Last night was our second evening of resident candidate dinner. It was a smaller group and they all seemed very nice. No one stood out as a definite no (aka someone who doesn't speak the entire night).
Today Bret was one of the people actually interviewing candidates so he wanted some help going through the personal statements, CV's, and working on interview questions.
I clearly remember how much time Bret and I spent working on his application and personal statement. We wrote and rewrote. We listed every activity, award, and community service participation we could think of. We spent hours pouring over everything to make sure that it was as close to perfect as we could get it with the belief that every little detail would be scrutinized.
As a financial aid counselor I would say that I have read hundreds of scholarship essays and admission essays. Like the personal statements that the candidates wrote there are a few that always stick out the most.
#1. Spelling & grammar errors-Even the worst writer can prevent these mistakes. How hard is it to have someone else read it and look over it? I can't tell you how many scholarship applications I read where the student forgot to change what school they were applying to and had the wrong name written.
#2. Introduction- Starting with...My name is... is not an introduction. Some of the best essays I have ever read stood out mostly because of how good their intro was. A story, a quote, something to grab the readers attention.
#3. Flow- It is really hard to read an essay that jumps from one topic to something completely unrelated without some sort of transition.
#4. Answer the question- If the topic of the essay is why you want to go to a certain school, or what you hope to accomplish, or what your greatest achievement is then make sure you tell us what the answer is. For resident personal statements the questions to answer are usually why that specialty, why that program, and why you are a good candidate.
#5. Personal Tragedy used correctly- I have read LOTS of essays that mention some sort of personal tragedy. This may be the death of a loved one, a disability or obstacle overcame, or many other tragic events. IF you decide to mention this tragedy be sure to make it fit in your essay. While it may be terribly sad if it doesn't somehow help you answer the question then it feels out of place. Not to say that mentioned how the loss or overcoming the challenge has some how helped you is bad...it just needs to fit and feel in place not awkward.
Like I said I'm no expert in writing. I can tell you a good essay from a bad one and it is amazing how many times I see the same mistakes over and over again. It's like a musician listening to an off key song....it hurts to read sometimes.