The “Ideal Applicant”
“An RA should have strong interpersonal skills.”
“A graduate student should be passionate about their field of research.”
“An employee should always be a hard worker.”
In the Spring semester, the UConn Writing Center sees many students who want to work on Personal Statements, Letters of Intent, and other application-based documents. We (Ashantee, Elizabeth, and Ricky) have found ourselves dealing with papers that discuss “ideal applicants” rather than the person writing the paper.
In a phrase, a person needs to show, and not tell. Oftentimes, the writer is producing quality work, but they need to be reminded that it’s a statement of his or her purpose, or intent. Without the distinction in mind, one can easily write a generic response like those seen above. It isn’t sufficient to lecture the audience about what candidates should or should not be doing - instead, they can become a more active writer, showing how their experiences and skills will contribute to the program.
Ricky’s strategy is to have the writer put their goal at the top of the paper, with optional (but strongly recommended) sparkles for inspiration. Then, he suggests that they list the skills that they see as relevant to the program. Is the writer energetic, or hard working, or responsible? Are they all of the above? Once the list is created, they can group them together, and then show how they have demonstrated those qualities in their day to day life.
Elizabeth recently worked with several undergraduate writers who were working on applications to academic programs at UConn. When dealing with writers who don’t explicitly connect experience to intent, Elizabeth asks, “How have these experiences helped you develop academically, socially, or in other areas of life? How can the skills and knowledge gained through these experiences be an asset to you if you are accepted into the program?” Sometimes writers get bogged down in listing events, teams, research, and travel but leave out the crucial connection between those experiences and their future academic or career goals. Elizabeth believes that this oversight may be just that - an oversight. Writers are so close to their own stories that the connection often seems so obvious to them, whereas the reader is left wondering why the writer chose to talk about that particular topic.