second try at a PS, please critique

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second try at a PS, please critique

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jan 28, 2014 3:57 am

I don't think it's there yet. Any advice?


Despite the effort, my introduction fell flat. Nervous to meet the _______ residents for the first time, I spent the previous night preparing myself. Dressed in my best business casual outfit, I came armed with a battery of icebreakers (remnants from my RA days). “How long’s this one gonna last?” one of the girls quipped after I introduced myself. She let me laugh uncomfortably for a moment before softening to admit she was only parroting a movie. Though clichéd, the comment stuck with me. As the passing weeks allowed me to reflect on the AmeriCorps position I had taken, the more it seemed like an astute observation than a snarky barb. I realized my mistake. They do not care how I am dressed or what fancy school I attended. It is simply not their currency. Trust, dependability, and honesty-the things they value are not easily won.

Many of the young women I work with put up defenses—a quick temper or a disengaged demeanor—symptoms of chronic letdown syndrome. Lack of dependable adults jumped out as a recurring theme while getting to know the girls. The evidence was robust, from minor letdowns like missing a high school graduation to a history of DHS documented abuse. Social workers fill the role of caring adult in many of their lives. The combination of high turnover and low public funding leads to a rotating cast. My position has a term of one year, and is not often repeated. A youth who uses our services during their entire period of eligibility might see five AmeriCorps volunteers come and go.

Their unfolding stories caused me to reevaluate my approach. I had been eager to help, but my motivations had also been self-serving. My intention when accepting the position was largely to gain real world experience serving the population whose circumstances I had spent so many years studying. I envisioned myself fighting the institutionalized racism I learned about in “Urban Underclass,” helping clients access the safety-net I learned about in “Social Class, Race Ethnicity and Health,” and gaining first hand knowledge of the effects of poverty I learned about in “Social Stratification.” My intellectual passions have shifted over the years from civil rights to public policy to public health, but have always been fueled by the desire to lessen inequality for underserved communities. Still, I can’t help but feel like I entered as some social class tourist, fervently collecting souvenirs in the form of life experience and sad anecdotes.

I promised myself I would do everything I could to be a constant in a sea of variables. Up at six to make a 7:30 appointment with a school counselor, or interrupted in the middle of dinner to make a placement at the emergency youth shelter, the tasks begin to blend together. Rather than focus on what I would get out of each day, I focused on what I could do for my clients. The weeks turned into months and I watched my relationships evolve from based on necessity to forged in trust. As my first year of service neared its end, I had many causes for pride: cross team collaborations at _____, new partnerships formed with the local agencies and facilitating two weekly groups just to name a few. I saw the relationships I formed with the young women of ________ as my greatest accomplishment of the year; I signed on for a second term because of them.

It is a third of the way through my second term now, and I have already begun informing my clients that I will leave to pursue a law degree when it is over. Getting to know these young women on a personal level has fueled my interest in serving similar communities. In serving as a support structure for their growth, I have also tried to instill a sense of self-efficacy. It is my hope that they will continue to grow into mature and confident women who will break the cycle of abuse into which many were born.

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Re: second try at a PS, please critique

Postby papercut » Tue Jan 28, 2014 6:41 am

I think you need a much better opening paragraph. You should try to start in the middle of the action, instead of at the chronological start of the story. Your reader doesn't want to struggle to figure out what you're doing and why we should care. After you tease us with a bit of action, then you can go back to the start.

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Re: second try at a PS, please critique

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jan 29, 2014 8:44 pm

papercut wrote:I think you need a much better opening paragraph. You should try to start in the middle of the action, instead of at the chronological start of the story. Your reader doesn't want to struggle to figure out what you're doing and why we should care. After you tease us with a bit of action, then you can go back to the start.


Thanks for your feedback. DId the rest of the content seem okay? I will work on reorganizing/spicing up the intro.

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Re: second try at a PS, please critique

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jan 29, 2014 10:07 pm

“You can call me queen bee. And baby, awoo, awoo, awoo, awoooo,” she howled out from the passenger seat. She must have noticed the grin her mondegreen yelp had me fighting. She cut her eyes at me. “You don’t like this song?” “No.” I told her. “I love it.” We spent the rest of the ride bellowing like coyotes. “AWOOOO. Let me live that fantasy.” Working with homeless teens is, at times, disheartening. I have many stories of heartbreak: the 16-year-old mother who tried to take her own life, the 18-year-old who moved in with her abuser, or the 17-year-old without a home to take her newborn child from the hospital. I carry these stories with me, but refuse to dwell on them. Instead, I focus on interactions like this, in which these young women who have been thrust into impossibly adult situations are allowed to be silly teenagers. The relationships I formed with the young women of the _______ over the past two years will define my experience.

I spent the night before my first _____ meeting nervously preparing. Dressed in my best business casual outfit, I came armed with a battery of icebreakers (remnants from my RA days). “How long’s this one gonna last?” one of the girls quipped after I introduced myself. She let me laugh uncomfortably for a moment before softening to admit she was only parroting a movie. Though clichéd, the comment stuck with me. As the passing weeks allowed me to reflect on my AmeriCorps position, the more it seemed like an astute observation than a snarky barb. I realized my mistake. They do not care how I am dressed or what fancy school I attended. It is simply not their currency. Trust, dependability, and honesty-the things they value are not easily won.

Many of the young women I work with put up defenses—a quick temper or a disengaged demeanor—symptoms of chronic letdown syndrome. Lack of dependable adults jumped out as a recurring theme while getting to know the girls. The evidence was robust, from minor letdowns like missing a high school graduation to a history of DHS documented abuse. Social workers fill the role of caring adult in many of their lives. The combination of high turnover and low public funding leads to a rotating cast. My position has a term of one year, and is not often repeated. A youth who uses our services during their entire period of eligibility might see five AmeriCorps volunteers come and go.

Their unfolding stories caused me to reevaluate my approach. I had been eager to help, but my motivations had also been self-serving. In accepting the position, I had intended to gain real world experience serving the population whose circumstances I had spent so many years studying. I envisioned myself fighting the institutionalized racism I learned about in “Urban Underclass,” helping clients access the safety-net I learned about in “Social Class, Race Ethnicity and Health,” and gaining first hand knowledge of the effects of poverty I learned about in “Social Stratification.” My intellectual passions have shifted over the years from civil rights to public policy to public health, but have always been fueled by the desire to lessen inequality for underserved communities. Still, I can’t help but feel like I entered as some social class tourist, fervently collecting souvenirs in the form of life experience and sad anecdotes.

I promised myself I would do everything I could to be a constant in a sea of variables. Up at six to make a 7:30 appointment with a school counselor, or interrupted in the middle of dinner to make a placement at the emergency youth shelter, the tasks begin to blend together. Rather than focus on what I would get out of each day, I focused on what I could do for my clients. The weeks turned into months and I watched my relationships evolve from based on necessity to forged in trust. As my first year of service neared its end, I had many causes for pride: cross team collaborations at _____, new partnerships formed with the local agencies and facilitating two weekly groups just to name a few. I saw the relationships I formed with the young women of ____ as my greatest accomplishment of the year; I signed on for a second term because of them.

Getting to know these young women on a personal level has fueled my interest in serving similar communities. In serving as a support structure for their growth, I have also tried to instill a sense of self-efficacy. It is my hope that they will continue to grow into mature and confident women who will break the cycle of abuse into which many were born.



Okay here is my second version. I tried to include more of an anecdote at the beginning. It is certainly a memory that will stay with me forever--and hopefully one that illustrates my main point. It won't work though if the song/wrong words are not instantly recognized. What do you think?

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Re: second try at a PS, please critique

Postby papercut » Thu Jan 30, 2014 2:01 am

Great rewrite. I love the intro, it hooked me.

Here's what I'd do with the first paragraph:

“You can call me queen bee. And baby, awoo, awoo, awoo, awoooo,” she howled from the passenger seat. I tried not to grin. She cut her eyes at me. “You don’t like this song?” “No.” I told her. “I love it.” We spent the rest of the ride bellowing like coyotes. “AWOOOO. Let me live that fantasy.”

Working with homeless teens can be disheartening. I saw a 16-year-old mother who tried to take her own life, an 18-year-old who moved in with her abuser, and a 17-year-old with no home for her newborn. I carry these stories with me, but refuse to dwell on them. I like to remember these young women in their carefree moments.


You should make sentences, phrase, and words shorter wherever possible. For example, "She must have noticed the grin her mondegreen yelp had me fighting," becomes, "I tried not to grin." And, "[T]he 17-year-old without a home to take her newborn child from the hospital," becomes, "[T]he 17-year-old with no home for her newborn." If you can preserve the meaning, shorter is better.

I'm not sure "silly teenager" works here. I get it. But they also shouldn't be silly anymore, they're mothers now. I think "carefree moments" works better. Everyone deserves a carefree moment, these girls more so than most.

Here's my take on your second paragraph:

I spent the night before my first _____ meeting preparing nervously.


I'm not a fan of adverbs, but this one's okay. It adds some meaning to the verb that isn't there without it. However, I'd put it at the end of the sentence. What you put at the beginning or the end of your sentence will be emphasized.

Dressed in my best business casual outfit, I came armed with a battery of icebreakers. “How long’s this one gonna last?” one of the girls quipped after I introduced myself. She let me laugh uncomfortably for a moment before softening to admit she was only parroting a movie. The comment stuck with me. The more I saw over my two years, the more it seemed like an astute observation than a snarky barb. They didn't care about my clothes or what school I went to. I had to work to win their trust.


I removed some bits I didn't think were doing anything for your story.

You shift between the past tense and the present tense. I think you should just stick with the past tense.

The last sentence is in the passive voice, and "trust, honesty, dependability" all sound enough alike to use one word instead.

Also, don't be afraid of contractions. We use them in everyday speech unless we want to stress something. It's, "I don't want any pizza," versus, "I do not want any pizza." The latter sounds more aggressive, or formal.

Many of the young women I worked with put up a defense. A quick temper or a disengaged demeanor were symptoms of chronic letdown syndrome. A lack of dependable adults jumped out as a recurring theme. From minor letdowns, like missing a high school graduation, to a history of abuse. The combination of high turnover and low public funding lead to a rotating cast. My position has a term of one year, and is not often repeated. A child who uses our services during their entire period of eligibility might see five AmeriCorps volunteers come and go.


Made some sentences shorter. Used the past tense, mostly.

Do you think "youth" in this context sounds a bit too formal, maybe even like jargon? I'd go with "child."

At this point the writing is really good, and I like all the info, but I can't see you. Where'd you go? This is YOUR personal statement. Maybe get rid of the above paragraph to have more room for yourself.

I reevaluated my approach.


Doesn't that sound better than:

Their unfolding stories caused me to reevaluate my approach.


By now, the reader knows what the cause was.

My advice is to go through the rest of this and try to cut out as many unnecessary words, phrases, or sentences as possible.

Use adjectives sparingly. Try not to use any adverbs. Shorten phrases to a single word where possible. Remove unnecessary clauses from your sentences.

Stick to the past tense.

Great job on the rewrite. I'm looking forward to your next rewrite.




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