example, here in the United States there are many applicants who have come from other countries, often settling in a new homeland with no money, connec-
One of the worst things you can do with your personal statement is to bore the admissions committee, yet that is exactly what most applicants do.
tions, or knowledge of the language or culture. Such circumstances, which obviously apply only to a minority of applicants, constitute dramatic obstacles that the applicant has had to overcome to reach his or her present position. But you do not have to be foreign-born to have experienced some sort of challenge or difficulty that could be relevant, absorbing, and—if properly presented—memorably dramatic. (The latitude you have in composing your essay obviously depends on the question asked.)
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