Personal Statements: edit, Edit, EDIT!

Here are some tips I found useful while writing personal statements in the physical sciences as one continues to hone their skills in the art of producing successful statements.

  • While preparing a personal statement, some choose to use the space as annotations or a preface to their academic records. For example, you didn’t do as well as you’d like in that chemistry course in sophomore year and feel a need to explain the resulting grades. Don’t do this, it’ll waste your time and the time of those who will eventually read your statement. Your academic records are already included for reader to form their opinions of your humble petitions; it’s out of your hands. Instead, focus on the larger questions. How have you grown throughout your undergraduate experience (the successful experiences as well as the not-so-successful experiences)? How will graduate/professional studies help you grow as a young scientist or professional? What do you hope to gain from pursuing a graduate/professional degree?
  • Many choose to open the statement with their heartfelt childhood dreams or goals. Cut that out, it makes you sound naive and not ready for the rigors of the academic environment to come. Remember that they are figuring out whether or not they should invest their time and money on you as a scholar. Your baseless childhood dreams, when compared to diligent preparation and hard work conveyed in other statements, will certain work against you. Save those heartfelt stories for your memoirs.
  • How have your education, work and research experiences thus far prepares you for the graduate/professional training ahead? Show evidence of your preparation for the advance degree. For example, if your goals are to pursue an advance degree for the purpose of research, show that you’ve dabble with research in some capacity. Everyone has to take the required course in preparation, but it takes a special individual to go out of their way to search for much more.
  • Always maintain an archive of past personal statements to draw ideas from and improve upon. Perhaps a sentence that you’ve developed awhile back can be refined with more experience in the field. Remember that writing personal statement is a skill you’d like to refine over time. Reinventing the wheel over and over is just not efficient.
  • Personally, I divide the process of personal statement writing into two modes: free-writing, and editing. I usually free-write early in the morning when my mind is still fresh and ready to produce. Here is where you can add a little stylistic touch to your personal statement. Disregard grammar and just have a conversation in this mode. I usually fall back to editing in the late afternoons or evenings. This is where I refine my ramblings into coherent thoughts in a way that is somewhat presentable to the reader. In the later stages of writing personal statements, editing is emphasized and thus for me is carried out in the mornings.
  • Edit, edit, edit! This process should take the bulk of your time. It is advisable that you start at least a month before the statement is due. Remember that everyone will have similar contents on their personal statements, fine-tuning through diligent editing will give you that edge to set you apart from the pack.

I hope this helps you on your journey into the academic realm. Message me if you have questions.