Wednesday, February 1, 2017

"Personal Statements: How to Set Yourself Apart.”

Often writing about yourself can seem daunting and for those who aren’t used to touting their achievements or writing about their experiences and life it can be an uphill task. But, it is quite pivotal to a strong personal statement that you find the narrative of your life and achievements that encapsulate your powerful story. A lot of times we believe that our story is not interesting enough or “special,” this tends not to be true. All of us have a narrative that when articulated eloquently after careful self-reflection can tell the hiring, admissions or selection committee why we are the best candidate for their, respectively, job, university or grant/scholarship.  What I outline below are 2 easy steps towards writing the best personal statement.
“Be yourself.” This seems pretty straightforward, but can be very hard to convey in essay form. Committees are looking for unique individuals, who are self-reflective and intelligent. When you write an honest portrayal of your life’s story, highlighting what motivated you on your path of career or studies, those reading the essays will be able to see who you are and meet you before you have even walked in the door. For example, my own background as an Egyptian-American constantly asked me to look into my roots and history.  This drew me towards studying Arabic and then the history of Egypt and the Middle East. I knew that I would not be able to fully understand the culture, people, religion and language that my father attempted to pass on to myself and my siblings without an extended studies in Egypt. As soon as I found my opening I was able to convince my parents that I wanted to travel and I was off to learn about a country and people I had only known as part of the local diaspora of Egyptians in Philadelphia.   
As you can see I have, succinctly, told the story of my background, which led to my interest in studying Egyptian history and Arabic.  I have also demonstrated my willingness to travel, explore and learn.  All positives in a personal statement.  I also highlighted my uniqueness in the hopes that the admissions committee recognizes me from the rest of the pile. All the while I have remained true to myself with an honest depiction of my narrative.
Finally, I recommend pulling out an interesting fact, morsel, event, or achievement that is a strong demonstration of the type of quality or qualities you want the reader to come away with about yourself. You should make sure whatever you choose to describe is relevant to the committee reading your personal statement. Remember to cater your personal statement to support your application.  Connect the event or fact about you to the larger personal narrative you are constructing.  It should show why are you deserve to be considered for the position or an admission into the program. Scan your life and achievements for the strongest evidence that demonstrates who you are and what you would bring to the table.  If you concentrate on these two steps I guarantee the personal statement you write will blow away your reader and your application will stick with them throughout the process. And this is the key to success, having people remember who you are from the pile of similarly successful candidates who have also applied. Best of luck and remember tell your story!

- Mohamed Gamal-Eldin

Mentee Spotlight


In my process of applying to graduate school over the past few months, Aziz Jalil [Mentor and Sphere director for Science and Research] has mentored me and provided me with countless constructive feedback on both my personal statement and resume.  He is a punctual and diligent person who has been responsive to emails including questions and concerns. He demonstrated a genuine interest in my success and endeavors which was evident in his positive attitude. He taught me how to highlight significant attributes and skill-sets that I have which would make me stand out from other applicants.

In addition, he suggested different techniques and approaches that I can consider to improve my writing including grammar, structure, organization, and format. I greatly appreciate his willingness to give me guidance by sharing his knowledge and experiences with me. 

While he is a graduate student with his own responsibilities and work load, he was organized and professional by setting deadlines and would provide constructive criticism. His commentary and efforts were immensely helpful. Although back-and-forth revisions are bothersome and it was not his responsibility to continue helping me, Aziz did not push me away whenever I asked for his expertise and feedback. Once the paper was complete, a research supervisor who once served on the selection committee read my final draft and praised me on how well-written and rich it was. With Aziz’s guidance, professional advice, and approachability, I was able to meet my own expectations and meet the requirements prior to the deadline. I highly recommend him as a mentor/advisor to anyone.

-Mentee, Science and Research Sphere