Reviewing a personal statement


Application anxiety and an editor's dilemma

Reviewing your mentee’s personal statement can be a daunting task. When looking over a text we are often tempted to edit the text to a point where it is something we would be happy to submit ourselves. However, when editing someone else’s text, it is much better to leave things more open ended and let the writer decide where to take it based on your feedback. Keep in mind that you will probably send the text back and forth a few times, so there will be plenty of time for your mentee to get it right, you just need to give them the tools to do it.

At Project Access we’ve developed a few key principles for looking over a personal statement in a way that doesn’t impinge too much on the mentee’s original ideas.


1.     Comment the overall coherence of the text:

You will often be confronted with several themes in a personal statement that look difficult to reconcile. Rather than pointing out which theme you think they should go with, try point out what the different themes are that you see in the text, and then putting the question to the mentee which one they are going to pursue.


2.     Rephrasing

If you think a sentence doesn’t make sense but you know what your mentee is getting at, you may suggest a few different ways of phrasing it to make it clearer. Be careful not to overdo this, however. You need to be confident that the personal statement has been written in the mentee’s own words. 


3.     Gentle criticism

A general principle when looking over a personal statement is to be gentle in your criticism. You can do this in several ways. Rather than saying that something doesn’t make sense, write your comments in a way that makes is clear that you are a subjective reader. For example, say something along the lines of ‘I don’t really understand how this relates to the overall topic’.

When a sentence or a paragraph doesn’t look like it makes sense at all, you can use the idea of coherence to point this out. That way you avoid criticising the point they are trying to make and point out instead that it hasn’t been contextualised well enough.


4.     Spelling and syntax

All comments on spelling and syntax are welcome. This is an area where your input can only be of help!

If you have any further questions about this, please feel free to email at any time!