Writing is Hard Work: The Art of Crafting a Cracking Personal Statement

The Importance of the Personal Statement

The personal statement (or statement of purpose) is the centerpiece of any application. Write a terrible one and you are probably out of the race. Write a decent one and join the ranks of the 99% who do likewise. Write an excellent one and you are bound to get admitted almost anywhere.

But writing a top 1% statement is extremely difficult. I had to do just that recently for a competitive scholarship I was applying for and the amount of work it took to create a great piece nearly took my breath away.

Why is Writing a Winning Personal Statement so Difficult?

The main challenge lies in the fact that the statement has to achieve several things at once. (1) It needs to convey your passion for your academic field; (2) It has to highlight your past achievements; (3) It should give a sense of the vision you have of your career; and (4) it should make clear how the program you are applying to will help you in achieving your career goals.

Ticking all those boxes in often just 500 or 750 words is tough. What’s more, you must ensure there is a good balance (between broad statements detailed examples) and flow (a coherent picture of who you are needs to emerge at first-read).

To make sure your PS achieves all of this requires, above all, hard work.

Work as Hard as You Possibly Can

Writing the PS I had to submit recently took me, and I’m not exaggerating, at least 25 hours.

I first had to write the first draft. This required extensive preparation, for I had to understand exactly what the program I was applying for looks for in successful candidates. This required research. I then had to reflect A LOT on my past achievements. More importantly still, I had to think hard about my vision. I really had to ask myself: What do I want to achieve in my life? Why do I want to achieve that? How will I be able to achieve that? Once I had thought all of this through, I wrote the first draft.

After that, I had an editor-friend of mine look over it. She pointed out several content-related issues, all of which I had to fix. It was only then that I was able to work on the flow of the writing: connecting ideas better, working on transitions between paragraphs, and tinkering with the language.

I went through four or five drafts of the document before I was happy with it. At that stage, I sent it off to a couple of friends to look over my writing. Their comments and feedback was incredibly helpful and I worked their suggestions into the document. At the very end, I did a final language check and was satisfied enough to sent it off to the program.

Take-Aways

I wrote up my experience mainly to make the point that ANYONE, no matter the level of experience and expertise, needs to work extremely hard for a winning PS. This means:

(i) Take a look at your calendar and find a couple of days where you have very little scheduled. Try to write your PS in those days. The writing process requires a lot of creativity and peace of mind. You don’t want to be facing a deadline when writing your statement. Summers are generally a GREAT time to write the PS (that’s why I wrote mine in the past week).
(ii) Work on your first drafts as much as possible. These should be the very best you can do without anyone’s help.
(iii) Have a friend look over your statement BEFORE you request a MyDocumate advisor to run a L2 service. Ask specifically for content-related advise and work suggested changes into your document.
(iv) There will come the moment you find yourself unable even to edit a single word of your statement. At that moment, go thorough the list of MyDocumate advisors and find someone you trust. You will be amazed at how much your statement is still going to improve.

At the very end of this process, if you put in the hard work, you will be rewarded with a truly spectacular statement that can open the door to your dream school or program.


About the author

Jakob studied political science and Chinese at Middlebury College in the US. He worked for several top global think tanks and is about to start a Master’s in the UK. He is passionate about writing, editing and advising. He has worked with hundreds of clients both in the US and on MyDocumate. Check his profile out here.

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