Studying in America and Canada  

3.2.4 Personal statement or essays

The purpose of this component is to understand you in your own words on such issues as your ambitions, goals, interests, rationale for why you are applying to the program, your accomplishments, challenges you have overcome, your ability to lead or follow, and so on. It is just another input, a qualitative one, into the decision criteria. Just as in the case of Letters of Recommendation, this is an important input for all programs, but it is of critical importance to such programs as MBA, Law, and Medicine.

You should the take the time to write a thoughtful response to the topic(s) or question(s) specified by your prospective college. Your responses should be analytical, articulate, and well-written: your selection of reasons and situations, as well as your rationale, should be penetrating and revealing. You have the opportunity to show who you are, why not leverage it to the maximum? If you are applying to multiple colleges, you should write separate responses even if the topic(s) or question(s) are similar. The only exception to this rule is for when the questions are identical. The reason is simple: a "copy and paste" approach leaves the response appearing less thoughtful and coherent, and a seasoned evaluator can spot it from a mile. If you are required to write on more than one topic or question by a school, do not duplicate the same situation(s) in responses to multiple question(s). Utilize the opportunity instead to bring out the best of: your past, your plans for the future, and your thinking. Writing good responses takes time; do not do a sloppy job.

As mentioned earlier, you are expected to write the personal statement or essays yourself with no outside help. We will address in a moment how it really works in practice, but first some more words of advice.

  • Do not copy essays from a guide-book or website. Some guide-books or websites offer sample essays. Schools are fully aware of them. It is not even clear that they are good essays, despite the claims made by the writers that the candidates writing these essays were admitted to the best schools. If you must, use these essays to understand what a good essay should contain.
  • Do not use past essays of someone else who was admitted into the program.
  • Do not lie; that is, do not make up situations that are not truthful. A bit of an exaggeration is okay, in fact it is expected since you are trying to "sell" yourself, but making up lies is not acceptable.

The reason for these comments is simple: the risk of suspicion of cheating or even getting caught cheating is high, and the penalty is too harsh. Remember that the personal statement or essays are one input into the decision-making. If this input does not fit well with the rest of the inputs, everything becomes suspect and you are guaranteed a rejection.

No one, and particularly the colleges, wants to acknowledge that many candidates get help - a little to a lot of help - in writing personal statement or essays. Just because "others do it" doesnít make it right for you. Getting outside help is at the very least unethical. You are in effect cheating the system. You are aiming for an unfair advantage over others who do not obtain outside help. But the reality is that many candidates cheat to gain this advantage. It is possible that, no matter what we say here, you might try to get the very best outside help possible and not do the personal statement or essays entirely yourself. At least we can caution you. Even if you get help, write the statement or essays yourself because if this input does not fit well with the rest of the inputs, your application will be rejected.

Editorís Note. Dr. Srikant Datar and Dr. Pradeep Misra, distinguished academics, would like to disassociate themselves completely from the preceding paragraph. They not only do not condone this practice in any way, shape or form, but they also deem it wholly inappropriate and unacceptable. Despite their unequivocal and strongest objections, we have included this information to address what often happens in practice.

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