by Anne Reedstrom
Whether this phrase immediately brings to your mind the classic sounds of The Who, the world of CSI (Las Vegas version), or simply sessions with your therapist, it is an important question to ask yourself when preparing to write a personal statement for your application to a health professions or law school.
Your personal statement is a chance to answer this question and give admissions committees insight into your personal qualities, abilities, characteristics, and skills which might be relevant to your field. I don’t mean that you should write an autobiography along the lines of “My name is Anne, I am X years old (I’m so not going to tell you the actual number), I grew up in Minnesota and studied Modern Languages as an undergraduate.” That’s not particularly helpful to anyone and will likely make you sound like a much more boring person than you are. That sentence certainly doesn’t do me any justice!
Dig a little deeper and provide the reader with more than a list of facts or accomplishments; these are the kinds of things that you can showcase on the actual application or the résumé you submit. Give them something they can’t get from your other application materials – you can’t really convey compassion, determination, meticulousness, organizational or communication skills on a résumé. But you can in a personal statement if you relate an experience, something in which you were an active participant, which demonstrates how you developed or used those qualities in a real-life situation.
When I talk to people about this, some know immediately what they want to write about – either the qualities they want to emphasize or the story they want to tell. Others struggle a little more, I think, for a couple of reasons. You have been doing a specific kind of writing since you came to college and only rarely has it been expressive or personal in any way. We’re actually taught to remove ourselves from academic writing and it can be a challenge to now be faced with a situation in which you are the subject of the essay. Some of us find it difficult to write about ourselves in an overtly positive way or even to identify positive traits we have – after all, our mothers taught us not to boast or be conceited (some were more successful than others).
These are the reasons that Peter, Todd, Carol and I are here to help you. We’re happy to help you reflect on your experiences, read what you’ve written and fill the pages with red ink. No, wait, that last one’s just me. Seriously, we are an excellent resource and hope that you will let us help you answer one of life’s great questions:
Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell me, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
‘Cause I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)*
*Words and music by Pete Townshend