Lock the doors and windows. Close the blinds. Make sure no one is looking. Pull up a chair. I’m going to tell you a secret. Many of you are laboring under false impressions. I’m going to dispel them and then tell you my secret.
Personal Statement Myth #1: Personal statements are read by machines.
"What!" you’re thinking. "I know that’s nonsense. You’re not telling me anything new!"
Well many of you write as if you think search engines or electronic resume readers hungry for key words are reading your personal statements. You write as if stuffing mantras into your essays will persuade the reader of admissibility. After all if enough derivatives of "lead" appear, shouldn’t the reader conclude you are a leader?
Sorry. It doesn’t work like that. You have to show, not tell your reader that you are a leader. And you don’t need to even have the root "lead" in your story to demonstrate leadership. Here’s a small made-up example: "Despite some initial stumbling I organized my teammates, set deadline for sub-tasks, and rewarded performance. My team completed our project 10% under budget and on time." A story could also convey the same quality — and probably do a better job. But whether you want to reveal leadership, compassion, integrity, or analytical skills, use of these terms doesn’t convince The readers aren’t machines and won’t be swayed by key word stuffing. You need to demonstrate those qualities.
Personal Statement Myth #2: The admissions committees are judges awarding acceptances like prizes — based on objective criteria and merit.
Wrong. The admissions committees see themselves as professional creators of classes. Classes with diversity of perspectives, skills, and backgrounds, a symphony of voices. The adcoms couldn’t care less about rewarding you for your past achievements. That’s not their job. They will defend to the death the concept that "merit" and "achievement" come in many shapes and are not exclusively measured by test scores, grades, and even extra-curricular activities. You may see the fat envelope as a prize, but they see you as a potential stone in a mosaic that they are crafting. Are you going to add a distinctive hue to the class picture or not?
The Secret: The readers of your personal statements and application essays are human beings.
What does that information mean to you? Stay tuned. I’ll tell you in a later blog post. In the meantime, open the window. It’s getting stuffy in here.