Hey, so I’ve applied to universities before. Multiple times; in fact, I am going through the application process right now, with my Masters application.
Every single time you apply to universities you end up having to write this gnarly essay about yourself called personal statement, where you have to show off how amazing and smart you are. It sounds quite easy, but it’s really actually not.
All I can do is offer you some decent advice in this trying time that I got from my teachers, friends, university advisors and numerous onlookers as I struggled my way through writing personal statement after personal statement through the last five years.
DO: Make it original
I know that a lot of times it’s difficult to make something creative out of your bragging process, basically, but in reality, admissions officers read hundreds of those during the application months, so it is important that your personal statement stands out.
Recently, when I applied for my Masters, the first comment I’d heard from the course convenor when I arrived to be interviewed for my course was “It made me laugh, so I remembered it.”
What I did? I pretended to interview myself. Since I applied for Fashion Journalism I inserted some side comments about my behaviour and accessories; that seems to have worked.
There are different ways to go about originality when applying to different courses, of course.
DON’T: Get off subject
While I know that I’d just said to make it original, it is important that your personal statement helps you qualify for the course.
As such, if you’re applying to a biology course, fashion commentary or ‘interviewing yourself’ will be off-topic and unnecessary.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come up with other ways to showcase your creativity, but be mindful of what it is that you want to be doing.
DO: Mention side projects
Whether you volunteered at some charity organisation, worked at some crappy job to get money for your hobbies or painted your friends lying nude in the moonlight, it is all important information.
Even though you’re applying to study it’s not just studying that interests colleges — it’s also about whether you interact with the world outside of education and are capable of going out of your comfort zone, sometimes.
DON’T: Get cheesy
Did you volunteer somewhere? Did it change your life through some strong emotional impact? That’s all wonderful and should be mentioned. What should be avoided, though, are overused clichés.
While most of us don’t want to seem too mechanical and insensitive, sometimes it’s just better to say that something ‘left a deep impression’ on you, instead of saying that it ‘made you weep tears of sorrow thus motivating you to change the world’. Your personal statement is one of those times.
Although the ambition to change the world, if present within your life goals, should probably be mentioned — just keep it tasteful.
DO: Crank up your activities
Colleges really appreciate people with a lot of different hobbies and a lot of varied knowledge.
Get a side job, work on commission, travel, volunteer in a charity, get into your high school societies and clubs if you still can, become the class rep — the list goes on.
What’s important is not precisely what you do — although if it were to be connected with your degree it’s even better (I was in the journalism club in my senior year and wrote for the school newspaper) — but the fact that you do something. (Playing Overwatch doesn’t count.)
Regardless — whatever it is you do, mention it on your personal statement.
DON’T: Lie (too much)
When I say this, I mean outright, blatant lies.
Saying that you’re a bit braver than you actually are is not bad and is something you can actually work on and cultivate. It will also definitely come when you move out, that’s a PSA.
Lying that you speak Japanese when you only know the words ‘kawaii’ (cute) and ‘yoroshiku’ (welcome), however, is stupid and can, on top of that, easily be checked.
DO: Start writing at least a bit in advance
Hey, I know, for a lot of us (including me) writing and, in general, working, goes a lot better when we’re under pressure.
Still, the issue here is that you need (and I fully mean that) someone else to read that, at least once — and the longer you wait the less chance you have.
Outside insight is critical because it’s difficult to judge just how well something portrays and represents you, even when it’s a glorified form of self-evaluation.
DON’T: Freak out
Don’t panic, don’t try to convince yourself you’re bad at everything, don’t give up.
You’re not supposed to be perfect. And all of us have valuable experiences and merit regardless of your own outlook on what an achievement is.
Breathe in and out, calm down, have a glass of wine (if you’re legal!!!!) — clarity really helps to write something good, often in one go.