In my position as consulting analyst, I received a lot of “Personal statements” during the last few weeks. Be it for scholarship applications, graduate schools or Ph.D. programs. I have read over 100 personal statements and did not find ONE which I thought was actually worth reading. Therefore I asked myself, why are many people not able to write interesting and convincing personal statements?
If you google “personal statement letter” most of the results show you something like this:
– “tell us something about yourself.”
– “the purpose of this type of writing is to represent your goals, experiences and qualifications in the best possible light”
– “A Personal Statement is the justification of what is it that has motivated you to arrive at this juncture”
Well, I will tell you now the truth that these articles do not tell you:
PEOPLE DO NOT CARE WHO YOU ARE OR WHERE YOU HAVE BEEN OR WHAT YOUR GOALS ARE
Actually, it is obvious right? Think about it one second from your perspective and ask yourself: Do you care about the people who work in universities and decide about your application? Do you know what they have done in their past or where they have been to? Do you even know all of their names? Probably not.
Why? Because you also DO NOT CARE. Of course not, you do not know them, why should you care? But what you care about is WHAT THEY CAN DO FOR YOU. They can accept you and give you a place as a student in their university, grant you a scholarship or even provide you with a job.
Now back to your personal statement letter. If people actually do not care about you, what should you write your letter about if not about you? Here is the answer:
WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR THEM!
This should be the critical question your personal statement should answer. Having this mindset changes the whole perspective of your personal statement. You are no longer a supplicant seeking value from others, but you become a partner on equal terms who can provide value.
With this in mind, you can take your strengths as a starting point and tell a university how your competences can enrich their institution. With this strategy, you probably already differ from 90% of all students who just write a biography about themselves. But you can be even smarter and check out the homepage of the university or institute. You want to find out what THEY want and take that as the guideline for your personal statement letter. With that knowledge you can fit your strengths precisely to their requirements. In other words, you tell them that with YOUR STRENGTHS you can give them exactly what THEY WANT.
With that in mind, you structure your paragraph as follows:
– What does the university want?
– Which strengths do you have to give them what they want?
– How can you prove this strength?
– What is the result of you giving others what they want?
Let’s take a university as an example that wants to increase their reputation and recognition. You are a student interested in studying a postgraduate Masters program in journalism at this university:
“I discovered on your homepage that you are launching an advertising campaign to increase awareness for your university. With my outstanding writing abilities, I would be happy to contribute to the recognition of Würzburg University. During my bachelor’s study, I was a freelance editor of our university magazine. One of my articles about ‘meditation as depression prevention’ got a lot of attention from local companies. At the moment I plan to write about ‘the impact of students satisfaction with their part-time jobs on their grades’. This topic will certainly draw a lot of attention from the target group at Würzburg University. To further improve my knowledge and provide the best possible publications I want to join your prestigious Master’s program.”
Let’s break this article down into its parts:
– What does the university want: Recognition and reputation (marketing campaign)
– Your strengths: Writing good articles which get attention
– How to prove it: You already did it successfully in your bachelor’s course
– Result: Current topic will draw attention from the current target group; Further enhancing skills will provide better publications for even more attention
If you write your personal statements like this you will differ from more than 99% of all students because you tell them that if they get you, they get what they want. In conclusion: A personal statement letter is NOT A BIOGRAPHY. It is a SALES LETTER. And you only “sell” yourself successfully if you can make others clear that they have the need to “buy” you.