You studied, worked, or volunteered abroad. Now you want to include part of this in your personal statement as part of an undergrad, AMCAS or other application. Maybe you want to show that you’ve experienced a different culture and expanded your perspective through your eye-opening experiences meeting new people, mountain-climbing, assisting in a rural community, or some other opportunity to help people who genuinely need it.
Don’t forget the most important question: WHY?
But, at this point, you’ve also realized that many other applicants have had similar experiences. While the experience may have been transformative for you, requiring you to learn how to operate without your usual safety net in a foreign environment, you need to ensure that your study abroad experience serves a role in your essay as something other than window-dressing.
But you also know that your experiences aren’t unique to you; other applicants will have had similar adventures.
There’s an old Onion article that jokes about a person whose short work experience in Africa allowed her to post a better Facebook photo. Without asking yourself the most important question of why your experience was transformative in some way, your travel descriptions might resemble the person parodied in that article.
I’ve read many essays with lush descriptions of exotic scenery and people who speak different languages, yet the writer does not seem to have changed. Unless you can articulate how you have changed from these experiences, your stories will simply blend together with those of other applicants. The admissions committee will get the impression that you traveled simply to add another notch to your resume.
You may consider that your travel experience really was transformative for you, requiring you to learn how to operate without your usual safety net in a foreign environment, a pivotal moment in your life journey. The key is for you to be able to explain in your personal statement exactly why.
What, specifically, did you learn from your immersion in another culture? It can’t be enough to just tell a story about someone you met on a bus, train, or in a classroom. Explain why and how that person’s influence changed you. How do you think, act, and perhaps even plan differently now as a result of this exposure?
An admissions committee member once told me that an applicant’s actual experience mattered less than how they talked about it. Even a seemingly dull experience can be transformative to someone who is really paying attention.
Do you need help taking your experiences and using them to create a unique, compelling – even exciting – personal statement? Explore our Admissions Consulting & Editing Services and work one-on-one with an expert advisor who will guide you through the admissions process to acceptance.
Jessica Pishko graduated with a J.D. from Harvard Law School and received an M.F.A. from Columbia University. She spent two years guiding students through the medical school application process at Columbia’s Postbac Program and is a former Accepted admissions consultant. Want an admissions expert help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!