An Ode to Personal Statements

In school, I can recall a countless number of times when writing a personal essay or speech was met with horror and dread by my classmates. They would complain that talking about themselves was too hard, awkward, or embarrassing. Especially when it came to talking about accomplishments, at which my peers would shudder and present a humble and or self conscious front.

I, on the other hand, never understood this reaction. I was not intimidated by personal statements, and never felt the need to shy away from talking about myself. In fact, I almost enjoyed it and often flew past the required word limits or time constraints and then found myself in the painful position of cutting away precious words from my personal masterpieces.

To this day, I am still puzzled and disbelieving when people admit that they do not enjoy writing about themselves or their personal experiences. Surely it should be the one thing that people can universally agree on, as writing about our own personal experiences would be easy since we know it better than anyone else. There are far too few opportunities to speak openly and unabashedly about our passions. When given the chance to write freely, I would think that going hog wild would be the most natural reaction.

Perhaps my opinion is because I am just egotistical and selfish. Maybe I have fallen into the same trap as Narcissus and that is why I find writing about myself so easy.

Or… Or… I am simply confident in my abilities and deeply passionate about the subject.

When it came to write my personal statements for graduate school, I already knew the story I wanted to tell before I started writing them. It is the same story that I have always told, because it is the truth about my life, the origins of my interest, and what continues to inspire me to this day. My love for international relations developed from my multiracial heritage. Listening to the stories of my ancestors encouraged me to study other people, cultures, and countries. I drew connections between my studies and my ancestry, and I felt compelled to continue down an academic and career path rooted in international relations and human rights.

Writing about my interest in various programs or potential research interests flowed out of me faster than my fingers could type. I could write whole novels about how my family’s saga lead me down the path that I am taking. I could ramble for hours about how excited I am to study the intersection of international organizations and human rights. As I have mentioned before, my enthusiasm for these programs is so high that I would talk to anyone and everyone about them as fast as I possibly could.

While I have no shortage of inspiration for the content of my personal statements, I did find it difficult to construct them. Especially ones that provided shorter word limits. How could I possibly convey my intense passion and all that I hope to research and accomplish in a mere three hundred words (I am looking at you Cambridge). These were universities with incredible and prestigious reputations, and yet, they were not giving me very much room with which to prove my worth. I condensed and condensed, and was left with an end result that felt somewhat bland and disingenuous. I said everything that I needed to say, but the end result left me feeling a bit disheartened.

I think that all personal statements should provide longer word limits. Graduate school is a big commitment and describing a potential research interest requires due explanation. It is necessary to allow for the applicant to thoroughly tell their story. Otherwise, essays are left with an air of incompleteness and a lack of authenticity.

I have since finished my personal statements and become a ‘convert to pdf and upload’ machine. Being the overly eager person that I am, I had started writing them back in August to give myself a solid head start and with the hopes of submitting my applications relatively soon after the portals opened. 

I am proud of my accomplishments and confident in abilities, and I am not afraid to write about myself as such. Weaving a web of my past experiences in with my personal story and passion for the work has helped me create personal statements that I am proud of. I just hope that the admissions committees at the universities that I am applying to will feel the same.


The Travel Smith

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