What could be more personal?

September 25, 2008 by Jen

The personal statement.

The sworn enemy of college and grad school applicants.

Personal statement, I will face you, and you will lose.

Personally.

It’s funny how surreal a life decision seems until you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to begin to make it real. I have been talking about graduate school for over a year now, and (again) am now beginning the concrete steps of applying. There’s something scary about it – it means putting yourself out there for possible rejection, and it means choosing one road instead of another. Robert Frost was right:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

But the process of writing a personal statement (or many, since every school wants something a little different) forces you to think about who you are as a person and why you have chosen to pursue further study. Do you have the characteristics necessary? What in your life thus far has prepared you?

For me, the issue of the “gap year” still hangs over the statement. And as I write, I begin to see the ways that this year is beneficial, even necessary to my development. I asked a former professor what I should emphasize since I come from a small Liberal Arts college. “Evidence of independent work or thought” was his reply.

Hmm… I have spent the first few months of this year working from home doing independent writing, research, and editing projects. I have crafted a reading list to fill in the gaps of my literary experience. I have taken the initiative to relearn French and will have to do so again with Latin. I have had time (more than I wanted, actually) to think about what I want to study and what I really enjoy researching.

Don’t misunderstand me, I still dislike writing personal statements, especially because there is a high likelihood that no one will read them. In addition to studying for the GRE subject test (a mere three weeks away now!), gathering transcripts, contacting references, filling in applications, and proofreading writing samples, the personal statement is just one more task.

But on the other hand, reflection, no matter how tedious, provokes thought. In that sense, maybe there is a purpose for the personal statement after all.

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