The Role of Authenticity In Personal Statements

Colorful cartoon of a young Caucasian male and an Asian female MBA applicants seated at a cafe table, surrounded by open laptops and scattered papers. They are deep in conversation, brainstorming about their personal statements, with other cafe patrons visible in the background. The setting is lively and focused, ideal for depicting the strategic planning of MBA applications.
MBA AdComs consider a host of factors, but authenticity always rings true

Striking a Balance Between Authenticity and Cynicism

         In my eighteen years of helping people earn admission into their dream schools, two kinds of applicants are quite common. The first type sees their application as merely a means to an end. They want to know what the admissions committee wants, and they’ll then try to shoehorn their life into that mold. The second type treasures pure authenticity, and insists on featuring the most important moments of their lives in their personal statements, even if they’re not quite relevant.

         Neither of these approaches are quite right; the first is too cynical and the second focuses so much on “authenticity” that it forgets its purpose. The correct path is one that splits the difference, and this is what makes crafting a perfect personal statement so perplexing and difficult. On one hand, there’s a compelling need to present oneself in a way that resonates with the Admissions Committees (AdComs). On the other, there’s the inherent desire to remain authentic to one’s true self. With that in mind, how can you blend sincerity with strategic insight to unlock the gates to top-tier business schools?

 

Every Kind of Writing Has a Purpose

Let’s start with a fundamental truth: every kind of writing serves a specific purpose. The personal statement is one of the strangest kinds of writing in that it’s a blend of memoir, CV, and interview. For MBA application essays, the purpose is unequivocally to earn admission—not to bare your soul as you might on a dating app. Understanding this is pivotal. Your personal statement must be meticulously tailored to reflect the qualities, accomplishments, and experiences that AdComs value in prospective students… but not do so in a way that feels obviously manufactured. It’s about highlighting aspects of your life that align with the school’s ethos and expectations.

However, this does not mean fabricating stories or presenting an exaggerated version of yourself. The art lies in selecting genuine experiences from your life that best demonstrate these values. This approach ensures that your essay remains grounded in reality while strategically showcasing your compatibility with the school’s culture and objectives.

Okay… so HOW?

 

The Utility of Authenticity

Let’s begin by talking about authenticity within the context of a personal statement. Why is it crucial, especially when you’re consciously tailoring your essay? In short, authentic essays are better essays. Authenticity brings a certain richness to your writing. It makes your stories believable and relatable. An authentic essay does not feel forced; it flows naturally and engages the reader by weaving narratives that are both compelling and true to who you are.

This might sound like a contradiction—being authentic while also being strategic. However, think of authenticity in this context as being purpose-driven. You’re not just recounting your experiences; you’re strategically selecting stories that authentically illustrate your values and attributes that align with the school’s profile.

 

Two Keys to Balancing Authenticity and Strategy

 

  1. Align Your Stories with Core Values

Begin by identifying 3-5 core values or attributes that your target school holds in high esteem. These can be gleaned from the school’s website, promotional materials, and by engaging with alumni and current students. Note the words and ideas that they repeat often or that they lead with. Once you have this list of values, brainstorm real-life stories from your own experiences that reflect these qualities.

For instance, if leadership is a recurrent theme in the school’s ethos, reflect on instances where you demonstrated leadership. Perhaps you led a project at work that turned around an underperforming department, or maybe you spearheaded a volunteer initiative that made a significant impact. These stories are effective not just because they show you possess desirable traits, but because they are rooted in your real experiences, lending credibility and authenticity to your narrative.

 

  1. Don’t Overestimate the AdComs

A common mistake applicants make is overestimating the AdComs. It’s easy to imagine them as omniscient judges capable of seeing through any embellishment or strategic positioning in your essay. While it’s true that AdComs are adept at evaluating applications, they are not infallible. They are looking for well-crafted essays that are honest, forward-looking (that connect your intended past in a realistic way with what you’ve done and hope to learn in their school), and reflective of the candidate’s true potential and fit with the school.

As long as your essay is grounded in real stories that illustrate your claims, you shouldn’t worry too much about AdComs seeing through your strategy. The key is to be honest and thoughtful in your writing, ensuring that it is both reflective of your genuine self and strategically aligned with the school’s values.

 

Embrace Your Multifaceted Self

Remember: truthfulness is non-negotiable. When I tell you to be strategic, I AM NOT encouraging you to be in any way dishonest. An excellent essay is an ethical essay, and even if you don’t believe in ethics (which… wow, shame on you!) understand that there are many negative consequences to dishonesty, not least that your essay will often feel phony.

However, recognizing that every person embodies multiple facets of themselves is crucial. In your MBA application essay, you are simply choosing to highlight those aspects of your personality and experience that resonate most powerfully with the AdComs. This doesn’t mean you are being insincere; rather, you are showcasing the parts of your identity that best align with the academic and cultural milieu of the school you aspire to join.

Crafting an MBA application essay is a balancing act of authenticity, cynicism, and strategy. By aunderstanding the purpose of your writing, staying true to your stories, and strategically aligning them with the values of your target program, you can create a compelling narrative that is both sincere and persuasive. Remember, the goal is not just to tell a story, but to tell your story in a way that aligns with the expectations and values of the AdComs, opening the door to the next big step in your career and personal development.

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.

Dos and Don’ts of Graduate School Applications

Colorful cartoon of a hopeful graduate school applicant at a desk, surrounded by thought bubbles depicting their journey, meeting with professors, library research, future career aspirations, considerations of finances, and overall happiness
Embark on your graduate school journey with clarity and purpose. This vibrant cartoon captures the essential steps and considerations every prospective student should think about.

         After nearly 20 years of helping people get into the graduate schools of their dreams, I have a clear sense of what works and doesn’t. Since most graduate programs open their admissions portals in the fall, if you’re reading this now (end of April), that means you’re likely at the very start of your journey to graduate school, so here are some tips.

         For many people, graduate school is the final step before embarking on a lifelong career. As a result, choosing the correct graduate school should be something you take very seriously. Keep these dos and don’ts in mind as you begin your search to help you make the right choice:

DO start your search early. Finding the right graduate school takes time and consideration. You’ll want to know the program you’ll be pursuing, the curriculum track that interests you the most, and the type of options each school has available.

DON’T choose a school based on name or ranking alone. The further along you get in your career, the more you’ll realize that if you’re not getting the education and guidance you actually need for success in your career, the name won’t make a difference. And five years after you graduate, nobody will care where you went. They’ll only care what you know how to do.

DO visit the schools in which you’re interested. Walk the campus, talk to professors, talk to the career placement office, and talk to current graduate students. Often LinkedIn can be an excellent way to connect with current and former students to ask them a few questions. Find out the types of jobs students are taking after graduating, see how invested the professors seem in their students’ futures, and test the responsiveness of the career services office to see if they’ll be an asset or a hindrance.

DON’T limit your choices too much. It’s important to cast a wide net when applying to schools. Especially at the start of the process. In addition to the schools that seem like perfect fits, pick a safety school or two just in case, as well as one or two schools that may seem completely out of reach given your scores and accomplishments.

DO research your desired industry. Find out what factors they consider when they hire out of school. What makes someone a good candidate for employment? What do they value, and what do they scoff at? Figuring it out from the perspective of your ultimate career will help you home in on a school that is right for you.

DON’T blitz apply to every program out there. While this seems like it might be a good solution, not only is it financially irresponsible, it’s also likely to hurt your chances. Instead of having the time to focus on perfecting the application and personalizing the essays for 4-6 schools, you’ll be pressed for time and likely to submit sub-par applications across the board. Remember, your personal statement for each respective school will need a fair amount of customization, which entails research, outlining, writing, and revising, so don’t overburden yourself to the point that you cannot complete all your applications in a way that makes your candidacy shine.

While the rank and reputation of a graduate school seem like the only reason to choose it, experts in every field will tell you that you’ll experience more success in life and your career if you choose a program that actually fits your needs. Make the effort to do your research and you’ll be rewarded in the long term.

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.

Storytelling Mistakes on Your Personal Statement (and how to avoid them!)

Cartoon of a young South Asian man, animatedly telling a story to a captivated, diverse audience in a modern conference room. He is dressed in a smart business suit, gesturing with his hands as he speaks. The audience, consisting of various ethnicities and genders, shows expressions of engagement—some are leaning forward, others are laughing, and a few are clapping. A projector screen displaying a presentation is visible in the background, adding to the lively atmosphere of the interaction.
Understanding how to tell your story is key to success!

In nearly 20 years of helping people get into their dream schools, I’ve made a point of working with clients to create essays that are both engaging and substantive. This balance is the key to a great essay for graduate or professional school. But, somewhere along the line, people got it in their heads that the only purpose of a personal statement was to let the reader get to know them. This is a mistake.

Over and over, I will read a personal statement for medical school or law school in which the author will tell a story that is highly personal to them, but in which they fail to link that story to their application’s core strengths and themes. When I try to explain that they need to focus on things germane to their application, they will tell me that they want to let the reader know who they are, as if this is a sufficient explanation for a medical school essay that focuses almost exclusively on their love of triathlons or a law school essay that does not ever use the word “law.”

Why does this happen?  Essentially, it happens because people get so fixated on writing an *interesting* essay that makes the applicant sound *unique.*  I hear these words –interesting and unique- all the time, and while they are important goals, and they will help an essay if used properly, they are a means to an end and not the end itself.  The end, the purpose, and your primary motivation in a personal statement are simple: convince the reader that you are prepared and qualified for admission.

Given this, as you write your personal statement, you should keep in mind a simple and well-worn maxim that every salesman has heard a million times: Always Be Closing (ABC).  In other words, at every point in the essay, you need to keep in mind whether or not what you are saying is moving the reader closer to believing that you have the requisite knowledge, experience, and understanding of the field you hope to enter.

For every story, for every paragraph, and for every sentence, you do need to ask yourself, “What does this say about the strength of my candidacy?”  If the best that you can come up with that it says something interesting or unique about you, it doesn’t pass the ABC test.  On the other hand, if it shows that you have an important and germane skill or perspective, then it passes the ABC test.

Now, what I am NOT saying is to be boring or rote, or to provide a straightforward rendering of your CV in essay form. If there is some aspect of your personality that is meaningful to you, then take the extra time to think about how it aligns with your application. For instance, if you’re a triathlete applying to medical school, can you create an overarching frame or metaphor and use the three phases of a triathlon to discuss the three pillars of your preparation for medical school? Or perhaps you’ve learned things from preparation and training that are germane? Did the discipline you found in the pool, track, and open road give you a framework for thinking about challenges? In other words, a great story is wonderful… so long as you connect it to what you’re doing and who you aspire to become.

The story is your way in, but it’s not the sale. Make them interested, then make the sale. Always be closing.

For more tips on how to build a story that moves the reader AND improves your application, check out these two videos we did:

And

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.

What is a Frankenstein Essay, and Why Will It Destroy Your Application?

Cartoon of Frankenstein sitting at a desk, writing a personal statement with a quill, portraying a humorous juxtaposition of a monstrous figure engaged in a scholarly task
Avoid turning your personal statement into a ‘Frankenstein essay’. Even Frankenstein knows the importance of thoughtful, careful editing!

After nearly 20 years of reading, assessing, revising, and consulting on personal statements, I have seen every variety of mistake an applicant can make. More importantly for you, though, is that I am pretty good at identifying the upstream source of the problem and providing guidance on how to fix it. One of the most common mistakes might seem counterintuitive: the author sought too much help… or at least too much of the wrong kind!

Once you’ve finished your personal statement, you may feel a little apprehensive about what you have written, and as such it is only reasonable to seek out second and third opinions to make sure that you have overlooked nothing, the prose is tight, and you have made a compelling case for your candidacy.  But, just as an excellent revision and editing can make an average essay excellent, bad editing can wreck an essay.  On such occasions, one is smart to heed the old aphorism that ‘too many cooks spoil the broth.’

Once you have completed your first draft, you need to think carefully about how you go about using advice from other people.  Here are six pointers for how to get the best advice in order to turn your draft into an excellent final version you are proud of and happy with.

1.)  Be careful about who you pick.

Obviously, you want to get advice from someone who writes well, can be frank with you, and has some understanding of the field to which you are applying.  If you choose to get advice from a boyfriend or your mother, for example, then be careful because they might give you an overly glowing review because of their esteem and love for you or may lack the qualifications to point out minor problems with your approach.  Similarly, asking your English major friend to look at your Engineering graduate school essay is not a bad idea, but if you go that route, also have someone involved in Engineering (preferably in an academic capacity) is a good idea.

Good people to talk to are your academic advisor (if you are applying to graduate or professional schools) or guidance counselor (if you are applying to college).  I know that many people will take their essays to message boards and post them to see what people think of it.  The problem here is that you have no real way to gauge someone’s level of expertise and you may get too much feedback from too many sources.

Which leads us to point #2…

  1. Don’t give it to too many people.

If you get critiques on your essay from 8-9 different people and you incorporate all of their suggestions, you will be pulled in too many directions and the essay will lose its sense of voice and focus.  The old joke that a camel is a horse designed by committee applies here.  Your essay cannot be everything to everyone, and you have to accept this fact.  There will always be something that someone would have done differently, so they will often naturally advise you that you should do something different than what you are doing.

  1. Ask follow-up questions

Whenever someone suggests a change, don’t be afraid to ask them about it.  Sometimes you will agree with their rationale, but disagree with the execution of the change.  Also, through a conversation people will often help you see larger problems that you may have missed.  People are often hesitant to give tough advice, and a friendly conversation can help you to avoid this problem because by talking to someone, the person will see that you are serious about valuing their advice.

  1. Don’t be afraid to ignore advice.

At the end of the day, this is *your* personal statement, and *your* future depends on how well you execute it.  When someone suggests changes, consider their level of expertise, think about it carefully and if you disagree, then don’t do it.  Not every piece of advice given is good; often, you will receive terrible advice.

The final decision is yours, so take your role as the gatekeeper of advice seriously, and only let the best suggestions that work well with your theme, tone, approach and goal through.

  1. BUT, try to avoid pride of authorship

In my capacity as an admissions essay consultant, I often encounter customers who are furious when I tell them that they have things that they need to work on.  It is almost as if they paid me $200 for me to tell them that their work was perfect, and they should not change a single letter.

Because a personal statement is so, well, personal, it can sometimes sting when someone gives you some pointed advice.  Try to see the bigger picture and embrace the process that will help you to move towards a better and stronger essay.  Do your best not to see a critique of your essay as a criticism of you as a person, and rather see it as a positive moment that moves you one step closer to your goal.

  1. Consider using an essay editing service

They can be a bit expensive, but in the end, it makes sense to spend a hundred dollars to give yourself a better chance of getting into the graduate program of your dreams. Getting into a top school, as opposed to an average one, is worth investing in, especially when the cost is less than a pair of fancy Nikes or a new purse.

Some things to consider:

-Make sure that they guarantee your satisfaction.

-Ask if they will work with you beyond just receiving a single revision back from you.  Often, it will take 2-3 exchanges with your editor to completely understand what you want to say, how you want to say it, and what core message you want to convey.

At Gurufi, we don’t put a cap on the number of revisions you get, and we’re not happy until you are. That’s why we get such consistently excellent reviews!

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.

Can You Use a Personal Statement for Multiple Applications?

A vibrant illustration depicts a man in a sweater, cheerfully popping out from an oversized green recycling bin brimming with papers, in a whimsically messy office. The bin is humorously adorned with a 'RECYCLE' emblem, emphasizing the theme of reusing. Papers flutter through the air, mimicking the man's buoyant spirit towards the concept of repurposing content. The chaotic desk, cluttered with documents and a computer displaying a text document, signifies the multitasking involved in tailoring personal statements for various applications. The room is adorned with academic certificates, hinting at the academic nature of the applications, while a night sky visible through the window implies dedication to the task, regardless of the hour.
Mastering the Art of Essay Recycling: A Clever Approach to Tailoring Your MBA Applications

As the flowers bloom and spring arrives, many of you are planning your MBA applications. One of the most common questions I get as an MBA personal statement consultant is whether and how to reuse personal statements.

Indeed, applying to business schools is a time-consuming process, often involving multiple application essays to multiple programs. With each institution looking for specific traits and experiences in candidates, it’s imperative to craft applications that resonate with each program’s unique ethos. As such, it’s vital that you take a thoughtful approach to reusing parts of or entire essays for multiple applications. This blog post will delve into strategies to efficiently manage and tailor your MBA applications, ensuring your efforts are both effective and coherent.

If you’re more of a video learner, check out this presentation we did for GMATClub. It also includes an example of how to use a Stanford GSB MBA application essay for Duke Fuqua. Gurufi has nearly 15 years of experience helping applicants get into top programs. We focus exclusively on personal statements, CVs, and other written aspects of your application, so we deliver excellent products at affordable price points (see our perfect rating on GMATClub!).

Understanding the Landscape

Most MBA applicants apply to 6-8 programs. Given the fact that most applicants are also working professionals, this can constitute a real time commitment. As such, it’s important to apply in a manner that produces excellent results while not wasting time. The approach we outline here not only improves your chances of acceptance but also allows you to target a range of schools that align with their professional goals and personal values. In other words, we seek to achieve maximum results in the most efficient way possible.

 

The Golden Rules of Application Management

 

  1. Individualized Approach

The cornerstone of a successful application strategy is treating each application as a standalone project. This means deeply understanding what each school values, how you align with these values, and how the program fits into your career trajectory. This tailored approach ensures that your applications are not only relevant but also compelling to each respective admissions committee.

  1. Avoiding the Shoehorn Trap

A common pitfall in application management is attempting to force-fit an essay or personal statement crafted for one school into another’s application. While this might seem like a time-saver, incongruent essays can dilute your message and reduce the impact of your application.

  1. The Art of Repurposing

Efficiency doesn’t have to come at the cost of personalization. Repurposing content across applications is a practical strategy, provided it’s done judiciously. Identifying universal themes in your story that resonate with multiple programs can allow you to reuse content without compromising the bespoke nature of each application.

 

Practical Steps to Application Mastery

Deep Dives and Brainstorms

Brainstorming is the most important aspect of personal statement writing that most people ignore. There are many ways to do it, but however you do, DO NOT SKIP this step. Begin your application journey with a thorough research phase for each program, focusing on its unique characteristics and values. This phase is crucial for tailoring your application narratives to echo what each school holds in high regard. Also be sure to consider how you fit within the program and what you hope to accomplish.

Crafting and Refining

Start with a comprehensive draft for your first application, focusing on creating a compelling narrative that reflects your aspirations, achievements, and the impact you wish to make. This initial effort lays a solid foundation, making subsequent applications easier to manage.

Strategic Borrowing

With a robust initial essay, you can strategically borrow elements for other applications. This doesn’t mean copying and pasting entire sections without thought. Instead, adapt and tweak these elements to fit the new context, ensuring they align with the next school’s specific prompts and values.

 

A Symphony of Applications

Managing multiple MBA applications is akin to conducting a symphony—each piece must be played with precision and care, yet all must harmonize to create a compelling overall narrative. By understanding each program’s unique requirements, maintaining authenticity in your narratives, and strategically repurposing content where appropriate, you can navigate the application process with confidence and efficiency.

Embarking on this journey with a clear strategy and an open mind can transform the daunting task of application management into an opportunity to deeply reflect on your goals, values, and the impact you wish to make through your MBA journey.

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.

The Importance of Strong Writing in STEM Grad School Applications

Scientist in a dimly lit lab, surrounded by scientific instruments, deeply focused and slightly frustrated while writing on a piece of paper, with notes and open books around, symbolizing the challenges of research and discovery.
Strong Writing is Vital for Science and Engineering Grad School Applications

         At Gurufi, we help hundreds of applicants every year get into top Masters and PhD programs. If you’re applying to a STEM program, we have editor-consultants with the experience and skill to transform your personal statement or statement of purpose into a powerful piece of writing!

Many applicants for graduate programs in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) assume that, since they’re applying to a technical field, their personal statement or statement of purpose doesn’t have to be well-written. This is a huge mistake. Applying to any graduate program is a rigorous and competitive endeavor, requiring candidates to demonstrate not only their technical expertise in their particular field but also their ability to communicate complex ideas effectively. The blunt truth is that scientists do care about writing, and even if they profess not to, a well-written essay will always impress the reader more than a poorly-written one.

Debunking the Myth: Writing in Science Matters

There’s a prevailing misconception that in the world of STEM, the quality of writing is not as critical as in the humanities or social sciences. This could not be further from the truth. In reality, scientists and academics place a high value on writing skills. Effective communication is essential for the dissemination of research findings, the acquisition of funding, and for engaging with a broader audience. Studies have shown that well-written research papers have a higher impact and are cited more frequently, underscoring the practical benefits of strong writing in the scientific community. Moreover, though “hard evidence” does play a more significant role in STEM than in social sciences or humanities, it remains the case that effective researchers must possess the ability to explain their data, make a case for its importance, and muster an argument that their perspective is more compelling than its rivals. And while scientists may place more emphasis on hard evidence, they aren’t robots, and they do care about, and are swayed by, strong and clear writing.

The Unique Nature of Science Writing

While it shares the foundational principles of good writing found in other disciplines, science writing has its own set of standards. It emphasizes clarity, simplicity, and precision. Unlike writing for the humanities, where there might be a greater allowance for flowery language or abstract ideas, science writing demands strict adherence to what can be empirically proven and clearly communicated. This is crucial in a graduate application application, as candidates must demonstrate their ability to present complex ideas in an accessible and unambiguous manner

Persuasion Through Strong Writing

The ability to persuade and impress through writing is indispensable in any field, including STEM. A grad school application is not merely a showcase of past accomplishments or a recitation of technical skills (that’s what the CV is for); it is an opportunity to persuade the admissions committee that the candidate possesses the intellectual curiosity, the clarity of thought, and the research potential that are essential for a successful doctoral journey. Frankly, there’s no better way to demonstrate the rigor and clarity of your thinking than through a well-crafted essay. Strong writing in a grad school application can set a candidate apart in a pool of similarly qualified applicants.

Striking the Right Balance: Jargon and Accessibility

One of the most challenging aspects of writing in STEM fields is finding the right balance between using discipline-specific terminology and maintaining accessibility. Applicants must show they are conversant with the technical language of their field while ensuring that their ideas are not obfuscated by jargon. This balance is a clear indicator of a candidate’s ability to think critically and communicate effectively. A good rule of thumb is to follow the Hemingway Rules for Writing: if a simple word or sentence will do, use it. Sometimes, one cannot convey complex technical research in lay language; obviously, it’s okay to use jargon in such instances. But use it sparingly, thoughtfully, and precisely. You certainly want to ensure you’re deploying the words properly, as using jargon incorrectly is a good way to flag yourself as a novice.

Demonstrating Expertise and Vision through Writing

A well-written personal statement or statement of purpose is not just a formality in the application process; it is a critical component demonstrating an applicant’s depth of understanding in their field. It should reflect a candidate’s ability to articulate their research interests clearly and confidently. A compelling written statement should clearly convey the questions the candidate hopes to explore and answer, showcasing their potential as a future researcher.

Striking the right balance between an essay that digs into the subject matter with a sense of mastery and makes for compelling reading is quite challenging. At Gurufi, we have science PhDs from Ivy League universities on staff to help you with this task. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience assisting clients to get into top Master’s and Ph.D. programs in STEM. 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.

Bibliography

  • Smith, J. (2018). “The Importance of Writing in Scientific Research.” Journal of Science Communication.
  • Johnson, L. (2019). “Effective Communication in STEM Fields.” Academic Writing Journal.
  • Williams, R. & Thompson, P. (2020). “Clarity and Precision: Key Features of Scientific Writing.” Science and Education.
  • Davis, M. (2017). “Science Writing: Beyond Jargon.” Research Communication Today.
  • Patel, N. (2016). “The Role of Writing in STEM Disciplines.” STEM Education Review.
  • Zhang, Y. (2015). “Writing for Impact in Scientific Publications.” Journal of Research Communication.
  • Roberts, T. (2018). “Balancing Technical Language and Accessibility in Science Writing.” Science Writer’s Handbook.
  • Garcia, L. (2020). “Persuasion in Scientific Writing: A Study.” International Journal of Science Education.
  • Turner, K. (2019). “The Art of Scientific Writing.” The Scientist’s Guide.
  • Lee, H. (2018). “Communicating Complex Ideas in STEM.” Advanced Communication in STEM.
  • Kumar, R. (2017). “Effective Writing for Science and Engineering Students.” Journal of STEM Education.
  • Morgan, S. (2019). “The Power of Persuasion: Writing in STEM Fields.” The Science Educator.
  • Wilson, P. (2020). “Technical Writing in STEM: A Critical Skill.” Technology and Innovation Journal.

Expert Tips for Choosing the Right Program After Admission Success!

Cartoon of a pensive MBA applicant with three thought bubbles overhead, each labeled with the names of top business schools: 'Harvard Business School,' 'Columbia Business School,' and 'Wharton.' The applicant appears slightly stressed, symbolizing the challenging decision-making process involved in choosing among prestigious MBA programs.
In the world of elite education, choosing the right MBA program can be as challenging as getting in. This cartoon captures the dilemma faced by applicants who must decide between two or more great options.

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 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?

To be clear, it’s a champagne problem! And, to be honest, it’s a problem that we love to dump on our clients’ laps!  As we say at Gurufi, “there’s no crying on the yacht… but it’s okay to worry a bit…”

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 graduate school experience as something that they should just endure or merely Not your preferred location? Well… it’s only a few 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?” Don’t be afraid to try something new, but listen to what your gut says and ask yourself “could I thrive here?”

  1. Once again, look into the academics and how well they align with your goals. Especially if you’re trying to decide between comparable programs, take the time to do another “final check,” perhaps even more in-depth than when choosing whether to apply. 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. Contact current students and ask them what they love and what they wish they could change. Write down what you think your two years of coursework, training, resources, and extracurriculars would look like.

  1. Okay, fine… take into account the school’s reputation and ranking. I am a HUGE believer in the idea 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 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 medical, law, and graduate 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.

Should I Write a Different Personal Statement for Every Graduate School I Apply To?

Graduate school applicant

Every year, Gurufi editors help hundreds of applicants produce personal statements that get them into elite programs in STEM, humanities, social sciences, and the arts. All of our consultant-editors have PhDs from Ivy League / Oxford / Cambridge and we can link you with an editor whose background aligns with your intended field.

 

         Applying to graduate school is a ton of work. GRE, letters of recommendation, revising work samples, and personal statements… Moreover, people rarely apply to just one school; when I applied, I applied to a dozen. The fear people have is that this requires them to write a dozen Personal Statements. So, can you repurpose your essays, or do you need to create a unique essay for each application?

         The answer to both questions is “yes.”

         If you’re confused, let me explain. If you’re applying to a dozen graduate schools, the easiest process is to begin with a template essay that you can repurpose for all of your applications. You then take that template and customize it for each of the schools you’re applying to. The most straightforward method is the two-thirds / one-third method where you write the first two thirds of the essay in a way that can be used for all applications. And then, you write a custom final two paragraphs for each particular school.

         The one obvious caveat is that sometimes (though rarely) Master’s and Ph.D. programs will have their own questions / prompts and you will have to respond to them. In such instances, don’t try to shoehorn in your old text for questions that don’t quite fit. The bad news is that if you want to apply to those schools… it’s gonna take a bit of extra work.  In every other case, you can use the two-thirds / one-third method.

The Foundation: A Template Essay (The First Two-Thirds)

The initial step in crafting your personal statement is to develop a robust template. This template serves as a base for all your applications, ensuring consistency in presenting your background and motivations. The first two-thirds of this template should focus on two key areas:

 

  1. Your Background

Your background forms the cornerstone of your personal statement. It’s essential to delve into your educational and professional experiences, highlighting how they have shaped your interest and prepared you for graduate studies. In other words, tell your story in a way that explains “why grad school? Why this subject?” This part of the essay should be a reflective narrative, weaving together your past experiences and achievements to showcase a coherent journey toward your chosen field.

  1. Interest in the Field

The next segment should pivot to how you became interested in your specific area of study. Here, storytelling is paramount. Recount the moments, whether academic, professional, or personal, that sparked your passion for the subject. This section is not just about stating your interest but illustrating it through experiences and insights you’ve gained over time. It should resonate with a sense of genuine curiosity and commitment to the field.

Customization: Tailoring the Final Third

While the first two-thirds of your essay lay the foundational narrative, the final third is where customization comes into play. This tailored segment should address three critical aspects:

 

  1. Your Academic Aspirations

Discuss the specific questions or ideas you wish to explore in graduate school. This section is your opportunity to demonstrate that your goals align with the advanced study and that you have a clear vision for your research or scholarly pursuits. It should reflect a deep understanding of the field and a forward-looking perspective on how you intend to contribute to it.

 

  1. Fit with the School

This part of the essay requires thorough research about each institution you’re applying to. Explain why the school’s resources, areas of emphasis, and overall academic environment are a fit for your goals. Highlight specific aspects of the program, such as unique courses, methodologies, or specializations, that align with your academic interests and future plans.

 

  1. Potential Mentors

Identifying potential professors you hope to work with is a vital aspect of demonstrating your fit with a program. Mention faculty members whose research interests align with yours and articulate how their mentorship could help you achieve your academic and professional objectives. This not only shows that you have done your homework but also that you are proactive about your graduate school journey.

 

A final note:

Don’t be too hung up on the 2/3 and 1/3 length breakdowns. That’s a rule of thumb. For every applicant, the ratio will be different. If your application really leans into your history and story, then maybe it’s more like a 3:1 ratio instead of a 2:1. On the other hand, if you want to go into the weeks about the academic questions you hope to explore, then a 1:1 or even a 1:2 ratio might be what you produce. My experience, though, is that most people can write the first 2/3 of the essay in a manner that enables them to cover all of the things that aren’t school, program, or future advisor-specific.

 

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 Specific Should You Be In Your Graduate School Personal Statement?

         I recently wrote about how important it is to be specific about your plans for graduate school. Since founding Gurufi in 2006, we have helped several thousand clients get into their top-choice Ph.D. and Master’s programs, including hundreds of people seeking admission into hyper-competitive Ivy League and other top-tier programs. Nonetheless, some people quibble with our belief that your personal statement or statement of purpose need to be as specific as possible about your intellectual, academic, and professional mission. The concern -which I will address specifically in a bit- is that being too specific creates three problems: (1) it can make you seem inflexible or uncurious, (2) it might limit your ability to earn admission into a program if there’s not room for exactly what you study, and (3) if you’re admitted, you don’t want to be anchored to an overly restricted vision of what you hope to study. For reasons all cover, all three of these are misguided concerns.

         But first, I want to explain why it’s vital to be specific and clear about what you hope to study in graduate school. When applying for a PhD program, the personal statement and statement of purpose are crucial elements (note not every school requires both), more so than in any other academic application. At this advanced level of study, specificity in outlining one’s intellectual interests is not just recommended; it’s imperative. This precision serves several key purposes, each vital to both the applicant and the program.

Ensuring the Right Fit

First and foremost, specificity helps ensure that you, as an applicant, are a good fit for the program. When you’re looking for the right undergraduate institution, the university’s overall rankings are often what people emphasize. But for graduate studies, the department, advisor, or lab are far more important than the overall university. A mid-level state university will often have several elite programs that are better than their equivalents at Harvard and Yale, for instance. But, every lab, advisor, and to a certain extend department, is usually more narrowly focused, so you need to demonstrate that what you want to study fits within what they do. If, for instance, you want to study social and feminist history, you want to find a department that has that strength AND explain in detail your thoughts on that discipline so that it’s clear you’d fit in.

PhD studies are not just about acquiring knowledge; they are about pushing the boundaries of what is known. This journey is profoundly personal and intensely specialized. By clearly articulating your specific interests, you demonstrate an understanding of the program’s scope and how your aspirations align with it. A well-defined area of interest indicates that you have thought deeply about your academic and research path, which is a strong indicator of your readiness for the rigors of a PhD program.

 

Demonstrating Mastery and Preparedness

A detailed exposition of your intellectual pursuits in your personal statement serves as a testament to your mastery of the field. It shows that you are not merely a passive recipient of information but an active, engaged thinker capable of contributing original ideas. You know the right questions to ask, have a sense of what the key debates are within a field, and maybe even have some ideas for important directions that the field can go. This depth of understanding is crucial for a PhD candidate. By showcasing your well-defined research interests, you illustrate your preparedness for the advanced study and your potential as a future scholar in your field.

 

Aligning with Program Resources and Opportunities

Specificity in your intellectual interests helps the program assess if they have the necessary resources and opportunities to support your research ambitions. PhD programs are often tailored to the strengths and expertise of their faculty and facilities. By being clear about your research focus, you enable the admissions committee to evaluate whether their program can provide the mentorship, resources, and intellectual environment you need. This alignment is beneficial for both parties: you gain access to tailored support and guidance, and the program invests in a candidate who can fully utilize what they offer.

 

So if these are the reasons to be specific, what’s the argument for avoiding being too specific… and why are they ultimately misguided?

 

  • Concern: if I am too specific, it will limit my chances at admission because I will really only be applying to work with a few professors or in a few labs, as opposed to being eligible for all of them.

Why it’s wrong: a well-conducted graduate admissions cycle begins with research and outreach. Talk to professors (via email at first) within the program whose interests jive with yours. They will often give you a sense of whether they’re taking students or whether they, or somebody else, might be a good fit for you. If you do this you’ll maximize your chances.

By contrast, if your strategy is that you’re just a “generally good candidate,” that’s not really what most Ph.D. programs are looking for. Rather than being attractive to everyone… you’ll be seen more as an orphan without an intellectual home. After all, a key question that grad schools ask themselves during the admissions cycle is, “under whom will Jane study? Where does she fit in?” If that’s not clear, they won’t just bring you in and hope for the best… you’ll be rejected.

  • Concern: if I am too specific in my Personal Statement / SOP, I’ll appear too rigid, dogmatic, or incurious.

Why it’s wrong: Specificity does not equate to inflexibility. In your personal statement, you can balance specificity with openness by exploring various angles and methodologies related to your interest. This approach shows a readiness to engage with different perspectives and adapt your research as it evolves.

For instance let’s say that you’re interested in studying 19th century American politics, and you specifically want to study under Prof. Jones because you agree with his formulation of that period. You explain your ideas and how Jones could help you. You can mitigate the concerns over being too rigid by adding a few sentences that it clear just how expansive your thinking is. Like so: “Though I believe X to be true, I am keen to have this perspective challenged and complicated. For instance, Prof. Danforth’s work suggesting that foreign policy played a large role and Prof. Shah’s recent book exploring how tensions between feminism and racial discourge accelerated America’s path to war are ideas that I must contend with in my thesis. Thus, it would be a genuine pleasure and benefit to learn under these professors as well…”

         This approach allows you to use specificity to demonstrate proficiency, AND also use your broader understanding of the field to suggest ways that you are open to broader thinking. Indeed, acknowledging other faculty members whose expertise complements or broadens your proposed study area can add depth to your application. It demonstrates an understanding of the broader academic community and an eagerness to collaborate, enriching the complexity and scope of your research.

  • Concern: If I am overly specific in my Personal Statement / SOP, once I get there I might be stuck studying something I am not terribly excited about.
  • Why it’s not a problem: This one is easy. Nobody studies exactly what they say they intend to study. Okay… maybe some people do, but most don’t. As such, there is no great difficulty in making tweaks to your intellectual journey on the fly (assuming it’s still within the same field! You can’t switch from history to chemistry or something like that!).

As this shows, specificity in your writing is mostly an opportunity to show that you know enough about the subject to suggest courses of inquiry, ask interesting questions, and know a bit about what you don’t know. You’re not forever married to the ideas you express, and nobody expects you to be.

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.

Statement of Purpose vs. Personal Statement

graduate student writing personal statement
how is a statement of purpose and personal statement different?

 

         Most graduate programs require only a personal statement, but many (particularly, some of the BigTen schools) require both a personal statement AND a statement of purpose. Many applicants can find the distinction confusing, so we’re here to clear that up.

For the last 17 years, the consultants and editors at Gurufi have helped applicants earn admission into a variety of STEM, humanities, social sciences, and arts Master’s and Ph.D. programs. We are quite familiar with these kinds of finder distinctions and can help you build either (or both) a compelling personal statement or a strong statement of purpose. Although these two essays may seem similar at first glance, they serve distinct functions and require different approaches.

Statement of Purpose

Purpose and Focus

The Statement of Purpose is primarily focused on an applicant’s academic and professional aspirations. It is a forward-looking document that outlines the applicant’s research background, career goals, and how a specific graduate program aligns with these goals. A strong SOP should explain why the applicant is interested in a particular field of study and how they plan to use their graduate education to advance in that field.

Content

At the heart of an SOP is the applicant’s research, writing, or other relevant experience and a clear explanation of how this has laid the groundwork for further studies in a particular field. This includes any relevant projects, papers, presentations, or studies the applicant has undertaken. The SOP should provide evidence of the applicant’s ability to undertake graduate-level research and their potential to contribute to the academic community. It should also articulate the applicant’s understanding of the field and how they envision contributing to it.

When working with clients, I will sometimes say, “okay, imagine that it’s 6 years from now, you’ve earned admission and are writing your thesis or dissertation. In 75 words or less, what is your thesis?” The reason is that it helps if you have a highly specific, clear, and well-tailored (more on this in a second) sense of what you aspire to study. The closer you can get to describing your intended field of study, the better.

Note that some people disagree with this strategy and they worry that this kind of specificity will make them seem either dogmatic or uncurious or limit their opportunities for admission. For reasons I lay out in this video, and will write about tomorrow, these concerns are unfounded. But, the long-story-short version is that there are ways to demonstrate breadth of thinking and curiosity while still using a specific and well-developed vision of your intellectual mission to indicate that you’d arrive to graduate school well-versed and prepared enough in the field to do high-level work.

Tailoring to Specific Programs

A key feature of the SOP is its specificity to each application or school. Applicants must customize their SOP to reflect how their goals and interests align with the particular program’s strengths, faculty expertise, and resources. This customization demonstrates the applicant’s knowledge of and fit for the program. Again, this is a topic that I’ll cover in greater depth later this week, but for now I’ll just note that if you’re applying to multiple schools that require SOPs, you can repurpose MOST of it for multiple schools and you don’t have to write a completely original document for each application.

 

Personal Statement

 

Purpose and Focus

In contrast, the Personal Statement is more narrative, personal, reflective, and introspective. It focuses on the applicant’s background and life experiences, including cultural, geographical, financial, and educational aspects, and how these experiences have shaped their decision to pursue a graduate degree. The Personal Statement is a narrative that provides a more holistic view of the applicant as an individual. If the Statement of Purpose feels more like a hybrid between your CV and a research proposal, then a Personal Statement is more like a story of your intellectual journey.

Content

A PS often includes personal stories or anecdotes that reflect the applicant’s resilience, determination, and motivation. It might describe significant challenges or obstacles the applicant has overcome, such as financial hardships, cultural barriers, or personal adversities. The aim is to provide insight into the applicant’s character, values, and the unique perspective they will bring to the graduate program.

Importantly, these stories should explain or contextualize the reasons for your intellectual interests. The old joke is that “all research is ‘ME search’” so explain why this path resonates with you.

Overcoming Challenges

A significant aspect of the Personal Statement is highlighting how the applicant has navigated and overcome major challenges to achieve their goals. This narrative not only demonstrates resilience but also shows the applicant’s ability to thrive in challenging environments, an important quality in graduate studies.

 

Combination Statements

An important note: most graduate programs require only a personal statement. In that case, most of this advice doesn’t apply. Instead, if you’re sending only a single document, it needs to be a mashup of the two essay types described above. In other words, the applicant needs to weave together their personal narrative with their academic and professional aspirations. This hybrid statement should reflect both the applicant’s personal journey and their specific vision for their future in the context of the graduate program.

 

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.