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.

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.

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