Why are the first words of any essay the hardest to write? Maybe it’s because the pressure is on for you to start with a narrative hook that draws the reader in quickly. Or because you’re looking at a completely blank page which feels overwhelming. It’s hard to start writing, let alone to write well. When you’re writing a personal statement, there is a lot on the line; let’s look at the 4 pitfalls writers tend to make and how you can avoid them!
1. “My dad always said, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ He showed me the importance of determination at an early age.”
Using clichés is hard to avoid, but it can really make your statement blend in with the hundreds or thousands of other applicants. Think about it: this example could be a common experience for 50 students who apply to the same program. They have a family member who encouraged them to be resilient with a saying that’s used by a lot of people. So how could this statement improve?
Write a concrete narrative that shares the same message! This is a simple, but unique way to impact a reader and show the cliché in action. Stories are also more engaging, so you can’t go wrong with a simple, intentional narrative.
Revised: “As a senior in high school, I submitted dozens of applications for the few part-time jobs in our small town. I didn’t get any responses, so I told my dad I was postponing the job search until college. He encouraged me to get creative, asking what I could do differently to get different results. We came up with some ideas, and I started asking my neighbors and friends if they knew of any open jobs. Three weeks later, I had my first real job.”
2. “Psychology, particularly of learning and education, is a fascinating field in so many ways. Research on students in the classroom can transform our educational system in America and positively impact thousands of future leaders.”
Being impersonal can damage an otherwise great piece of writing. It can be easy to focus on the field or profession you’re pursuing, but don’t forget, this is a personal statement. Your reader already thoroughly understands the information you’re sharing about the field. They’re also missing out on an opportunity to learn more about you—the applicant.
Show who you are through life experiences that have impacted you as a person and as a professional. Admissions’ committees would rather hear about your personal knowledge and involvement in the field than a generic statement. You also get to share your perspective which gives the reader deeper insight into you!
Revised: “I started helping Dr. X with his research about how kinesthetic tools can impact elementary students’ test scores. My love of psychology in the classroom grew as I inputted data about our research participants, and I saw how my work could positively impact future leaders.”
3. “My whole life, I’ve been invested in saving lives. From a young age, I served those who needed it in any way I could.”
Over glorifying experiences might seem like a good idea. After all, admissions’ committees want to hear about the positive skills you have and things you’ve done. But it’s not necessarily the best option. Put yourself in the shoes of a faculty member who has been a physician for 20+ years, providing quality medical care and improving the health of communities. Hearing from a young student who hasn’t quite begun their medical journey that they’ve been “saving lives” might feel a bit overblown.
Share the facts to paint a clear picture for your reader. It’s an effective way to be humble and still focus on the strengths you bring to the program. There’s no need to be shy about sharing the amazing skills you have, but show an honest depiction of those qualities.
Revised: “From my high school service project to currently volunteering at St. Mary’s Hospice, I’ve enjoyed assisting those in need in any way that I can.”
4. “While I haven’t had any formal internship experience in the field of finance, I’ve always had a knack for numbers.”
Focusing on the negatives can detract from the other, wonderful parts of your statement and application. Often, you’re underselling yourself when you do have plenty of positive things to offer the program, even if they are nontraditional experiences.
Showcase your positive attributes through brief examples. It’s okay to write about a difficult time in your life or a failure, but make sure you focus on how it impacted your character in a positive way. Spend more time on what you do bring to the table rather than what you don’t yet have.
Revised: “Participating in stock trading simulations in my investment club in high school was my first insight into the finance world. I learned how to critically think through investment options and make decisions rapidly with a team of 5 other students.”
If you’re still nervous to start your statement, that’s normal! The good news is UGA has resources to help. The Career Center can share advice and tips on content that makes a personal statement strong, and the Writing Center can help you improve your writing skills. Making an appointment with your Career Consultant can give you the tools that you need to avoid these pitfalls in your statement.