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February 1, 2019

The Basics for Writing a Winning Personal Statement

  • Approach your personal statement as an opportunity to:
    • Connect with the Reader
      • What do you want to tell a total stranger about yourself?
    • Articulate What Matters to You
      • The enlightened reader wants to see inside your soul.
      • They want to know what interests you, what challenges you, what inspires you, and what will be your gift to the world.
    • Describe Where you are Going in Life
      • The reader wants to know how you advance their institutional mission, and how you will contribute to the entering class, the institution, to the profession and to society.
    • Market Yourself as though you are a start-up, future Fortune 500 Company
      • The reader is the buyer and you are the seller. How do you present yourself in the best possible light?
      • It is all about fit, you finding the school that best matches you. Not the other way around.
        • You must know your true interests, preferences, needs, goals and calling in life.
        • You must know the characteristics of the institution and department that you wish to be a part of, as well as the people you wish to surround yourself by.
        • You must fully understand the application process, in other words, how to get from candidate to accepted student.
        • While you do not have to be perfect, you must know how to enhance your credentials and highlight your abilities, accomplishments, education and experiences.
        • You must know how to communicate your strengths, and explain away any concerns the reader might have.
  • Beginning the Personal Statement
    • Brainstorm by recalling important experiences and accomplishment during major periods of your life.
    • Make a compelling argument, your thesis statement, as to why you are a great applicant and an outstanding fit.
    • Engage, connect and entertain the reader.
    • Establish your authority.
    • Orient the reader and establish the context in order to focus the reader.
    • Identify the central issue by asking a question or stating the thesis, and then suggesting an answer.
    • The introduction must clearly establish a direction and catch to readers attention, encouraging them to want to finish reading.
  • The Fundamental Foundation of any Great Essay is to:
    • Make your compelling point, your thesis statement
    • Develop your thesis
    • Succinctly and periodically reformulate your thesis
    • Support your thesis with evidence
    • Skillfully anticipate arguments and counterarguments, and finally
    • Reveal something previously unseen, unknown, yet relevant
  • The Essay:
    • Must flow, with an introduction, body and conclusion
    • Must deliver on why you are a strong & compelling candidate
    • Must be sufficiently focused and specific so that a logical argument can be made supporting it.
    • Is one of the rare opportunities entirely within your control.
    • Is a great opportunity that must be fully taken advantage of.
    • Must articulate your ideas and your analysis.
    • Must be entertaining and fun to read, and begin like a Hollywood movie.
  • The Thesis must be developed
    • Your main objective is to make the best possible case for your thesis statement, that you are an outstanding applicant.
    • After a period of brainstorming, a series of patterns and insights emerge, with one or more becoming the most compelling.
    • You must begin by peaking the reader’s curiosity, often by asking a question, or a provocative observation, always by telling a great story.
    • Next, present strong evidence that supports the thesis such that most any reasonable person would share your same conclusion.
    • Counter arguments should be seriously considered.

Before You Start Writing

  • Gather and order the evidence, organizing it by strength, either weakest to strongest, or to the most compelling and supporting. Best to save a surprising to the end.
  • Be sure to be logical and engaging.
  • In outline fashion, write your basic arguments, each with supporting evidence and interesting experiences.
    • Making a detailed outline allows you to convey your message in a clear and logical fashion.
    • Organize your notes, ideas and quotes in an order that supports your main secondary arguments.
    • Put your ideas for the basic theme into categories, and sub-categories.
    • Put these categories into a logical order.

Paragraph Structure: Essay Mapping – The Outline

  • Start with a generalization or assertion, then provide evidence.
  • There must be a sense of flow, with alternating intensity and relaxation, like a good book or a great movie.
  • The order of each paragraph must be logical:
    • The Introduction: Proposing the Argument
      • Begin with a quote, a question, specific facts or information, an anecdote or a story that aligns with the premise.
      • Identify one to three events that led to the thesis.
      • The focusing question or thesis statement (no more than two sentences) comes at the end of the first paragraph, and serves as the transition point to the body of the essay.
      • The introduction should be interesting, perhaps unexpected, a form of “setting the table,” with the thesis statement followed by broad evidence (no more than three) to round out the introduction.
    • The Body
      • The body is where you take each argument and expand on them by validating it with data or experiences. Consider one argument per paragraph.
      • Develop not just what you did, but how it made you feel, what you learned, and who you positively impacted.
      • Raise arguments and one counterargument. A counterargument is a great idea because it shows that you can play the “devil’s advocate.”
      • Each paragraph must answer questions the reader might have.
        • What?” – What evidence provides clues that your thesis is true?
        • “How?” – How does the thesis statement stand up to a counter argument?
        • “Why?” – Why is your thesis statement important? Why does this matter to anyone else but you?
        • Each sentence must include something the reader needs to know. Every sentence matters.
        • Each paragraph must expand on the broad evidence presented in the introduction.
    • The Conclusion
      • Needs to convey a sense of closure.
      • Much link the last paragraph to the first.
      • Use one-syllable words, creating a sense of drama.
      • Conclude by describing a larger context.
      • Conclude by considering the implications.
      • Avoid, “in summary, or in conclusion.”
      • Don’t simply restate the main point.
      • Never apologize!
  • Essay Strategies:
  1. Watch essay structure, grammar and spelling
  2. Share the Good and the Bad
  3. Write from the Heart
  4. Stay within the Word Limit
  5. Do not write quirky topics unless a university like the University of Chicago, which asks for quirky questions.
  • Resources: Harvard College Writing Center and College Match by Steven Antonoff