Before You Write
This essay or personal statement is an important part of your application, so it’s worth taking a significant amount of time to really think about and plan what you’re going to write. Read the instructions carefully – very carefully. If an applicant doesn’t follow directions, that’s a red flag to committee members. Page limits and word counts should be followed, and make sure you’re answering the essay question.
Before you start writing, read the essay question and do some research and thinking of your own. Then reread the essay question. Sometimes we skip over part of a question without realizing it, especially if we’re anxious. Why are you applying to this program? Why do you want to go into this field? How did you become interested in it, what are the drawbacks of the field, and what has sustained your interest in it? Why this program? What drew you to this program? What faculty pique your interest, or whom do you admire? With which faculty do you want to work? What prioritizes this program over others? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What skills do you have that will serve you well in this field and in this program? Write all of these things down, even if only in list form.
It’s natural to be self-conscious or nervous when writing an application essay, especially if there’s a lot riding on it. The most important thing is just to get something on paper. You’ll be revising it, but you can’t revise if there’s nothing on the paper – so just write. If need be, write anything that comes to mind at first.
After you’re done writing, read it over and underline anything that seems trite or too general – in short, things that could be lifted from anyone’s application. Things like “I’ve always wanted to help people,” “I work well with others,” “X changed my life” – these are things you want to avoid. Instead, use these to get to the heart of what you’re trying to say, the specifics of why they should choose you for their program. Tell the story that only you can tell, that will make you stand out from the countless other applications coming across the committee’s desk. Don’t be wordy; while it might be tempting in order to sound more scholarly, a hallmark of scholarly writing is actually being able to write succinctly. Especially since you’ll likely have a word limit, eliminate any unnecessary or overly descriptive words.
You want to keep your voice and writing style, but also convey intelligence and readiness to learn. Avoid colloquial language and informal writing, but don’t be too stiff, either; you want to seem approachable. Be honest, revise your writing, and don’t try to be something you’re not.
Once you’re finished a first draft, read it over. Look for generalities and note them. Come back to the essay and add specifics. Make sure you’ve addressed the stated questions or guidelines, and are within the word count limit. If you’re at a university already, utilize their writing center to gain feedback and editing. Have a trusted friend read it over and provide feedback. Seek out a trusted, reputable editing company like Dissertation Editor for professional editing, critical feedback, and consultation. Even though you might have gone to the writing center or had several people review it, having a professional editor provide assistance or feedback can be invaluable.
If you’re working on application essays, contact us today! We offer editing and consultation services that can help take your application to the next level. < Thoughtful Thursday: Beating the Mid-Semester Slump Scholarly Writing Tips: Writing a Grant Proposal >