Monday, July 30, 2012

The impossible personal statement

If I had a dime for each time I was asked a question related to the writing of personal statements, I would have roughly made 100 dollars by now. Personal statements are precarious grounds and the most baffling aspect of them for some people is that no one other you can truly make a great personal statement for you.
In its simplest form a personal statement should tell the reader about where you are coming from, what do you intend to do about it now and how does it translate into a better future for all of us.

Personal statements usually give jitters to a lot of Pakistani students because most of them have never been asked to put that advanced level of introspection on paper before. Most of us have never fully answered the question of "What do you want to do and why do you want to do it?". And therein lies the trap of personal statements, it is easier to procrastinate on them rather than find a good, meaningful answer to these questions.
So, what should you do about it and how should you approach this question?

First of all, give yourself at least 2 months to write your personal statement. If time permits, go on a nature/adventure trip. Change of scenery will bring you some clarity. Don't force yourself to think about your personal statement during this time, let yourself enjoy your surroundings.

Visit your family, especially the older members of your family and listen to their stories. This will give you a sense of belonging and will remind you of your heritage and roots. Talk to your parents about memories of your childhood, what you wished to become, your favourite toys, games, places to visit etc.

Ask yourself some future projection questions, "If I am 30/40/50 and I look back at my life, what do I want to see?", "What will matter to me most when I am 10/20/30 years older?", "What is the thing that I would love to have the most?" (Adventure/family/money/world peace/my own company etc.) , "Will the world be a better place if I get this chance?", "Can I make the world a better place if I get this chance?", "Can I reach my goal without doing this degree?" Don't flinch on telling yourself the true answers to these questions, accept them, embrace the truth of them and let them fill your thoughts. Give yourself some more free time after this and let these questions sit on your mind's back burner, soon good ideas will start bubbling in your head and you will know that you are ready to write your kick ass personal statement.

Every personal statement has its own character, like the wands in Harry Potter! The personal statement should be a reflection of the person writing it. When a person, who has never met you before, reads your personal statement, they should come away with a better understanding of who you are as a person, what are your aspirations and why you should be given a chance to fulfill those goals, rather than just getting a rundown of your CV in sentence form.

Approach your personal statement with a joyful heart rather than a sense of dread. You may begin your personal statement with a small personal narrative, a little personal story, a short event, that impacted your life deeply or something that you sense has been guiding you along in your life. Show how that has translated into your decisions/choices in life or how it has motivated you to excellence.

Don't just tell the reader about your achievements, tell them about the human side of those achievements, your fears, the hurdles you overcame, the lessons you learned in getting to those achievements. Try to stay away from things that the reader can garner elsewhere from your application. Show the reader your qualities, let them shine through your narrative, rather than just stating them.Show the reader your lofty ideals, the goals you aspire to and why these goals are worth pursuing. Know the limits of your experience and vision and try to stay well away from going over the top.

Keep your writing style formal, yet not pompous; personal, yet not casual. Know your inherent worth and derive confidence from this and let it reflect in your writing.

Read, re-read and re-read again. Make as many drafts as you need, but know when to stop, show it to friends and family, your professors if possible.

Most important of all, don't ask someone else to write it on your behalf. It's a personal statement.

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