Personal Statement #4: NYU Statement of Purpose

Personal Statement #4: NYU Statement of Purpose

The following is a strong personal statement example that I have worked on. Identifying information has been changed. My thoughts are written in bold after some paragraphs. Note that today’s edition is actually a statement of purpose for an MBA/JD program; however, the writing principles within can apply to any type of application essay.

As I looked down at my sister from her hospital bed, following her suicide attempt, I felt profound resentment that our existing legal system denied justice to those who could least afford it.

(This is an incredible start to the essay. It goes without saying that suicide is about as serious and heavy a topic as you can get, and the note about legal system denying justice wants to make the reader empathize. This is exactly how you get a reader to want to explore more of your essay.)

Several months earlier, our application for legal aid services was denied. My sister’s mental health and financial situation deteriorated, leading to her hospitalization. This experience exemplified the consequences of being trapped in the justice gap – the difference between civil legal needs of low-income Americans and the resources available to meet them.  For this segment of society, the “forgotten ones,” I looked for opportunities in combining legal practice with technological innovation to make legal services more available.

(This is a nice transition from the opening narrative into the writer’s current career path and, eventually, why they need more help with a graduate program.)

In recent times, entrepreneurs have sought to identify and disassociate inefficient steps in the legal process from the parts necessary for a lawyer. For example, JustFix.nyc provides unrepresented tenants with a web app that helps gather evidence and reports violations, while Upsolve allows users to get through the bankruptcy process for free. Both companies, located in New York City, do not try and rework the entire legal system, an impossible task; rather, they spot weak points and provide creative technological solutions to address those issues in the public sector. This frees up time for lawyers to focus on the important work or take on more cases.

Having suffered through my sister’s experience and studied startups like these, I wish to combine legal practice with technological entrepreneurship to make legal services more democratic, narrowing the justice gap. Everything I do from this point forward will work toward that goal.

To do that, I need more than a JD. But I also need more than an MBA. The MBA/JD dual program at New York University, with its explicit focus on social justice through the law school and entrepreneurship through the Stern School of Business, can help me gain the requisite knowledge and connections to make that dream a reality.

(The previous two paragraphs do a great job of concisely summing up what led the writer to this point and then explaining why NYU is the best program for the writer at this time. While a personal statement for undergrad would not typically talk about why the school they’re applying for is best, the “why school” is a very common prompt, and so the following example still provides valuable insight.)

Through the first couple of years at NYU, I will take courses and assignments to better identify problems and brainstorm solutions for low-income Americans. Once I begin taking courses at Stern, I will treat it as an “incubator” to experiment on various hypotheses for fighting the justice gap. Despite having experience with a startup, I still lack knowledge for starting a business—which Stern’s focus on tech-centric business models and strategies can cover. With this knowledge, I will roll out my first of many tech products within two years. While the design and execution of that product needs time to develop, it will involve everything I’ve learned at NYU. It will make the law accessible in some way for those who cannot afford it under the status quo.

(A clear vision for the future, a clear understanding of how NYU can help it, and a willingness to be flexible in the future make this a great paragraph.)

While my sister survived her ordeal, countless others never emerge. The joint MBA/JD program at NYU gives me the chance to lift others up to a level playing field. With the legal education of the JD and the entrepreneurial skillset of the MBA, I will narrow the justice gap through my innovative endeavors, products, and services.

(Finally, closing out with a strong paragraph that sums everything up makes this a strong statement of purpose.)

(Overall, this is one of the best grad school essays I’ve worked on. A strong narrative is presented, the writer understands why NYU is the best fit for them–they don’t just regurgitate what the school website listed–and they demonstrate both a clear vision for the future while acknowledging they cannot know everything. If you’re a grad student, you’ll want to model your statement of purpose along these lines. If you’re an undergrad, the opening paragraphs show how to draw the reader in with a narrative, while the latter paragraphs explain well how to do research for a given program.) 

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Personal Statement Example #3: Success With Sneakers

Personal Statement Example #3: Success With Sneakers

The following is a strong personal statement example that I have worked on. Identifying information has been changed. My thoughts are written in bold after some paragraphs.

The success of a sneaker bot buying shoes made by Michael Jordan made me a better person.

(I love this opening line so much. It’s the sort of thing that sounds so absurd, you can’t help but wonder “wait, what? For real?” In terms of grabbing the reader’s attention, this is one of the best ones I’ve ever seen.)

One night, I stood at a critical juncture for my business, “Kick Masters.” I had started it a few years prior when I realized the potential profit of reselling shoes after turning a pair of Jordans which cost me $180 into a $400 sale. But after that initial success, I faced difficulties raising money and trying to handle my parents’ divorce.

Those difficulties brought me to that night, the night the famous basketball player would release his new shoes. The big retailers had planned to do a limited launch on the shoes, insuring a high price tag and significant demand. To guarantee that I would get as many orders as possible for the business, I created a bot which would purchase shoes the instant they released. Despite my decision, I had no idea what would happen. Other people had the same idea with more sophisticated execution, while others would simply click refresh until the shoes went on sale.

The shoes launched. I waited nervously. The bot would take some time to secure the shoes and complete the order. I could wind up with several or none, and I wouldn’t know until some time had passed.

(This does a really good job of building anticipation toward the moment of truth. Even if, given the opener, we have an idea of where this is going, we still want to know how we got to our destination [“it’s the journey, not the destination.”] If we had more space, I might go into the details of creating the bot, but with only 650 words, it’s not essential since it’s not quite the main focus of the essay.)

Fifteen minutes later, I got my answer. The bot had purchased about twenty shoes. I sat dumbstruck. Each shoe could bring in up to $500 in profit, and with demand as high as Jordan and the retailers had made it, I could easily imagine my first five-figure week.

Sure enough, within seven days, I had sold all of them. I had more money now than I had perhaps made in the rest of my life combined.

(Writing about how much money you make is always a tricky subject to work with, as you risk coming across as a spoiled diva or an arrogant teenager who may have just gotten lucky. My rule is to never say exactly how much you made, but be willing to put it in relative terms like the sentence above. You also, if you write about how much money you made, should mention lessons you learned outside of the money–which we’ll get to here in a second.)

At first, like many teenagers would with a financial windfall, I spent it on myself and indulged in many of my desires. I bought a Gucci watch, an Xbox, another pair of Jordans for myself, and so many new clothes I gave up tracking my orders. The feeling of spending all this money and still having cash left over left me euphoric for a couple of days.

But it didn’t take long for these purchases to feel unfulfilling and ultimately inconsequential. The watch lost its luster, the Jordans got put in the closet for more comfortable shoes, and the Xbox became boring. A profoundly simple but deep question popped up that I hadn’t anticipated answering for some time: “what now?”

The answer came when I took my family out to a high-end Italian dinner a couple of weeks later. I did so under the pretenses of celebrating my successes, but when it came time to pay the check and I put it under my card, I felt something much stronger than the moment I’d acquired those Jordan shoes or slipped on the Gucci watch. I felt gratitude at the chance to give back to others. I felt humbled by the opportunity. And I felt overwhelmed at what I could do for those I cared about.

(Another anecdote here perfectly exemplifies what the writer learned besides just making money, and that’s exactly what you should do here. Money is great, but the reader wants to know what you got besides money.)

Since then, I’ve always made it a point to spend my money not on myself, but on my friends, my family, and my mentors. I still treat myself to the occasional indulgence, but now I like to ease my parents’ financial burden; I like to spoil my little brother every now and then; and I like to buy my teachers presents at the end of the year. I have come to realize that in order to make my day, I have to make someone else’s first.

When I procured those twenty shoes, I felt a rush of adrenaline and excitement at what this would mean for my financial status. But when I recognized the ability to thank others with my newfound money, I felt an even more rewarding sensation.

And I owe it all to the sneaker bot that got me Jordans.

(I love this closing line. It recalls the opener and does a great job of bringing the essay full circle.)

OVERALL: This essay takes on a subject that can be risky in the amount of money you’ve made and handles it well. The writing is solid with some humorous lines (especially the opening) and for the most part, it doesn’t come across as arrogant. Acknowledging that, for a spell, you indulged a bit can actually be a good thing, as it shows some self-awareness; doing it too much, however, risks turning off the reader. This essay does a good balancing act of saying “yes, I had some fun and some luxuries, but I truly did learn from it.”

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Personal Statement Example #2: Helping the Homeless

Personal Statement Example #2: Helping the Homeless

The following is a personal statement example that I have worked on. Identifying information has been changed. My thoughts are written in bold after some paragraphs.

“You homeless bum, get yourself a job and make yourself useful for once!”

(When it comes to quotes, it really depends to me on why you’re using it. In general, I don’t like starting an essay with a quote by a famous person, as it’s taking someone else’s words to open your essay that should be your words. However, if the quote is from a situation you encountered, that’s a little different, because it’s an experience you went through and can relate to. I also like this quote because it really jumps out as a first line and raises a bunch of questions–who is saying this? Why are they saying it? Why would the person open an essay like this? Had they started with some lofty quote from a public figure they’d never met, that would be boring–but this is exciting and provokes interest.) 

As a student at UNC Charlotte, I frequently walked to class through uptown, a public space where hundreds of homeless people congregate to seek shelter and to ask for assistance. When I heard a businessman shout these words—plus several profanities—it left me literally nauseous.

Hate, malice, disrespect, false accusations, unwarranted arrests for “disturbing the peace,” curses, verbal abuse—the homeless population in uptown encounter these problems daily. The homeless man might’ve become jaded to the businessman’s words, but I had had enough. I walked up to the homeless man and asked him if he needed help, taking a genuine curiosity in his needs.

(Some generalized description can help set the stage, as this first line in the second paragraph does. But it’s important to remember that a specific narrative will play much better than a general description of an event, so it’s great to see this writer return to the narrative with the last line in the second paragraph.)

He stated he had to take the CATS train by a certain time to get to his destination but needed some cash to buy a ticket. I had the money to help him, and while I eventually gave it to him, I knew from looking into his eyes I could give him something invaluable—human connection. I walked with him to the train station, discussing the path of life and how while things can get almost unfathomably bad, they can also turn for the better over time. When I left him at the train station, he thanked me for my time, noting how almost everyone ignored him or berated him. Even the ones who gave him money, he said, did so for their self-benefit or to fulfill volunteer duties.

(I really like that the writer doesn’t just describe what he saw, but what he felt. I speak all the time about the importance of narrative, but a narrative by itself doesn’t do enough. You have to reflect some on the narrative, and I like that the writer reflects on what he saw in the homeless man’s eyes.)

I could not forget that moment even as classes, social life, and time threatened to bury it in my memory. I made it a habit to speak to other homeless individuals in the area and did some research on the area. Once the recession hit, the homeless population had to utilize it for shelter. Since that time, the homeless dealt with the problems that man faced.

I knew I wanted to make a true difference. Treating them as the humans they are with friendly conversation would lift their spirits, but I could not help everyone by myself. Fortunately, I had some friends who felt the same way I did, and we founded HelpTheHomeless.

HelpTheHomeless brings together people of a variety of backgrounds to befriend the homeless. We don’t just feed their stomachs—we feed their hearts with supportive words, active listening, and extended hands to lift them up from where they’ve fallen.

(This is a case where good writing can make an essay stand out. “We don’t just feed their stomachs–we feed their hearts” is a great sentence with great structure that will bring a smile to the reader’s face. If you can get a visible reaction from a reader with your final product, you’re doing something right.)

Our club makes every effort to better their lives with opportunities as well. For example, we met a woman who had terrific business management skills but terrible luck in her life. We got her and several other homeless folks to attend a closed-door job fair, landing many of them jobs. We also managed to secure sponsorship for a man to take classes on Udemy after he expressed great passion for engineering and programming. Others receive social welfare, financial, and exercise classes to get them physically and mentally fit.

We haven’t stopped at uptown, either. We’ve expanded our efforts to other areas in Charlotte densely populated with the homeless. Furthermore, we are in talks with the city government to sponsor weekly events to help those in need get jobs or receive valuable education.

I know my work affects just one part of one city in one state, but I believe the steps we’ve taken have already improved the lives of many for the better. Recently, on a walk through uptown, I encountered the same man who inspired me to start HelpTheHomeless. We only spoke for a brief moment, but he expressed profound gratitude and offered three words that I will always take to heart.

“Keep it up.”

(I like that he closes the essay by bringing up the first homeless man once more. I always believe in an essay of this length [about 650 words, the typical length of a personal statement], you should do your best to bring an essay full circle in your conclusion.

OVERALL: This essay hits a lot of the key points I like to stress to my clients. It has a truly strong opening, it has a reflective narrative, it builds to an accomplishment or moment they take pride in, and it comes full circle. Every essay can always use more detail, but there’s also the reality that 650 words just isn’t enough to get everything you want in. If I were the student who wrote this essay, I would submit this feeling very confident that it bolsters my chances of admission to the school I’m applying for.

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Writing Tip #1: Brevity

Writing Tip #1: Brevity

In the spirit of brevity, I’m going to keep this under 500 words, no matter what.

If you’re not used to writing several hundred words about a topic, it can seem like you’ve written all of your essay after 350 words, only to groan when you realize you need to get it closer to 500. So you start stretching what you’ve written before. Instead of “I played point guard for my school’s varsity team the last three years,” you say “I held the position of starting point guard for my high school’s varsity team over the course of the last three seasons in which we won multiple games.”

A good writer knows the value of brevity. You may think that turning a 500-word piece into 340 words will make your life difficult, but it actually provides huge benefits. It gives you more room to provide more enriching content. You should always make your writing more concise; even fluff fiction keeps their words to a minimum as much as possible.

An Example in Brevity

“I began to believe that maybe if I could stay after practice to kick more field goals than normal, I might give my team a chance to win our next game.”

My first issue here is the use of the verb “begin.” Verbs like “begin,” “ought,” “realize,” “know,” and a couple others are fillers. A sentence like “I know that I can succeed” can almost always be condensed to “I can succeed.” So I’m cutting this down to “I believed that…”

Next, I dislike what I call “conditional phrases.” “Maybe,” “Perhaps,” “If I can,” weaken your writing and make you sound less confident. So this now gets cut down to “I believed that if I…”

“Could stay after practice to kick more field goals than normal” has a couple of words you can knock off. “Could” is not necessary, although you will sometimes need this word. You can cut “than normal.” So now we have “I believed that if I stayed after practice to kick more field goals…”

“I might give my team a chance to win our next game.” We’ve already discussed might, but here, “would” or “could” as a replacement makes the flow better. I actually would reword this to “I would improve my team’s success.” “Success” is a much briefer version of “a chance to win.” Finally, “improve” makes for a more active verb.

Finally, we have “I believed that if I stayed after practice to kick more field goals, I would improve my team’s success.” If we wanted to, we could cut this down even further, perhaps to something like “I knew extra practice kicking field goals would win us more games.”

If not, you still opened up 12 words. And that’s just from one sentence. What can you do with more words with just a few edits for brevity?

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Personal Statement Example #1: Physics in Writing

Personal Statement Example #1: Physics in Writing

The following is a personal statement example that I have worked on. Identifying information has been changed. My thoughts are written in bold after some paragraphs.

As a child, I would look to the heavens and see the billions of stars, seemingly clustered together. When people said they hoped to become a star someday, I understood. The metaphor of the star defined my life.

(This opening sets the tone for the rest of the essay. “The metaphor of the star defined my life” is something that will play out over the course of this essay. With your opener, it is crucial to immediately grab the reader’s attention while giving some indication of what is to come throughout the essay.)

But until about two years ago, it defined it for a very different reason. Instead of glowing brightly through the night, illuminating the world and providing sustaining energy for those around me, I felt isolated, drifting through space with no goal in mind.

(One of my favorite styles of opening is to write a sentence or two in which a metaphor or a situation seems normal… and then twist it and go in the opposite direction. While this opener might sound depressing, as long as the essay ends on a positive note [which it does], then we can start in a dark place, perhaps literally.)

I started as a nebula, unrefined and needing outside forces to put me together. At such an early age, I know it takes many forces to bring this field into a defined star. But when most stars form, they don’t have planets. They don’t have any companions.

For the first ten years of my education, like the stars without any companions, I drifted through school and life, not caring about my performance. If I got a poor grade in school, what did it matter? If I did not show passion for anything, it’s not like it affected anyone. I didn’t take any notes in class. I pulled my hair to pass the time. I watched television when I came home, but I never gravitated toward any show—I just watched whatever occupied the time slots of 4 p.m. to about 7 p.m.

(I would’ve preferred some specificity here in terms of what poor grades they got or what shows they watched, but the client wanted to keep the physics language more than include specifics here, which is fine. It’s a tricky maneuver, but because of how nicely it works, it’s permissible.)

It’s not that I wanted to remain like this. I kept waiting for something to change my life for the better. But for all of the hand-wringing I did, that hand-wringing never turned into action. In short, I just hoped a stray planet would float into my orbit, giving me a reason to shine.

Although stars go on until they run out of hydrogen in their core and turn into a red giant regardless of their surroundings, by sophomore year, because of my surroundings, my core began to feel depleted. I didn’t see how things would change.

Then I got my report card home for the end of ninth grade.

(Short, one-sentence paragraphs might be considered anathema in high school essays, but in essays like this personal statement example here, they are critical. They keep the reader flowing smoothly through the essay, draw attention to the single line, and have a nice way of grabbing back the attention of the reader if it has shifted for whatever reason.)

Up to that point, I had gotten grades not good enough to feel pride but not bad enough to feel shame. But when I looked at my transcript, I felt genuine embarrassment. I failed French and had several other grades that barely qualified as passing. I felt sick and ashamed of myself.

I went home to find my parents waiting for me, having seen my grades. They had the only reaction worse than fiery anger: resigned disappointment.

I had never seen them so unsettled in my life. They couldn’t even muster outrage at what I had slid into. They just sighed and said that they thought I would do better. My emotions mirrored theirs. But for everything that happened in that moment, my parents didn’t reignite my core.

What lit the fire within me was seeing my younger siblings looking at me intensely. They had a mixture of sadness and confusion on their face—wasn’t I the shining star of the family?

(The narrative shift this essay takes on, describing the feeling the student feels with his parents and siblings, is what helps the essay properly shift from “I wasn’t good before” to “I reached my potential.” As a rule, the more anecdotal and narrative you can be, the better, because it helps enforce one of the rules of writing: show, don’t tell.)

Suddenly, I realized I wasn’t the lone star sailing through the cosmos, removed from any other celestial bodies by millions of miles. I had multiple “planets” that I shined on for, and I needed to start acting that way.

Starting that summer, I didn’t wait for the big moment. I made several moments happen. I pursued my true passion, physics and astronomy, with an insatiable hunger. I read articles and watched videos on quantum mechanics and even dabbled in trying to figure out my own theories. I examined at the current research in theoretical physics and astronomy, specifically what came before the creation of the universe and what will come after. I had revitalized my core.

Now, when I think of stars, I don’t think of myself as a lone source of luminosity in the night. I think of me as our Sun, providing light and guidance for my siblings.

(I’m a big believer that closing paragraphs should always revolve around the introduction to bring it full circle. Recall is a nice tool that creatives use in their works, and it’s something you can use too.)

(Overall Thoughts: This was one of the more unique essays I worked on, because the client wanted to focus as much on the language of physics as they did on what they’d done. The important thing to remember, though, is that while a good writing style is important, it only works if you have strong content to back it up. In an ideal world, your writing and your content is superb, but if you can only choose one, go with great content. In this case, the content of going home after ninth grade is what allows this essay to shine. It’s a moment of true growth, and they show what they did after to succeed. I would’ve probably ditched the physics language for some more specificity, but as far as what one can do with words, this is a great personal statement example of creativity.)

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