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Posted on February 3, 2016

Writing a Compelling Personal Statement

This article first appeared in the February , 2016  issue of    Valley India Times

Almost all top business schools and other graduate schools require applicants to write a Personal Statement or a Goals essay in which they discuss their goals  as they pertain to the target school’s particular program.  Personal statements, sometimes also called ‘Statements of Purpose,’ or a ‘Goals’ essay are essentially essays written in response to a question or a set of questions on a graduate or professional school application form which asks for a precise response.

A Personal Statement requires you to make a logical connection between your past, present, and future.  This means you need to tell a story that connects your past (past work-experience), present (your need of an MBA or any other graduate degree from your target school to achieve your goals), and your future (goals and objectives).  The Schools want to see that you have a clear plan/ vision for future, so you have to convince them of the same by telling your story that is not only effective and compelling, but also reveals your personal and professional attributes.

Though essay questions tend to vary year to year, the two things that nearly every prospective student can count on being asked are “What are your short-term and long-term post-MBA goals?” and “How will the Graduate School XX help you achieve these goals?”

Importance of Personal Statements:

The Personal Statement is the single most important part of your application that will tell the admissions committee (Ad Com) who you are, what has influenced your career path so far, your professional interests, and where you plan to go from here.  It is your chance to make yourself stand out from among a crowd of equally qualified candidates in front of the Ad Com and convince them of your fit with the program.

 Mistakes applicants make with the Personal statements:

Most applicants work hard for the standard tests- the GRE, GMAT etc.  They attend classes, take practice tests, and do whatever they can to aim for the highest possible score because they know that these test scores are crucial to their chances of gaining admission and even a scholarship.  The Personal Statement is put off till the last possible moment.  Some applicants approach me for essay assistance one week before the deadline which is obviously not enough to create an effective essay.  They don’t  understand that essay writing is a creative process for which they need to do immense self-reflection and go through different stages of the writing process– brainstorming, pre-writing, writing, revising, more revising and proofreading until they create a piece that they are proud of.  By planning ahead, they can give themselves enough time to submit a well-written, thoughtful, polished essay that will boost their chances for admission.  Also, this will give them time to do introspection and have a better understanding of who they are.

Here are some tips/ guidelines that you should keep in mind while crafting your personal statement.

 1.    Create Your Response as Per the Essay Prompt:

Understanding the essay prompt is the first step towards tailoring your story to the essay question.  Read the essay prompt carefully and try to gauge what the school wants to know through this question.  Without understanding the intent of the essay prompt, your story will fail to convey the intended message.  Whether the essay is 1,000 or 500 words long, the Ad Com typically looks for applicants who offer fully defined long- and short-term career goals, sound reasons for pursuing an MBA at this point in their careers, reasons for their interest in School XX, and specific plans to contribute to the campus community if they are admitted.  You should aim at answering the specific essay prompt of your target school, making sure that each part of the prompt is adequately addressed.

 2.  Organize Your Story Well

Your story should contain proper beginning, middle, and an end.  All the details of your story should flow well in a comprehensible and compelling manner.  You are the author of your story, so in order to make a lasting impact on the reader, you should make sure to explain each logical step of your story without leaving any loose ends.  Remember, you are not writing a suspense story that would force the reader to make speculations about the details. You are writing an admission essay and its purpose is to provide the Ad Com an understanding of your professional and personal experiences/ accomplishments to help them determine if you are a good fit for that particular school or not.  Your goal should be to present your story in a succinct and concise manner so it sticks in the mind of the Ad Com.

3.   Provide Specific Details about Work history and Goals:

The key to writing a successful personal statement is specificity.  In presenting future goals and explaining one’s motivation for seeking an MBA or any other Master’s degree, it is crucial to present well-defined and feasible objectives.  Unlike the undergraduate experience at many American colleges, MBA applicants need a fair amount of direction at the time they enter the program in order to take the right classes, join the appropriate clubs, and seek the best internship.  Everything is oriented towards preparing for the post-MBA job, so specifying a specific industry and function for the short-term is of the utmost importance.  Not every school asks for career history explicitly, but a Personal Statement or a Career Goals essay is more compelling when it includes a brief but coherent career history, summarizing the applicant’s work history.  This should reveal the continuity between one’s previous professional experiences and goals for the future.

In addition to identifying goals, the applicants should comment on what they hope to accomplish in their target positions.  One of the most common pitfalls of personal statement is the writers’ inability to use specific examples and share details filled with vague generalities.  By providing specific examples/ details about ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘where’, and ‘when’ of your experience, you can turn your stories into memorable essays.

 4.  Do Not Use Passive Voice (Be Personal)

When narrating your personal and professional stories, make sure to be personal.  Your experiences and accomplishments, irrespective of how impressive they are, will not make an impression on the reader if they are written in passive voice.  I often come across essays composed in flawless English, but they still fail to make the desired impact because of use of passive voice.  Please remember it is your ‘personal statement’, and by using passive voice, you will make your impressive stories impersonal and lifeless.

 5.  Research Specific School Resources:

In order to demonstrate your interest towards in target program, candidates should have thorough knowledge of the school’s specific resources and offerings.  Candidates who name specific classes that are relevant to their goals, recount their impressions of the campus culture based on a class visit, or share what they have learned from discussions with alumni and students will be in good shape.  The aim should be to convey the fact that you have done your homework and are making an informed decision in applying for the particular program.

 6.  Explain Your Contribution to the Program:

To demonstrate your fit with the program, it is also important to showcase what you will bring to the table.  In addition to showing that School XX is the best MBA program for your needs, you should demonstrate to School XX that you will enrich its community.  Strong candidates describe their insights on how they would contribute to their class and to other campus activities.

 7.  Proofread, Proofread, and Proofread:

So you have written, rewritten, and revised your personal statement  multiple times and have made sure that you have adequately addressed all parts of the essay question within the prescribed word limit effectively and persuasively.  Now the last step is to get your essay edited for sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, and spelling errors.  If neglected, these errors are a poor refection on your candidacy and can jeopardize your chances of admission despite your great GMAT score, good GPA, and impressive work experience.

The above mentioned general pointers should set applicants on the path toward crafting a great Personal Statement, the key to any compelling candidacy.  Happy writing J