Conversational Tone in PS?

(Personal Statement Examples, Advice, Critique, . . . )
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AreJay711
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Conversational Tone in PS?

Postby AreJay711 » Fri Sep 03, 2010 11:40 am

How do you think admissions officers would look at a few conversational phrases in a personal statement? I'm not talking about colloquialisms but like contractions, and phrases like "fallen on my face" for describing someone expecting me to fail. I had a meeting with someone in my schools career center (also does graduate school counseling) and she said I should try to make the tone as formal as possible. She went to business school but this seems at odds with my understanding of law schools' admissions process. Any comments?

Thanks!

CanadianWolf
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Re: Conversational Tone in PS?

Postby CanadianWolf » Fri Sep 03, 2010 11:57 am

This is a difficult question to answer without reading a draft of your proposed personal statement. Formality is not required, but informality can be risky in that it may appear sloppy or disrespectful if not done well.

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AreJay711
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Re: Conversational Tone in PS?

Postby AreJay711 » Fri Sep 03, 2010 12:10 pm

CanadianWolf wrote:This is a difficult question to answer without reading a draft of your proposed personal statement. Formality is not required, but informality can be risky in that it may appear sloppy or disrespectful if not done well.


Ok, this is my statement as it is:


My third week of college classes I was given an ultimatum: I could either come back home, take a few classes at the community college, and take over my parents company or I could try to make my own way through school and come back after I had fallen on my face. The results of this choice have been the main challenges I have overcome in my undergraduate years and have made me into who I am today.

The reason I went to college was to play football, and the prospects of starting early brought me to Wagner College on Staten Island. After my second concussion in as many weeks, and finding that I had many undiagnosed concussions in high school, I had to reconsider. At the same, I was discovering a whole new world in my classes and textbooks. In high school I just did enough to get by, granted I earned good grades, but never engaged the material, in college I was determined to do the best I could. I found myself experiencing, and enjoying, completely different sets of challenges and rewards from my old model of being an athlete first. Though hardly an easy decision, I chose to quit football forever.

My parents were less than supportive in my decision and wanted me to come back home since the reason I had gone to college was gone and, in their eyes, I had wasted a golden opportunity. I chose to make it myself. I was in foreign territory, attacking my studies like never before. Instead of getting up for 6:00 AM runs, I was staying up late to read novels by Achebe and Rushdie; instead of watching tape on opponents after lifting, I read essays by Locke and Rousseau; and instead of playing Madden Football after practice, I was writing essays comparing Adam Smith and Karl Marx and their assumptions. I didn’t want to leave to live a dream that wasn’t mine.

Living out that choice has put a lot of things in perspective for me. In retrospect, community college may have been a good thing to help me save up some money, but that is not how I thought back then. As it was, I had to leave Wagner anyway because I couldn’t afford to pay despite keeping my academic scholarships so I transferred back in state to Towson University, just north of Baltimore. After paying for books, tuition, and a block meal plan with the pittance of private loans I qualified for and the majority of my savings, I found myself out of money and without a place to live. Technically I was homeless, living out of my car, though fortunately I had friends that gave me floors and futons to sleep on. At first I kept up the lie I just didn’t want to fight the D.C. and Baltimore traffic coming from home everyday but eventually they found out that I wasn’t welcome at home and didn’t have anywhere else to go. That first month on my own was probably the most humbling time of my life and at times I thought I would rather be sleeping in my car than living strictly on the kindness of others as I was.

The few people I tell about that part of my life always seem to think that the experience of living like I was must have been very trying. In some ways it was. It certainly challenged my faith in myself and was the first time I had to survive or fail on my own. I looked to the future and saw only struggle with no clear light at the end of the tunnel and I was unsure. It was hard not knowing if I was strong enough or lucky enough to make it, but I knew I couldn’t survive like I was for long. I had a lot of time to sit and think about it that winter and early spring semester as I had very little money and no distractions. The good thing is that textbooks can entertain you minus other distractions and the library looks like a very attractive place when you don’t have anywhere else to go. Actually, balancing right at the tipping point between making it by and not is quite easy, the challenge is getting out.

I started rising to that challenge around the middle of February. I saw an advertisement for an on-campus job that fit with my awkward transfer schedule so I prepared my resume, applied, and gave the best interview I ever have. I got the job working for the V.P. of Student Affairs. With the 20 hours of near minimum wage work I managed to rent a place in a mostly unfinished and slightly cockroach infested basement. That was the first step; looking back at that small victory it is evident that my attitude had begun changing. I had never been lazy before, but now I was resolved to make what I wanted happen myself with the understanding that while it sometimes might not always be sufficient, hard work and dedication is necessary to achieve goals even when the task is not enjoyable. This wasn’t any kind of epiphany but a realization over time and was something I had even begun to realize even before then. The best analogy I can come up with is that before I was like a thunderstorm, shooting off energy wherever I most wanted to, and I became more like a power line. While the wire into a house has a fraction of the energy of a lightning bolt, it is vastly more productive.

Everything that I’ve done since that point was directly to achieve my goals of getting though college and into law school. The summer after my freshman year I went back to work for my parents, though I found out later they fully expected to fire me, and impressed one of the foremen enough that he pulled me on to a union scale job where I made enough money to rent a finished room in a house for my sophomore year. The January of my sophomore year I was also hired as a resident assistant, receiving room and board as compensation, and was one of only 17 hired to come back for a third year, out of 35 second years, for my senior year. These things have made my life much more complicated since my time at Wagner and my first semester at Towson, with work and personal obligations pulling me in different directions but I have still maintained a high level of academic performance. I think that my focus and unwavering determination gained from my experiences will help me be successful in law school and in the legal profession. If there is one thing you can be sure of it is that if I am admitted into your school I will not be outworked and will strive to be the best student in my class both in school and in the legal profession.

CanadianWolf
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Re: Conversational Tone in PS?

Postby CanadianWolf » Fri Sep 03, 2010 12:21 pm

This is not a well written personal statement. The informal conversational tone does not work because it lacks conciseness. The sentences are not clearly written. Your introductory sentence is poor & may cause readers to be disinterested. Try to write in crisp, clear sentences that build up to a more logically organized conclusion. Start by determining a clear theme that you want to communicate to the reader. The conversational tone dilutes any well-defined theme or succinct message because it reads as if you are working out issues as you write. These issues & your message should be precisely determined before you start writing. This, in turn, will enable you to introduce mature insights & elements of cleverness in your essay because you know where you are headed. As it is, your piece reads as if it's a meandering journey through the countryside on a Sunday afternoon free of obligations with an unknown destination.
In short, your inclusion of excessive details & thoughts dilutes your essay's ability to convey a clearly defined message.

On the positive side, you have put your thoughts in writing and they just need to be organized, refined & stated succinctly with an unambiguous goal in mind.

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AreJay711
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Re: Conversational Tone in PS?

Postby AreJay711 » Fri Sep 03, 2010 1:14 pm

CanadianWolf wrote:This is not a well written personal statement. The informal conversational tone does not work because it lacks conciseness. The sentences are not clearly written. Your introductory sentence is poor & may cause readers to be disinterested. Try to write in crisp, clear sentences that build up to a more logically organized conclusion. Start by determining a clear theme that you want to communicate to the reader. The conversational tone dilutes any well-defined theme or succinct message because it reads as if you are working out issues as you write. These issues & your message should be precisely determined before you start writing. This, in turn, will enable you to introduce mature insights & elements of cleverness in your essay because you know where you are headed. As it is, your piece reads as if it's a meandering journey through the countryside on a Sunday afternoon free of obligations with an unknown destination.
In short, your inclusion of excessive details & thoughts dilutes your essay's ability to convey a clearly defined message.

On the positive side, you have put your thoughts in writing and they just need to be organized, refined & stated succinctly with an unambiguous goal in mind.


Thanks for the comment. I was shooting for an essay about a challenge I've had to overcome and personal growth because of it but more focus on what I want to demonstrate and less narrative may be just what it needs.

Ive though about starting with paragraph about being homeless, revised of course, but it's challenging because the story (pesky narrative aspects) start earlier. It would let me keep the same topic but have more about what I actually want to prove.... Any suggestions on how to accomplish that?

shock259
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Re: Conversational Tone in PS?

Postby shock259 » Fri Sep 03, 2010 1:52 pm

I agree with the overall message of CanadianWolf's critique. It's too informal.

In my opinion, this reads more like an undergrad personal statement (minus the content, of course). Only three sentences in the whole thing mention law, and you don't clearly state how your experiences translate into law school success. Determination is good, but I think you are going to have to pull more from there that law schools want to see. It's a good narrative, and an interesting story, but I don't see the law element.

The first PS I did was a narrative of sorts similar to yours. I had 4/5's of it devoted to colorfully describing a trip I went on and 1/5 or less devoted to law. After a lot of heavy editing, it was 1/3 story, 2/3 application to law.

Hope this helps. Good luck.




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