Feature image from missmoss.co.za.
Writing is…highly subjective, and personal statements are no different. Everyone seems to have a different idea of how you should present yourself to colleges, and to be really honest — some of them are good, some of them are bad, and some of them are really bad.
How many of these editors do you recognize?
1. The English Teacher
Now, this person doesn’t have to actually be an English teacher.
But by the time you get your personal statement back from them, it’s basically the same thing.
This person’s edits consist only (or mostly) of grammar changes — and half the time, not even the ones that matter. Correcting “who” to “whom” — but it’s a line of dialogue, and when’s the last time anybody anyone ever liked used “whom” in casual conversation? No, you don’t talk to your “mom” or “dad” — it’s mother and father. No, no — we don’t ever start a sentence with “and” because it’s a conjunction, and why don’t we do that? Who knows, but it’s going to get the red pen anyway.
“But do I sound like a person? Do I sound likable?” you ask. “What will the readers think?”
Maybe the English Teacher didn’t think to answer those questions, or maybe they just didn’t care. But from the comments they left, there’s little to no indication at all that they gave those questions any real thought.
And that’s when you realize you were probably better off running your personal statement through Grammarly than asking for the English Teacher’s advice.
2. The Gordon Ramsay
By the time you get your personal statement back from this editor, you’ll no longer feel motivation to write anything ever again.
It’s not even the quantity of their comments that gets to you, because the Gordon Ramsay is usually surprisingly succinct. They’ll often only leave two to three thoughtfully-worded criticisms that do more damage than you think, colorful language optional. If the English Teacher is a “death by a thousand cuts,” the Gordon Ramsay is a one-hit K.O.
All of their comments say that they strongly recommend you scrap this statement completely and do it again from scratch. Because everything’s wrong with it. Everything. Your topic’s been done a thousand times before. You sound like a pretentious prat who just swallowed a thesaurus. Are you even thinking about how to hook your readers? Your opening line is so uninspired that it’s on this week’s episode of Saturday Night Live, you idiot sandwich.
Okay, maybe this editor won’t be that rude. But their comments are still mostly criticism and mostly think your essay is absolute trash. And they often contain few suggestions for how to actually improve, so you end up making random adjustments in the hopes that you’ll eventually get it right.
Let’s face it: to the Gordon Ramsay, you probably never will.
3. The Lazy Bum
Usually when you get your personal statement back with barely any marks on it, it’s a good thing…unless it comes from these people.
The Lazy Bum will make one or two small marks on your personal statement, and will usually not write any words. Even if there are words, they’ll probably never be in complete sentences.
“So does that mean my essay is good?” you ask.
“Umm, I guess?” they say.
“Did you like it?”
“What did you like about it?”
“Everything. It’s great!”
“What do I sound like?”
“Uhh, you sound very….you!”
“…did you even read it?”
But did they actually? Even if they did, it doesn’t seem like it. It always feels like this editor has something better to do, and it makes you wonder why they even agreed to help you out in the first place. Sometimes you want to try and give this editor something really ridiculous just to see if they’ll say anything about it, but it’s admissions season and nobody has the time for that.
4. The Relatable
This person may or may not actually give you useful feedback, but their feedback will often come with many personal details about the editor themselves. From the comments the Relatable leaves, it’ll be hard to tell whether this personal statement was about you or them.
Oh, you play the violin? Well, so did the Relatable. They only ever did make it to book four of Suzuki, but they thought they played decently and could’ve gone on to be quite good, if only they didn’t give up the instrument. You like the color blue? Ah, the color blue reminds the Relatable of clear summer skies and afternoons by the ocean; too bad the Relatable hasn’t gotten a chance to go to the beach in two years. Oh but wait, you have parents? The Relatable has parents too! And they totally understand what it feels like when parents are being naggy. Totally.
While it’s nice to know one of your acquaintances on a more personal level, it’s not really that much help if that’s all they talk about when reading your personal statement. For one, you can’t really tell if your personal statement is good or bad. Secondly, how the heck are you supposed to improve your statement from these comments? Encourage the Relatable to take up the violin again? Drive them to the beach? Tell their parents to stop being naggy?
And you’re in for a good time if you ever discuss these comments with the Relatable. You’ll hear stories and stories and stories and stories and stories…but it’s admissions season and nobody has the time for that.
5. The Charlatan
The great thing about the Internet is that you can look up anything and instantly get a lot of information about it.
The terrible thing about the Internet is that anyone can do this. Yes, even the insufferable ones.
The small bit of consolation that we have is that not all of the information the Internet gives is correct information.
If you’re not careful, the Charlatan sure sounds like they know a lot. Some of their comments will sound like arcane college admissions voodoo, and admittedly, college admissions work somewhat like voodoo anyway.
Hey. Don’t start with dialogue or quotes because the UCs hate it. Talk about your parents because Duke likes a good Hallmark movie. Stanford loves innovators and underdogs, so you really want to make yourself seem like a failure before you made it big. Adcoms always like to see consistent passion about your ECs, so to match your Common App, always include your number 1 and 2 extracurriculars in your personal statement if it’s at all possible within the confines of the prompt you’ve chosen.
If you believed any of those things listed above, congratulations — you played yourself; I made all of those up in the span of about two minutes.
Granted, there are actual statistics that legitimate organizations have compiled about colleges, to make the voodoo seem a little less like voodoo. So when your editor starts dropping random bits of advice into your essay, it might be good to ask for a source so you can read up on it. Otherwise, the Charlatan might just be wasting your time to make themselves feel better-than-you.
6. The Mom
Okay, she’s not necessarily bad, and she’s not necessarily your mother. But this is the editor that loves you and everything you do so much that nothing you do can possibly be bad to them. This could be a best friend, a favorite teacher, a coach, et cetera; you’ll never hear a single bad word about you or anything you do out of them. Ever.
While, you know — that’s not exactly the best editing strategy for improving a personal statement, it’s definitely something that could be nice to have when everything around you is so hectic and uncertain and anxious.
Because you have value outside of this whole admissions process, and you have people who care for you and see your worth no matter what any college may say. And that’s something worth remembering.
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