Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Personal Statement

Writing a statement about yourself can be difficult.  I mean, you do know yourself better than anyone, but you are a very complex, multi-faceted person and it can be challenging knowing where to start.

As I mentioned in this week's episode of Tassel to Tassel Radio, sometimes an application will have specific questions for you to answer that can shape your statement.  However, there are times when you are left to your own devices.  While that may feel undirected, it is a way for you to demonstrate that you are able to write with focus.  So let me help you out.  When given no questions, simply answer these three:

  1. What influenced your decision to choose your major and pursue your field of study?
  2. What do you hope to gain from participating in this particular program or being employed by this company?
  3. What makes you a good candidate? (Think skills, not qualities.)
If you find you still need help as you answer these, be resourceful.  Check out your career services center or campus writing center.  I think Purdue has a great resource in their Online Writing Lab and have directed my own students there for sample documents.

Regardless of whether you are answering specific questions or using my suggested ones, always use an outline to direct your writing and ALWAYS have someone review your writing before you submit it.  Incorporate the feedback, even if it leads to a second (or third) draft.  We're not perfect and that's okay.  We are all works in progress.

So as you finish up your summer applications, begin your essays with enough time to have them reviewed and reworked.  I can't wait to hear all about your summer plans once the acceptances begin rolling in.  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Requesting Recommendation Letters

With application season underway, it's time to get your recommendations lined up.  Some applications will allow you to use high school teachers, but most will expect you to use college faculty and staff.  After all you are a college student now and hopefully you got to know some people last semester.  So as you consider who to ask, keep these things in mind:

  1. In what class can you say you have made a positive impression on your instructor?
  2. Is there an advisor who knows you farily well?
  3. Does your recommender know more about you than your grade in their class?
  4. What positive attributes has this person witnessed?
Recommendation letters take time and you want to ask (in person when possible) at least three weeks in advance of the application due date if your potential letter writer can write a strong letter of support for you.  It sounds like a no-brainer, but if someone doesn't know you well, the letter may not be stellar, it will only be so-so.  You want to know that before you leave your summer plans in their hands.  Recognize that if you've been mediocre, it may be difficult to find someone to speak for you.  We'll deal with that later and we'll move forward as though you have this locked down.

When the recommender agrees, provide them with everything they need including an updated copy of your resume, program names, information, and application dates for each letter.  Don't over load them with more than three letters and provide a short paragraph about why you want to participate in the program and what makes you a good candidate.  The paragraph will come in handy when you write your personal statement.