Is My Personal Statement Too Long?

When it comes to personal statements, less is often more. Though most schools and programs have set word limits, many do not. This uncapped essay creates a temptation to over-write. This is a trap! Keep your essay short and to the point. If your essay is too long, you risk boring or annoying your reader. Worse yet, the main points that you want the reader to take away from your essay will be submerged within a sea of excess verbiage. Here are some tips and insights into how you should think about your personal statement:

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top MBA programs. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

A Happy Problem! How Do You Choose Between MBA Offers?

When I checked my email this morning, I remembered why this is my favorite time of year! Two of my favorite clients got into their dream schools, and my back-and-forth emails with a client who just found out that he got into Stanford GSB brought a warm feeling to my heart that just about melted the huge pile of snow outside my house!

During the late fall and early winter, we’re incredibly busy at Gurufi, helping clients get into their dream schools. But now, our clients are starting to hear back from MBA programs, and the good news we get is fantastic and justifies all the late nights working with them to perfect their personal statements and CVs. But now, many of our clients face a happy dilemma: how do you choose between two good schools?

Though technically speaking picking from among schools isn’t part of my job, I often give clients some advice about this question based on years of experience. Here are ten thoughts on how to pick between schools after you’ve been offered admission!

  1. Ask yourself: do I want to live there? One of the biggest mistakes that I’ve seen people make is to view their MBA as something that they should just Not your preferred location? Well… it’s only two years! That is the wrong approach. If you’re happy, you’re more likely to thrive, make connections, and get the most out of the experience. So, take the school’s location and size into account. Think about whether you want to attend a large or small school and if you want to live in a major city or a small town. Ask yourself, “is this somewhere I could live?” Listen to what your gut says.
  1. Once again look into the academics and how well they align with your goals. Check out the instructors and available programs. Check the curriculum to see if it fits your professional objectives, and look into the professors to see if they have any relevant experience or publications. Write down what you think your two years of coursework, connections, and extracurriculars would look like.
  1. Okay, fine… take into account the school’s reputation and ranking. I am a HUGE believer in the ideas that fit matters more than ranking, but ranking and reputation do matter. Rankings should not be the primary consideration, but they can help you determine the standing of the institution and the caliber of its curriculum.
  1. Think about the alumni and current students you’ve met. By this point, you’ve likely talked to lots of current students and alumni. Once you’ve been admitted, use LinkedIn and other resources that the school provides to have more conversations about the school and its strengths. You’ll likely find that students are even more frank with students who’ve been admitted. Similarly, find out about how active alumni are and the kinds of things that they’re up to. After graduation, a robust alumni network may offer useful contacts and assistance.
  1. Price compare. Usually, schools provide financial aid and cost information a few weeks after admission. Sometimes longer. As soon as you have this information, it’s time to get down to brass tacks. How much are you willing to spend? Importantly, you can also use this period to bargain. Contact the Admissions and Financial Aid offices if you’ve gotten a more generous package from another school, and ask them to close the gap. They won’t always be able to do so, but they often can, and it never hurts to ask! At any rate, once you have some solid numbers, a basic ROI assessment that includes everything from long-term trajectory to immediate salary bumps can help you figure out your next move.
  1. Don’t forget to do a deep dive into local expenses! If you’re comparing, for instance, NYU and Ross, remember to account for the fact that Manhattan is a lot pricier than Ann Arbor.
  1. Listen to your gut… but you don’t have to obey it! Churchill said that “intuition is reason in a hurry.” There’s real truth to this. In 99% of cases, people have a gut-level preference for one school. Begin by acknowledging what this is, and then ask why. Are you a little too enamored with rankings? Did the campus dazzle you? Whatever the reason, ask yourself a follow-up question: is the basis of my gut’s decision rational and good? If not, then be willing to deny your intuition and take a more thoughtful approach. If so, then you know what to do!
  1. Consider the culture and ideals of the school. To learn more about the school’s culture and beliefs and determine whether they coincide with your own, visit the school’s website and go to informational sessions. If this hasn’t been made clear to you, ask somebody. Attending a school where your values align with theirs is vital, so don’t overlook it.
  1. Dig into the data. Now is the time to get even fussier about all of the relevant data that business schools keep. What’s their 1-year and 5-year employment data look like? Average salary? Long-term satisfaction rate (or its proxy: alumni giving percentage)? You probably looked at this information during the application process, but now is the time to do it again!
  1. Take into account the school’s inclusion and diversity. A varied and inclusive school may offer a richer educational experience and can also be a positive reflection of the ideals of the institution. And if that touchy-feely stuff doesn’t move you, remember that you’re hoping to thrive within an increasingly global and diverse world, so be sure that you have the background and comfort level to do this!

I hope that you have the happy conundrum of trying to choose between great options! If you’d like to have this problem, then be sure to check us out Gurufi.com!  For seventeen years, we’ve helped thousands of clients craft powerful personal statements and attractive CVs. Check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top MBA programs. We pride ourselves in guaranteeing the satisfaction of every client. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Here are some additional sources for helping you choose between schools:

Sources:

  1. “5 Factors to Consider When Choosing a Business School” (https://www.business.com/articles/5-factors-to-consider-when-choosing-a-business-school/)
  2. “7 Tips for Choosing the Right Business School” (https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/articles/7-tips-for-choosing-the-right-business-school)
  3. “How to Choose the Right Business School” (https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2021/03/22/how-to-choose-the-right-business-school/?sh=1b3d3f3e6e23)
  4. “5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Business School” (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/338082)
  5. “5 Tips for Choosing the Right Business School” (https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0911/5-tips-for-choosing-the-right-business-school.aspx)
  6. “7 Factors to Consider When Choosing a Business School” (https://www.topmba.com/mba-news/7-factors-consider-when-choosing-business-school)
  7. “4 Tips for Choosing the Right Business School” (https://www.princetonreview.com/business-school-advice/choosing-business-school)

You Can Get Into Your Dream School Despite a Few Blemishes

We all mistakes because we’re all human. In my 16 years of working with clients and helping them get into top business schools, one of the most common things I’ve witnessed is accomplished and smart people who write off their chances at admission into a top school because they had a blemish or two on their CV. Perhaps they got a D- in Anthropology 101 in their freshman year, maybe they had early career struggles… whatever the cause, they use these missteps to psyche themselves out and convince themselves to believe that their applications are doomed to failure. This just isn’t true.

Today, I recorded this brief video to explain in broad strokes how to approach the challenge of an imperfect application. In coming days, I’ll expand on it in detail. There is hope, and if you’re thoughtful about your application, you can confront, contextualize, and overcome imperfections in your application. Of course, if you’re unsure about how, contact us at Gurufi; we’ve got years of experience helping people get into their dream programs! (there’s a reason our clients love us!)

@gurufi_admissions

Don’t let academic or professional setbacks derail your MBA application! Here’w how to address these concerns in your personal statement. #MBA

♬ original sound – Gurufi

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Use the ‘Hemingway Rules’ to Build a Powerful Personal Statement

Writing a powerful personal statement can be a genuine challenge for inexperienced writers. They often pile on unnecessary complexity, use fancier-than-needed words, and try too hard to *dazzle* their reader. Don’t do that. The best writing is simple, clear, and direct. It will also feel more authentic and allow you to connect with your reader on a human level.

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Write a Write a Powerful Statement Using the Hemingway Rules for Writing!230120_Fobi_Be Like Hemingway_4x5_JC_D1

♬ original sound – Gurufi

There are many summations of the Hemingway Rules, but I like this one from the University of Chicago’s International Association of Business Communicators. 1. USE SHORT SENTENCES Short sentences are easier to digest. They make it easier to follow each point of an argument or story. Your job as a writer — or editor — is to make life easy for your audience. Forcing the reader to navigate through a bunch of long, complex sentences is like forcing him/her to hack through the jungle with a machete. Create a nice, tidy path with plenty of short sentences.

2. USE SHORT FIRST PARAGRAPHS

3. USE VIGOROUS ENGLISH Copywriter David Garfinkel describes it like this: “It’s muscular, forceful (writing). Vigorous English comes from passion, focus and intention.” This rule is really a reminder to do your homework and fully understand what you are writing about. It is impossible to write with “passion, focus and intention” without having a real grasp of the subject. In most cases, if you’ve done your homework, you will write with authority and vigor.

4. BE POSITIVE, NOT NEGATIVE Basically, “be positive” means you should say what something is rather than what it isn’t. — Instead of saying something is “inexpensive,” say it is “affordable.” — Instead of describing something as “unclear,” say it is “confusing.” This might seem like a small point, but it’s actually quite important. Being “positive” makes your writing more direct. Whether they realize it or not, readers are turned off by “roundabout writing.”

So, there you have it: eminently practical writing tips from one of the masters — or more accurately, from the Kansas City Star. “Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing,” Hemingway said in 1940. “I’ve never forgotten them. No man with any talent, who feels and writes truly about the thing he is trying to say, can fail to write well if he abides with them.”

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

How to Turn Your Accomplishments Into a Powerful Story

Writing a personal statement is hard! Transforming a lifetime of experiences into 500 or 750 meaningful and impactful words can feel stressful and even impossible. In Part 1 of this two part presentation, I walk you through some basic approaches for thinking about and beginning your Personal Statement.

Stay tuned for Part II later this week!

How to Write About Blemishes, Setbacks, and Failures in Your Personal Statements

After collaborating with hundreds of business school applicants over the past 15 years, one thing that I have learned is that there are many paths to an MBA. Often, these paths are bumpy, circuitous, or unconventional. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of talking to a group of applicants on GMATClub’s YouTube Live broadcast, and I decided to focus that talk on how to overcome blemishes or even big problems in your application.
Midway through, a funny thing happened! My kids escaped from the playroom and decided to investigate what Dada was doing… several times! Like many of you, all of us at Gurufi.com have had to adjust our lives to the realities of COVID-19. Our office in Portland closed because of local restrictions, so we’re all working remotely from home. As my kids ran in (repeatedly) to see what was going on, it occurred to me that this was an excellent lesson for the kinds of challenges we face in life: randomness intervenes, complications arise, family situations suddenly require our attention.
I hope you’ll check out this presentation because it gives some handy advice for how you can account for setbacks, blemishes, and disasters in your life within the context of your Personal Statement. We also touch on how to write a powerful “biggest failure” essay that some schools ask for. The TLDR is:
• You shouldn’t run from your mistakes if it’s something that the admissions committee will know. You need to provide the frame for how they view this.
• “If you can’t fix it, feature it.” For big mistakes, think about how you can contextualize the setback within the broader scope of your life and career in a way that depicts it, not as a failure, but as the first act in a story of success.
• Admissions committees understand that people aren’t perfect. Find ways to make them see you holistically.
If you have questions for Brian, send him a line at service@gurufi.com.
For help with your Personal Statement or other admissions writing, check us out at Gurufi.com! We have a fantastic group of experienced editors and consultants ready to make your application shine!

Tips for Getting a STRONG Letter of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are a vital part of your application, but people often don’t treat the process like it! Even though your recommender is doing the writer, you still have real work to do in order to make sure that it is a strong letter that advances your candidacy. Here are some hints and insights on letters of rec.

Three Insider Secrets of Successful Ph.D. Applications

Applying to doctoral programs can be stressful and mysterious, and one of the real challenges is that most of the advice that you’ll find online about the application process comes from people whose experience is in the world of business school, law school, or undergraduate admissions. This advice isn’t well suited to graduate school applications because the process is simply different, as are the goals of the admission committee and the people who staff that admissions committee. We detailed much of this in a recent blog post.

Today, I want to follow up on some of the items we talked about by giving you three practical tips that will help you with your PhD application.

1. It’s okay if you don’t know exactly what you want to study. In my last blog, I pointed out that, the closer you can get to articulating what the thesis of your eventual dissertation will be, the better. This advice often elicits two concerns from clients. First, will being overly specific hurt my chances of admission? No, quite the opposite. If you don’t have a really specific answer to “what?” and “why?” you’ll come across as someone who isn’t quite ready for graduate school. The old joke that ‘PhD’ stands for “Piled Higher and Deeper” is a reminder that doctoral studies are about becoming highly expert in a very narrow question within a very specific field. Or, as my old PhD advisor put it, “Brian, your task is to become the world’s foremost expert in the thing you’re writing about.”

Second, people are often concerned that they either don’t yet know what exactly they want to study or that they might change their mind along the way. Now, if you have no earthly clue whatsoever what you want to investigate, the short answer is that you have no business applying to graduate school. You should at least enter graduate school with some idea of what you want to study. BUT, even if you don’t, you should at least be able to articulate a plausible question that you may want to study. It’s fine if you end up changing your focus because most people don’t actually end up researching the precise areas that they intended to when they arrived. Now, obviously, you will stay close to home, intellectually speaking, so it’s not as though you’ll go from studying Medieval History to Cell Biology, but chances are that you might, for instance, go from studying how neural cell plasticity is impacted by traumatic injury to studying how neural cell plasticity might be involved in autism. It’s the same general subject, be very different questions. That’s a VERY normal thing to happen. In fact, your initial classes and (if you’re in the sciences) rotations through labs are designed to give you a broader exposure so that you can select a precise topic that interests you.

So, if most people end up changing their intended thesis, why do the admissions committees even emphasize your laying out your intended intellectual route? Two reasons: 1.) applicants who can articulate what they see as a cognizable and important question have done the requisite homework and thus demonstrated their seriousness, and 2) you are showcasing your ability to think and write about complicated questions within the field, and especially your capacity to position yourself vis-à-vis the important debates. This is very important skill in academics.

2. You HAVE to email the professors. So, technically speaking you don’t have to do this. Many people are admitted without having done so. That said, you really should do it. The reasons have mostly to do with the nature of graduate school and the nature of graduate admissions. Suppose, for instance, that you want to study Cell Biology under Prof. Jones at State University. In fact, the work she’s doing is what inspired you to study cell biology, her papers are groundbreaking, and her excellence and reputation are what State University’s Department of Cell Biology are built upon. Given this, you need to find out if it’s possible to study under her. She might, for instance, be retiring, moving to a new position at a new university, or may not be taking any more graduate students into her lab. You would thus be in a bad way if you showed up at State University to study under her, only to discover that Prof. Jones is now at Stanford! Or, she might tell you that she doesn’t think you’d be a good fit, and that if asked, she couldn’t enthusiastically support your application. This would hurt, no doubt, but it would allow you to adjust your application tactics.

This brings us to the second reasons. You should email potential advisors because, if you mention them in your personal statement, the admissions committee will usually forward your application to them and ask if they are a good fit for what they do. Them saying “yes” certainly doesn’t guarantee your admission, but either a “no” or an indifferent response will hurt you. As such, you should let that professor know who you are so that when they get that email, they can, “Oh Jennifer? She’s great, and I think she has some interesting ideas and could do great work in my lab.”

Just so we’re clear, if a professor hasn’t heard of you and the Admissions Committee asks them about you, they likely aren’t going to take a ton of time to look over your application at that point. Professors are very busy with other teaching, research, writing, committee work, etc., and they rightly don’t see it as their job to resuscitate your application because you didn’t bother to reach out to them before you name-dropped them.

So, how do you reach out to a professor? I’ll have more on this tomorrow, but the short version is that you should write a VERY short email introducing yourself, identifying what you’re working on, and asking if you could have 10 minutes of their time. Attach your CV and any relevant other documents. (Again, more on this tomorrow)

3. Copy-Paste will kill your application

We all know that applying to graduate school is hard and time-consuming. You have to study for the GRE, get letters of recommendation, write a personal statement, research and contact potential advisors, revise your writing sample, and fill out lots of other forms. BUT, one thing that will really hurt your chances is to use a personal statement that is very obviously just a single standard essay with the names of your various schools copy-pasted in. It shows that you haven’t done your research and aren’t particularly interested in that school. This doesn’t mean that you have to write completely different essays for each school. In fact, it’s usually the case that you can write your first essay for your first school and repurpose the first two-thirds for every school, and then the final third or so that focuses on your fit with the school you’re applying to can be written custom for each university. But readers know when they’re reading generic broadly-applicable text with the school’s name pasted in, and they don’t like it. So if you have a section like this, dump it and rewrite it:

I want to attend Stanford University because of its excellent faculty, abundant research resources, and the opportunity to work within a renowned university. I have looked at the Course Catalog, and there are many classes that fit my intellectual interests…

You could replace “Stanford” here with any top school, so you’re not really saying anything useful or demonstrating that you know anything about Stanford other than it’s a good university.

All three of these points make clear that a lazy applicant is probably going to be an unsuccessful one. Yes, it takes extra time to email professors, generate a plausible dissertation thesis, and write lots of unique text for all of your schools. But if you’re thinking about spending 7 years in graduate school, why wouldn’t you take an extra 10–12 hours to make sure that you are attending the right graduate school and are positioning yourself for long-term success and happiness?

DON’T GO TO GRADUATE SCHOOL!

Okay, as some who has four graduate degrees, this might seem like hypocritical advice. And, in truth, many people should go to graduate school. But my experience is that far too many people do and that folks rarely invest the requisite thought before they begin applying.

While researching for an upcoming article on graduate school completion rates, I came across this blog post from a few years back in which Christopher Pierznik reflects on his decision to drop out of graduate school. He calls it “the best decision I’ve ever made.” His wisdom and perspective resonated with me, so I thought I’d share it. Most of what I do professionally is help people get into top graduate and professional schools, but when working with clients I often get the distinct impression that many people have invested far more time into trying to get into a school than they did in figuring out if they should go in the first place.

In my old job as a university professor, students would often come to me for letters of recommendation for graduate or professional school (med, law, business, etc.). Whenever they did, I saw it as my job to try to talk them out of it. This isn’t necessarily because I didn’t want them to go -indeed, for many people it’s the right move- but because I wanted to make sure they were going for the right reasons. Going to graduate school if you’re not passionate about the material will probably lead to you dropping out, and starting medical or law school if you’re not 100% committed could mean taking on massive amounts of debt that lock you into a professional track you despise.

So, when these bright-eyed youngsters came to me seeking affirmation, I did my best to show them the hard road ahead. I’d ask them all sorts of important questions that they probably hadn’t asked themselves. For aspiring doctors, I’d talk about debt and the fact that, once you start down the path of medicine, it’s almost impossible to get off: four years of medical school, at least two years of residency (and up to 7), and maybe a decade in which you’ll have to stay within the profession to pay off your loans.

For people thinking about graduate schools, I would ask why they want to get a graduate degree. The most common response I got was, “because I like the subject.” That’s a good start, but it’s not nearly enough. First, for all kinds of graduate degrees you need to have a clear conception of how it moves you closer to your professional goals. What job do you want to get right out of graduate school? Why is that the job for you? If you don’t know the answer to that question, delay graduate school until you know.

For folks who are seeking to pursue doctoral work with the idea of entering academia, the job question is an even more pressing one, since even very high-performing newly minted PhDs from elite programs struggle to get jobs. Almost none get tenure-track positions. What’s your plan if you’re among the substantial majority of PhDs who can’t get a fulltime position? More to the point, what’s the question that you will enter graduate school wanting to answer? If you’re doing doctoral research, “I like the subject” isn’t nearly specific enough to sustain the immense effort needed to get you through the slog that Pierznik is talking about here.

As a professor, my fear was that bright students who did not know clearly and passionately what they wanted to do were just using graduate school as a fallback. In law school and in graduate school, I saw so many people who fell into this category, and in every instance they were miserable, and most did not graduate.

So, if you’re not sure about graduate school, take a year off. Travel. Get a crummy job. Try things. And, if you do go to graduate school and recognize that it isn’t for you, take Pierznik’s advice and jump ship while you still can.

On the other hand, if you’ve done your homework, gone through a rigorous process of introspection, and still feel committed to this path, then let’s get to work!

The author is the founder and CEO of Gurufi.com and FourthWrite.com, two educational consultancies dedicated to helping students get into the graduate schools of their dreams. For questions about your graduate school application, you can email the author at fobi@fourthwrite.com

If you have a draft personal statement, get it revised by our team of experienced Ivy League educated consultants at Gurufi.com. If you need more comprehensive assistance developing, outlining, drafting, and refining your text, check us out at FourthWrite.com!

A Template for Contacting Professors at Target Schools

I have mentioned the importance of contacting potential professors at the schools to which you are applying. It’s vital that you both contact particular professors with whom you might want to work and mention them in your Personal Statement. Today I will say a bit more about what to write in your introductory email. Here are four guidelines for your email to the professors:

1. Keep it short. Aim for about 150 words. If your email is too long, it likely won’t be read. After all, when is the last time you read a long email from a complete stranger asking you for something? Get right to the point and save deeper and lengthier communications for future interactions.

2. Why them? You should say briefly why you have contacted them. Ideally, this would link their intellectual / research interests to yours. If you can point to particular articles or books that you found interesting, then do so. (if you do, and you end up meeting, you should probably familiarize yourself with that book before your meeting!) A little flattery goes a long way. The agony of being in academia is that you can spend years researching arcane topics that few people understand, so having someone tell you that they read your stuff and found it useful is really nice. Of course, don’t lay it on too thick. Nobody likes a phony.

3. Have an ask. In your email, you should state directly what you hope will happen. If you can go to their campus, then meeting up with the professor is a fair thing to ask. Again, make it painless; don’t ask to follow them all day in their lab. Instead, offer to buy them a coffee or “drop by your office for 15 minutes to talk about your research…” If you’re not going to go to the campus, then ask if there’s a time you can talk briefly on the phone. (Again, emphasize briefly, and when you do talk, keep it fairly short)

4. Attach your CV and any relevant documents, such as papers or research you’ve completed.

Here is a sample email that’s about 150 words.

Dear Prof. Joanna Jones,

My name is Sally Smith, and I am presently applying to doctoral programs in American History. As part of my research on the Haymarket Riot, I read your piece in the Journal of American History and found your thesis on the role of anti-immigration violence fascinating. In fact, it informed much of my own thinking about FBI actions in the 1960s.

I am applying to State University this fall, and I would appreciate the opportunity to speak with you about your work and my potential as a graduate student at State University. I will be in Collegetown this October and could stop by your office or we could chat over coffee. If that timing doesn’t work, I could also do a brief telephone call.

I have attached my CV and the aforementioned research on FBI actions in the 1960s. Thank you for your time.

Regards,

Sally Smith

Note that this isn’t especially fancy or long. A few additional notes:

-If, after a week, you don’t get a response, you can send a polite follow-up. After that, assume that it’s a ‘no.’

-If you do meet, be sure to send a thank-you note afterwards. Ideally, this would a short hand-written thank-you card, but it should at least be an email.

-Show up prepared with both knowledge of their subject, what you’re looking for in graduate school. As with all interviews, have several questions to ask. Even if you feel like you know what you need to, the correct response to, “do you have any questions?” is never “nope, I’m good.” Do your research and have a few substantive things to discuss either about their work or the graduate program.