"Resume Material Shouldn't Appear on My Personal Statement": Understanding a Misunderstanding
Even during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are applying to academic and professional programs that require something that is typically known as a personal statement or statement of purpose (SOP). The broader category of "application essays" encompasses programs at the undergraduate level. The terms personal statements and SOPs are generally used in the context of graduate and professional programs. People are applying for two main reasons. They might have originally been on a track leading to their target area of study—or maybe the pandemic has prompted them to think in terms of changing directions, necessitating the acquisition of new knowledge or credentials. Either way, the personal statement can be a critical piece of an application package, even more so in the context of the trend toward waiving the requirement for standardized tests. In other words, admission to one's preferred program often hinges on the quality of the personal statement (or otherwise-named application essay). People often get stuck on these statements, saying, "I don't know what to write." Part of the problem is that applicants are afraid to mention anything that appears on their resume (also known in some contexts as a curriculum vitae or CV). "I've been told that I shouldn't mention anything that appears on my resume because that would be redundant," they explain. But that puts them in a difficult situation, for the simple reason that almost anything they've done or been involved in that is highly significant does appear on their resume. So they feel stuck—and understandably so.
At the root of the problem here is a misunderstanding … based in a literal interpretation of the prohibition against "including anything from the resume" on the personal statement.
At the root of the problem here is a misunderstanding, the misunderstanding based in a literal interpretation of the prohibition against "including anything from the resume" on the personal statement. What is really meant by this is more along these lines: Do not simply string together resume material and call that a personal statement. At its best, a personal statement is almost always "intellectual autobiography," in other words, a narrative about the development or evolution of your thinking over time. The only way to tell a story convincingly is with specifics. For this reason, various items mentioned in your resume must be mentioned. The point is that you are not just reciting these items absent the intellectual autobiography. Rather, you are weaving together the story of your intellectual autobiography, which unavoidably involves milestones that appear on your resume. "My experience in [the academic program I most recently completed] affirmed in my mind my dedication to the career path along which I have been traveling for several years now." To take a simple example, the applicant who writes this in her personal statement is showing how an earlier academic program relates to the program for which she is now applying. She is telling the story of her intellectual autobiography. She really cannot do that without referring to the earlier academic program, which has served as a stepping stone to where she finds herself at the time of application. There is nothing wrong with this.
The mistaken belief in a taboo against mentioning items that appear on one's resume is based in a … failure to communicate the true principle accurately.
The belief in a taboo against mentioning items that appear on one's resume is based in a misunderstanding, arising from the failure to communicate the true principle accurately. It is not that you are not supposed to mention material from your resume but rather that you are not supposed to simply regurgitate resume material, stringing it together mindlessly and naming it your personal statement. You must provide meaning to the story, by filling in the elements of intellectual autobiography that explain what appears on your resume. (And by the way, don't expect that the readers of your personal statement will either have committed the information on your resume to memory or will be referring to a copy of your resume that they are keeping in front of them as they read your statement.)
With that misunderstanding cleared up, it should be easier for you to either work out a draft on your own or collaborate with a professional who can help you do that.
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