The Personal Statement – It’s Not Just About You

By June 23, 2016Personal Statement

The personal statement that’s part of your university application is about your achievements, your story, your beliefs, your aspirations, but – contrary to the conventional wisdom – it’s not just about you.

Appeal to the Puritan Ethic

Admissions committees in Anglo countries are peculiarly attracted to the puritan ethic of helping others and contributing to the greater good. This means you ought to find some space in your Personal Statement for describing how studying at University X will help you help the world, help your community/industry/government, and how you will enrich the university’s program of study.

This last point is important. It’s not just about “why I chose Harvard and what I hope to get out of Harvard’s program”, but also “what I will bring to Harvard and to program X”. What you want to say is “You should choose me, because through my person and my actions I will benefit your university and contribute to enriching your program.”

In other words, it’s not just about how great I am, but how my greatness can help the world and contribute to your program. The logical consequence of this approach is that you must show that you know something about their program. Mention lines of study, particular professors, and projects associated with the program. Describe how your background can make a positive contribution.

Avoiding The “It’s All About Me” Trap

By now you’re getting the idea – no admission committee wants to read a “it’s all about ‘me’” application. So where does that leave you? It may be tough to wrap your mind around alternatives. Here are some summary questions that you should ask yourself in order to avoid the “Me Trap”:

  • “How can I frame my narrative (and yes, your letter should be a coherent, strategic narrative) to show that I will contribute to the greater good in some way?”
  • “How can I frame my narrative to demonstrate that the university and program in question will be much better with me than without me?”
  • “What do I believe to be important, interesting, and understudied?”

Admissions studies are composed of academics who are always looking to understand how a line of research ‘fills a gap’ in our existing knowledge. Talking about what you wish to study and why it is important is a key part of the application… it is just as important as describing why you have the capacity to undertake your chosen degree/program of study.

This is not all there is to avoiding the ‘me’ trap, but it’s a start. Applicant Adviser is here to help you set the right tone and do it in perfect English.

Also available in: pt-brPortuguês esEspañol