Wednesday, November 3, 2010

You know what sucks?

Last night's election results?  BP?  Cold weather?  Unpaid overtime?

Sure.  But I'm talking about something so much worse ...

Writing personal statements.

Writing the essay was always the worst part of college applications.  I remember, not so fondly, staring at my screen and hating that colleges gave us such vague prompts.  Sometimes, they'd give you specific ones, and you'd scroll down and see which one was the best.  But there was always the obnoxious, "Another topic" option at the bottom that would frustrate you with false promises.  Won't it be soooo eaaaasy to write about whatever you want?  HELL NO, I don't know what to write about!  When I wrote my college essays, I wrote two of them, both answering specific questions:

1) Discuss something that was really disappointing.  How did you handle it?
2) Discuss how the place you grew up (family, town, area, state, country) affected your growth as a person.

Or something like that.  The first one was a prompt from MIT, and I wrote about how I was disappointed with the diagnosis of "idiopathic urticaria" I'd gotten from my allergist.  I wrote about how the illness made my life much more difficult, and that I was never going to find out the exact cause of it, nor would I ever have a cure.  The second one was an "optional" essay from Tufts.  I wrote about how growing up in Red Sox Nation had challenged me to believe that anything was possible, even if I had to just wait one more year (I wrote the essay a few months after the 2004 World Series win).  Awesome essays, got me into some great schools.  I wrote the second one in a day.

So, personal statements?  SO NOT COOL.  First of all, they're incredible vague.  You are essentially trying to sell yourself to the school, but it's difficult to know exactly what to write about.  Graduate schools seem less amused by creative essays than colleges did.  "But they're not vague prompts!" you say?  "They ask you about your research interests, your experience, and your career goals!  That's not vague at all!"

Yes, it is!  What about my research interests?  Do I just describe them?  Do I talk about how I thought immunology was a cool class?  Or do I discuss my trip to the hospital when my throat swelled shut because of an autoimmune disease?  And career goals?  My goal is to get my PhD and see what happens; I don't know what I want to do after that, and anyone who is absolutely sure of what they want to do with their PhD is a lying liar.  You don't know!!

So I have to write 1000 words of unorganized drivel while praying to not-god that the admissions office will not discriminate against me because of my history of autoimmunity flaring up.  And because this personal statement's contents are much more like a cover letter than an actual essay, it's very difficult to have an introduction and conclusion, so the whole thing sort of starts and ends abruptly.

That is what sucks!

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