When I first applied to grad school I was intimidated by the idea of a personal statement. Now that I’m an ambassador I’m hearing echoes of this sentiment from some of our current and future applicants.
A personal statement is a sales pitch that describes why you deserve to be a Carolina candidate more than all of the other amazing social workers in the world. It does not discredit others. However, it’s one of the few times in your career when someone asks you how you stand out from other social workers. Your personal statement is an opportunity to use your own words to compel the school to choose you over the competition. So, how do you stand apart?
I think the easy answer is by embracing yourself fully. You are completely unique and different from all other social workers and you just need to see the value in your different experiences.
The reason writing a personal statement can be challenging for some social workers is that being a salesperson for yourself feels a little close to boasting. For social workers whose strengths can be listening, recognizing value in others, and being humble, the idea of highlighting your own accomplishments can feel like a contradiction to those practices. Our natural impulse may be modesty to demonstrate our humility.
For example, my first draft was really an uemotional list of my activities (see my link above to see why that’s a bad idea). I thought sticking to the facts would take ego out of the equation. But my narrative was also very boring the first time around.
Next, I discussed my spark or the events/activities that make me feel great. Again, conveying your passions or personality doesn’t necessarily highlight your strengths. While your personality can help you build rapport with clients you also wouldn’t try to get through an interview on charm alone.
One activity that helps with the personal statement is re-reading it and imagining the person on the page as a friend or client asking advice on landing a job. What advice might you give that person?
A fellow ambassador mentioned that he asked others opinions while writing his personal statement. I thought this was amazing advice! Friends, family, supervisors can help you notice when you sell yourself short. They can also recognize strengths you have never realized about yourself and help you find the words to articulate a compelling narrative.
Most important, you must separate your sales pitch from feelings of grandeur. Think about what is good and bad about someone who brags and apply those observations to your own writing. Positively reframe your own thoughts. Writing a personal statement is not a case of exploiting your experiences for gain. It’s answering an important question to the person who asked you. It might help to view your statement as a written interview which will help you remember that you wouldn’t want to freeze up and undervalue yourself if a hiring manager asked to hear about your strengths or achievements. They will not be surprised and will not view you as egotistical if you tell them your accomplishments. Discussing your abilities with someone who asks about it is very different from unsolicited bragging.
I like to ask new applicants what made you choose social work, to get you used to talking about and thinking about your personal story. You will repeat these stories to scholarship donors, clients, and potential employers throughout your career. So write it up and get used to sharing it without flinching. Best of luck to you all!