Educator Toolkit: Your Personal Statement

by Kara Dunn

Why This Matters Now

Passion is a word that gets tossed at high school students all the time. If you want fulfillment in your life and your career, you must follow your passion! Passion projects abound as sophomores, juniors and seniors look for creative and compelling ways to communicate their true passion to the world — and to discerning college-admissions officers.

Finding your passion has become almost cliché and, quite frankly, leaves many students (and adults) scratching their heads about what that truly means. Instead, we like to talk about purpose. What matters to you? Why are you here? What do you hope to achieve? Where do you want to be after high school? Eric Furda, dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, often says that the time of college discovery, for example, needs to be a mindful process where students aren’t just thinking about “getting in,” but thinking deeply about what is important to them. It is a time to reflect. He has devised a simple self-assessment tool to help guide students through the exercise of self-discovery.

While high school is often about dazzling the outside world with impressive achievements and grade point averages, it is equally if not more important to encourage students to look inward and explore who they really are. This will help their purpose take shape and empower them to make informed decisions about their future. Crafting personal statements is a great place to start.


Building a ‘Work Brand’ that People Will Brag About
As students begin to explore who they are, it’s important to think about it in the context of their personal brand, or more specifically, the characteristics that they become known for in school, life and the workplace. In today’s competitive world, personal brand has become an important differentiator. Whether applying to college, interviewing for a first job, or even angling for a promotion at work, it all comes down to who you are, what you value, and how you pursue your goals. This article gets students thinking and talking about their own brand and why it matters, and it gives them a snapshot of what an exceptional employee brand looks like. It will help set the stage for developing their personal statements. “A lot of kids in high school… think that by the time they go to work they will flip a switch and have an amazing personal brand,” says Pamila Brown, a community investment specialist with Manpower Group. “But laying the foundation today for your personal brand is very important. You need to begin to build those characteristics that you see as good for you, so that the day you go out to get that position, you already have a well-developed brand.”

Lesson Plan
Personal Statements: Writing an Outline
KWHS provides a “Personal Statements” unit that includes four lesson plans, beginning with brainstorming and ending with peer review and editing. We encourage educators to use them all when tackling the personal-statement activity with your students. This particular lesson plan involves the Work Brand article linked above and guides students through the process of thinking about their plans for the future and beginning to craft personal statements that outline their goals and qualifications. Two handouts and a fun MadLibs assignment will provide valuable tools for reflection and self-discovery. For quick access to the other lessons (this is considered Part 2 in the module), here are Part 1, Part 3 and Part 4.

Hands-on Learning
A personal statement should ultimately become a short essay of some five paragraphs that elaborates on students’ goals and qualifications. This exercise has helped them to prioritize what they value, where they excel, and what they want to accomplish with their lives and then present it in a persuasive narrative.

Now, challenge those same students to be concise by writing a one-sentence purpose statement. It won’t be easy! They must wade into all of that thinking and writing to extract the essence of who they are and, more importantly, what drives them. Think of it as their philosophical heartbeat; it should connect with the heart as well as the head. Encourage them to share their purpose statements and to keep them accessible so they can refer back to them.

Sesha Dhanyamraju, CEO of Digital Risk in Florida, U.S., often works with high school students to help them identify and embrace their purpose. He says, “It’s very important for people across all generations to understand their true purpose” and to write it down. He urges students to continually revisit that purpose statement during important life changes to make sure they are still honoring what they consider their purpose, or if they possibly need to revise it. “I first did this exercise when I was in my early 20s,” notes Dhanyamraju. “I still vividly remember that purpose statement. It was to live my life in such a way that I would help each and every person in my sphere of influence realize their full potential. When I’m in doubt, I go back to that purpose statement and basically ask myself the question: ‘Am I living that purpose or not?’

Video Glossary
Provide an extra layer of learning for your students with our video glossary. Here, Wharton professors define terms: Brand and Branding.

KWHS Quote of the Month
“It does feel much better to consider my ideology, intellectual prowess, friendships and family, and personal happiness, for I know that I will always fail if I never satisfy myself first.” – Ram Mandava, student, West Deptford High School, New Jersey, responding in the comment section to the KWHS article, How to Reflect on What Matters to You as You Begin the College Search

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