Writing a personal statement is difficult. In my experience, this is mainly because applicants are invited to write about anything. Add that open-ended instruction with the stress of your dream school being on the line-- and even the most talented story-tellers get lost in dry content and are unable to avoid the universal "fall back" approach: to repeat everything, including the unhelpful highlights, on their resume. Their inability to distinguish themselves as an invaluable addition to the school's' entering class undermines their application's entire narrative. This can be detrimental.
My primary goal as a MINT Consultant is to support each applicant by crafting every statement as a supplement to the others. The cohesion of these statements will offer the committees insight on the applicant's potential to add a diverse perspective to the incoming class. Hence, I cannot overstate the importance of perfecting the personal statement. An individualized approach makes it difficult to truly define "what works,"so it is easier for me to point out what I know absolutely does not work.
Here are the most common personal statement mistakes that I have found among applicants across the board:
1. Purpose: Know the reason(s) for which the admissions committee is requesting the statement. What are they trying to discern about you?
Not knowing the purpose of writing a personal statement, or confusing it with, for example, a diversity statement, usually results in an unproductive statement.
Your personal statement should be a reliable indicator of who you are as a person and most importantly, who you will be when you are matriculated and after you graduate. It should contextualize your resume's strengths with your uniqueness and indicate that you will be a valuable contributor to the school's' mission and community. Again, it should work with the rest of your application to elaborate on the connections between your background and your interest in attending the school (school-specific paragraphs work so well here- hint hint!). Unlike a diversity statement, it does not focus on highlighting your disadvantages, and should not be used to explain extraneous circumstances (like an addendum). It is important to double-check the personal statement instructions for every school that you apply for. Though it may be time consuming, I strongly recommend personalizing the statement to tailor to each school.
2. Verbosity and Diction: PET-PEEVE NUMBER ONE OF ANYONE WHO HAS TO READ YOUR STATEMENT(S).
There is nothing more frustrating than having to read long, "fancy" words that forge even longer- albeit less fancier- sentences that lack real substance. Imagine committee members, who have to read hundreds of statements per sitting, trying to sift through your lengthy, yet empty dialogue to understand who you are (not how well you can use your thesaurus) and ending your statement not knowing a thing about you (but how well you can use your thesaurus). Avoid all unnecessary adjectives, legalese, flowery language, and esotericism. This is especially daunting when the applicant misuses such "fancy" words (diction). Be intentional about the qualities that you want committees to observe. Succinct and authentic will always win.
3. Tone: An objective voice indicates honesty.
Your goal in crafting a powerful statement should not be to explicitly state the qualities (you believe) demonstrate your potential to succeed at your choice-school. It is time to be creative. Narrate your statement in a way that allows committees to organically develop their own, positive opinions about you.
For example: "I am strong" has a lot less of an impact than narrating a story of a time that you had to be strong.
By nature, a personal statement can be a bit too self-serving.Try to use story-telling, like in the example above, to avert the risk of arrogance. This is your first and only chance to make an impression and can cripple your other application materials. Be intentional about writing TO your audience and FOR your goal.
4. Missing Pieces: Why do you want to attend the school?
Missing the end-goal ties into an applicant's misunderstanding of the purpose of a personal statement (see above). It is not atypical that an applicant will focus on perfecting the uniqueness of their story-telling framework, and succeed at telling the story: but fail to convey to the school why and how their story relates to their educational/ career goals. It is imperative that you connect your experiences to your end-goal, and explain to the school how their program(s)/ course offering(s) facilitate that goal.
*Connect. Connect. Connect.* Organize your statement to guide the reader through your journey and assure them that this part (their offering you admission) is an integral part of that journey.
5. FORMAT: Proofreading is essential to your success.
A properly formatted statement has correct margins, a heading (optional), and consistent paragraph structures. It is also meets the requirements of each school that you apply to. Most importantly, a properly formatted statement is completely free of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. As I spoke of in the Tone section, admissions committees like to deduce qualities about you. This is an instance where you do not want them to deduce negative qualities. An error-filled statement reflects a lack of attention to detail- or (possibly worse) that you simply do not care. It is also a poor indication of your academic capabilities. I highly recommend that you ask several, reliable sources to proofread your materials after you have finished proofreading yourself. Unlike most factors of admission, this is one that you can definitely control.