Pre-Grad Chat - November 29, 1999

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Chat Transcript: 
Six Steps to an Outstanding Statement of Purpose

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:08:10 PM) 
Welcome to's chat, "Six Steps to an Outstanding Statement of Purpose." Tonight we will focus on writing bold and brilliant essays for grad school. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:12:09 PM) 
I encourage dialogue and discussion, but I would like to suggest a structure to make it easier to follow the threads of conversation. So here is the protocol: 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:12:23 PM) 
I will post material to the chat. If you have a question on that material, please type a '?' and I and/or other participants will reply. If one of you wants to comment on the current topic, please jump right in. If you want to ask a question on a different topic, please wait for the second part of the chat. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:12:30 PM) 
I will open the second part of the chat to questions. Please ask any questions that you have pertaining to writing for grad school admission - essays or letters of recommendation. Again if you want to ask a question or raise a new subject, please type '?'; if you want to comment on a topic currently being discussed, type away! 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:12:40 PM) 
In previous chats on writing essays for medical, business, and law schools, I laid out a step- by-step process for writing these critical essays. If you are interested in that approach for your statement of purpose, please go to Transcripts Index and look at any of the chats on writing the personal statement for medical, law, or business school. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:12:49 PM) 
Tonight I want to take a more conceptual approach to the writing part of the application process. So the six steps this evening will be different from the six steps in the chats mentioned above and you may want to look at those transcripts for further advice. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:12:58 PM) 
Step #1 - Make sure you know why you want to obtain the degree. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:13:11 PM) 
This may seem obvious, but my clients frequently prove that it is not. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:13:17 PM) 
Graduate school is not a place to find yourself. Unlike undergraduate admissions staffs who do not take seriously the goals stated by seventeen-year-old high school seniors, graduate adcoms expect you to have some experience in your field and a clear idea of why you want to pursue graduate study. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:13:26 PM) 
Therefore make sure you can articulate either through course work or experience, paid or volunteer, what has motivated you to apply. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:13:33 PM) 
And be specific when describing your experiences. In fact be specific throughout. Specificity is critical to distinguishing yourself from your competition and to increasing interest in your essay. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:13:42 PM) 
If you write about your "volunteer work," you will sound like everyone else who writes about volunteer work. On the other hand if you write about Jane, whom you tutored and who went from hating math to majoring in it as a result of your tutoring, your essay will become more personal. Perhaps you could include a vignette or scene that reflects the gulf between where she started and where she ended up to concretize your accomplishment and make clearer why you would love to teach or want to pursue an MA in education. 

webmaster (29-Nov-99 9:13:56 PM) 
(This user has entered Grad School Admissions Essays) 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:13:57 PM) 
Similarly, perhaps your senior honors thesis provided just the kind of intellectual experience that you love and that attracts you to a life of research and teaching in academia. You could then discuss immersing yourself in the topic that appeals to you, which convinced you that you want to pursue a PhD in history. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:14:07 PM) 
Make clear that you are excited and passionate about the field through the experiences that rewarded and satisfied you. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:14:13 PM) 
Step #2 - Know what you want to do with your degree. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:14:22 PM) 
Do you want to teach, research, consult, manage, practice? Whatever it is, be able to state what you want to do with that degree. Certain programs, MBA's in particular expect tremendous clarity in goals. Law and medicine are much more lenient as are academic graduate programs. But all the programs expect you to realize that the degree is a means to an end. Tell them what your "end" is. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:14:30 PM) 
Step #3 - Explain why you want a degree from a particular school. 

webmaster (29-Nov-99 9:14:34 PM) 
(This user has left DigiChat) 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:14:37 PM) 
This step is so often botched. I can't tell you how many applicants think that if they write a generic paragraph and change school names they have done their job. Wrong. If you write a paragraph that could apply to almost every school you are applying to you are saying absolutely nothing. And the schools know it. They are not impressed. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:14:50 PM) 
Which programs are attracting you to a particular school? Which professors would you like to study with? Is there a professor whose research matches your interests and goals? (There should be.) Have you talked to students or alumni from that particular school? Have you sat in on classes? What appeals to you? Why would you attend that school? 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:14:57 PM) 
Again the specifics are the key to a successful execution of Step 3. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:15:04 PM) 
Steps 1-3 are crucial to a successful statement of purpose for graduate school. The reader of your statement should be able to answer those questions after reading your essay, but will successful implementation of these points make you stand out? Maybe. Effectively completing Steps 4-6 will definitely move your essay into the major leagues. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:15:12 PM) 
Step #4 - Examine your experiences and accomplishments, specifically those relating to the development of your career and educational goals: What is most distinctive about and important to you? 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:15:39 PM) 
If you answer this question successfully in your essay, you will transform yourself from SS#123-45-6789 with a particular transcript and GRE into a human being. For many of the schools, particularly competitive ones, that is an important factor. Part of the statement's job is to let the school meet you. Will your values match theirs? Will you add a special quality or trait to the department or just blend into the woodwork? 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:15:47 PM) 
I know I said it above and I say again and again: specifics are vital. Judicious use of specifics, particularly those important to you and distinctive about you will make you stand out. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:15:56 PM) 
Step #5 - Make your essay a blend of description and analysis that complements the information found in the rest of the application, transcripts, etc. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:16:02 PM) 
While I always emphasize specifics and details, the essays are also about insight. You don't want to simply repeat your transcript or resume. The essay should complement them, and go beyond them. Why is a particular event important? What did you learn from it? How did you change as a result? 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:16:13 PM) 
Vivid description provides color and texture; analysis reveals insight and understanding. You want both. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:16:20 PM) 
Step #6 - Make sure it is held together by a theme and transitions. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:16:30 PM) 
I have mentioned many different elements that belong in outstanding essay, but of course you can include them all and have a nonsensical hodge-podge. What is the glue that holds it all together? 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:16:42 PM) 
A theme. You need to have a point that you are trying to communicate with the specifics and insights that you bring to bear on the application. When you have a moment, look at the sample essays at Graduate Sample Essays. They reveal the writers' interest in their fields, explore how that interest developed, discuss their goals, and introduce a unique human being. Though covering a lot of ground each one is tied together by a theme, and that theme is critical to the essay's success. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:16:51 PM) 
Transitions are also key to moving successfully from topic to topic. Make sure you take your reader with you in your writing. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:17:08 PM) 
This concludes the presentation part of the chat. If you were really writing your personal statement you would need to go back and edit it thoroughly, perhaps show it to a few others (maybe even an editor) and finally whip it into top shape. But for us here and now, I would like to open the chat to your questions. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:17:28 PM) 
Do you have any questions? 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:17:42 PM) 
What are you planning to apply to? 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:17:44 PM) 
Everything i just read will help alot 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:17:52 PM) 
Good. I am glad! 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:17:55 PM) 
chemistry programs at 3 schools 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:18:00 PM) 
Which schools? 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:18:05 PM) 
i am the absolute worst in essays 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:18:22 PM) 
Villanova University (PA) UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:18:23 PM) 
don't say that. You haven't read some of the ones I have read. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:18:39 PM) 
Have your worked in a lab? 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:18:57 PM) 
in an Internship yes 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:19:07 PM) 
I do have a question 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:19:10 PM) 
What do you hope to do with the degree? 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:19:18 PM) 
Sure, go ahead. 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:20:10 PM) 
My internship was done in a crime lab, and as a result i really did not have hands on experience in working in the lab, due to legalities with working with evidence... I'm not sure if it would be beneficial to mention it 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:20:55 PM) 
That partially depends on what you decide to include in the essay and the other experience that you can bring to bear on your decision to pursue graduate study. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:21:08 PM) 
Did you enjoy your work in the crime lab? Did it influence your decision? 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:21:15 PM) 
yes on both questions 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:21:28 PM) 
How did it influence your decision? 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:21:39 PM) 
it really just confirmed my decision 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:21:53 PM) 
What experiences led you to make it in the first place? 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:22:24 PM) 
is that rhetorical? 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:22:34 PM) 
No. That's a real question. 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:22:49 PM) 
ok sorry, can you be more specific then, when you say "make it" 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:23:25 PM) 
What three factors or experiences caused you to decide to pursue graduate study in chemistry? 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:24:31 PM) 
a need to make a contribution to others, important belief in the law, and personal interest 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:25:03 PM) 
Do you plan to continue in forensic chemistry? 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:25:21 PM) 
yes, also perhaps teaching in the future at the college level 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:25:41 PM) 
It seems to me you have a very clear theme in your answer to my earlier question. 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:25:49 PM) 
thank you 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:26:06 PM) 
You want to pursue an education in chemistry and a career in forensic chemistry for the three reasons you stated there. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:26:11 PM) 
That would be your theme. 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:26:19 PM) 
ok great 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:26:50 PM) 
Then discuss where you have helped people, how you developed an interest in law (probably referring to the crime lab work) and you long-time interest in chemistry. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:27:03 PM) 
Develop each of those ideas. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:27:19 PM) 
also add why the particular schools you have chosen will help you achieve your goals. 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:27:19 PM) 
i did read some of the sample essays on the main web page, and some of them read like a chronology of events of a person's life; I was under the impression that this is not the way to go?? 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:27:46 PM) 
Chronology is not good or bad. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:27:57 PM) 
It is bad when you simply read I did this and I did that. 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:28:05 PM) 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:28:15 PM) 
It is good if it supports your theme. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:28:34 PM) 
But if you don't get past the autobiographical babble, it don't work! 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:28:45 PM) 
ok thank you 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:28:54 PM) 
Do you have any other questions? 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:29:02 PM) 
Another question 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:29:06 PM) 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:29:56 PM) 
I know you are not supposed to include any negative information in your essay, but would showing how a person overcame a disadvantage or set back show motivation to succeed in a person's chosen career? 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:30:34 PM) 
You don't want to whine about negatives in your past or make excuses, but showing that you have overcome disadvantage is neither of the above. 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:30:42 PM) 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:30:55 PM) 
To the contrary, overcoming obstacles is the stuff of great essays. 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:31:20 PM) 
another question 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:31:23 PM) 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:33:25 PM) 
What do you think about being "philosophical" in an essay? Would it be advantageous to show that you made a choice after rationalizing a situation that people have many different view on? For example, why we are here (in existence) in the first place? 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:34:00 PM) 
As I said above, the essays need to combine description and analysis. 

RG (29-Nov-99 9:34:15 PM) 
(This user has entered Grad School Admissions Essays) 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:34:21 PM) 
That means that some thoughtful comments and insight into the way you think and what you value is good. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:34:38 PM) 
But I would avoid preaching or getting heavily (and wordily) philosophical. 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:34:43 PM) 
ok good 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:34:52 PM) 
Experience and anecdotes are usually much more interesting reading. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:35:00 PM) 
Hi RG. Welcome. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:35:12 PM) 
We are in the question and answer part of the chat. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:35:18 PM) 
Do either of you have any questions? 

RG (29-Nov-99 9:35:22 PM) 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:35:25 PM) 
I want to thank you Linda for your time 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:35:33 PM) 
You're very welcome. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:35:53 PM) 
If you are planning to leave, please send any feedback to

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:36:02 PM) 
But you don't have to leave. :-) 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:36:17 PM) 
will a transcript be available for this chat session? 

RG (29-Nov-99 9:36:20 PM) 
For me SOP is very important part. How do I make sure to highlight all the things I would like to 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:36:27 PM) 
Yes, but it will probably take a week or so. 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:36:54 PM) 
ok, i'll just scroll back and copy stuff down 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:37:08 PM) 
Read the transcript after it is posted or ask Neodymium because I just told him. :-) 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:37:20 PM) 
In summary there are three critical parts to every SOP: 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:37:51 PM) 
1. How you developed an interest in your particular field. Focus on experiences and real life activities or events, not just theory. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:38:11 PM) 
2. What you plan to do with the degree. What are your goals? How will the degree help you achieve them? 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:38:21 PM) 
3. Why do you want to attend this particular school? 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:38:51 PM) 
In all the above, specifics and details make the difference. Don' t write in generalities and platitudes. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:39:00 PM) 
How did I do Neodymium? 

RG (29-Nov-99 9:39:01 PM) 
Do grad SOP has to have research experience? What value is placed to work ex and extra activities 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:39:50 PM) 
(That was almost verbatim) 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:39:56 PM) 
You need to demonstrate some experience in your field If you are going for an academic degree where research is a significant requirement, then you should draw on research experience. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:40:00 PM) 
Thanks, N. 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:40:18 PM) 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:40:22 PM) 
Go ahead. 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:40:57 PM) 
One point I'd like to bring up: What if there really is not a significant reason for picking the schools you are applying to? 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:41:23 PM) 
There are thousands of schools in between PA and CA. You must have some reasons for choosing these three! 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:41:50 PM) 
Well only that I have family in CA and I like the area...and I can afford the tuition. 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:42:05 PM) 
it really was not a matter of prestige. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:42:10 PM) 
Even in Calif. there are many programs and schools. Why these? 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:42:30 PM) 
Do they have programs in forensic chemistry or law and chemistry? 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:42:42 PM) 
no only chemistry. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:42:49 PM) 
Are there any professors at these schools that attract you? 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:43:02 PM) 
Not specifically. No. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:43:08 PM) 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:43:24 PM) 
LOL, nope. 

RG (29-Nov-99 9:43:31 PM) 
Should you be specific in giving research interest? 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:43:44 PM) 
if you have one yes 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:43:45 PM) 
Then you need to do a little more homework on the schools so that you can find out why you want to attend them. 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:43:59 PM) 
thank you, LA 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:44:10 PM) 
RG, it is better if you have a specific research interest, particularly if applying for a Ph.D. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:44:18 PM) 
You're welcome, N. 

RG (29-Nov-99 9:44:54 PM) 
What if matches one prof. but not others? And this prof. does not have funding 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:45:33 PM) 
The funding is a whole other issue. Right now we are talking about expressing informed interest in a particular program. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:45:54 PM) 
If your research interests match those of a particular professor, you are showing that you are a match for the school and its department. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:46:04 PM) 
That is a plus in your application and the essay is a great place to show it. 

RG (29-Nov-99 9:46:35 PM) 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:46:42 PM) 
Other questions? 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:46:48 PM) 
No, thank you 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:46:59 PM) 
I would really appreciate feedback. Did you find the chat helpful? What topics would you like to see for future chats? How can we improve the chat or other site features? Would you come again? Please send feedback to Thank you very much for participating. 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:47:22 PM) 
Thank you again 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:47:26 PM) 
good nite. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:47:35 PM) 
Thank you again for coming. If you would like help with your essays, please register at this link. Good luck! 

RG (29-Nov-99 9:47:39 PM) 
How to make your essay noticeable? 

Neodymium (29-Nov-99 9:47:44 PM) 
(This user has left DigiChat) 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:47:58 PM) 
RG, using specifics and anecdotes makes your essay stand out. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:48:09 PM) 
Beyond that, we discussed some of this during the presentation. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:48:38 PM) 
The transcript will be posted in approximately one week at Transcripts Index

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:48:59 PM) 
I encourage you to look at the transcript and the transcript of some of the chats for law, business, etc. 

RG (29-Nov-99 9:49:14 PM) 
Looks like most things have been discussed. I would like to have a discussion with you. So why don't you give me tips on that 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:49:37 PM) 
You can call the office tomorrow. 
The number is 310-815-9553. 

RG (29-Nov-99 9:50:02 PM) 
and talk to whom? 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:50:10 PM) 
Ask for Linda Abraham. 

RG (29-Nov-99 9:50:32 PM) 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:50:36 PM) 
Good night. 

LAbraham (29-Nov-99 9:50:39 PM) 
Bye. Thanks for coming. (This user has left DigiChat)

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