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.

Crafting a Compelling Work & Activities Section for Your AMCAS Application

A cartoon of a young medical student at a desk, surrounded by tools like a laptop, notepad, and pen. The room is bright and colorful, with symbols of the medical field such as a stethoscope, a heart symbol, and a medical cross. The student is smiling and focused on their work.
Have a plan when writing your Work & Activities Section!

              In my decade+ helping applicants get into their dream medical schools, I have revised probably 500+ Work & Activities sections. I’ve discovered that even applicants who spend weeks, or even months, building and fine-tuning their personal statements will treat the Work & Activities section almost as an afterthought. The drafts they send are rife with grammar errors, and often they assume they don’t even need to write in complete sentences.

              This is a big mistake.

              When you’re filling out your AMCAS Work & Activities section, it’s crucial to put as much thought into it as you would a cover letter or a personal statement. This section is your opportunity to illustrate your experiences, demonstrate your growth, and reflect on how these activities have prepared you for a career in medicine. If the personal statement is a single, deep introduction to who you are and what you value, then the W&A is your opportunity to complement that depth with well-considered breadth. It is a crucial part of your application, and you need to give it serious thought. Yesterday, I wrote about how you can go about selecting your three “Most Significant” activities for mini-essays, but today I want to focus on the other items that you include.

              Here are some strategies to make your Work & Activities section stand out.

Write in Full Sentences

Resist the temptation to use “resume shorthand.” While bullet points and concise phrases might be suitable for a resume, the AMCAS application is not the place for them. People often write in shorthand incomplete sentences because they want to say more, but you’re always better off saying a bit less but saying it much better. Write complete sentences that clearly describe your role, responsibilities, and contributions. This approach helps the reader understand the context of your experiences and the impact you made.

Care About Verb Choice

Choosing the right verbs can transform a simple activity description into a vivid account of your involvement. Powerful verbs like “led,” “developed,” “initiated,” and “collaborated” paint a picture of active engagement and responsibility. Whenever you see a “to be” (am, was, were, is, etc.) think about whether you can replace it with something more vivid and active. By focusing on action-oriented language, you highlight what you did, not just your title.

Focus on Learning and Improvement

Medical schools are interested in candidates who learn from their experiences and show personal growth. When describing your activities, consider what you gained from each experience. Did you develop new skills, overcome challenges, or gain insights into the medical field? Share these learnings to give admissions committees a sense of your journey and evolution.

Connect Activities to Medical School Preparation

While you don’t need to explicitly state how an activity prepared you for medical school, it’s helpful to think about this connection when writing your descriptions. If a particular experience had a significant impact on your decision to pursue medicine or taught you valuable skills for your future career, consider weaving that into your narrative.

This approach adds depth to your application and shows a clear link between your experiences and your medical aspirations.

Use Adjectives to Guide Your Writing… but keep most of them out of your entries

Before you write each entry, think about 3-5 adjectives you want to convey about yourself.

These could be qualities like “compassionate,” “dedicated,” “innovative,” or “team-oriented.” Let these adjectives guide your word choice and the aspects of your experience that you emphasize. This strategy helps maintain consistency and ensures that your descriptions align with your overall message. That said, your writing needs to be lean, so the words themselves likely won’t make the cut as you trim to meet the 700-character caps. But if you start out thinking about these descriptors as your North Star, they will come across in the text.

Write Like You Talk

Avoid stilted language or industry jargon that might sound insincere. Medical school admissions committees appreciate clarity and authenticity. Write in a conversational tone that reflects your personality and avoids excessive technical terms or jargon. This approach helps create a more engaging narrative and ensures your descriptions are accessible to all readers. If you wouldn’t use a word in your everyday life, don’t use it in your essay. A good way to identify stilted language is to read your text aloud to a friend and have them note places that don’t sound like you. You can also do the same by recording yourself reading it, then listening back. Moments that give you the “icks” might be indicative of them not being authentic to your voice.

Additional Tips

Be Specific: Provide concrete examples to illustrate your points. Instead of saying “I participated in research,” describe the project, your role, and any outcomes.

Keep It Concise: While you want to use full sentences, avoid unnecessary verbosity. Aim for clear, succinct descriptions that get to the point.

Review and Revise: Proofread your entries for grammar, punctuation, and clarity. Consider asking a mentor or advisor to review your Work & Activities section for feedback. Of course, we at Gurufi are experts at revising these texts, including trimming down overly long entries to fit the caps!

With these tips in mind, you can create a compelling Work & Activities section that effectively communicates your experiences, growth, and readiness for a career in medicine. Good luck!

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 medical schools. 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.

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.