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When talking about your past in a personal statement, you want to focus on those events that have led you to this point in your academic and professional career. In an effort to persuade the admissions officers that you are a highly qualified candidate, applicants frequently try to include too many examples and anecdotes in their essays. This makes for a superficial essay that is really just the applicant’s resume/CV in narrative format.

The admissions officers are looking for much more than that. In your personal statement, you’ll need to show not only that you have the technical qualifications for the program but that you have skills in critical/analytical thinking and can apply the lessons that you have learned from your experiences to diverse scenarios, including the classroom. Therefore, we’ve developed these guidelines to help you choose the best from your resume to create a personal statement that will help get you noticed by the admissions officers.

Talk in specificities, not generalities

Good anecdotes to include in your personal statement are those that give insights into how you became passionate about your chosen field of study. Because of this, your personal statement needs to focus on your motivations in your particular field of study and relevant information in your background. However, this does not mean that you can’t use diverse experiences. What it does mean is that you need to make direct connections between the experience and the program.

For example, you might be switching careers. In your personal statement, you can highlight how skills gained in your previous career will translate well to your studies and to your new career. If you have done extensive reading in your chosen field, participated in it as a volunteer, or joined organizations relevant to the career, these can be excellent ways to give concrete examples to the admissions officers that demonstrate your interest.

Include pivotal experiences

Most likely, you’ll have numerous experiences in your background that you can pull from your resume to write about in your essays. Especially at the graduate level, admissions officers want to know that you have the experience and professionalism necessary to make a contribution to their program. Therefore, take the time to go through your resume and think critically about which experiences were most pivotal.

It can be tempting to focus on the largest projects or the ones with the biggest budgets. However, a smaller project where you were able to take a significant leadership role might be a better representation of your skill set. Use the anecdotes in your personal statements to take the reader on a journey of your growth and development, both personally and professionally. Not only will this give you a more unique set of anecdotes in your essays, helping your personal statement to stand apart, it will give the admissions officers a stronger sense of getting to know you as an individual.

Reflect meaningfully on your experiences

The best way to differentiate your personal statement from your resume is to reflect on the examples that you have chosen for your essays. A personal statement should go beyond just the facts and tell the admissions officers why you think the example was important for the admissions officers to know. In each anecdote provided, the admissions officers are looking for you to tell them how this experience took you to a higher level in your personal or professional development.

Exactly what you write will depend on the context of each situation, but the admissions officers will look for things like critical thinking about your own actions and the actions of others. What did you get right? What mistakes did you make? Would you do things differently if faced with a similar situation in the future? How can you apply what you learned to other situations? Answering questions like this will give your personal statement the depth that it needs to leave a lasting impression on the admissions officers.