One of the most important pieces of advice I can give you regarding your personal statements and application essays is this: Show, don’t tell.
But you may have been given this advice before and you may be wondering how to go about it. Let’s dive into how to show effectively.
Here are four tips to help you achieve this essential writing goal:
- Show the steps you’ve taken.
If you are writing about a goal you achieved or a project you completed, providing the step-by-step process you followed will add depth and validity to your claims. “Within six months I was promoted to Junior Account Manager” is not nearly as compelling as spelling out the specific measures you took to obtain the recognition that landed you your fast-tracked promotion.
Similarly, don’t just tell the adcom that you have overcome your weakness of procrastination; instead, show them by giving concrete examples of specific things you’ve done to become a more efficient person.
- Provide examples of strengths and skills.
You say that you are creative, mature, and an excellent leader. But how? What have you done specifically and what impact have you made on your teammates/co-workers/company/community/world-at-large? Saying that you’re creative won’t cut it; instead, share a story or paint a picture (with words) that truly depicts the creative workings of your mind.
- Offer relevant, compelling details whenever possible.
Your story of success will be more believable and more memorable if you provide a few details. Remember, when showing instead of just telling about your achievements, your readers are going to want to see a picture of who you are and what you’ve done.
Add vibrant details – talk about the number of people on your team; the amount of money you raised; the eager and nervous feelings you experienced while launching your new product; the fear you felt, followed by the extreme remorse, and then the resolve to do better that you experienced when you botched a project – all these details will add color and vitality to the picture you’re painting for the adcom.
- Tell a story that reveals your strengths.
Admissions committee readers are human beings and like all human beings they love a good story. One of the best ways to make a point is with a story that illustrates it.
A good story has a problem with some emotion or tension, a main character who addresses and sometimes struggles with the problem, and a resolution. For application essays that resolution usually shows how the main character, typically the applicant, solved the problem, benefited others, and restored emotional equilibrium.
If you can tell a story that includes the steps you took, reveals your strengths, and keeps the reader engaged with juicy detail and a certain level of tension regarding the outcome, your essay is well on its way to enhancing your admissions chances.
What’s “telling”? Boastful claims like, “I am a team leader” or “I have excellent communication skills” will fail to convince the adcom of your strengths if they’re not backed up with evidence. Now that you know how to do it, remember: When writing your essays, show, don’t tell.
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