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Four Tips To Write A Great Personal Statement

By Andrea Byrd (Mississippi Valley State University)

Student Career Journal is a series of articles written by HBCU college students about life on campus, career topics and the career and professional experiences of black historical figures.

If you are going to grad school, it’s pretty clear that personal statements are on your mind. Primarily the personal statement is a subjective piece of work. However, once an application is attached to a personal statement more objective criteria like grammar efficiency, education details and college activities are highly important. There are some common mistakes and misconceptions that people often make and should know about before writing personal statements. One of the main misconceptions is that it has to be hard to do. All you need are a few tips on crafting an original piece that emulates the real you in the best way.

1) Give yourself a guideline. Winging it isn’t always beneficial. Personal statements are often presented with no specific prompt. This can be a sigh of relief for some writers, but it can also be another way to bore the reader with rambling. So if you don’t get a guideline, create one for yourself with a specific memory or personal experience you want to convey and tie it into your desire for the application you seek. For instance, someone seeking a career in Biology might write about how their affinity for science began and the evolution of it. 

2) Always spell and grammar check your personal statement. Incorrect grammar and spelling are a surefire way to get your application tossed into the reject pile. It can be tricky but there are several free proof-reading tools on the internet to suit your grammar needs. It also helps to let a friend read your personal statement after you write it. Sometimes when a friend looks over our writing, they’ll catch plenty that we didn’t. 

Writing Personal Statements

3) Be original. The purpose of a personal statement is to give the selection committee or potential employer reviewing your application and have a better understanding of who you are. The sheer number of applications acts as a barrier between applicants and reviewers, so an essay that is about you and your experiences can make or break your application. It’s not about telling your life story, rather the moment in your life that changed you in some way. Or, the way someone impacted you and shaped who you are now. The way in which you communicate this experience is completely up to you, but that template is a good one to keep in mind.

4) Even though you want to go deep, try and still keep it simple. In terms of word choice, less can always be more. Employers who are reading resumes don’t need too much sensory language when trying to read about the potential employee. It’s the same concept here with admissions officers reading your personal statement. If you are recounting a story or an experience, they want a simple, accurate, but not an overly academic depiction of the role you played in it. According to Fast Company, “It may seem like everyone uses jargon, but you’ll be a breath of fresh air if you master the art of simple communication.”

So remember, don’t get too caught up if your word choice and tone of expression seems baseline. As long as you use your words efficiently and tell a personal story in your personal statement, you’ll do great!

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Five Black Mississippi Trailblazers and Innovators

By Andrea Byrd (Mississippi Valley State University)

Student Career Journal is a series of articles written by HBCU college students about life on campus, career topics and the career and professional experiences of black historical figures.

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer was a black powerhouse from the Mississippi Delta with humble beginnings as a child of sharecropper parents. A voice for those unheard, her career involved starting organizations like Freedom Summer and helped start The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Her strive for civil rights carried throughout her life, unifying black women, especially in suffrage. Her efforts still hail back to the Mississippi Delta today as the Mississippi Valley State University, my HBCU, plans to issue a marker to commemorate her as a part of the 2020 Women’s History Month Celebration.

Benjamin Green and Isaiah T. Montgomery

Benjamin Green and Isaiah T. Montgomery were the founders of an all-black town named Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Both men hailing from the delta, had a deep affinity for black liberation with a streak of individualism. So, they bought over 200 acres of land and developed a community of black people who sought control over their own land and futures.

Henry E. Baker

Born in 1857 in Columbia, Mississippi, Henry E. Baker was an activist and researcher who spent years doing research aimed at highlighting the achievements of unknown black inventors. After leaving a career in the Navy, Baker began to work for the U.S. Patent Office in order to get black creators more resources to protect their inventions. By 1913, his book The Colored Inventor: A Record of Fifty Years had compiled hundreds of documents detailing the exploits of previously uncredited black inventors.

Benjamin Montgomery 

Born into slavery, Benjamin Montgomery was an inventor and the father of Isaiah T. Montgomery (A co-founder of Mound Bayou, Mississippi). He invented what at the time was called “a steamboat propeller for shallow waters”. It sounds simple, but this was actually a vital technology at the time given the cargo that steamboats were carrying. People often carried food between towns via shallow waters. If a boat got stuck during a delivery the goods could spoil before reaching their destination.

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Virginia’s College Grants For More Than Just Tuition

It is verifiable truth that college students spend their precious financial aid dollars on a lot more than tuition. Textbooks cost an arm and housing costs a leg. The free printing budget at almost any institution is in all likelihood, laughably small. And, if students don’t want to eat cafeteria food in the mess hall every single solitary day, three times a day, for four years, they’ll have to shell out a nice amount of grocery money. The state of Virginia is looking to ease that suffering of college students with a proposal that would give grants to cover the cost of living, not just tuition. 

This is part of Virginia’s G3 program which makes community college free for low and middle income students. What sets governor Ralph Northam’s project apart, is that it doesn’t default to either paying for the whole semester upfront, or just paying off the difference after adding up grants the student has received. The G3 program will not only pay off a student’s post grant balance but will add another $1,000 to aid in the cost of living. 

“Now these students are working two part-time jobs and not three,” said Megan Healy, the chief workforce development adviser for the state. 

The cost of living bonus is based on what a student would make working 10 hours a week at the state’s minimum wage of $7.25. Still, the program is limited to families that make up to 400 percent the state poverty level of $25,465 for a family of four. That means families making up to $101,860 are still eligible. That’s a pretty huge deal for a majority of students given that the median income in Virginia is around $72,500. 

The only real caveat to the deal is that students will have to sign a “community engagement agreement” which means that they will do two hours of work training or community and public service for every credit hour they sign up for.  That’s only about 30 hours of service for 15 free credits. It seems like even less of an issue when you consider that some poor NYU freshman 400 miles away is dropping $1,795 per credit hour with not a single cost of living bonus in sight. 

*Article by Raz Robinson, journalist and freelance writer, based in New York City. Connect with him on LinkedIn, follow him on Twitter @razrobinson or send an email to Rrob0904 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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