6 Tips to Describe Your Work in Admissions Essays

Personal Statement Tips

6 Tips to Describe Your Work in Admissions Essays


The previous post discussed presenting a story of your work to a professional or peer audience. I emphasized the impact and message of your work, but the focus remained on your work, not you. This post is about making your work reflect on you. So how do you make your accomplishments tell your story instead?


The school will be taking you, not just your record. From your application, they want to estimate whether you will succeed and thrive at that school. They want to see who you are, and how you manifest that in the world. In other words, they want to see how your actions and your accomplishments have resulted from your personal values and motivations. They also want to see someone who is self-aware, free and ready to take the next step in life.


Here are a few tips to make your research, work and activities talk about you:

(1) Modify the motivation to your work, research and activities. Answer some of these: why did you choose to do what you did? what was your goal for yourself in this activity?

(2) Include the connection between your motivation and your methods. For example, how did you do a better job than expected?

(3) Do not talk about truths that your admissions readers will already know, such as the importance of hard work, or the impending global warming catastrophe. Talk about things only you know: your motivations and your very specific insights.

(4) Modify the “why they should care” section. If you have realized something, take it one step further: talk about your outlook on the future. For example, I have once written that living in Russia and US has made me both optimistic and focused on the spiritual.

(5) The reader can draw many conclusions about you from your experiences. Tell them the right ones, don’t make them think too hard.

(6) In the “what you did” and “insights” sections, keep only noteworthy or surprising things. You can distinguish them by asking yourself: how many people besides me could write this? That number should be small.