Your personal statement is not story time! Too many people treat stories as the most important part of their essays. This practice earns REJECTION LETTERS. Graduate programs are looking for people with drive and initiative, interpersonal skills, and a specific, exciting focus. Telling a story or set of stories is one piece of the puzzle, but introspection is the most important piece.
“Your essay should be no more than 40% story. At least 60% should be spent on introspection.”
– Every college admissions officer ever
Stories – 40%
The story provides some background and sets the stage for the rest of the essay. It is good practice to start your essay with a story. Beginning with a story sets a good tone for the rest of the essay and acts as a hook, making your admissions officer more interested in admitting you. Yet, a majority of essays we edit here at Prompt do not properly execute their stories.
Authors commonly attempt to use long prose with descriptive language to describe their situation. Admissions officers do not care to learn every little detail about the time you built your first set of Legos: they are on a mission to understand you and how you will fit into their class. In other words, they need to understand what really makes you tick. A long story takes away from their ability to understand you by stealing words from the introspective topics that really matter.
Your first paragraph can begin with a story of no longer than four to five sentences. Then, you may revisit that story or build on it towards the close of the essay. The rest of your personal statement should be geared towards your specific interests and experiences in your field, and how this program will contribute to your professional growth. We know it may be hard to boil down your story to only a few sentences, but doing so is a must to get into your dream school.
Focus on the important aspects of your stories and remove all content that does not meaningfully add to the substance of the essay. You may need to “kill your darlings,” which means that you have to be willing to delete parts of your writing that you like for the sake of improving the overall essay. You will not get many extra points for using a few great adjectives or coming up with a great analogy. Kill these if they do not meaningfully add to the essay, as you can use the extra space for introspection.
Introspection – 60%
Introspection, the examination of your own mental and emotional state and mental processes, is hard. Many people do not like putting their feelings out there for other people to read, but doing so is necessary if you want to be admitted to your dream college. When you tell a story, you need to introspect: detail your thought process before, during, and after the story took place. Show; don’t tell. Do not tell your readers what is occurring; instead, show them through introspection and specific details. What were you thinking at the time? What would you have done differently? How has the story changed your perspective on life? Why and how has the story changed your purpose in life?
Introspection is the meat of your essay. Your thesis should be an introspective statement and you should dedicate at least 60% of your word count to introspection (390 words in a 650-word essay). Admissions officers want to understand the way you think and how you approach various situations. The best essays sell their authors as capable people on a mission to do great things. Your capability for introspection is not only a key to your future success, but also enables the admissions officers to gain insight into the type of person you are and will be in the future. After all, introspection shows you possess The Three Real Things Programs Look for in Your Application.
Remember, your essay is not about telling a story or set of stories; it is about showing that you belong at the reader’s school. Keep your stories short and concise and use them to drive home your key introspective points. Make sure that you use your stories as supporting evidence for your introspective thesis. Execute the 40/60 story time to introspection rule and you will be set for success.