Graduate School Personal Statement

I said I would post my final personal statement for grad school. Here you go! :)

Around this time last year, I was in the fall semester of my senior year at Elon University preparing to student teach in the Spring. I was taking seven classes and working part-time as a barista at a local cafe. I was also desperately struggling to find a place to live.

Homelessness does not happen all at once; it is a process. For me, it began when I lost a large portion of my financial aid package and was forced to give up my room and move off campus. A month later, I lost my job, which was the only way I was able to afford rent. That weekend, I moved my life into my ancient Buick. I commuted from Raleigh twice a week to refill my suitcase and get food from my mother’s apartment. The rest of the week I spent sleeping on friends’ couches, in my car, and sometimes the library. The majority of the financial support I received from my mother was spent towards gas, so I became adept at improvising meals. I attended events with free food, found faculty lounges with coffee makers, and made friends with dining hall workers who occasionally gave me leftovers. Although I was not sleeping outside, being completely reliant on the generosity of others for my basic needs brought me painfully close. I developed a system so I could stay in school; it worked for a short while.

Food and housing instability made every other aspect of my life infinitely more difficult. The stress, anxiety and isolation I felt was a constant ominous shadow looming over me. I felt unhinged and was not able to focus on anything for long. My academic performance suffered severely as a result. I was not able to successfully complete student teaching, and my GPA plummeted after that semester. For me, this experience impacted my final year so much as to change the course of my college career. I had to change my major and my postgraduate plans; I had to change my dream. I later realized that this loss led directly to a new passion and career in higher education.

It was not until a week before final exams that I found a place to live. The church I was attending at that time has a program that allows families to “adopt” college students, so they can have home cooked meals and a place to stay during holidays – I was in need of both. When they learned of my situation, my adopted family invited me to rent out their spare room for a nominal fee for the rest of the year and provide me with meals every day, an invitation I accepted gratefully.

This experience stretched me to my limit. I had to rebuild my identity, but recovering from so thorough a failure is not easy. I spent weeks trying to figure out what went wrong and how to prevent something like this from happening again. I had to work through resentment towards my circumstances, my professors, and myself. I had to take responsibility for my shortcomings and forgive myself. I decided that who I am is not what I have done; that what matters most is not that I had failed, but what I would do afterwards. I had to regain my confidence in my ability to not only be an excellent student, but a successful future professional. While all my friends were student teaching that Spring, I was taking the few remaining classes I needed to graduate. I made it my goal to finish my academic career strong; a goal I achieved when I made the Dean’s List my last semester.

I recently spoke at a panel hosted by the National Coalition for the Homeless at Elon University. It was difficult to talk about this experience publicly in front of my peers, some of whom I had classes with last fall. Afterwards, an audience member asked me what kept me from dropping out and trying again the next year. I told her that it was pure stubbornness. I knew if I did not finish then, I most likely would never finish my degree. For me, giving up and dropping out would have been a worse failure, even though it would have saved me from going through pain.

The compassion shown for me through this experience has deepened my commitment to working with college students to help them graduate, achieve their personal and career goals, and develop as individuals. Struggling with housing instability while in college opened my eyes to how inequities can lead to dire circumstances, and how difficult it is to thrive without a stable, safe environment. My background in secondary education taught me just how many students, especially minority students, struggle with access to resources and institutions of higher learning. This has cultivated my interest in social justice, access, and multicultural education; topics I hope to pursue intellectually and practically while completing my graduate degree at <school>. My ultimate goal in pursuing a higher education administration degree is to work with high school and college students to further their education and provide support that will enable them to fulfill their potential.

Since graduating, I have been able to act on my commitment by working as the Dean of Residence Life during Duke University’s 2014 Summer Session. This four week academic program allows high performing students the opportunity to either earn a college credit or take a non-credit class and live on Duke University’s campus. This position was my first glimpse into higher education at the administrative level. I was able to learn about the challenges and rewards of working with a team to carry out residential programs, and practice receiving and acting on feedback in order to improve my work performance and develop professional skills. I believe this experience and others in residence life have prepared me for a degree in higher education. The program at <school> will enable me to build on these experiences and skills and prepare me to become an advocate and future leader on college campuses.

What do you think? How are my chances?


PS: I know I’m making up for a month of silence in twenty minutes. Whatever. #mylifeisbeck