By Rosalyn Leban
Once you have a rough draft of your personal statement, the hardest part is already done. Getting your ideas down on paper is often the most daunting step in the process of crafting an outstanding personal statement. Picking a topic and connecting your personal story to your fellowship or graduate school intentions is extremely difficult. So, make sure to congratulate yourself for getting this far (and take a break if you can) before you dive into editing!
The next step in your process is editing the personal statement to make sure it’s the best it can be. When you write your rough draft, you should focus primarily on content – what you are saying instead of how you are saying it. Then, once you have something down on paper, it’s time to go back and make sure you are meeting the requirements of the application and representing yourself as the strongest candidate possible. The personal statement is a crucial aspect of your application and the time you spend editing it should reflect that. In this article, you will find four strategies to use as you edit your personal statement.
1. Go back to your outline or brainstorm
Once you have a rough draft on paper and you’ve stepped away from the page for a little while, it’s important to return to your original intentions for the personal statement. Here are a few questions to ask as you compare your draft to your brainstorm:
- What did you plan to include? Is everything included in the statement? If not, was this a conscious choice, or do you need to find a way to incorporate missing pieces
- Why did you want to write about the topic you chose? Can you feel your motivation and passion in the piece?
2. Review the requirements from the application
Once you have a draft of your statement, go back to the requirements and make sure you are meeting the guidelines set by your prospective school or fellowship. It may be helpful to convert the requirements into a checklist. Some requirements (like word count) are easy to check off, while others (like describing your potential contributions to a cohort) are going to be more difficult to quantify. Each personal statement is unique, so once you’ve made sure your personal statement is the right length and format, take other requirements with a grain of salt. Important questions for this stage of review include the following:
- Does my statement follow the length requirements?
- Does my statement follow the formatting guidelines?
- If there is a prompt for the personal statement, does my essay actually answer it?
3. Read your personal statement out loud
The personal statement is an opportunity to introduce the application committee to your unique voice and invite them into your mind. It’s crucial that you take advantage of the limited space provided by the application materials to express yourself and show the committee what makes you stand out. Reading your personal statement out loud is a great way to ensure that it sounds like you.
The tone will depend on your preferences and experiences as well as the type of application you’re completing. It does not necessarily need to sound like a speech or a conversation, but you generally don’t want to write a personal statement filled with technical terminology. Save that for your project proposal! This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to get caught up in the work you aim to carry out and lose the “personal” aspect of the personal statement. Hearing the statement out loud is one way of bringing the statement back to the personal level.
4. Send your draft to your recommenders and others for feedback
Once your personal statement has gone through a round or two of edits, it’s time to bring in other perspectives. This can be daunting. The personal statement can be sensitive. By its very nature, it’s personal! However, by sending your personal statement to your recommenders, not only do you get valuable feedback from people whom you trust, you also give your recommenders more context to write a strong letter of recommendation. Your recommenders are not the only people whose feedback could be useful in crafting a stellar personal statement. Think about others in your network who might be able to provide constructive criticism. Depending on your circumstances, these trusted advisors might include:
- Supervisors or coworkers;
- Family; and
Be creative and don’t be afraid to reach out to people whom you might not usually ask for help on academic or professional pursuits. Even if your friends and family don’t have a background in the field for which you are applying, it can be helpful to get their perspective on whether or not your prose effectively communicates your voice.
When you send your personal statement out for feedback, try not to take things too personally! Also, remember that you don’t have to make every change suggested. In the end, it is your application, so your opinion is the most important.
Your personal statement is an important part of your application, and effective editing is just as important a part of the process as writing itself. By using these strategies, you can ensure that you use the opportunity to express yourself to your advantage.
Rosalyn Leban is an alumna of the 2018 Fulbright U.S. Student Research Program in Guatemala, the 2018 Davis Projects for Peace Fellowship in Nicaragua, and the 2017 Critical Language Scholarship in China. In 2020, she was the recipient of a Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund grant to carry out “Nuestras Huellas: Stories of LGBTQ+ Youth” in Nicaragua. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2018 and currently works as an immigration paralegal.
© Victoria Johnson 2020, all rights reserved