Slightly Better Personal Statements (Ep. 312)

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Today on the show, Ben and Nathan tackle another batch of personal statements. These are better than average but still not great. They all at least have a good foundation to work with. The guys deliver their constructive criticism—and offer up a bonanza of advice to anyone who wants to improve their personal statement or their writing in general.

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2:32 – A’s Personal Statement

A works at a California lemon law firm. Ben notes that this first sentence gave him pause because it’s not immediately clear that “lemon” refers to defective vehicles. A could be describing a bad law firm. The second sentence talks about A’s “insight.” If you’ve been listening to the personal statement series for the past three weeks, you ought to know that the guys do not want to hear about anyone’s mental states. They recommend cutting that sentence and rephrasing the first to make it clear that the firm deals with defective vehicles.

Later, there’s way too much complaining about the state of the world and not enough discussion of what A actually does. Instead of talking so much about the problems, she should talk more about what she’s done to solve them.

14:40 – Diana’s Personal Statement

Diana’s first sentence needs some editing, but it gives the reader a clear indication of what she does. The next sentence uses “my role” as the subject and “was” as the verb. Nathan and Ben recommend rephrasing it as an “I” statement with an action verb. In general, Diana’s statement could use more sentences with the subject “I.”

There’s one sentence that should definitely be deleted—it’s not a good idea to criticize your boss or your organization. While Diana does use “I” statements to list some of her tasks, which is good, they are all too vague. Ben would like her to elaborate more on what she actually does. Nathan also says to cut the mention of “challenging individuals,” which sounds like a complaint. There’s a super long, wordy sentence that could be edited down dramatically. Ben reminds us that editing is a constant process of cutting out unnecessary verbiage.

25:58 – Jacob’s Personal Statement

Jacob’s first sentence is short and to the point. It gives the reader a clear picture of him as a student who also works full time as an HVAC technician. But he can cut the second sentence about his “transition” and get straight to talking about what he does. Like most personal statements, it could use more “I” sentences. For example, instead of, “My job entails estimating,” say, “I estimate.”

Ben and Nathan correct a slew of grammatical issues as they read. They note that this statement is not as well edited as the first two. Storywise, they recommend that Jacob focus more on his business and sales experience and not try so hard to pitch himself as helping his community. It’s also unclear why he wants to go to law school given how successful he is in his current job. Overall, the guys give Jacob’s statement a B for content and a D for editing.

43:05 – Levi’s Personal Statement

Levi should cut his whole first paragraph. Admissions officers aren’t interested in where he moved or that he accepted a job offer. He should just jump right into talking about what he does as a second grade teacher.

The next paragraph is repetitive and uses too many “had to” verb phrases. Say what you did, not what you had to do. There's a lot of complaining about problems and not enough content about how Levi solved them. The guys don’t know what he’s talking about when he says that he “utilized active brain break so the students could get exercise” or “made sure that each student got to where they needed to go.”

Levi needs to tell a story that shows him putting his best foot forward, not just outline the activities that any second grade teacher does on a daily basis. He should also clarify why he’s going to law school.

53:30 – Genevieve’s Personal Statement

Genevieve can omit her first paragraph. Everyone who’s applying to law school graduated with a bachelor’s degree. She doesn’t need to mention that she “remembers being imprudently confused” after graduation. If the guys spend a lot of time criticizing her first few sentences, it’s because they are the most important. The first paragraph should draw the reader into the story, but instead Genevieve talks only about struggle and confusion. An admissions officer may very well decide they’ve seen enough and stop reading at this point.

The second paragraph needs a lot of editing, but it’s a better place to start her statement. At least now, the guys are picturing her as a working law clerk instead of as a confused kid who just finished undergrad. Skimming the rest of her essay, the guys note that it looks like Genevieve took bullet points from her resume and wrote a paragraph about each one. They advise her to write about one recent experience as a paralegal at a big law firm.

1:04:19 – Caylea’s Personal Statement

Caylea’s first paragraph is too flowery with the description of her hike. It sounds like she’s trying hard to be poetic. The guys also point out some grammatical errors. After the first paragraph, all they know about Caylea is that she’s a hiker and nature lover who has chronic Lyme Disease. She hasn’t presented any facts that make her sound like a winning applicant to law school. Ben and Nathan skim the rest of her statement and find references to mental states, personal struggles, and rhapsodizing about how important law is—all things that should be cut.

1:16:45 – Walter’s Personal Statement

Walter writes a lengthy first paragraph describing a protest at a congressman’s office. But it doesn’t say much about Walter—just that he interned at the office and moved some chairs. Nathan finds the tone overly dramatic and a little hostile toward the protesters. Walter uses words such as “harangue” and “stampede,” describing the protest as if it were a riot. Ben would also prefer that he use a more levelheaded tone.

The next few paragraphs have some good details. But the guys suggest omitting the reference to an undergraduate class and the bizarre name drops of Logan, whoever that is. Walter should talk more about the serious work he did and cut a lot of the drama from his statement.

1:33:23 – Emma’s Personal Statement

The problem with Emma’s first sentence is that it’s not clear what a “horseman” is. She can probably cut that line. Nathan and Ben remind everyone that they don’t want to hear any stories from childhood and that no one should ever use the word “passion” in their personal statement. Emma breaks both of these rules in the first paragraph.

Emma needs to tell a recent, adult story with more details that show her succeeding at work. She should avoid talking about her failures and oversharing medical issues. And she should omit broad conclusions. State the facts and let them speak for themselves.