First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

(Personal Statement Examples, Advice, Critique, . . . )
AKenter
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First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

Postby AKenter » Mon Dec 06, 2010 11:52 pm

Hello there. I have found personal statement writing to be very difficult. At first, I felt the strong desire to write something profound, however, I have abandoned this plan as a fools errand. Instead, I am simply looking to write a solid personal statement. Lowering my sights in this way has made the process easier for me. Anyway, here is my first draft. It is rough around the edges but I would like to know what those of you who are interested in commenting think of the core message I am trying to send. I want to say in advance that I have thick skin do not mind negative criticism. Furthermore, I want to thank anyone who takes the time to read what I have written and post a comment. I know many of you are busy putting together your own applications or studying for finals and so it means a lot to me that you are willing to take a moment and help me out. Thank you very much.

As I waved goodbye to my parents and entered the security line at Logan Airport, I was alternatively consumed by excitement and fear. I could hardly believe that I was preparing to board the plane that in a few short hours would land in Rome signaling the beginning of my European adventure. While still an undergraduate, I began saving for this trip with my income as a resident assistant and then, upon graduation, saved much of my earnings for the same purpose while working as an assistant at a small law firm. Nevertheless, as the plane took off, I was acutely aware that if I was going to accomplish my goal of traveling through four countries in four months I would have to vigilantly abide by the budget I had created. In order to last a full four months I could spend on average no more than $60 per day. Yet, I would need more than discipline to achieve my goal. In the interest of greater flexibility, I had only booked lodging for three of the seventeen weeks I would be traveling and had made no transportation arrangements. My ability to strictly adhere to my budget plans and to handle the stress of making travel plans while on the go would determine whether my adventure was to be a success or whether I would be forced to leave early in failure.

Once in Rome, the reality of my limited budget was painfully apparent. The miniature apartment I was renting was already a large expense before factoring in the costs of exploring the city, let alone that of eating! Sacrifices would have to be made, yet I was not about to give up visiting Hadrian’s Villa, the Sistine Chapel, or Bernini’s statues in the Galleria Borghese. Something else would have to go and that something was food. In Rome I began what became the norm for the trip: day old bread and Nutella for breakfast and lunch and the cheapest pasta I could find for dinner. Tiresome as these bland foods were, I knew then that I would be able to eat well again when I returned home, but that I would never again have the chance to immerse myself in and explore the cultures of Europe like I had then. With that mindset, I was always able to ask (in broken Italian, German, and finally French) the various shopkeepers I would meet for the day old bread with a smile on my face. While saving on food was a big help, it was not my most important money saving tactic. In fact, the plan I thought would help stretch my dollars the furthest turned out to be one of the most successful and rewarding parts of my trip.

Two weeks in Rome proved to me that staying within my budget while traveling in typical tourist fashion was going to be impossible. So, shortly thereafter, I boarded a train to Umbria on my way to the home of a vintner I had contacted about a farm stay. In exchange for my help in planting new grape vines and other tasks around the vineyard he offered me room and board at his family home. The experience was unforgettable. I distinctly remember one morning when snow lightly dusted the upper reaches of the hills surrounding their home. I, thoroughly soaked and carrying multiple wooden fence posts, followed my host to the top of a hill as he told me of a famous battle between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines that had occurred on the very ground we had traversed. Though only on the vineyard for a few short weeks, during my time there I was able to glimpse the reality of a manner of life completely different from my own.

After leaving my Umbrian hosts and continuing my tour of the great European cities, I made sure to find farm stays in each of the countries I visited. Each host family provided me the wonderful opportunity of seeing the world from their perspective by allowing me to take part in their lives. In northern Germany near Bremerhaven, my hosts were vegetarians and animal rights activists who grew nearly all of their own food. A month later, in Normandy, I stayed with a couple who raised and slaughtered their own chickens, rabbits, and pigs. With them, I witnessed firsthand the grisly steps that bring an animal from its pen to the dinner plate and discussed the dignity of eating one’s own well cared for animals rather than those whose history and treatment are unknown.

One hundred and fifteen days after leaving for Rome, I returned home. I had walked the streets of Pompeii, built a fence in Umbria, caught, gutted, and ate fresh trout, driven five hundred miles from London to northern Wales and back on the left side of the road, stayed with four different families, and met countless people along the way. Like no experience before it, my trip honed qualities I already possessed and developed new ones. Nothing teaches discipline and resourcefulness like necessity and I was in constant need of both during my travels. Furthermore, staying with people so different from me for extended periods gave me the chance to experience the world from a different perspective; to see life from their vantage point by taking part in their day to day activities. I am proud to say that my trip was a success.

My European adventure now behind me, I now make plans for my future. The same skills which were required for the success of my trip will be essential if I am to be a success. I can hardly wait begin.

Saltqjibo
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Re: First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

Postby Saltqjibo » Tue Dec 07, 2010 3:06 am

Hmmm. I will give you honesty: while I don't buy into the 'here's my sob story let me in mentality' I'm not sure this is the greatest topic for a PS - simply because if I were telling the story it would be more like "dude and then I got to go to freakin EUROPE and eat nutella and day old bread while checking out the sistine chapel!" - it seriously sounds like a sweet experience.

Remember that adcomms are going to be reading this right after a story from someone who worked in an aids clinic in africa and before a story of someone who raised his two younger siblings on his own (as thats what all the PSs here seem to be like) - you might not give the most selfless impression or whatever

I don't think its fair, but that's the way it seems to be. That being said you seem like a good writer so I'm sure you could pull it off with rewrites or by picking a different topic.

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Remnantofisrael
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Re: First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

Postby Remnantofisrael » Tue Dec 07, 2010 5:20 pm

I totally agree with the previous poster. This whole thing sounds like you are trying to take a cool experience that you could have specific lessons learned from and turn it into a true challenge. I'm sorry, but describing running out of play money and having to go home as "failure" sets the whole thing up as inauthentic. That said, you have something here. I would say lower the emphasis on budget and increase the emphasis on adventure. then hone in on one to two specific events that helped to define you. OR just focus on the fact that there were a variety of experiences that changed your perspective on the world at large.

You just need to focus in a bit more and I think it will be solid.

AKenter
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Re: First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

Postby AKenter » Tue Dec 07, 2010 6:42 pm

To Remnantofisrael and Saltqjibo: Thank you very much for your comments. Your honesty is very helpful. My goal in the essay had been to present a purely positive event in my life that I had to work hard (in terms of prior planning and careful budgeting) to achieve. I want to show the admissions people that I have the discipline and ability to set goals and do what is necessary to achieve them. However, it is clear that I am failing to make this point well. I especially think you make a good point about how eating day old bread is not a big deal considering the trip I was able to take. At the time I certainly did not think it was a big deal and so it should not be in a my statement. I do want to stay with this topic though so I think I will change things to emphasize my experience. A question: What do you think of my trying to emphasize the discipline needed to stick to my budget? My reason for talking about this is because I want to make it clear that I have the self-discipline needed to stay on top of the work load in law school.

One other thing I want to add is that I am very much opposed to the sob story statements as well. I want to portray myself as someone who sets goals and accomplishes them. Everyone has had bad things happen to them and has experience sadness, yet these events though emotionally appealing have nothing to do whatsoever with a persons ability. Rather than the statement I wrote, I could have instead focused on how I learned mid-way through my trip that the lawyer I had worked for (a long time family friend) passed away unexpectedly. I could then talk about how working with him led to my interest in law and to my eventual decision to apply to law school. I could then pull on the heart strings by waxing melodramatic about how it pains me that he will never know the full impact he had on my life. Though this is all true, I am loathe to include it in my statement. I am more than the bad things that I have experienced. I will not be defined as a reaction to tragic events I could not control. When readers look at my statement, I want them to see a young man who, as much as he can, proactively creates the lifepath he treads.

Anyway, you are right though that it seems like many personal statements around here focus on tragedy as well as those that are given as examples.

Thank you again for your comments. They have helped me focus on areas that need substantial revision.

sandaltan
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Re: First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

Postby sandaltan » Tue Dec 07, 2010 6:43 pm

dont talk about having only $60 a day to spend. it made me wanna vomit. In fact, dont talk about money at all. when you insert your budget as a challenge, it seems pompous and forced.

you have a very difficult subject matter here - a four month european adventure. it might be hard to strain a challenge or any lessons of maturity, at least in an honest and genuine sounding way, from that cloth.

dont speak in absolutes. the outcome of your trip did not determine whether or not you are a failure. success and failure are prevalent themes in your piece, and they are vague and inflexible.

that said, hope is not lost. remember, SHOW, dont TELL. I want sensory stimulation. pick one or two of your most powerful moments and show them. before you do that, think about them, and think about what they REALLY meant to you. Surely you learned something concrete and applicable in your future endeavors, right?

best of luck!

sarahlawg
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Re: First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

Postby sarahlawg » Tue Dec 07, 2010 8:01 pm

I think you could make a cool PS out of that story on top of the mountain...

AKenter
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Re: First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

Postby AKenter » Tue Dec 07, 2010 11:44 pm

New opening alert! :)

A light rain falls and turns the long, tangled grasses into ice. Across the valley, where hills climb higher, snow flakes descend and dust the landscape. I carry two wooden fence poles on my shoulder, slip, regain balance and continue to follow my host as we march to the top level of his terraced olive grove. Swollen from a week of precipitation, the Tiber roars in the valley below us. We reach our destination. My host motions to a point from whence we came and recounts a famous battle between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines which took place on the very ground we had moments ago traversed. My socks soaked and teeth chattering, I lay down my burden and we head back down the hill. Many more posts are needed before we can begin fencing the grove. I correctly guess that this is one of the best and most memorable days of my trip.

Saltqjibo
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Re: First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

Postby Saltqjibo » Wed Dec 08, 2010 3:52 am

Seems like a good new opening.

Yeah. I do really think that focusing on something positive is good. Just try to leave anything out that sounds like privilege. Adcomms have said in the past they have nothing against the traveling in Europe as a life changing story thing - i just think it will need a lot of thought to pull off correctly. I have an excellent detector for statements that are slap-worthy so if you're worried about tone (and hey, its hard to write about personal experiences with the right tone) just post it here and I'm sure I or someone else will tell you.

That being said, again you're a good writer so you shouldnt have too much to worry about in the end.

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crumpetsandtea
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Re: First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

Postby crumpetsandtea » Wed Dec 08, 2010 5:01 am

First off--I can see where your original statement was going, and though I thought it vaguely risky it didn't grate me like it did to the past posters. Buuuuut then again I was raised in an upper middle class family and studied abroad in Europe for my last semester. So keep that in mind. Also, even though I can understand your POV, I have friends who average $150-200 of spending a MONTH in the US, so it's easy to see how $60 a day isn't exactly a poignant sacrifice to many.

Second--if you really do want to emphasize what you learned, take the focus off money and put it on the experiences you had there physically or culturally. I like the new start to your PS--maybe you could make your PS about experiencing a less urban culture and how that challenged you to discipline yourself in different ways.

Third -- the paragraph that you've posted is good, but the last sentence of it seems a bit off to me? It seems stiff, but that might just be me. You're a really good writer though, so I'm sure you can (in the words of the venerable Tim Gunn) MAKE IT WORK (:

AKenter
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Re: First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

Postby AKenter » Wed Dec 08, 2010 9:32 pm

Thank you both very much for the new comments. It is very interesting to hear the impressions my statement is giving people. I intended it to reveal a motivation and self-directedness, not privilege. I mean, afterall, it took me the better part of 2 years to save for the trip. It was not as though I was given the money for it as a graduation present. Nonetheless, what I intend is not what matters. The impression on my readers is what is what is of the utmost importance, so thank you very much for helping me with that.

Anyway, I am hoping to stick out in the mind of admissions counselors by writing a personal statement that is positive and self-affirming. I want to be defined in their minds by my orchestration and execution of something fantastic. My hope is that this will favorably differentiate me from the applicants who write of their reaction to crisis who are, or at least seem to be, legion.

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NZA
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Re: First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

Postby NZA » Wed Dec 08, 2010 9:35 pm

Gap yah?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKFjWR7X5dU

EDIT: I'd rewrite this PS. :\ For reasons that posters have already mentioned. You kind of just sound, well, like some rich kid who got to go live in Europe for a while. No offense, or anything, because you sound like a really nice guy/gal and everything. I don't mean to come off like a jerk, but I would pick a different topic.

EDIT EDIT: Did you, I don't know, work at all to save up for that trip? That would be kind of a cool topic...you know, working at wherever because you've always wanted to go to Italy, live the dream, etc.? Then you could combine both a) the fact that you are a hard worker, dedicated, able to accomplish goals with b) your awesome trip in Europe! :)

AKenter
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Re: First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

Postby AKenter » Wed Dec 08, 2010 9:53 pm

NZA wrote:Gap yah?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKFjWR7X5dU

EDIT: I'd rewrite this PS. :\ For reasons that posters have already mentioned. You kind of just sound, well, like some rich kid who got to go live in Europe for a while. No offense, or anything. I don't mean to sound like a jerk, but I would pick a different topic.


Thanks for the comment. I would be very happy if you would elaborate a little more though. Do you think that admissions people reading my statement would think so? Does the fact the trip was totally self-funded have no bearing on your impression? I am genuinely curious.

Another question. My understanding is that a personal statement is supposed to highlight your qualities, not just be a litany of your life's sorrows. Does discussing one of the greatest events in your life somehow prevent you from successfully doing that?

I am deeply troubled by the constant thread running through each commenter, yet am equally puzzled by it...

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NZA
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Re: First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

Postby NZA » Wed Dec 08, 2010 10:10 pm

AKenter wrote:Thanks for the comment. I would be very happy if you would elaborate a little more though. Do you think that admissions people reading my statement would think so? Does the fact the trip was totally self-funded have no bearing on your impression? I am genuinely curious.


Not at all! I think if the trip wasn't self-funded, that would be fine. I was just trying to give an example of something you could add to bring out some more positive qualities about you, not just what you've experienced. You know?

AKenter wrote:Another question. My understanding is that a personal statement is supposed to highlight your qualities, not just be a litany of your life's sorrows. Does discussing one of the greatest events in your life somehow prevent you from successfully doing that?


One need not tell some sob story about some fucked up thing that has happened to them in order to create a brilliant PS. And I agree: the PS is about your qualities, not a litany of your life's sorrows. But it should also not be some bright and chipper story about travelling around Europe or India or wherever. :)

It should be a story that reflects who you are. The image, however, that this essay creates for me is not flattering. Before writing this, I took a reread, and I still dunno...I mean, I just can't get this.

If I were you, I would focus on some particular aspect of this entire experience. Coming from an ecological perspective, the part where you talk about raising and caring for animals that you would later eat was particularly interesting: I thought it showed a glimmer of something interesting about your perspectives on the world. It was an example of when a trip like yours that, be it self-funded or paid for by mom and dad, can change you. Another example is when you were talking to that guy about the famous battle that happened long, long ago...things like that.

That is essentially a far more interesting, revealing and worthwhile kind of thing. You see?

To elaborate perhaps a bit gratuitously, the point is this: as it stands, your essay is a testament to nothing. You drop little bits and pieces of a good essay (the relationship between humans and animals, the relationship of the people dwelling on lands that have deep historical meaning), but nothing really comes together. It is obvious, again, that you gained some worthwhile and perhaps even deep insight: that is why I feel it is worth my time to reply to this topic.

But unless you strip away what is essentially non-essential(haha, oxymoron), your essay stands empty, still waiting to be filled.

Does this make sense?

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crumpetsandtea
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Re: First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

Postby crumpetsandtea » Wed Dec 08, 2010 10:21 pm

AKenter wrote:Thank you both very much for the new comments. It is very interesting to hear the impressions my statement is giving people. I intended it to reveal a motivation and self-directedness, not privilege. I mean, afterall, it took me the better part of 2 years to save for the trip. It was not as though I was given the money for it as a graduation present. Nonetheless, what I intend is not what matters. The impression on my readers is what is what is of the utmost importance, so thank you very much for helping me with that.

Anyway, I am hoping to stick out in the mind of admissions counselors by writing a personal statement that is positive and self-affirming. I want to be defined in their minds by my orchestration and execution of something fantastic. My hope is that this will favorably differentiate me from the applicants who write of their reaction to crisis who are, or at least seem to be, legion.


I saw the part about saving money, but if you really want to emphasize that, then you kind of missed the point. It's not the budget you set that will evoke the reaction you want, but the process of earning the money itself. You don't need to specify a $/day amount at all. Maybe if you started off with the specifics of how you saved the money yourself and then moved from that to the experiences you had (ie @ farms), it would portray you more favorably.

Also, I agree with the last poster that it doesn't have to be shaped like a sob story. I don't think it's the lack of a sob story that hurt you, I think it was not focusing enough on the truly changing experiences that you actually did undergo.

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NZA
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Re: First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

Postby NZA » Wed Dec 08, 2010 10:24 pm

crumpetsandtea wrote:
AKenter wrote:Also, I agree with the last poster that it doesn't have to be shaped like a sob story. I don't think it's the lack of a sob story that hurt you, I think it was not focusing enough on the truly changing experiences that you actually did undergo.


Exactly...you clearly changed as a person on this trip, and that's what I'd like to hear about, and I think what an adcom would like to hear about, as well! :)

AKenter
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Re: First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

Postby AKenter » Thu Dec 09, 2010 12:43 am

Thanks for the clarification and additional comments. This is really helping me. I have been working on a new version and here is what I have so far (I would love to know what you think of it):

A light rain falls and transforms the long, tangled grasses to ice. Across the valley, where hills climb higher, snow flakes descend and dust the landscape. I carry two wooden fence poles on my shoulder as I walk. I slip, regain balance and continue to follow my host as we march to the top level of his terraced olive grove. Swollen from a week of precipitation, the Tiber roars in the valley below. We reach our destination. My host motions towards his and neighboring vineyards, the full area visible at this height, and recounts a famous battle between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines which took place in that area centuries ago. Socks soaked and teeth chattering, I lay my burden down and we trundle back down the hill. Many more posts are needed before we can begin fencing the grove.

Stories of personal growth through travel are numerous to point of nearly becoming cliché. Yet, it is a shame that they are viewed thusly, for the volume of such stories is a testament to the reality that immersion in a different manner of life and custom can profoundly impact the individual who experiences it. The encounter with difference, difference in taste, in opinion, and in custom, has the literal effect of broadening one’s conceptual gaze; of providing the backdrop against which one can compare his or her own habits of thinking and understanding of the world. I was fortunate in having just this sort of experience while traveling in Europe.

While I will not soon forget exploring the great Western European cities, it was my time with host families on their farms that I recall most fondly and that are most stimulating in their recollection. Yet, even among them there is one that stands out from the rest. In the central Italian province of Umbria, my hosts, an older couple, owned a small vineyard. They had bought it a few years earlier with no winemaking experience. Their only assets were a passion for wine and a burning desire to grow good grapes, craft quality wine, and make a profit in the process.

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NZA
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Re: First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

Postby NZA » Thu Dec 09, 2010 12:55 am

A lot more interesting, IMO! :)

AKenter wrote:Thanks for the clarification and additional comments. This is really helping me. I have been working on a new version and here is what I have so far (I would love to know what you think of it):

A light rain falls and transforms the long, tangled grasses to ice. Across the valley, where hills climb higher, snow flakes descend and dust the landscape. I carry two wooden fence poles on my shoulder as I walk. I slip, regain balance and continue to follow my host as we march to the top level of his terraced olive grove. Swollen from a week of precipitation, the Tiber roars in the valley below. We reach our destination. My host motions towards his and neighboring vineyards, the full area visible at this height, and recounts a famous battle between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines which took place in that area centuries ago. Socks soaked and teeth chattering, I lay my burden down and we trundle back down the hill. Many more posts are needed before we can begin fencing the grove.

Stories of personal growth through travel are numerous to point of nearly becoming cliché. Very true. Yet, it is a shame that they are viewed thusly, "thusly," while most definitely an awesome word, seems too formal for a personal statement for the volume of such stories is a testament to the reality that immersion in a different manner of life and custom can profoundly impact the individual who experiences it. The encounter with difference, difference in taste, in opinion, and in custom, has the literal effect of broadening one’s conceptual gaze; of providing the backdrop against which one can compare his or her own habits of thinking and understanding of the world. I was fortunate in having just this sort of experience while traveling in Europe. Good!

While I will not soon forget exploring the great Western European cities, it was my time with host families on their farms that I recall most fondly and that are most stimulating in their recollection. Cool. Yet, even among them there is one that stands out from the rest. In the central Italian province of Umbria, my hosts, an older couple, owned a small vineyard. They had bought it a few years earlier with no winemaking experience. Their only assets were a passion for wine and a burning desire to grow good grapes, craft quality wine, and make a profit in the process.


Yes yes yes. Much better. See, now I'm like, "wtf I want to read more about the vineyard!" :D With the first two paragraphs, you kind of set up the general theme: learning more about yourself while you're abroad. And with the next paragraph, you put the reader in an actual, real context. Nice.

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vissidarte27
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Re: First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

Postby vissidarte27 » Thu Dec 09, 2010 1:01 am

The last bit you posted was much better. Sounded more down-to-earth, less pompous, and caught my attention.

And I hear you re: life-changing experiences through travel. I spent six weeks in Italy (the Marche region, directly east of Umbria) and I came out of it a totally different person. Amazing.

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crumpetsandtea
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Re: First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

Postby crumpetsandtea » Thu Dec 09, 2010 1:42 am

I REALLY like the new PS. (: And I'm tossing in my lot as someone changed by their experiences in Italy too <3 Although I was studying there so no awesome farm stays for me. I did live a few blocks from the Vatican though, which was cool.

Keep going with what you have now, it looks awesome!

Saltqjibo
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Re: First Draft Personal Statement - Focused on gap year travels

Postby Saltqjibo » Fri Dec 10, 2010 1:52 am

1st and third paragraphs are pretty fantastic, I think the second is unnecesary, just cut it and you would have great unbroken imagery.




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