I remember when I was writing my first round of statements. At the time, I was applying to graduate programs in sociology. The person who provided me feedback slashed out so many of my words that it just didn't feel like me or my voice, but I figured they knew better. Perhaps they did for the type of program they attended, but ultimately, the impact that I wanted to make was no longer there. I ended up putting my doctoral journey on hold as at that point I was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm and had to have "minor" brain surgery. Ultimately this decision led me down the path that I ended on and it worked out for the better.
My opening line was, "I was Korean Until the 2nd Grade" followed with something close to, "Despite my very light skin and blue eyes, I am part Korean..." This was significant and started my journey to self discovery as well as my professional journey. When the first person gave me feedback, they crossed it out and wrote, "I am white presenting and have blue eyes..." and then went on to negate my identity and cultural connectedness with my, for lack of a better word, "Koreanness." The intention was there - to make me as competitive as possible and to maintain much of the academic expectation and rigor that higher education tends to have.
But it also meant that I was sacrificing, yet again, an important part of my identity because of the status quo. This week's tip for graduate applications is to avoid doing that. One of my cohort members in my PhD had a powerful opening line, which I will not share as it is her work, but we both discussed how these are so important and that it led us to the program that we ended up choosing. My opening line pushed me to stay true to myself and it was that hook that we are taught about starting in elementary and middle school when we are beginning our writing journeys. When you're writing your graduate school statements, find your hook. Ask yourself what is it that you present to this program, that you will bring and how does that make you stand out and then write about that.
Of course, there are expectations around them, such as needing to explain what research you want to do, who you want to work with, and a list of other things, but this is your opportunity to show and bring a chair to the table of academia that may not have set one out for you to begin with. Take the damn chair, sit at the damn table, and make your presence known. Granted, I'm more of a - smash the damn table crafted by the status quo, but, you know, take it step-by-step. Regardless, find your story, use the hook, and lean into that.