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Strategic Storytelling | The Importance of Sharing Your Story with the Admissions Team

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Sharing your story is an important part of your application to graduate school both in terms of written components like your personal statement and resume, as well as in conversation during an interview with admissions staff. We've come up with some helpful steps to guide you through the strategic storytelling process.

Illustrating your values and accomplishments is important because it will show—not tell—the admissions team why you're right for the program and demonstrate your readiness for this next step. Admissions staff are especially interested in seeing your potential to succeed in grad school as well as your future career. They also want to ensure that you're a person who will contribute to the education and careers of your classmates, so you'll want to focus on sharing your skills, experience, and perspective.

Strategic storytelling building blocks

Great stories are built with a beginning, middle, and end. They start with an inciting incident and move on to a turning point, a moral/message, and a surprise. For example, what did you learn about yourself as a result of a personal or professional challenge? How does this inform your interest in the school and program you are applying to? And how does it tie back to what you hope to achieve when you graduate?

Great stories include one or more of these elements: vulnerability, telling details, efforts, obstacles, struggles, and suspense. Below we have outlined some things to think about as you are crafting your personal narrative.

  1. Set the scene: Be as specific as possible about where and when your story takes place.
  2. Problem/obstacle/conflict/hardship: After setting the scene, engage your audience in the story by telling them the problem or obstacle you faced. 
  3. What happened? “First this happened, which caused this to happen, which caused this to happen…” Make sure to tell them what you were feeling as your situation evolved.
  4. How did the situation resolve? Tell them the specific outcome of your efforts. What did, or did not, happen as a direct result of your actions or decision?  
  5. Moment of reflection/meaning/moral: What did it mean to you? What did you learn or do differently as a result of this experience? How did it help you grow as a leader?
  6. Relevance to audience: Make a clear link between what you accomplished and what it means to your audience. If your audience is a school or program, tell the admissions staff how what you accomplished can benefit the program or your classmates in the future. 
  7. First sentence: Use your first sentence to draw them immediately into your story. 

By sharing specific details, examples, and reasons, you are illustrating something about yourself that they might not otherwise know from reading your resume or application.

Still struggling with what story you should share? We have some writing exercises below to help you with this process.

Define your personal values and beliefs

  1. List 5-10 of your closest held values that shape your daily life and your choices.
  2. Separately, consider two or three of the most defining moments of your life, and what you learned from them—about yourself, about what you believe, and about the world.
  3. Choose the one moment that best encapsulates some of the values you listed earlier.
  4. Write the story of that moment, detailing the effect it had on you, how it shaped your values, and who you are as a result. How does this story reveal what you will do in grad school and in your career?

Name your skills and what you bring to the table

  1. Review the promotional materials of your schools of interest.
  2. Identify about 5-10 qualities, skills, or experiences the school is looking for in incoming students. Typically instructions for recommendation letters ask for comments on qualities that the school is looking for, too.
  3. Circle the qualities, skills, or experiences on your list that you also find in the promotional materials. This is also a good way to assess whether this program is a good fit for you. If you’re having difficulty matching your own qualities, skills, or experiences to what a school is looking for, then you may have difficulties making a case for yourself when applying to this particular school.

Where to share your story

You can use the following application pieces to share your story:

  • Interviews and conversations with admissions staff: When prompted with a question about a skill or experience, share a relevant anecdote. To prepare for your interview make sure you’ve practiced. You want to be clear and concise but also authentic and engaging when speaking.
  • Resume: Share your story through your experience and professional journey. Find the verbs that are most illustrative of your work as well who you are and what you contribute.
  • Essays or personal statement: Your personal statement in particular provides the space for you to share a specific story illustrating your values, beliefs, and skills.
  • Letters of recommendation: Although you are not writing these letters, be proactive in reminding your references of your accomplishments when you are preparing them to write a good letter for you.

Following the steps outlined above, you can successfully create a clear narrative about who you are, what you stand for, and what you have done. By translating what you have done in the past and how that makes you a good fit for their graduate program, you’ll have your talking points for an interview already prepared.

Further, you’ll demonstrate to the admissions team that you’ve done your research and are confident in your ability to succeed in their program.


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