Crafting Your Personal Statement

Perhaps the most important part of your application alongside your GPA.

Here is our advice on how to approach it.

You Have a Unique Story. Tell it.

You, as a veteran or active service member, are not the common applicant. Whether your military career revolved around helicopters, special operations, heavy equipment, or anything in between, you have unique life experiences that illustrate your dedication to a life of rigor for our nation’s safety. We highly recommend using some of the life lessons you’ve learned in the military to help tell your story. However, be careful as to not speak exclusively about your military experience. Universities are often searching for well-rounded applicants. Be sure to use the military to enhance your narrative, not define it.

Note: Many of us want to leap from our military careers into being “normal” civilians, but there are times when being a veteran plays significantly in your favor. This is one of those times.

Avoid Specialized Military Jargon

Though we recommend that you at least refer to your military experience in the personal statements, we must advise with these words of caution: avoid using niche military slang or acronyms within your essays, because admissions officers will most likely not know what you’re talking about. Instead, use more generalized terminology. For example, instead of saying “NODs” or “NVGs,” just say “night vision goggles,” or instead of “kevlar,” just say “helmet.”

There is a time to further dive into your detailed military background. This is where Service to School comes in, a nonprofit organization who provides you with a document called the Veteran Addendum. This document is your opportunity to explain your billets, qualifications, deployments, and awards throughout your military career. For more information on Service to School and other free, nonprofit programs, check out Organizations We Love.

Include Specifics as to Why You Want to Attend their School in Particular

Thousands of students are applying to the same universities that you are, and many of them are probably applying with the same generic essays. Make yours stand out. Tailor your essays to each individual school, and tell the admissions staff why you want to attend their school in particular. Perhaps they offer a unique major, or maybe you identify with the school mission statement. Regardless of the reason, we recommend you remain positive. Speak to their unique opportunities of which you intend to take advantage. Do not speak poorly of other schools, including the one from which you are transferring.

Ask Skilled, Trustworthy People to Review Your Essays

This may be one of the most important steps in crafting the perfect personal statement (and all other admissions essays). You will become so invested in your statements, that you will likely be too close to the problem to identify various types of errors. Asking people you respect to review your essays is crucial, as they will likely find errors as well as give their input as to how you can generally improve your rhetoric. In this step of the writing process, it is paramount that you remain open to constructive criticism. You will be so close to the problem, that often times, you will glance right over it. Remember, you already know your detailed life story—it’s yours. So, by asking someone else to read your statements, they will be able to point out any aspect that you might have accidentally left ambiguous.

I (Jake) relied heavily on a handful of people for their constructive criticism. I asked other students applying for transfer, as well as individuals who were already studying at prestigious universities. After all, they got in. Why wouldn’t I want their insight? One person who substantially helped review my essays was a Marine veteran and Warrior Scholar Project fellow who studies English at UC Berkeley— yet another reason to involve yourself in their program.

Service to School also serves to help you in this process. They will assign you a mentor, and that mentor will provide direct feedback to your essays as you proceed through the admissions process, whether you are applying as either a freshman or transfer. You can read more about both of these programs on our “Free Organizations We Love” page.

Ensure that You Ask a Civilian to Read Your Essays

The first civilian I (Jake) asked to review my personal statement asked me a question within my very first sentence: “what’s a klick?” We already touched on avoiding military jargon, and thankfully this was early on in the writing process, but nevertheless, my good friend Matt from the community college tutoring center called me out in about 30 seconds. Civilian critiques will help clarify whether or not your essays are easy to understand for the non-military reader. For a civilian’s review, seek help within your current college or base education center. Often times, English tutors will be able to provide great insight as to how your story comes across.

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