Your personal statement may just be the most important piece of writing you will have composed thus far in your life. This single composition may well be the thing that stands between you and the university in which you seek admission. Hence it is well worth your dedicated time and effort in crafting a statement which stands out and will distinguish you from the crowd.
An obvious statement perhaps, but one worth reiterating: your personal statement needs to be personal. Think about it. The admissions officer will likely have to read thousands of personal statements in making decisions for only hundreds of available positions. The worst thing that can happen is that your personal statement reads precisely the same as another. This would be the opposite of distinction; it would be a case of this individuation, making yourself less rather than more noticeable.
Moreover, there is no good reason that your personal statement should be all that similar to any other. This is all about you, your personal character traits, achievements and aspirations. You are trying to sell yourself. As such, you might benefit from thinking about the personal statement as a kind of advertisement - the product being you, of course.
So, what things stand out about you? What are your specific achievements? What have you done that other people have not? Make a list of all your defining attributes. Think of these as building blocks in the sales pitch you intend to construct.
By making extensive notes, you will find it easier to clarify your thought processes and organise your ideas. Your next step is to consider how to leveraged these assets most definitely in your favour without diverging from the precise instructions the statement must follow. That is, usually the institution you are applying to will provide guidelines on how to fill out the personal statement. Obviously, you need to follow these strictly. This in and of itself in recently demonstrate that you have the skill of following instructions. Do not underestimate how important this particular ability is for university staff. Remember that a large proportion of your academic work will require you to follow very specific and often quite complicated instructions set by the course leader. Resultantly, do not give them a reason you are unfit for this quintessential requirement.
You absolutely must read the specific instructions of the institution you are applying to, for these will vary. Read them and then reread them, then repeat the process.
Despite this variety, speaking broadly, there are two main types of personal statement. These include a general personal statement and a specific question-based personal statement.
A general personal statement affords maximal freedom to cater the text as you see fit. Lacking in very precise instructions, this sort of statement can be rather daunting for some students, who naturally asked themselves what the university is looking for.
There is no hard and fast answer to this question. Though, what they are not looking for is someone lacking the initiative and ingenuity to approach the task in a sensible manner. By this we mean you have to put your best foot forward and do so convincingly. Obviously the institution will have some kind of identity, as it were; a set of values and expectations which it promotes as part of its educational objectives. You will be able to discover these easily. Go and read the university's website the specific course in question. Invariably, there will be some clue as to what the course leader is looking for. Make a note of any terms which suggest particular values or expectations, references to being a “market leader”, “key innovator”, training “original thinkers”, and the like. Now, armed with this information, begin to construct your statement around it. Think of every item noted as a key point on a journey, which you need to visit en route to your destination.
Having done this research, you now have a general idea of the institution's overall ethos. What you now need to do is marshal your own distinguishing features in service of that ethos. Put simply you need to fuse your own values with those of the university: show the applications officer how your mind set aligns with that of the organisation.
If you want to go a step further, you might want to do additional research. You could make notes while visiting the institution at an open day. Email the course leader or maybe read some of the articles written by key faculty. The point is to get an edge, something which gives you a critical advantage over your competitors. Remember this is a competition, so equip yourself with any and all tools that will allow you to secure an advantage.
The question-based statement is a far more specific endeavour, where specialised questions are posed. Usually, this is the approach employed by graduate schools or business colleges, any department which requires a very specialised kind of study.
In such instances, you will have to respond very carefully to the questions, being sure you cover all points included in the rubric.
Nevertheless, just because your instructions narrow the scope of content, does not mean you cannot insert items which present you in a good light. Synthesis is the objective: answering the questions in a way that, if indirectly, makes your values clear.
This is easier to understand by example. Say you were applying for a business school which posed you a question about how to boost workplace productivity in an underperforming enterprise. You might want to go and read up on research into this exact topic which was produced by that specific school. They would not be posing a question which did not bear relevant to their own research interests. Accordingly it is almost certain you will find a wealth of information on whatever the topic may be.
For example, perhaps this particular faculty has produced research on workplace culture and psychological motivators. You might then make direct reference to a key idea from a relevant paper (as a clue, this will be located in the article's conclusion section).
This not only provides solid critical foundation upon which to build a response to the question, it also demonstrates your work ethic, a willingness to go above and beyond, to research effectively and to work within a context that is relevant to the department you are applying to. In addition, the admissions officer is more likely to be swayed to an opinion which was the fruit of their own organisation.
Everything you write in your personal statement needs in one way or another to prove that you would be an asset to the organisation you are applying to. Make sure that each sentence adds to this objective. Also, it is good practice to compose several drafts, honing and polishing your work. Good, considered prose will also reflect well on your academic abilities - for it shows a meticulous and craft like mentality.
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