April 12, 2024

Master the Art of Storytelling in Your Personal Statement

John Stewart, one of my favorite comedians and talk-show hosts, often builds up his jokes in a seemingly roundabout way, taking the audience on a ride before finally landing one of his signature punchlines.

In the comedy world, you could call this the “long walk,” where you entice the listeners to go on a journey with you, all with the promise of making it worth their time in the end.

And that’s the artful challenge of comedy–you must not only convince the audience to indulge you and your story, but also deliver in the end. Otherwise, the whole thing falls flat.

The same idea could be applied to storytelling in your personal statement. You only have so much time and space to capture your audience’s attention and arrive at a satisfying conclusion (much like the half-hour or hour-long spots that comedians get).

So, if you’re going to spend your precious words/characters in your personal statement on a story, it must come around (the more efficiently, the better) to a resonant point about your positive qualities and/or your professional aspirations.

This is a primary topic from my recent conversation with Janet Snoyer, where we discuss some of the pros, cons, and key strategies when telling stories in your admissions essays.

Here are the questions to ask yourself before including a story in your personal statement:

1. Can I tell this story in a way that’s simultaneously compelling and concise?
2. Is the story’s message or power worth the space I am dedicating to it?
3. Do I think it will hold people’s attention while also making a definitive point?
4. Do I understand the true function of the story in my overall narrative?
5. Is it communicating something crucial about myself or my long-term goals?

If you can’t answer yes to all or most of these questions, there’s a strong chance that the story is not worth your time, and more importantly, the audience’s.

I recommend watching highlights of my other conversations with more of our experts, where we discuss more admissions strategies on YouTube or TikTok .

- Rob

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