You’ve been asked to sum yourself up in 650 words. And, if you’re like most students, the process hasn’t been a particularly seamless one. It’s a daunting task. There are a million anecdotes, idiosyncrasies, and detours on the road to explaining the fundamental “you,” and somehow you’ve ended up with a mere few paragraphs’ worth of space to encapsulate yourself and present it to strangers all over the country (or world!). No pressure, right?
Believe me, I get it. And as a writing coach, I know the pressure of perfection can cloud our judgement, cause us to freeze up, and make things impossibly difficult. There are, however, a few things you can do to ensure you’re offering up your very best representation of self as you’re finalizing those 650, painstakingly-chosen words.
1. Cut out the pretension:
As someone who’s read quite a few of these, I can tell you that seeing a misused or out of place “big word” really makes the reader cringe. If you wouldn’t say it in your daily life, it doesn’t belong in your personal statement. This is not an academic essay, and it’s not an opportunity for you to live your best thesaurus life: the most important thing your personal statement can be is authentic. So, I beg you, sound like yourself. Do not use “bucolic” to describe your grandma’s house unless you’re a regular employer of “bucolic.”
2. Have a couple (but not too many!) readers:
Best case, you have two types of reader: someone who knows you well and someone who doesn’t. The knows-you-well reader will be able to say whether or not the essay speaks to your True You, and the knows-you-not reader will be able to identify anything that doesn’t quite sound right. Those who know you will inevitably color your content with your already-established fabulous character, so they could miss an oddly phrased sentence or uncomfortable connotation, but those who don’t know you will pick up on those things right away.
3. Concise is key:
And the best way to achieve “concise” is to cut superfluous words. This means:
- Exaggerations: always, such, absolute, very, so
- Ex. “I’ve ALWAYS loved Russian literature…” That “always” is
probably not accurate, and it’s inflating your carefully-crafted writing! Change it to “I love Russian literature,” OR “Since I discovered Russian Literature in 10th grade…”
- Words that Mean Nothing: Incredible, amazing, wonderful, etc.
- Don’t be afraid to cut out purposeless details
- Be the master of your language!
- Ex. “In the class I took for English last year” should become “In English 11″
4. Do the “ask back” check: what does this really convey about me?
Make sure your personal statement is on track and has a clear focus: What point is your anecdote making? Does it convey something about you that’s essential for these future-deciding strangers to know? Does it sound like your voice when you read it aloud?
These four steps may seem simple, but sticking to them will help ensure your personal statement—your authentic introduction to this new life chapter—is your best possible work!