In the summer, in the writing center, we see a lot of personal statements. Lots.
In this world on fill-in-the-blank and bubble sheets and searchable resumes, the personal statement becomes this one little nugget of, well, personality. You get to write for them, even if just a couple of pages, and you get to write about what's important to you. There are a lot of cynical views about the personal statement: it's just a way of keeping out the riff-raff who can't pay to have their writing vetted by a professional; it's just a way to increase the diversity of the school without out-right asking about race; it's just another hoop to make people jump through. All of those things are probably true, but, still, think about the core of it: Personal. Statement.
Chills, I tell you, chills. And the very same things that make me hate writing a personal statement are the same things that make me love reading them, and helping other people write them. Why are you the way you are? What experiences led to you wanting to pursuing the job, or the school, or the field that you're in? Who have been the more important influences in your life? These are heady questions. And, by the way, you need to write about them in a way that is charming, but professional, heartfelt, but not sloppy, confident, but not arrogant. It's a difficult, difficult thing to do, but what do you have, in the ideal? A statement about who you are, at core, and what matters to you. At their best, personal statements dig deep, getting at honest emotions and conflicted experiences. Once I helped a guy who, it was evident immediately, was only going to dental school because his mother wanted him to be doctor and he didn't have the stomach for medicine. It was a fascinating read, but he was so resistant to explaining his motives, digging deep enough to see the truth. How different from a friend of mine whose personal statement I read where she openly confessed that she wanted to be a plastic surgeon, and didn't think that there was anything less noble about making people look beautiful than doing reconstructive face surgery. She didn't want to pretend that she was going into plastic surgery for burn victims--she wanted to recreate Kate Moss. It was so fresh and lively and true.
When was the last time you wrote a personal statement? Usually you're so stressed out about the whole application process and worrying about what your audience wants to hear (quite rightfully--these people have a clear set of expectations for the kind of people they see at their school/internship/job), so you don't really get a chance to sit down and think about this seriously.
Can a personal statement be a mission statement, writ large? Which experiences have been truly transformative? I would like to write a personal statement, see it as so useful, but I know it will hurt and requite a lot of revisioning and essentializing, so I'm scared to make the attempt again. I wrote a teaching statement this last spring for a contest (I didn't win, but I was a finalist), and it was that process again. Mulling. Doubting. Talking myself up and then tearing myself down again. It was lovely and terrible. I'd much rather have a good view on yours. I'll sit down next to you (I don't like to work by email), and it's possible that I will make you cry, but we'll go down that weird personal statement road together. It's a good road to walk down.