Student Feature: Alexandra Piper

By Alex Piper, ’17

Ever since I was a kid, museums have been a point of fascination for me. I used to beg my parents to take my across the country to a certain museum or explain to my friends in nauseating detail about my favorite museums and exhibits. When it came time to look for an internship in the Fall of 2015, Dr. Baer directed me towards the Gerald R. Ford museum. As a History and Political Science double major, this internship program played to both of my interests while providing important and necessary work experience.

Like many people, I had a limited knowledge of Gerald Ford and his rise to the presidency in the mid 1970’s.

Working in the museum gave me a hands-on way to learn about President Ford and the historical context of the country he presided over while also learning the technical side of museums.

At the museum, I worked as a Collections Management intern under the Registrar, Jamie Draper. Jamie had an extensive knowledge of how museums work, but also knew so much about Gerald Ford and his life. One of my favorite parts of the internship was my ability to openly ask questions anything in the museum and learn so much from Jamie.

IMG_5242The main part of my internship consisted of doing behind the scenes work in Artifact Collections. This included basic photography, artifact cleaning and numbering, encapsulation, building custom storage mounts, accessioning, and cleaning up old records.

One of my favorite projects included handling a donated collection of over 150 Bicentennial items. This collection included lunch boxes, cooking supplies, pop cans, toys, and other objects celebrating America’s 200th birthday. IMG_5080Prior to working with the artifacts, I had not realized how significant the Bicentennial was for Americans at the time. Jamie helped me to understand that it was important for Americans to celebrate two hundred years of freedom and democracy, especially after the distrust that followed the Watergate Scandal, Vietnam, and a series of economic problems. I love the feeling of contributing to the museum’s collection and protecting a part of history.

I was also very fortunate to work in the museum during a few exciting times. The ArtPrize competition was happening in Grand Rapids at the beginning of my internship, and I was able to participate in setting up the museum to host the art. I learned how long of a process ArtPrize is, but it was exciting to see how the entire competition comes together.

IMG_5209I was also lucky to work in the museum while it closed down for renovations. This created a special project for the interns because we helped take down the entire core exhibit in the main part of the museum. This exhibit included artifacts that had not been handled in years like Watergate break-in tools, Betty Ford’s inaugural dress, Nixon’s pardon, and various head of state gifts. Working with these artifacts and experiencing that part of history in a tangible way was certainly an amazing experience.

When I started the internship, I was not sure how my education at Hope would apply to the job. I had never worked in a museum, but my job went beyond just technical skill. I worked on researching and writing about artifacts, a job aided by the historical writing skills my professors taught me. When writing about an artifact, I knew how to put it within a historical context. This ability made the entire learning experience richer.

IMG_5152This museum internship is a job that I will remember for a long time. I learned so many lessons, skills, and how to balance a school semester and work. Most importantly, however, I learned about Gerald R. Ford and the American presidency. Handling artifacts created a real approach to history, and helped me understand Ford a president, but most importantly, as a human.

I was privileged to work with people who understood and cared about the Fords as people, but also cared deeply about history. My supervisor, Jamie, and the curator, Don, taught me more than just the tactical side of museum work, but instilled important lessons about American history that I will be able to use in my future. I am fortunate to have worked under a relatively unknown President, and I hope that I can take this new knowledge and apply to both my History and Political Science majors, as well as teach others about President Gerald R. Ford.

If you are in the Grand Rapids area, go check out the newly renovated Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum!

Vienna Summer School, 2016

By Janis Gibbs

Janis in Vienna 1I am writing from Vienna, Austria, where we have just finished six weeks of May and June classes, and celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Hope College Vienna Summer School. I have spent my summers teaching in Vienna since 1998, under the directorship of my colleague, Professor Stephen Hemenway of the English Department. He has just finished his forty-first summer as the Director of the Summer School. The Vienna program was founded by the late Dr. Paul Fried, who was chair of the History Department for many years, and was Hope’s first Director of International Education.

450px-Holy_Roman_Empire_Crown_(Imperial_Treasury)2In Vienna, I teach the interdisciplinary humanities general education course, which combines history, philosophy, and literature. We focus on the theme of empire, and we take advantage of many of the cultural opportunities available in Vienna. Together, we visited Schönbrunn Palace, the imperial Habsburg tombs, the imperial treasury (where we saw the crown of the Holy Roman Empire, pictured here), and the Museum of Military History. Because this is the 100th anniversary of the death of the Emperor Franz Joseph, there were lots of chances to see exhibits focused on his life and times.

Janis Gibbs and John Knapp Vienna 2016This past weekend, we had a wonderful celebration in the Vienna Woods, attended by this year’s Hope Vienna students, as well as alumni, family, and friends of Hope College. President John Knapp also joined us for the festivities. We had a lovely buffet dinner, with orange and blue decorations supplied by Board of Trustees member Brian Gibbs, who has also been a participant in the Vienna Summer School for more than thirty years.

I always enjoy teaching in Vienna because I can see students discover all kinds of things about European history and culture.

The opportunities in Vienna are rich and varied. In May, we all went to a German-language production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” (called “Anatevka” in German), which took on special significance in light of the current refugee crisis in Europe. For a few days in May, the regular routes of public transportation near our classrooms were disrupted because many world diplomats, including Secretary of State John Kerry, were meeting in a nearby hotel to discuss possible responses to the Syrian civil war.

When we visited Prague, we saw the memorial to the Bohemian nobles executed at the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War in the 1600s, as well as more modern sites associated with the life of Franz Kafka, whose work we read in class. Many of us attended a free, outdoor concert at Schönbrunn Palace by the Vienna Philharmonic.

Last week, we were shocked, as were people around the world, by the Brexit vote. Studying (and teaching) in Vienna gives all of us, I think, a more immediate sense of history, and of the importance of world events occurring right now. It always gives us pause to realize how much Austrians know about American history and politics (and how little we, in return, know about Austria, at least at the beginning of the summer.) We hope, by the end, that we all have a better sense of the history of our host country.

Studying (and teaching) in Vienna gives all of us, I think, a more immediate sense of history, and of the importance of world events occurring right now.

It’s a treat to introduce students to Vienna. I’m happy to be a part of Hope’s long-standing Vienna Summer School, and I’m looking forward to many more successful summers in Vienna.

Alumni Feature: Cory Lakatos

cory_lakatosStudying history at Hope College helped keep me from becoming a snob. It turns out that this gives you a greater advantage in the world of work than you might realize. What do I mean? Well, before I get into that, let me give you some background on how I got where I am today.

I graduated from Hope in 2012 with a double major in history and English literature. At the time, I thought my history major would serve me well as I went on to graduate studies in English, in addition to its great intrinsic value.

To make a long story short, plans change.

God in His providence often doesn’t work the way we think He will.

For a variety of reasons, I didn’t end up going to grad school. I moved back to Holland to be close to my girlfriend, a history minor with another year to go at Hope (we got engaged soon thereafter, and are married now). I started hunting for a job, and I ended up landing a part-time retail job I frankly would have avoided if I’d had my druthers. However, one shouldn’t be too proud to work a menial job when necessary, and it did help make ends meet.

Around the same time I was talking to a connection at church, a local business owner and history buff who happens to be friends with Dr. Baer, the outgoing chair of Hope’s history department. He asked me if I had any editorial experience, and I mentioned my work at Hope’s student newspaper, in addition to my two writing-focused majors. Pretty soon I had picked up a second part-time job as an editor at his company, and before too long I worked my way up to a full-time position.

That’s how I came to be the office manager and chief copywriter at Black Lake Studio & Press, a strategic communications, marketing, and publishing company on 8th Street within sight of Hope’s campus. My designer colleagues and I like to say that we “help good people do good things,” working collaboratively with entrepreneurs, businesses, nonprofits, ministries, authors, and thought leaders to help them articulate their message and engage their audience. My role is mainly concerned with project management, writing, and editing.

lakatos-graduationBut what does my job have to do with being a history major and not being a snob? Well, there’s nothing like studying history to cure a person of “chronological snobbery,” which the great C.S. Lewis describes in Surprised by Joy as “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.” Young, twenty-first-century Americans are perhaps even more prone to this error than most, so I could have easily fallen prey to it. Learning to understand and appreciate people who lived in different times and places is one of the hallmarks of an education in history, and when done properly it eliminates chronological snobbery. It also kills other forms of snobbery and fosters many transferable skills.

Understanding that people think differently than you and being able to learn from them and communicate with them on their own terms whether you agree with or relate to them or not is essential in my work. I learned to do it through history research and writing. Sure, I didn’t communicate directly with the people of the past, but I listened to them in their writings and joined a conversation they had started. I do something similar when I listen to our clients and their customers, figure out what messages resonate with them, and write accordingly.

Earning a history degree has also given me research skills that are helpful during the discovery phase of projects.

The ability to read a cultural artifact verbally and visually has also been useful. And after four years of writing history papers, I am able to effectively structure an argument, back it up with solid, convincing evidence, and explain a concept clearly and succinctly. I need to do that every day in my job. On top of that, learning to play by the Chicago Manual of Style’s rules has also been to my advantage, since it serves as Black Lake’s go-to style guide.

In short, whether the Lord leads you down the path you were expecting or some stranger trail, and whether you end up working in the academy, the business world, or somewhere else entirely, you’re going to need communication skills, and you can’t afford to be a snob. There’s nothing quite like studying history to form you in this way.

June 23: an historic day

By Marc Baer

EUUN0001Next week, on June 23, British voters will participate in an historic event, the United Kingdom European Union (EU) membership referendum, popularly known as Brexit. At this moment polling reveals a razor-thin margin in favor of leaving.

British membership in the EU has been controversial since 1972, when the UK joined what was then the European Economic Community. In 1975, 67 percent of voters voted yes in a referendum on remaining in the EEC. Currently, “leavers” (also known as Eurosceptics) believe that a UK outside the EU would be better able to control immigration. There’s also hostility directed toward un-elected EU bureaucrats in Brussels making too many decisions for the UK, thereby undermining national sovereignty. As one leaver commented, “All that money we’re sending to Belgium and them telling us what to do.” Many people seem ready to vote for a Brexit even though polls show they also think that leaving will be risky for the British economy.

UK-Union-FlagBritons who want to remain in the EU believe that departure would not only undermine their country’s economy but as well marginalize the UK’s role in Europe and globally. Younger Britons are generally comfortable with a multicultural society and prize the ease with which they can travel to or work in the 28 EU nations. A survey released last week by the Pew Research Center found that 57 percent of those 18 to 34 years old in Britain had a favorable view of the European Union, compared with 38 percent of people 50 and over.

Labour party voters favor Remain, while a majority of Conservatives prefer leaving the EU. Support for EU membership is high in Scotland, with 60 per cent backing Remain. There is talk that if Brexit passes, Scotland will vote to leave the UK and as an independent nation join the EU. Voters in Wales slightly favor Remain, while those in Northern Ireland are more pro-EU than any other British region—by something like a 3 to 1 margin. All this suggests how divided the United Kingdom is at this historic moment.

You can go to British Media Online to follow developments. Recommended sources include The Times; The Independent; The Guardian; The Financial Times; BBC News; The Telegraph; EU Observer.

History and French and Secondary Education, Oh My!

By Miriam Roth

Me in front of Chenonceau, my favorite castle of the ones I visited. It is a fascinating historical landmark— originally built in 1513, and both Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici "embellished" it. Also, it's just magical!
Me in front of Chenonceau, my favorite castle of the ones I visited. It is a fascinating historical landmark— originally built in 1513, and both Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici “embellished” it. Also, it’s just magical!

“What’s your major?” It’s a question that any college student has answered a thousand times, and I am no exception. My answer, though, is a bit of a mouthful any way you slice it.

Yes, I’m one of those crazy people who smashes three disciplines together and goes for a double major. I came to Hope tentatively leaning toward some combination of History and French, with Education lurking somewhere in the back of my head, and—well, what can I say? Three years later, this is where God has led me. I’ve had my ups and downs, but right now I’m three quarters of the way through my tenure as an undergrad, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In finding my way to studying History, French, and Education at Hope, I have the History department to thank. It was the outreach of History Professor Marc Baer which convinced me to come to Hope. Throughout my journey here, it has been a tremendous blessing to know that my professors are always willing to encourage and challenge me on a personal level. In fact, I have received incredible support from the faculty and staff of all three disciplines in which I am involved, and as a result I’ve had a variety of interdisciplinary experiences which have allowed me to combine my passions in exciting ways.

Here are some of my favorites:

Summer History Research in Washington, D.C.
Me with fellow Hope College researchers Ian, Sam, and Jon at the Library of Congress.
Me with fellow Hope College researchers Ian, Sam, and Jon at the Library of Congress.

As part of a two-month summer research project with faculty mentor Professor Jeanne Petit, I and three other history majors traveled to Washington, D.C. There, we studied documents about the 1918 United War Work Campaign that were housed at the Library of Congress and other archives. In addition to honing my historical research skills, I also got to work a little bit with French (reading and translating some French-language newspapers) and with Education (thinking about how to make our final project, a website, an accessible learning experience for the public). We also interacted with student research teams from Italy and Pakistan. I found these interactions to be wonderful opportunities to engage in intercultural learning, which is an important aspect of all three of the disciplines that I study.

Semester Abroad in France
Me with my friend Emily (a recent Hope grad) in front of one of Nantes's most famous attractions, the giant mechanical elephant at the Machines de l'Ile. The Machines are inspired by Jules Verne, and this one walks, carries people, and even sprays water out of its trunk!
Me with my friend Emily (a recent Hope grad) in front of one of Nantes’s most famous attractions, the giant mechanical elephant at the Machines de l’Ile. The Machines are inspired by Jules Verne, and this one walks, carries people, and even sprays water out of its trunk!

Last fall, I spent about three and a half months living in the city of Nantes, which is in historic Bretagne in northwest France. This was the perfect opportunity for me to grow my language skills and interact firsthand with French (and bretonne) culture, but also to engage with history and education.

I was able to take two history classes which, thanks to support from Hope’s history department, counted toward my major. One of these classes, “France and the Atlantic World,” allowed me to learn on-site by observing remnants of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century port activity around the city. I also visited numerous cathedrals, châteaux, and other historic landmarks in Nantes and around France.

On the Education side, I had an internship teaching English in a French school, for which I largely developed my own lesson plans and curriculum. With all of the opportunities that study abroad brings for all sorts of majors (and combinations thereof), I cannot recommend it enough!

Presentation at the National Conference of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)

Studying History Education means that I not only think about understanding and analyzing history myself, but also about effectively teaching students how to develop historical thinking skills and master key content.

As part of a project for an Education class and the Mellon Scholars Program this past spring, I conducted a case study on Document-Based Learning, a fairly recent initiative in History Education. This was my first substantial foray into History Education research, and I came away with new appreciation for and understanding of teaching history and thinking historically. As an added bonus, I have been accepted to present my research at the NCSS’s National Conference in Washington, D.C. this December, alongside social studies educators from across the country!

So, yes, I am one of those crazy people who smashes History, French, and Education degrees together, but looking at where such craziness has led me, I feel nothing but grateful for the path I have taken. I highly encourage any student interested in History to combine it with other majors and minors, and to engage in the wonderful opportunities that come with interdisciplinary learning.

Goodbye, kind of

By Marc Baer

Most of you know that after a wonderful 33 years teaching at Hope and an especially delightful 6 years chairing the History department, as of June 30 I will have retired; professor emeritus will be my title. (I looked up emeritus: it’s Latin for “out of merit,” which seems about right for me).

But many of you probably don’t know that I will have had the shortest retirement in history. I retire as professor and chair on June 30. Today I start work as interim Dean for the Arts and Humanities at Hope. Wait, you say, you can’t do math: you’re starting a new job BEFORE you retire from the old one. My answer: I’m a history major; I don’t do math. 🙂

we-are-the-baerTo be serious for just a moment, I’ve had a wonderful sendoff. Students in the last 2 classes I will have taught—Introduction to Modern European History and British and Irish History since 1700—said some nice things; some conspirators organized a mass tee-shirt event as part of our department’s end of the year celebration/appetizer challenge (which, by the way, I lost for like the 10th time in a row); and my colleagues had a lovely dinner event for me, complete with great presents. So I’m feeling very honored.

Plan A had been give away my books and move out of my office (happened), a bucket list trip to Banff (still happening, next month), serving as one of the faculty advisors for Mortar Board (still happening), and volunteering as a mentor for Upward Bound students (probably postponed for a year).

Plan B is to move 2 floors down to the dean’s office (happened today) and spend 13 months managing 9 departments and 4 programs. I’ll have a lot to learn, including what it means to change calling, from serving students to serving others who serve students.

What I’ll miss the most is the close relationship with the extraordinary students I’ve worked with over my time at Hope—as fellow researchers on book or article projects, as teaching assistants, as mentees in the Pew Society (now Klesis), as advisor but particularly as friends. When I’m asked what has brought me joy in my work it’s that.

So, I’m moving on (actually down, from Lubbers 329 to Lubbers 124—please stop by if you’re on campus), and beginning a 13-month adventure. After which, I really will retire. I mean it this time—maybe.

Alumni Feature: Neill De Paoli

My Work with the National Park Service: Lexington National Historical Park

NDP 18C kit-Minutemn NPS2015-10-11
Neill De Paoli in 18th century dress/kit, at home, Kittery, ME.

I grew up in upstate New York in an area with a rich prehistory and history. The Mohawk River Valley was home to Native Americans for over 7,000 years and Dutch and English settlers by the late 1600s. I have fond memories as a boy exploring the grounds of the Saratoga National Historical Battlefield Park and the back streets of downtown Schenectady that was home to a small Dutch farming and trading town over 300 years ago.

I have followed my childhood fascination with history into a career as a professional historian and archaeologist. For the last 40 years I have studied and written about English settlement and Anglo-Indian and English-French relations in early northern New England.

This past year I fulfilled a longtime dream of working for the National Park Service when I was hired as a seasonal interpretive park ranger for the National Park Service at the Minute Man National Historical Park in Lexington, Massachusetts. I return to the historic park for my second season this June.

The Minute Man National Historical Park is a beautiful, sprawling 970-acre complex that includes two visitor centers, more than five miles of the historic Battle Road, nearly two dozen colonial-era houses and the ruins of countless other early homes set within a blend of fields, woodlands, and marshlands bisected by the Concord River.

The more than one million people that visit the park annually walk through a historic landscape much as it appeared on the morning and early afternoon of April 19th 1775.

What has made my experience as an interpretive park ranger so enjoyable has been working at a historic park so closely tied to the origins of the United States. There is nothing more exciting than walking down the same road and passing by some of the same houses that the British regulars did on their early morning march on the Bay Road to Concord and their afternoon retreat back to Boston.

NDP mskt firing-prime & load-Hrtwell
Performing musket firing demonstration – prime & load, Hartwell Tavern, Minute Man National Historical Park.

I often lead outdoor presentations unraveling the bloody confrontation between British regulars and local Minute men and militia at the North Bridge and the running battle that followed. I focus on connecting the audience to the unfolding “story,” making them feel that they were part of this historic event as civilian bystanders or American or British military participants. I especially enjoy how the audiences view the events that unfolded on April the 19th.

NDP mskt firing demo3-Hrtwell
Performing musket firing demonstration – firing, Hartwell Tavern, Minute Man National Historical Park.

The highlight of my season is my time spent as a historic reenactor depicting a Minute Man posted at the Hartwell Tavern. This dwelling and tavern was home to the family of Ephriam and Elizabeth Hartwell. Their three sons Samuel, John, and Isaac were part of a company of Minute Men that fought in Concord on April 19th. The Hartwell tavern was also one of several “witness” houses that the British troops passed by on the Bay Road on their way to and from Concord. As a Revolutionary War reenactor, I am dressed and equipped as the three Hartwell men were when they rushed out to join their comrades on the early morning of April the 19th; civilian clothing, felt hat, musket, cartridge box, powder horn, bayonet, and wooden canteen. For the next 6 hours I join my reenactor comrades as we take turns explaining to the often large crowds of children and adults what it was like being a Minute Men in the months leading up to the outbreak of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord on April 19th 1775. For both the reenactors and the audience the highlights of the “Who Were the Minute Men” program are the audience joining the Minute Man reenactors in a 10-minute military drill followed by a live musket firing demonstration.

The end of my work day is nearly as enjoyable and satisfying as the previous 8 hours. I often unwind by walking the grounds of the Minute Man National Historical Park. Oft times, I walk a couple of miles down the Battle Road where I enjoy the quiet and the slowly setting sun while I explore the ruins of some of the houses flanking the Battle Road or the sites of the “fire fights” that took place between the British regulars and the Minute Men and militia at Merrian’s Corner and Bloody Angle. How fitting for me that I now work at a prominent Revolutionary War site that I could only dream about as a boy.

Student Feature: Austin Garcia

During the Spring semester of 2016, I had the privilege of expanding my interests outside the history discipline.

As part of the Mellon Scholars program I was able to build upon my skills in digital media within my history related major. As a Television Producer for the City Holland, I pursued what most would refer to as “communications” internship. Yet, I still found that my extensive skills in critical analysis, research, editing, allowed me to produce engaging yet comprehendible video for web and television.

city-of-hollandThe supervisors for this internship encourage students to pursue projects that students find an interest in. With a large availability of technological resources, and a variety of local events, this internship will provide for the student majoring in history an option to expand his/her interests in the digital humanities, an ever growing field of study encompassing a variety of disciplines.

History Department Celebrates!

By Marc Baer

One of the great joys for History faculty at the end of the year is attending Hope’s Celebration of Undergraduate Research and Creative Performance in DeVos Fieldhouse. This year was no exception. Six of us mentored a total of 15 majors, from first-years to seniors. The breadth of the projects was stunning, which speaks to the remarkable diversity of interests in the department’s majors.

Once again, History was the leading humanities department in terms of number of presenters.

Here are just a few highlights:

Professor Jeanne Petit led a team of four students who spent part of the summer in the Library of Congress and then several weeks on campus, analyzing America’s 1918 United War Work Campaign.

There were posters on 19th-century Welsh national identity, the Herero rebellion in German South-West Africa, the church struggle in Nazi Germany, early 20th-century British music, the story of a Holland Vietnam War special forces veteran, and Sir Francis Drake.

Feel free to click on the available links, and enjoy!

Historians at Celebration, Second shot

Writing Personal Statements for Scholarship or Graduate School Applications

If you plan to apply for admission to a graduate program or for a grant or fellowship, you will need to write a personal statement. While all applications contain specific instructions, and you should definitely pay attention and tailor your statement to the program for which you are applying, there are some general principles that govern writing personal statements. Remember that you are writing an essay, and like any essay, it should have a clear purpose, strong organization, and impeccable grammar and syntax.

The personal statement should do the following:

Tell the department or organization:

  • who you are
  • what makes you tick
  • what separates you from other strong candidates
  • what special things you have done
  • what problem have you solved or challenge overcome, finishing with resolution.

Try to say something interesting about yourself, because people like stories and will use their perception of your story to evaluate your application. The structure need not be framed chronologically. Consider what might be a good point of entry.

Explain what has led you to consider your choice of degree (which will lead to some career outcome, e.g., Ph.D. in Rocket Science so I can train NASA astronauts). For a grant or fellowship, talk about why you want to do whatever it is that the grant funds.

Explain what is special (perhaps this is who) about the department that has caused you to apply to them. This means you have to do some homework and tells the department that you’ve done your homework. Consider if your story arc is relevant to the department. A Ph.D. in Rocket Science is not relevant to a department of history. On the other hand, don’t waste space on statements of the obvious, such as “Oxford is one of the greatest universities in the world.”

The answer to the first portion should be well over 50% of your statement; addressing the second will be perhaps 10-20% and the final response will be the rest.

After you have done a few drafts, ask someone who knows you reasonably well (or several such people), “What strikes you about me?” Ask yourself, “What is the most difficult obstacle I’ve overcome?” Or, “What was my watershed moment?” The answers will produce seeds of what’s interesting about you.

Show your draft to mentors or friends who can help you refine it.

When reading the final draft, ask, would a reader want more, or respond, “We’ve got to get this person here” ?

Keep in mind the following points:

  • Do not repeat things that are found other places in your application.
  • Essays are not lists. Be sure you are telling a story, not writing a list of your accomplishments.
  • Use the essay to talk about the development of your mind, your interests, your ambitions and your priorities. The details of your childhood are generally not relevant.
  • When you make big generalizations, it is a good idea to give an illustrative example.
  • Stay away from broad statements, unless you can explain them. For example, saying “My time in Antarctica changed my life” is not useful unless you can explain how it changed your life, and how that change is relevant to your application.
  • Avoid clichés or jargon of any kind. For example, it is generally not helpful to say that you value diversity, or that you are looking for a challenge. While these things may be true, you need to find a more specific, less clichéd way of talking about them.
  • Consider talking about books, experiences or ideas that have shaped your interests.
  • Remember that many programs do not conduct interviews, and so will not be able to ask you follow-up questions. You must explain yourself fully in your essay. Consider carefully the details you choose.
  • On the other hand, if the program does conduct interviews, you must be ready to expand on anything you mentioned in your application. If you are not prepared to discuss any element of your life in an interview, you should not include it in your application.


One approach to beginning the personal statement: Create a story board using post-its, which you can then move around until they are in the right order; then begin composing your story.