Getting To Know You, Getting To Know All About You…

Some of you have already submitted your application and are now waiting on me to do my job.  (No worries – I’m working away and not procrastinating at all.  Really.  The hydrangeas definitely needed to be cut back this past week, the bonsai plant needed immediate attention otherwise who knows what shape it would morph into, the linen closet required rearranging and the spices had to be organized alphabetically.)  Others of you are anxiously awaiting the downtime during the holiday season to put the finishing touches on your application and, for some of you, this break from classes or that project at work means hunkering down and writing the personal statement.  If you find yourself in the latter category, this blog’s for you.  The rest of you can stop reading here and go off and do something a lot more entertaining than reading my advice on personal statements.

Thinking about the personal statement oftentimes conjures up all kinds of anxiety.  Sweaty palms.  Lots of doing other things so as to not do this one last task – you know, avoidance techniques.  Skittish behavior.  Fingers tapping aimlessly on the keyboard.   Stringing sentences together in your head.  It’s a daunting task, isn’t it?  Take two-to-three pages and tell me something that will make you stand out amongst the thousands of others whose personal statements I’ll read this year – not to mention the thousands I read last year or the year before (you get my drift).  Take two to three pages and make me sit up and take notice.  Let’s pause here just for a second and allow me to set the record straight and alleviate any palpitations you may be experiencing by just thinking about the statement.  Forget standing out.  Don’t approach it that way.  Don’t think about a “wow” factor.  No need to do it up in a big and loud fashion.  Instead stop and think for a bit about what it is that you want to convey to me.  We all have stories to tell so your task is really to figure out which story you want to tell me.   If you’ve gone about this properly, you’ve been thinking about topics and have jotted ideas down on a piece of paper or on some electronic device.   You’ve then looked at that list of options and condensed similar ideas, culled out the bad ideas or the “not much to say on that topic” ideas.  The swirling sentences in your head seem a bit more manageable now, don’t they?  So, get started.  Put pencil to paper (or the electronic equivalent).  Just do it (Thanks, Nike, for the catchy phrase).  Let the words flow.  The words probably won’t be pretty on the first try, but keep at it until your voice comes through.  Keep at it until you get to the point where you feel content after that last sentence is completed and you breathe that sigh of relief not because it’s done, but because it’s good.  Read it out loud.  Ask yourself a few questions like these (or exactly these if you trust my advice):  Is this what I want Stanford to know about me?  By the end of the statement, will Stanford know more about me  – beyond how well I write – than before reading it?  Does my statement illustrate how I think, how I view my world?  If you can answer these questions in the affirmative, then you’ve done your job.  I will read your words and I will sit up and take notice.

As I read over this entry, I’m tempted to no longer call this part of the application the personal statement.  The word “statement” sounds so formal.  It should more appropriately be called the personal story.   I say switching out one word for the other makes the task less intimidating and more real.  Unfortunately, it’s too late for me to call up the powers-that-be at LSAC and beg to update our application and make the switch from “statement” to “story”.  But that shouldn’t stop either of us from thinking of it in this way.  From here on out, it’s all about the personal story.  Tap into the creative side of your personality and start writing.  Tell me a story.

[P.S.  I don’t really alphabetize my spices.  Last one out, first one in.]

8 Responses to Getting To Know You, Getting To Know All About You…
  1. Thank you for this advice! I have been going in circles trying to come up with a good “statement,” but simply switching my approach to viewing this as a “story” makes it much more manageable. There is something connotative in “statement” that feels like it’s trying to appease the reader versus staying true to the writer. Just my thoughts. Thanks, again!


  2. Thank you for the great post- food for thought that I will be digesting as I attempt to ‘perfect’ my personal statement (which at the moment doesn’t seem to be ‘personal’ enough).
    Happy Holidays!!


  3. Dear Faye,

    Thank you for these simple and wise words. I only regret I didn’t know about their existence when I submitted my application. As you imagine and perfectly describe it, avoidance techniques, skittish behavior, fingers tapping aimlessly on the keyboard and sweaty hands were absolutely familiar to this applicant. You are completely right. Telling a good story would have been far more spontaneous and certainly easier. I’ll spread this message to my fellow applicants so they can address this task from this unique perspective. Hope to meet you at SLS! Joaquín


  4. Hi Faye,

    We really loved this entry. Its nice to see that a school as prestigious as Stanford realizes the value in the human journey- and not just fancy titles or distinctions. Good luck to all the applicants!


  5. Hi Faye,
    Thanks for those words, I wished I could seen these before I wrote my personal statement, but I’m looking forward seeing my PS you’ll find that story you looking for.


  6. Hi Faye,

    I reviewed this blog post initially for advice regarding the personal statement and now find myself reviewing it periodically when anxiety re-invites itself to be a part of my application process. Not only was this post extremely useful with constructing this component of the application, but I believe it also makes a significant statement about the institution enlarge. Thank you for the post.

    Best Regards


  7. Dear Faye,

    Thank you very much for the invaluable tips and advice you gave us in this blog and to me at L.A.W.S at NYC the past Thursday, I have to say you did show me a clear direction in the personal story(as you say)writing. Thank you for telling me how to present a mature and professional side of me.


  8. Hello Faye,

    Thank you so much for sharing this advice! I will definitely try to achieve this goal when the I’m comes to apply. This type of insight is very much appreciated. Thank you!


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