Returning To School Personal Statement

Here, you'll find tips and advice for writing admissions essays and personal statements when you haven't been in school for some time.

Returning students can be especially apprehensive about the essay portion of the application package. It may have been years since you wrote an essay, and now you're being asked not only to write but to write in the particular style that is effective in the college selection process. However, you can manage this situation like a pro by following our expert tips for returning students.

1. Highlight your experience

When working with returning students, one of the biggest concerns they tend to have is about being a non-traditional student and competing with traditional students. In fact, colleges are looking to create a diverse student body, and they are genuinely interested in including returning students. The reason for this is that you can contribute to classroom discussions and study groups in a way that your traditional counterparts cannot.

When writing your essays, emphasize that you have the organizational skills and dedication needed to excel in college. Most of all, let the admissions officers know that you, as an adult, have confidence that you have chosen the right path and are fully committed to completing your degree program.

2. Remember to show instead of telling

This advice applies to all applicants, but it is especially important for returning students. With more background on which to draw upon for your essays, you can paint a more vivid picture of your skills and potential. Skills from your personal and professional life can translate well to the collegiate environment, so help the admissions officers see how you have formed a strong sense of self and a meaningful set of abilities that you can use as a student.

3. Focus on your adult life

While the seeds of your reasons for returning to school may have been planted when you were younger, the admissions officers are much more interested in who you are now. It's fine to mention briefly moments from your childhood or adolescence, but these should be limited to a phrase within a sentence. Instead, use experiences and situations from your adult life that reflect your character and passion for your chosen program of study.

4. Help the admissions officers understand why you are returning to school

Why now? The admissions officers will look for a cogent answer to this question. Have you reached a plateau in your current career? Are you looking to change fields? Were there circumstances in your past that are now resolved, giving you the ability to focus on school?

There's no reason to be anything but honest in your response here. If you were downsized, let the admissions officers know. If you were working in a certain job out of necessity but are now pursuing your dreams, tell them. Show the admissions officers that you now have time in your schedule to dedicate to school.

5. Show enthusiasm for the school/program

Take the time to thoroughly research each school before you apply. In addition to the school's website, you might want to write a couple of emails to professors whose work interest you as well as reach out to administrators to answer any questions you may have. Also, most colleges have a non-traditional student union, and you may want to get in contact with them to understand their perspective of the school.

6. Don't avoid talking about your adult responsibilities

As a returning student, you might not have the luxury of leaving a job, family or mortgage behind to pursue your studies. In your essays, you can write about how the program is perfect because you can continue in your career. If you are moving with a family, help the admissions officers see that your partner/children are supportive and enthusiastic about the opportunity.  

7. Reach out for help

If you feel that you still aren't sure about the content of your essay or the quality of your writing, seek out some other opinions. Is there someone at your work who has recently returned to school? Someone who graduated from your chosen program? Professional help is also available, whether you would like step-by-step help or just a final polish to ensure that your essay is error-free.

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