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.]