Graduate School Tip of the Month: The Do’s and Don’ts of Personal Statements

The Pink Flamingo is pleased to announce an addition to our staff. That’s right, this great information about personal statements was not penned by your trusty editors. It is brought to you instead by our new Senior International Correspondent for the Investigation of Graduate School-Related Affairs.   

Do:

  • Tailor your statement to each school to which you’re applying. Mention the specific faculty you want to work with and why the school would be a good match for you.

  • Make sure you answer the question. Once you’ve written a draft of your personal statement (and again before you finally send it out), go back and re-read the question to make sure your answer is complete.

  • Highlight any relevant experiences you’ve had like a research assistantship, teaching assistantship, internship, honors project, resident advisor, and/or volunteer or work experiences.

  • Talk about your future goals/career interests. Try to be as specific as possible. For example, if you’d like to be a counselor, what type of counselor would you want to be? What types of populations would you like to work with?

  • Have many people (faculty you know, the writing center, friends) read your statement over before you send it out. You will be revising this statement many times.

  • If you’re applying to a research-focused program, talk about your own research interests and how they match the faculty with whom you want to work. Read the faculty members’ recent publications and look at their websites for recent research directions so you can convey true interest and excitement in their research.

  • If you scored poorly on the GRE (or other test needed for admission to your graduate program), you might consider explaining your performance. You don’t want to sound like you’re making excuses for your performance, but if all of the other evidence (your GPA, honors project, relevant work experience, TA, RA, etc.) indicates that you’re a strong student, you should note this. You should also ask your letter writers to discuss that your scores might be under-representing your true potential.

Don’t:

  • Get too personal by talking about your own depression, your parents’ divorce, etc. Even if this has inspired you to pursue graduate school, you do not want the admissions committee thinking that you are applying to graduate school to try to solve your own problems.

  • Be too vague. Most psychology and human development majors like helping people. By saying you want to pursue graduate school because you want to help people, you will sound pretty generic.

  • Make little errors that might cost you admission. Don’t exceed the specified page or word limit. Don’t have spelling and grammatical mistakes.

  • Get too overwhelmed! This process can seem pretty daunting so you might be tempted to put off thinking about your personal statement until the last minute. Your personal statement will require a lot of honing and revisions. Don’t expect perfection in your first draft, which might make it a bit easier to start working on (and revise from there).

  • Be too broad. Don’t indicate more than 3 faculty with whom you are interested in working. If you indicate more than this, you will look like your interests are not very focused.

  • Be too cheesy. This is not the time to make up cutesy phrases or acronyms. You want to stand out as a passionate and professional individual, not as a hokey one.

  • Be too teach-y.  If you’re applying to a research-focused program, you will be expected to engage in a lot of research while you’re there.  If your statement just talks about your desire to be a college professor and teach a lot, most programs will not consider you to be a good match.  Research-focused schools expect to be training future researchers.  Some schools show more flexibility in this than others, but you need to convey your interest in research and not just teaching. 

Internships: A Student Perspective

In what we hope will become a new regular Pink Flamingo feature, we bring you our first “Student Perspective” article. Emily Kotecki, a Human Development and Psychology double-major, graciously agreed to let us interview her about her internship experience. What follows aren’t exact quotes from Emily (our tape-recorder was broken that day), but she tells us it’s close enough.

1. Where are you doing your internship?
At Golden House [Editor's Note: a local domestic violence agency and shelter]

2. How did you find out about the internship and go about getting it?
I talked with a student who had interned there in the past, and she said it was a great experience, so I looked on their website for more information and then sent their volunteer coordinator an application.

3. What kinds of things do you get to do on your internship?
I get to do room checks, go to court, assist with restraining orders, help with the women’s and children’s support groups, observe intakes, create bulletin boards in the shelter, talk to women in shelter, and answer Helpline calls.

4. How do you think the internship relates to what you have learned in your classes?
It relates a lot to my Infancy and Early Childhood and Middle Childhood and Adolescence classes and what we learn about how what happens in childhood can influence you later. I also learned about the power of violence in my Health Psychology class…What’s great is that I get to see information from many classes in a real-life setting.

5. How important has this internship been to your educational experience at UWGB, and why?
This experience really helped me to form ideas about different career options (e.g., court services, social work) and learn about the direction I want to go.

Emily’s interview provides insight about her great internship, but there are many possibilities! Investigate options in our internship file drawer, which is located next to Dr. Bartell’s office (and which contains brief student reaction papers about their experiences). You can also view some potential sites on the Human Development website. Remember, we do not place students in internships. You also need to find a faculty sponsor for your internship before you interview for an internship. There are prerequisites for doing an internship, including Junior standing, at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA (a 3.25 in upper-level major classes), and instructor consent. Learn more about requirements and prerequisites on the Psychology website.

Speaking of Internships…An Invitation to Apply to Become a Camp Lloyd Counselor

Camp Lloyd is a week-long day camp for children who have suffered the loss of a loved one.  The camp is sponsored by the Human Development program at UW-Green Bay in partnership with Unity Hospice.  Camp Lloyd counselors receive 3 credits as a part of the Human Development Internship (which may be open to non-majors).  During its second season (summer of 2007) Camp Lloyd enrolled 17 children between the ages of 7 and 13.  Each Camp Lloyd counselor served as a “buddy” to a child, and fully participated in all activities such as hiking, swimming, arts and crafts and music.  In addition, with the help of grief counselors from Unity, the children participated in grief sessions.  Some of the craft activities were linked to these sessions, including constructing a memory box that held articles and reminders of their loved one who had died.  Camp Lloyd concluded with a memorial service at the Ecumenical Center that involved a balloon releasing ceremony and the planting of a memory tree. This year, Camp Lloyd will be held from June 23 – June 27, 2008.

For further information about Camp Lloyd and becoming a counselor, please visit our website.  Applications to become a camp counselor may be found at this website. We will be accepting applications until the end of October.

First Faculty Colloquia a Success: Next Up, Dr. Zapf

There were over 100 students at Dr. Martin’s presentation last month, but Dr. Zapf aims to top that with her colloquium on October 29th.  Dr. Zapf’s presentation, Knowing more than one can say: The early regular plural, will be held in MAC 107 from 5:00-5:30.  Space is tight, and it’s first come, first served, so get there early to make sure you have a place to sit.  Take a look at the Faculty Colloquia Series Webpage for a schedule of the fall presentations.