Pre-Writing Activities for Your SLP Personal Statement

Trying to explain in a few hundred words why you want to become a Speech Language Pathologist is not an easy thing. Staring at the blinking cursor on an empty computer screen is likely to drive you crazy! To help get your creative juices flowing, I’ve put together lots of exercises and pre-writing activities for your SLP Personal Statement.
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Do not worry if some of these activities don’t seem relevant to your final goal. The point is to get your creative juices flowing and create a pool of ideas. This will make writing your essay easier, give you ideas to customize it for each school, and even help prepare you for interviews! Answer every question – even if you know that answer will never go into your final draft. This is for you!

Find a Way to Stand Out

Anyone who has ever been on an admissions committee will tell you that eventually all of the essays run together. They seem exactly the same. Imagine a professor is going to read a few dozen essays to find the best candidates. After an hour or so, her eyes are glazing over and she never wants to hear the word “passion” again!

A great essay will catch the readers interest from the first sentence. It will awaken a desire to keep reading in order to find out more.

Many strong writers use something unique to hook their readers -something to pique interest and break the monotony. Note, it is important that this opening does not sound glib or superficial; it must still be serious. It should be something to give your application a different tone or quite simply to make it different.

So, here is the activity: Get out a piece of paper and start writing about what makes you unique. If you get stuck, answer the following questions

  • What is the most unique thing about you?
  • What makes you unusual?
  • Do you have an interesting family history?
  • Have you taken any unique trips?
  • Were you raised in a way that makes you different?
  • Do you speak multiple languages?
It is important to note here that you do not have to be the first person to have ever done something to be interesting. Think about what will make you interesting to the reader and in comparison to the other people applying. The small town with one stop light that I grew up in would really stand out in applications to schools in big cities.
Also, it is okay to include highly personal information here in this brainstorming that would never make it into your final essays.
Finally, I know that it can be difficult to see what is unique about yourself because you spend all day with yourself! You probably think of every aspect of your life as routine. It isn’t! If you’re really stuck, try asking a friend for help. Or imagine you’re at a party where you know no one – what will you say about yourself to break the ice?

Your Intellectual Influences

     Graduate school is an academic and thus intellectual pursuit. While the field of SLP has a heavy focus on helping and serving others, it is still graduate school where you will be pursuing an advanced degree. The things that have influenced you intellectually are relevant and deserve some reflection. Answer the following questions, and spend some time thinking about your responses.
  • What does SLP mean to you?
  • Who were your favorite professors in undergrad? Why?
  • What was the best essay or project that you worked on? Why?
  • What is the single most important concept you learned in school? In your degree area?
  • What are some of the central ethical questions in the field? What is your position?
  • What areas of speciality are you interested in within the field? Why?
  • Did you have any specific experiences that made you interested in SLP?
  • Did you (or do you still) have any reservations or fears about entering the field?
  • Have you completed any observation hours? What did you learn from them? 

The Professors & People Who Have Influenced You

Academia in many ways is like a family tree. I remember my undergrad advisor talking to me about his PhD advisor. As he explained to me the small circle of experts who trained him, it sounded like he was tracing back a sort of academic lineage. He learned from so-and-so who learned from so-and-so, etc, etc.
Working with certain professors (whether taking their classes, reading their work, or working with them on a project) influences you and forms you. You pick up their perspectives and ways of viewing the field. It is worthwhile to reflect on the people who have influenced you and how you view the field of SLP (or related fields such as health care, linguistics, or education).

When did you decide on SLP?

The moment you realized you wanted to become an SLP might be a great thing to reflect on for inspiration. Some SLP’s received language services as a child and have never forgotten the impact their SLP made on their lives. Perhaps your own child has a language impairment and your interest grew out of that. Were you working in the corporate world until one day you arrived home, burnt out, and knew you wanted to start helping people? Maybe you’re like me and you didn’t have one singular moment that made you realize you wanted to get into this field – my decision to become an SLP was truly a journey.
Try writing at least half a page on the “moment” when you knew you wanted to be an SLP. You can read my personal version of that answer here: http://www.thespeechblog.com/thebeginning/

Life After Grad School

For the majority of graduate students in Speech Pathology, work, rather than academia, is the end goal of a masters degree. Maybe your work after graduate school will provide some inspiration as to why you need a graduate degree. Make a simple t-chart. On the left, list all of the reasons you want to become an SLP. Be honest – this is for you. After you’re finished with this, on the right hand side of the t-chart list other ways you can satisfy that reason. For example, on the left you wrote “Help young people through education.” Well, could you become an elementary school teacher?
The important thing here is to hold each reason in your mind, challenge it, and defend it! It is okay to create multiple drafts of theses lists as you work through this process. This will refine your motivation and help clarify things for you. Or, it might help you consider other options you hadn’t even thought about!

Can you handle it?

One of the most difficult and important questions the admissions committee must answer about each candidate is “Can she/he be successful in graduate studies?” This is not a simple question and is one of the reasons that GPA and your GRE scores matter so much. You should take sometime to answer this question for yourself. To make this activity worth while, you have to brutally honest with yourself. Find your weaknesses and pressure yourself to dig into them even if it is a bit painful. If you don’t know your weaknesses, how can you improve them?
  • Does your undergraduate background truly & honestly prove that your ready for more intensive studies? Does your GPA?
  • Do you have the relevant academic background to be successful at the graduate level?
  • What have you done to prepare yourself for graduate school?
  • What personal attributes do you have that will help you succeed in a masters program?
  • Have you done anything equally as intense or challenging as graduate school? (Fellowships, training programs, degree in other areas, etc)     

 

Biggest Accomplishment to Date

This is similar to the previous activity. Think of the things in your life (academic, professional, and personal) that you are most proud of having achieved. Write about them. Why are you proud of them? Did you learn anything from those experiences? What?

Research Experience 

The importance of research experience varies greatly from one program to another, but in general it is not hugely necessary to earn you C’s and become an SLP. That said, if you have research experience it should help you at any school.
Start by making a list of any research projects that you’ve been involved in-in any capacity. Be sure to note honestly your role and participation. It is okay if your role was relatively minor.
Next, think about and then write about what you learned from the research. Feel free to mention practical things and also overarching concepts. This type of self-reflection is very important. It is something that you won’t be given class time to do, but is expected you will do on your own.
Finally, try to articulate how that research affects the field. SLP has a strong focus on evidence-based best practices. It is important to be able to not only perform research but understand how it informs clinical practice.

Ready to Write

Once you have spent some time (and perhaps a few cups of coffee or glasses of wine!) thinking introspectively on these various components of your motivation to go to graduate school, you´ll be much better equipped to start the writing process.

At this point, I´d recommend checking out my post for how to get from a blank page to the first draft of your actual personal statement. It might help you make the leap from brainstorming to spitting out something concrete.

If you have questions, please feel free to email me michael at thespeechblog dot com

When you have a moment, please share with me in the comments below what pre-writing activities YOU find useful!

 

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