Everything from college applications, university admissions, scholarships, job applications, club applications, and summer program applications will require you to write a personal statement.
These personal statements can take many different formats; some are open-ended long-form essays and some may be short answer questions. Both require reading between the lines on what the person who will be deciding your admittance is truly looking for.
We’re here to debunk that for you with 5 tips on how to approach any application you will ever write!
Whatever you’re writing an application for, the reviewers probably have a list of qualities that they’re looking for.
For example, you’ll often see them say “we’re looking for someone who exhibits leadership abilities and has experience working in teams”. You probably have a lot of great characteristics and experiences to write about, but make sure you highlight and focus on the ones that are about leadership and teamwork. Moreover, think about what those words really mean to you. The leaders that you look up to - what do you like about them? Is it their ability to inspire and motivate others? Is it how they resolve team conflicts? Is it their logical decision-making abilities? Whatever it might be, highlight how you exemplify those traits.
It’s easy for someone just to say “I have leadership abilities”. What makes it believable is when you can back it up with “proof.” In applications, “proof” is telling stories of what you did and what resulted from your actions.
For example, perhaps in a group project for school, you took the initiative to get a shyer member of your team to speak up during a brainstorming session. And maybe he or she came up with the project idea your team ended up submitting and was voted one of the best projects in the class. This example shows how if you had not been there, this successful outcome may not have been reached.
You do not need to have won a competition or been the formal leader of a club to have a valuable experience to share. Titles often mean a lot less than real actions.
Think outside the box for experiences. Do you have an extra job on the side that shows how you’re able to manage your time well? Do you take initiative by coming up with games to make homework more fun for your siblings when you babysit them? You have demonstrated skills that reviewers are looking for, you just have to look for them.
At the end of every story you tell, give the reviewer your key takeaways from your experience and how you’re going to use that learning going forward.
For example, maybe you learned that everyone has something important to share and you should never underestimate people. How will this change how you behave in the future? Perhaps you will commit to ensuring everyone on your teams has their chance to contribute to group conversations. This shows that you’re introspective and able to think about how you can continue to make a difference.
Reviewers have a lot of applications to read, so be concise. Do not go over the word limit. Cut out any fluffy language and unnecessary adjectives. If you can say something in fewer words or in a more direct way, then do that.
It’s important to look at the application from the reviewer’s perspective. Most of the times, it’s not about how many amazing qualities you can show them about yourself but instead digging deep into what they might be looking for and how you best exemplify that person.
Ashley Qian participated in BETA Camp in Summer 2021. Amidst strict lockdowns, Ashley found a community of driven and ambitious students that made her braver, and more ambitious. Ashley is now working on a project that helps dementia patients through virtual reality, alongside a new role as chapter development officer for Ontario DECA.
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