September 11, 2011

Applying and Getting into UCLA’s MSW Program: Tips to Help You Succeed Part II

Application essays.

Laborious. Tedious. Torturous.

In my opinion, writing personal statements is worse than getting dental work done. Trying to be genuine, smart, creative, convincing, and individualistic, all while abiding text restraints is an extremely painful task.

I agonized over writing my personal statements. Every time I sat down to put my ideas on paper, I felt overwhelmed. It took me weeks to create polished essays, but I could not have produced quality product without following the advice and recommendations of several people along the way.

In an effort to help you avoid any proverbial head banging against the wall, here are my tips for writing successful personal and professional statements:

Before You Write:
  1. Get in an inspired state of mind. It doesn't matter what you do – watch Ted Talks, read the Harvard Portrait Project, recite poetry, etc. Do anything to get your passionate juices flowing. 
  2. Create a detailed lifeline. Those aspiring to be social workers usually have several experiences that have created a desire to work in this field. Dig deep, and find those reasons. For me, I traced back to decisions I made in high school (such as why I decided to write a thesis on self-mutilation).
  3. Voice your ideas out loud. Do this by meeting with a good friend and try to answer the questions to your essay prompts honestly. Doing this will make your first approach to putting something down on paper a lot easier.
  4. Organize your thoughts by making an outline. The following excerpt from Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance describes this strategy perfectly: 
"[G]etting stuck is the commonest trouble of all. Usually, I say, your mind gets stuck when you’re trying to do too many things at once. What you have to do is try not to force words to come. That just gets you more stuck. What you have to do now is separate out the things and do them one at a time. You’re trying to think of what to say and what to say first at the same time and that’s too hard. So separate them out. Just make a list of all the things you want to say in any old order. Then later we’ll figure out the right order."

While You Write:
  1. Be authentic. It was not until I stopped thinking about what the admissions committee wanted to hear, and started formulating real answers to essay prompts, that I was able to get any decent writing done.
  2. Tell a story. I tied together several anecdotes and relevant experiences to answer the essay prompts. Although it is geared towards business school applicants, this article gives some great tips on how to draw the reader in with your personal story.
  3. Be efficient. It sometimes took me hours just to pump out a few paragraphs. Most of the time, I was pedaling backwards when I should have been strategizing. This article by Write to Done has 7 great strategies on how to increase your productivity each time you attempt to write.
After You Write
  1. Rewrite, revise, repeat.
  2. Have others review what you've written. Give your personal statements to the people you trust and ask for honest feedback. Do keep in mind that you don't want to be overwhelmed with feedback. Having 10 people read your personal statements might create anxiety or interfere with your productivity.
  3. Take advantage of resources on the web. For example, Kibin offers proofreading and editing for free.
For tips on how to secure great recommendations for your MSW application, please reference this post.

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