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Whether you’re applying for an undergraduate school or trying to get into graduate programs, many applications require a letter of intent or personal statement. Personal statements are one of the most important parts of the application and sometimes the deciding factor for admission.
Personal statements give a better understanding of who you are, beyond the rigid constraints of the “fill-in-the-blank” application.
Like many around this time of the year, I am finishing my graduate school applications. Looking for advice and guidance, I decided to compare different schools’ personal statement requirements and ask admissions offices for advice. Here’s what I found:
1. Be yourself
The Columbia Graduate School for Journalism encourages students to write about family, education, talents or passions. They want to hear about significant places or events in your life; about books you have read, people you have met or work you’ve done that has shaped the person you have become.
Schools want to know about you so don’t portray someone else in the essay. It’s almost like going on a first date. You want to display your best qualities but be yourself at the same time. You want the other person to like you, not someone you’re pretending to be.
2. Show diversity
Rayna Reid, a personal statement guru, received her undergraduate degree at Cornell, Masters at the University of Pennsylvania and is currently pursuing a Law degree at Columbia. Reid says a personal statement is really just a way to make the college fall in love with you.
“The essay is where you really get a chance to differentiate yourself from the other applicants,” she said. “Explain why they should accept you. What will you contribute?”
Sean Carpenter, University of Southern California Student Services Associate and undergraduate student, reiterates the importance of differentiating yourself from other applicants.
He works in the Annenberg School for Communication admissions office and deals with prospective students daily. Carpenter says USC or any major school want to see diversity.
“They want to see how you’re different from all other applicants, especially through diversity. What makes you unique out of all the other applicants?” Carpenter said, “Tell things that has helped you grow as a person and built your character.”
3. Do research and tailor each essay accordingly
Every college is different, so each personal statement should be different. Many students try to get away with having a universal essay but admissions departments will notice.
“Do research to give concrete reasons why you’re interested in particular program,” Carpenter said. “Speak with a faculty member that you’re interested in working with or doing research for and mention that in your statement. It would also be beneficial to say what classes you’ve taken that were relevant to the field of study.”
4. Be concise and follow directions
Make sure you read the directions carefully. One of the biggest red flags for an admissions office are students who don’t adhere to word limitations. Don’t give them a reason to throw out your application.
Believe it or not, there is a way to say everything you want in a page or less. If you need some help, ask several faculty members to read over your essay and give you feedback.
5. Go beyond your resume, GPA and test scores
Many students worry about how their GPA and test scores will affect the admissions process. The personal statement is an opportunity to explain any strengths or weaknesses in your application — such as changes in major, low GPA or lack of experience.
For instance, Reid was worried about not having a 4.0 GPA. Since Reid didn’t have the perfect GPA, she explained what she did with her time to make up for that fact. Being on the Varsity rowing team and a Teach for America Corp member are great examples of how devoting her time to other things made an impact on her GPA.
6. Tell a story
“Nothing makes someone fall in love like a good story. It does not have to be the next Pulitzer winner,” Reid said. “For college, one essay I wrote was about how I have often felt like my life was a movie and how Dirty Dancing (yes, the movie) changed my life. My sister who currently goes to Princeton even wrote about killing a fly!”
One of the worst things you can do is bore the admission officer. Make yourself memorable by telling a story about something distinctive from a creative or different angle.
With this advice, your personal statement will be the highlight of your application. Good luck!
Alexis Morgan is currently a senior at Penn State University. She has extensive experience in public relations, broadcast journalism, print journalism and production. Alexis truly believes if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life. Follow Alexis’s career on her website.
Alexis Morgan, Columbia University, Cornell University, grad school, Penn State University, the application, University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California, COLLEGE CHOICE, VOICES FROM CAMPUS
Early Decision: September 27th, 2017
Round 1: November 1st, 2017
Round 2: January 10th, 2018
Round 3: March 1st, 2018
Round 4: April 11th, 2018
Round 4 is the final deadline for international candidates.
Applications from domestic candidates will be accepted as space permits after Round 4.
Applicants applying through The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management:
Round 1: October 15th, 2016
Round 2: January 5th, 2017
Wisconsin is a hidden gem of a business school that annually enrolls not much more than 110 full-time MBAs. The small, intimate nature of the program, the applied projects thrown at students, and the emphasis on putting students through specialized areas of study make these MBAs well-prepared for their business careers.
Applied learning is a cornerstone of the Wisconsin MBA program’s curriculum. Throughout the first semester, students are assigned to work within a cross-functional team to perform an integrated analysis (ICA) of a publicly traded company of their choosing. Each team recommends a new product or service that will enhance or support the company’s brand, operating performance and share value. The project culminates with a presentation to the core faculty who act as the senior executive committee of the company.
Moving through the program, students tackle projects that require real deliverables that actually make a difference. Many of these efforts are undertaken in specialized coursework. For example, Applied Securities Analysis students will actively manage a portfolio of funds with over $62 million in assets. Students in Brand and Product Management partner with client organizations to develop and execute design plans. In the Nicholas Center, student teams engage with clients in corporate finance consulting projects, developing recommendations for actions and presenting these recommendations to practicing CEOs and CFOs.
In the first semester of the first year in the Wisconsin full-time MBA Program, the general business core delivers an integrated perspective on key functional areas of business. The second semester addresses fundamental management principles, stressing application of these principles to functional areas. Core courses are taken as a cohort to develop camaraderie and teamwork among students. The first year also includes at least three courses in students’ career specialization.
The specialized preparation that begins during the first year of the program is the primary focus the second year. In order to thoroughly grasp all aspects of a chosen specialization, students take up to eight classes in 10 different specialized areas that range from arts administration and brand & product management to real estate and supply chain management.
This is also an MBA program that turns out graduates who more often than not go to work for companies that make things, rather than merely advise companies or manage money. Procter & Gamble, General Mills, General Electric, and Dell led the school’s roster of top recruiters of full-time MBAs in 2011.
Expect some really good news on the rankings front when Poets&Quants cranks out the data later this year. After all, Wisconsin’s Business School jumped seven full spots in 2014 in U.S. News’ ranking, rising to 27th from 34th a year earlier. Add to that the fact that Wisconsin advanced ten full spots in The Financial Times’ 2014 global ranking, up to 81st from 91st, and you have a great momentum story.
BusinessWeek, whose biennial ranking is due in early November of 2014, had ranked Wisconsin a respectable 34th in 2012–the same rank it achieved two years earlier. The BusinessWeek survey largely measures student and corporate recruiter satisfaction with a school, and solicits direct feedback from recent graduates. One Wisconsin grad did a great job summing up the MBA experience at the school: “Wisconsin offers tremendous cost vs. payback value for both in-state and out-of-state students. The city of Madison itself offers big-city living without the major congestion, and it offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. The brand new state-of-the-art MBA wing of Grainger Hall is an amazing facility, offering the MBA students a spacious and high-tech environment for learning, working, and relaxing. The faculty and staff here are extremely supportive, the class sizes are small, and the MBA students are treated as a very special group among the larger population of business students on campus and in Grainger Hall.”
We couldn’t have said it better!