I read somewhere you should not mention things that have happened in distant past. Is that true even if those things are relevant to the course?
Hmmm. Define “relevant.”
This is kind of contextual, depending on the type of program you’re applying to, and the type of past event you’re referring to, and it’s very dangerous.
Sometimes it can work. For example, if you’re applying to a master’s in criminology, it might be useful to start out with a brief (brief!) reference to the time your family was devastated by a crime when you were young. But again…this is only a brief, 1-2 sentence intro. It’s not the actual topic. It’s only a contextualizing frame. Your academic goal is the real topic.
However, I shouldn’t even be saying this, because lots of applicants will take this as an excuse to start their essays by saying: “Ever since I was a child, I’ve always loved computers…”
NEVER do this. This is a hard and fast rule. It would be wise to consider childhood stories universally irrelevant. In fact, for the SOP, anything that happened before college should be considered irrelevant.
There are always a few rare exceptions to the rule, but speaking generally, the advice you read is correct. Distant stories may be TOPICALLY relevant…but are they ACADEMICALLY relevant? That’s the question.
I am applying to a business degree and my interest started in the field when I started working with my father in 8th grade. (He started a business and didn’t have money to hire anyone, so I hopped in.) Should I mention any of this or would it be similar to “since I was a child…” thing?
The only way I’d mention this is if you STILL work in the business today, if you always have, if you helped run it full- or part-time throughout college, and if the experience has given you keen academic insights that others don’t have.
For example, if you’re applying to a Management Accounting program, and hope to eventually work as an auditor for a big firm, then it would be interesting to start your essay by discussing how you’ve been the bookkeeper for your family’s business for 8 years.
It needs to be inextricably linked to your academic/career goal. If it’s not, then the story is just a gimmick. Find a way to tie them together and you’ll have the foundation for a great essay. But, again, it must be deeply and innately intertwined with your academic goal.
For example, if someone is applying to an MFA in Fiction, it’s completely irrelevant that they wrote stories in high school, or that they worked as an intern at a publisher in high school. This applicant was just a kid. They didn’t have the education to truly understand what was going on around them in the publishing house. Thus, it’s all just a gimmick to avoid writing about the real topic of the essay – what they intend to write in the future.
I hope this makes sense?