Making Your Personal Statement Stand Out

When talking about getting into SLP school, most people focus on GRE scores and GPA. Many applicants don’t appreciate how important their Statement of Purpose (SOP) is. Making your personal statement stand out can make all the difference in the process.

In this post, I’ve included my top 4 tips for making your personal statement stand out from the rest

 

Structure

I am a strong advocate of word vomiting your first draft (LINK). I even have a whole post on activities you can use to help get your creative juices flowing. After you have that rough first draft, you have to do the very difficult job of giving your statement some structure.

 

It can feel like an overwhelming task. How do you do it?

 

I’ve come up with three rough outlines of a personal statement that you might use. I cannot say enough how incredibly important it is that your SOP feel original when read by the committee. Just following one of my suggested structures is not enough to give you a good personal statement. You must personalize it to fit your application. My personal statement didn’t follow one of the structures below, it was more of a combination of all of them. But maybe these will give you some ideas to get started and build from.

By Function

  • Hook / Intro
    • You’ll need to start off with an engaging story to grab the reader’s attention. I can’t tell you how important this is. Keep it professional, but don’t be scared to give a personal anecdote.
  • Professional Preparation
    • You can mention any previous job (or volunteer experiences) that have prepared you for graduate studies and clinical work afterward. Many experiences can be relevant! Babysitters get the opportunity to see lots of childhood development. Customer services works witness communication breakdowns (and the potentially challenging-behaviors we use as coping strategies) pretty often. Coaching your son or daughter’s soccer team has surely taught you a thing or two about leadership and mediation.
    • Walk the reader through your career path (when relevant) and how it has led you to and prepared you for graduate school in Speech language pathology.
  • Personal Preparation
    • So, I say “personal” but I don’t mean “TMI-personal.” I generally think it is better to frame things as “professional” rather than “personal”, but maybe you don’t have a lot of professional experience.
    • If it’s relevant, explain why you’re personally prepared for graduate school. Maybe managing a household of 3 children has taught you a lot about time management. Maybe being a full-time working Dad while finishing your bachelor’s degree has taught you perseverance.
    • Is there anything in your personal background that makes you uniquely qualified to be an SLP graduate student? Do you speak another language? Do you have a child with a communication or swallowing disorder?
  • Academic Preparation
    • Have you learned anything particularly Wow in class that has stuck out to you? Maybe about a specific disorder, population, or theory. Have you attended any workshops or conferences that taught you new skills? Have you earned any fellowships or scholarships?
    • Apart from “textbook knowledge” has your education prepared you for graduate school in other ways like the ability to work in a team, multicultural considerations, or strong written and oral communication skills?
  • Research Preparation
    • Many graduate students in speech pathology want to go into clinical practice, but most professors are engaged in some kind of research. It is an inherent part of graduate school. Take the time to write about research projects you’ve assisted with or been involved in. They can be major faculty led projects or they may be smaller papers or projects you did in a class that were meaningful for you.
    • Even if you don’t want to do research, you’ll have to learn how to read, understand, and apply it. Can you think of any situations where you applied research to something you’re doing? Maybe you’re a nurse and you learned about a new patient interviewing technique. Maybe you’re a teacher and you read an article on a more effective reading strategy for ELL’s.
    • This is also a great place to express your interest in specific speciality areas of faculty at the school you’re applying to.
  • How grad school at XYZ University will tie it all together
    • To end this “function-oriented” statement, you’ll want to tie all of these pieces together and also emphasize how the university you’re applying to will enhance your education and skills.

The Time Machine

  • Past – Your formation and preparation
  • Present – What you’re doing now
  • Future – Where you plan to be soon (or in the distant future)

Your Journey

  • The Epiphany Moment (or not)
  • First Step – What did you do then?
  • Next Step – What did you do then?
  • Future – Where are you going?

 

Have a Thesis

When you’re writing an academic paper, you’ll probably take the time to come up with a thesis statement. Why should your SOP be any different?

 

How do you create one? I really recommend taking the time to reflect and do some pre-writing activities. Reflection is one of the most powerful learning tools. Once you’ve done that, you need to look hard at your application and see what are the overarching ideas. Service to others; Language as a means of access; Hard science; The vale of research driven techniques.

 

Try boiling down your application to just three sentences about yourself. They don’t have to be written in fancy, formal language (that can come later). This is not an easy task. Then try and take those three sentences and condense them into one.

 

Once you have this thesis or central idea and you feel good about, look back through your application with this new idea in mind. Can you tweak anything in your personal statement to better fit this narrative?

 

Avoid Cliche’s

This is really hard to do, but is really important.

 

I was talking with a professor about reading grad school applications. We talked about how repetitive they get. She said, “If I see another application with something about “language is what makes us human…” I’m going to barf.”

 

Cliches are boring. By definition, they’re unoriginal. Do you want your application to be boring and unoriginal? Then don’t use them.

 

Some common cliches:

  • Passion
  • Language is what makes us human
  • I want to help people
  • Thirst for knowledge
  • I’ve always been fascinated by…
  • Want to give back
  • From a young age…
  • For as long as I can remember
  • Making a difference in people’s lives

 

Now, you might be thinking: But those ideas are really important! And you’re right. They are. But you need to find original words to express them.

 

How to do it? First, read your essay and identify any cliche phrases. Highlight them. Then ask yourself what that phrase or word really means. Can you say it in another way? Can you tell a story to express the same idea? Can you turn the cliche inside out?

 

Do your research  & know the program

I cannot overemphasize the importance of getting to know a little about the program you’re applying to. The minimum you should do is read the department’s website, mission, and vision. It would be much better if you could also talk to faculty, staff, and students. Try to get a feel for what the environment is like and what kinds of things the school values.

Spend time reading the profile of each faculty member and maybe even their CV. Many universities post these on their departmental websites. This is a great way to learn about the research going on.

 

If you know you’re interested in that school, why does this matter? You know it is an ideal place for you, why waste time on this? Because you want to be their ideal student… and you want them to know it. Treasyri, a now practicing SLP, described it a bit like a date. You have to like them, and they have to like you too.

 

Once you have learned about a school and what makes it special, try to align your personal statement to it. If the school is a major research institution, you should definitely mention the value of evidence-based practice in your personal statement. Perhaps the department has a study abroad / service trip that they feature prominently on their website; it would definitely be valuable to mention any interest you have in serving the international community or diverse clients.

A Tip from a Pro

Despite my trying hard, I don’t know everything. So I emailed about 10 professors are various graduate programs asking them for their “top tip to help make a personal statement stand out.” Either they don’t want to share or they’re too busy to respond, I only received one response.

 

Dr. Brady from the University of Kansas said: “Excellent writing, no grammatical errors, and an interesting story.”
I sincerely hope all of this information is useful to you in drafting your personal statement. Let me know what you think, and if you have any other stellar tips to help make your statement of purpose POP for SLP school.

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