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B-school Personal Statements: Do's and Don'ts

Posted in Knerds on February 24, 2010 by

This post was written by Josh Anish. Josh is the Senior Editor at Knewton, where he helps students rock their GMAT preparation and offers guidance about the B-school admissions process.

Lots of students write in asking questions about the personal statement. And for good reason: This is your one shot to really introduce your personality to an admissions board. It’s like you’re running for President and you’re speaking at the convention. You get a podium and only a few minutes to present your case to the voters.

With that in mind, here are some time-worn Do’s and Don’ts of personal statement writing.

Don’t: Talk about the school so much. Admissions officers already know how great their institutions are (or aren’t). Customization is important, but two or three sentences about the school should suffice.

Do: Talk about yourself a good amount. The school’s library isn’t awesome; it will be awesome for you to study in it. Create a narrative in your statement and place B-school within it. Something like undergrad –> work experience –> learned a ton –> ready to learn even more –> afterward will move on to even greater aspirations.

Don’t: Dwell on the negatives. No need to mention that D+ in Italian History (was Michelangelo his first name or his last?). It’s okay that you couldn’t find a job for 4 months after graduating from college. Your GMAT score is what it is. The personal statement is like a first date; let her know about the credit card debt months later, after you move in.

Do: Accentuate the positives, especially when it comes to your work experience. Be specific: You didn’t just work for Goldman Sachs; you streamlined their derivatives platform which ushered in a period of 3x growth (assuming that’s true, and if it is: good for you).

Don’t: Make your statement too precious. No need for shtick. You don’t have to write like a Flaubert scholar (though you should proofread your essay several times).

Do: Play by the rules, lay out your narrative, and deliver the facts. Shoot for safe over sorry. A risky personal statement is just that: a risk.