Have you ever been to a party and froze when someone asked you a simple question like, “What’s your story?” If you don’t know how to talk about yourself in a way that’s authentic, professional, and interesting, you might fumble when the time comes for you to shine. Writing about yourself is just like talking about yourself, so don’t let that happen to you with your graduate school admissions essays! Here are some tips from our wonderful Writing Center Consultant, Ariel, on how to write about your accomplishments for graduate school essays in a compelling, concise, and interesting way!
Why is it so hard to write about ourselves?
Maybe it’s easier for some people than others, but talking about ourselves, let alone writing about ourselves, doesn’t come easily. You don’t want to sound arrogant. You certainly don’t want to be the person that shares too much. The bottom line is most of us don’t know where to start or where to go when it comes to telling our story. So, what’s the easiest and fastest way to figure this out?
1. Start by interviewing yourself.
Ariel recommends breaking down any essay response with these three questions:
- What did you do?
- How did you feel?
- What did you learn?
Since you’re interviewing yourself, don’t stop at these three questions. Keep digging deeper and asking more questions until you find the juicy, compelling parts of your story that strengthen your essay.
2. Make your case by telling the admissions committee what you did.
When telling your story, don’t fall into the trap of writing in passive voice. You’re trying to persuade the admission committee that you’ll be successful in the graduate program you’re applying to. This first question, “What did you do?” sounds simple. Simplicity is key for getting to the heart of what you’re trying to convey. Tell your readers what you did, what impact it had, and why it mattered. When you can answer these questions for yourself, it’ll be clear in your writing why you’re awesome.
3. Take the admissions committee on your journey by sharing how you felt.
Write like yourself, not how you think you’re supposed to write. You’re professional, smart, and interesting. Make sure that comes through when you talk about how excited you were traveling to a new country for a work assignment or getting promoted to lead a team. These things are big deals, and sharing your emotions as you went through your journey helps the reader connect with you.
Afraid of sounding like a robot when you talk about your accomplishments? Don’t worry! The thesaurus is your best friend for helping readers understand how you felt during your journey. The nuances of the different words you pick to convey your emotions will help you paint the picture you want your admissions committee to see in your essays.
4. Show how much you’ve grown as a person by sharing what you learned.
Difficult experiences change us. How they change you is up to you, and so is how you tell that story. If you started your story with what you accomplished and led readers through your hero’s journey against life’s challenges, then the most beautiful way to end it would be to share how you’ve grown as a person.
When you talk about what you’ve learned from your story, you show that you know how to face adversity and how to succeed and grow despite it. It also shows your admissions committee what experiences you’ll bring to your graduate school community. All of this helps build you up as a gritty, smart, accomplished individual who deserves a spot in a top graduate school program.
5. Streamline your story by writing more than the word count, then trimming it down.
The famous quote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead,” applies to writing your graduate school admissions essays. Sometimes, telling the right story requires writing as much as you can and editing your draft down later.
Think like an artist working on a sculpture when you’re writing your essays. Sculptors start with a large piece of stone and chisel it down to reveal the beautiful piece of art underneath it over time. When you approach your essays this way, you’ll make each word count while staying under your word count.
6. Triumph is built on adversity, so pick the story that’s most relevant and tells your hero’s tale.
Everyone has experienced hardship. Those difficult moments shaped us into who we are and show that we can handle the stresses and struggles of graduate school. The stories in your life where you failed, and later found your way to success are the best ones to share in an essay where an admissions committee wants to understand if you’ve got what it takes to graduate from their program.
If you’re trying to decide which one of your stories to share, pick the one that fits the big picture of your whole application best.
7. Tie it all together with why it matters.
Don’t forget the most important part! After you’ve told your readers what you did, how you felt, and what you learned, you have to bring it home with why it matters.
If your work empowered your community, share how proud you are of that. If you’re the only person out of a hundred who got picked to travel across the world for your company on a special assignment, make that clear to your readers. This is how you’ll contextualize your accomplishments to show off how important they are and how great you are!
Want some help with your essays?
Don’t just read these seven tips for telling your story in a compelling, concise, and authentic way. Begin putting them into practice today when you schedule a Quick Call with our team!