Tell Who You

Beyond the first paragraph or two, there might be an elaboration on material introduced earlier, or simply further distinguishing information relating to your background and experiences. The committee should be getting a sense of who you are, what makes you tick, and how you are different from other applicants. They should be interested in you by now, eager to hear more, impressed that what you're saying to them—the story you're relating—is not simply what they've read a thousand times before.

Later in your personal statement you might want to detail some of your interest in or exposure to your particular field. You might say something to suggest to the committee that you have a realistic perception of what this field or profession entails. Refer to experiences

(work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other sources of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it.

Sometimes a personal statement can be perfectly well written in terms of language and grammar, but disastrous in lacking punch or impact and in being totally off the mark concerning what it chooses to present about the applicant. Remember, what's most important about your personal statement is w/iat you say and how you say it! Be selective about what you tell the admissions committee. Often you are specifically limited to a certain number of pages (two double-spaced typed pages—or just over—should suffice for most applicants, unless multiple questions require more space), so it is necessary to pick and choose in relating your story. What you choose to say in your statement is, again, very much a reflection of you because it shows the committees what your priorities are, what you consider to be important. For this reason, the personal statement is often an indication, too, of your judgment, so be careful and give a great deal of thought to what you write. Much thinking—probably over a period of weeks—should, ideally, precede the writing. Think about yourself, your background, experiences, and abilities—as well as what you know about the profession—and develop a strategy.

Review Your Personal History

Applicants preparing personal statements very often fail to remember or include facts (experiences, events, achievements) that are extremely relevant, either to their career choice and application or in terms of explaining what makes them tick. One law applicant almost forgot that he had spent a summer working for an assistant district attorney—the most potent, relevant, and interesting weapon in his arsenal! It sounds unbelievable, but this occurs all the time. Another law school applicant almost forgot to tell the admissions committees of his experience as chief defense witness in a criminal trial. My suggestion: Review your life very carefully (get help from family or friends if necessary) for facets or experiences that reveal an unusual dimension, relate to your profes sional goals, or could serve as evidence of your suitability for a certain career (the Preparatory Questionnaire at the back of this book will be very helpful to you).

What Not to Include

There are certain things that normally are best left out of personal statements. In general, references to experiences or accomplishments during your high school years or earlier are not a good idea. There are exceptions, I am sure (if there was an extraordinary achievement or traumatic event that had a significant impact on your development or career plans, go with it), but as a rule, introducing material from this period of your life can make your statement seem sophomoric, at a time when you should want to come across as a mature young adult (or as even more sophisticated if years have intervened since your undergraduate work).

Don't mention subjects that are potentially controversial; it is impossible for you to know the biases of members of various admissions committees. Religion and politics normally don't belong in these statements, although, again, there may be exceptions (an applicant who has held an important office on campus or in the community would likely want to include this fact). Personal political views usually are not appropriate for personal statements. Any views that might be interpreted as strange or highly unconventional should also be omitted because you want to avoid the possibility of offending any of the individuals in whose hands the fate of your graduate school application rests.

Sometimes there will be things you want to mention because you are proud of them, perhaps justly so. At the same time, though, there are achievements and experiences that do not belong in your statement, not because you're hiding anything but because you're being selective about what you write. Don't pull something out of left field—something that doesn't fit into the story you're telling or the case you're trying to build-just to stroke your own ego. Be smarter than that. Again, be selective!

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