Without guidance, applicants usually wonder how to fill the space. Many simply write an autobiography and tell the story of their lives, from birth to present. The admissions committee, however, is not interested in knowing every detail about your history. In fact this will likely turn off your readers. One of the most common complaints graduate admissions committees make about admissions essays is that applicants' personal statements are often too personal. Many applicants are stunned to learn that a personal statement can be overly personal, especially since they are given little to no instructions. So, what does it mean for an essay to be too personal? As shown below, an admissions essay can be overly personal in two broad ways: It can reveal too much or it may assume a relationship with the committee that doesn't exist. Let's take a look at examples of each of these errors.
Overly Personal Statements Use Informal Language
One way that applicants get too personal is that they use language that is too informal. They use slang, colloquial terms, and do not present themselves seriously. When it comes to slang, remember that Internet slang and acronyms are usually perceived exceptionally poorly by admissions committees.
Overly Personal Statements are Sloppy
Sloppy writing is careless. It includes spelling errors, typos, grammatical errors, and glaring gaps in organization. Careless errors assume that your reader knows that you understand the concepts but are simply too busy to correct the errors. Sloppiness is an example of being overly personal because it assumes that the admissions committee thinks highly enough of you to overlook it. They don't. You don't yet have a relationship with any members of the committee. They won't ignore your shortcomings.
Overly Personal Statements are Filled with Excuses
Generally speaking, admissions essays are not about providing excuses for past performance. An admissions essay filled with detailed excuses is overly personal because it makes the error of assuming that readers, the admissions committee, care. However, there are times when an explanation may be needed. For example, suppose you dropped out of college for a year to care for an ill relative. You might consider mentioning that in your essay to account for the lost academic time. In this case a simple sentence or two can convey what is needed. If you must excuse some aspect of your performance, do so concisely and professionally. That is, simply state the facts in a couple of sentences. Remember that your essay is not about making excuses. Instead your admissions essay is about showing your fit to the program and making the committee realize that they simply must admit you.
Overly Personal Statements Reveal too Much Information
An overly personal admissions essay is not well-matched to its audience. Admissions committees want to know about your goals, your skills, your reasoning ability, and how well you fit the program. They don't want to know about your or your family's personal crises, mental health issues, addictions, or anguish. Some of these experiences may have influenced your career goals, and that is understandable, but graduate admissions committees do not want to know about all of your hidden skeletons. That is, they might be interested in knowing, but revealing your skeletons will probably harm your application. The student who says he wants to get a PhD in Psychology because of his history of major depression and parent's diagnosis of bipolar disorder, for example, won't get into graduate school. Why? Too much information. Don't reveal anything that may be used as an excuse not to grant you admission. In doubt? Speak with a professor and get an academic's view.
What should you include in your graduate admissions essay. Consider these questions as a start. As with every step in applying to graduate school, seek assistance from your advisor or another trusted faculty member. Your admissions essay should be read by several sets of eyes before it leaves your hands.