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Friday, January 14, 2011

Personal Statement Urgent Care Clinic - Part 1

What is a personal statement? It seems to mean different things to different people. To many, it’s a redundant pain in the application. To others, it’s a necessary explication of a full and vibrant life. For far too many, it seems, a “personal statement” is a status update on facebook.

Read on for Part 1 of our Personal Statement Urgent Care Clinic

One of my writing professors once called the personal statement an “art form." I am inclined to agree, though I view it much as I do modern art—I can appreciate it while nursing a loathing as thick and bitter as a McCafe™ latte.

Here’s the basic idea. You send us an application. It has your name, your grades, your SAT scores—and all the personality and verve of a long division equation (sorry, math majors). It expresses what you’ve done in high school, but not who you are: your journey, your background, your sense of humor, your passion. At the end of the day you’re just a number being compared against thousands of other numbers, and that does you a disservice.

A personal statement, then, is your opportunity to give us a snapshot of the person behind the application. Of course, there’s no way [hopefully] to compress all of your identity onto a few double-spaced pages—which is what makes a really great personal statement a work of art. You want to persuasively and comprehensively describe yourself in a way that will make you both memorable and inherently likeable. You want to make us, as we’re reading it, believe that we can’t possibly deny you.

Piece of cake, right?

I’m not going to try to teach you how to write a perfect personal statement here. There are 6 billion resources out there for that. Instead, I’ll break down the basics. Let’s start with the topic of your personal statement.
There are two main topics that we ask for at Marymount: “The Introduction” and “The Explanation.”

In less professional terms, you could think of them as the, “Hi, nice to meetcha!” and the, “I promise, that red, glaring ‘F’  is totally not as bad as it looks.”

We’ll start with the first. “The Introduction” statement is just that—a way for us to get to know you. Just as if you were meeting us in person, you want to tell us who you are, where you’ve come from, what your plans and educational goal are, and why you’re applying to Marymount.

Because you’re introducing yourself to us, you should make sure to write in your own “voice.” Let your personality shine through your writing. Have a good sense of humor? Make us laugh. Are you passionate about a particular cause? Show us. Do you have a seriously compelling life story? Share it. The more we like you the more we’re going to fight for you—and be inclined to overlook any less-than-flattering bumps in your transcript.

Don’t, however, be too familiar. Don’t use any slang that I will have to look up on Urban Dictionary; don’t address us like you would your BFF on AIM (OMG! ROFL!); don’t use curse words; and for all of our sakes, know that there are certain things that we really DON’T need to know about you. If you wouldn’t tell your pastor, your boss, and your grandmother—you might want to reconsider confessing it to us.

The second, “explanation” statement is generally what we’ll ask for if there’s something in your application that gives us pause—for instance you’ve struggled with a particular subject, have failed a class, have had a rough semester that is otherwise out of character, or have taken an unexplained break in your education. It’s your chance to prove to us that we should ignore the apparent red flag, because you’re actually an awesome, earnest, dedicated student.  

There’s a reason we’re asking for this kind of statement. I hate to add to the pressure, but it’s usually your last chance before refusal. You need to give us a really good excuse for your bad grades, and assure us that the incident involving the chinchilla, the 9-iron, and the cheer leading squad wasn’t really as bad as the news report made it seem. 

The advice continues:


  1. What length should the personal statement be?

  2. One to two pages is usually perfect. Shorter is always better, but if you really have a lot that absolutely must be written, you can go a little longer. After three pages, you're in danger of losing our attention.

  3. what do we need to write about?

  4. Whatever you want, unless we specifically ask for an explanatory essay.

    It's usually best to pick a characteristic that you feel really defines you as a unique applicant and tell us a story about a time you demonstrated that aspect of your personality. For topics you SHOULDN'T use, check out this post:

  5. I think I am overlooking this, but how do you submit the personal statement?

  6. where do I send my personal statement? Where can my teachers send their letters of recommendation? via email?

  7. You can submit both your personal statement and letter(s) of recommendation via email at admission[at]marymountpv[dot]edu, by fax, through standard mail, or in person. If you happen to know your counselor's email address, you can also send any and all credentials directly.

  8. does it need to be in mla format or a letter format

  9. what mla or letter format?

  10. No need to use MLA (or APA)! I harbor such a deep and boiling resentment of those styles that I would never demand that they be used for a personal statement. Other schools might, but never Marymount.

    That being said, if you really want to write in MLA, you can. Just don't include a works cited page.

    The best method is to write a basic persuasive essay in which you tell us a story that exemplifies a positive characteristic that you want us to know about. Can't go wrong with that.

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