Writing a Killer Personal Statement

Originally posted March 25th, 2014

If you haven’t seen my stuff already, why yes I do like writing. It’s something that comes fairly naturally to me, but also I do a lot of it. So I would like to say that my personal statement is pretty good. So with the 2014-2015 application cycle winding down and the 2015-2016  one picking up I thought I would lend some helpful tactics to help write a personal statement (but reviewed in 2017).

In some ways, it will almost be a step-by-step guide to writing your statement, but make sure you do it on your own.

Write out the exact reason you want to be a doctor

I had so much trouble with this. If you are anything like me, you can FEEL that you want to be doctor. It’s just this weird internal struggle that if you can’t do this nothing else is the world will make you feel right. But you can’t really vocalize that, or say you just “have a feeling”.

So, the best way to do this is to say it out loud “I want to be a doctor because…” and then write it down. Then do it again. And again. Do it until you have a solid, coherent reason that is something besides “I want to help people.”

In the end, it should read like a kindergarten fill-in the blank; “I want to be a doctor because of these reasons.” Now you can start.


Different kinds of personal statements

The Princeton Review medical school books say there are three major types of personal statements. I mostly agree with this, except I have seen four. I will now tell you about the types! To start your personal statement you should pick which path you plan to follow. Remember, these are tracks, not themes and general guidelines, not rules. They are just the foundation of your personal statement. It will help you keep focused throughout your statement.

A personal history

It’s as straight forward as it sounds. This type is basically gives your life story in 5300 characters (including spaces) and how, over the course of your life, you found your passion for medicine.

An academic history

It basically overviews your academic experience in relation to how you can become a good doctor. This one is a little tougher, because you need to explain how your educational experience relates to your passion in medicine.

A story

This is a main illustration of something that happened in your life that, you guessed it, makes you want to be a physician. This is a much more focused than the other types, and should guide the reader through an experience.

The random

Or as I like to call it “the bat-shit crazy”. I’ve only seen one or two examples of these kinds of personal statements ever. And I suggest you don’t go for it unless your prose and purpose are pure magic. They tend to read like random, philosophical drabble and one that is written correctly makes you feel like you had an existential experience.

My personal statement was a mix between academic history (75%) and a story (25%). Yes, you can mix them, but don’t let it overwhelm you or try to mix all of them.

Pick a theme

What do I mean by a theme? Well, what do you plan on writing about? A theme, or a topic, can really be anything in your personal statement.

If you picked an academic history, you theme falls within the bracket of school, but you need to narrow it down. Will you specifically talk about which classes made you love medicine, or about how being involved in campus did?

If a picked a story, the theme should be pretty easy? What is your story about? But tread lightly here, and do not let it become a sob story.

Basically, a theme is critical for your personal statement because it helps keep your writing coherent and focused. You shouldn’t be jumping around too many ideas or concepts. This way, you can accurately describe your intentions without leaving anything half written or too open ended. It’s an exercise in writing in general as well.

My theme was martial arts and medicine and influences of science classes. You can have more than one theme! But personally, I suggest having MAXIMUM 3. It just depends on what you choose to write about.

Use developed, relevant vernacular and syntax

We’re not poets here. A lot of us haven’t even taken a substantial writing class since our first year, so how exactly should we be expected to write a masterpiece? In reality, the people who will be reading your essay know that they shouldn’t expect personal statements to be the perfect representation of the English language. BUT they do expect you to write like an adult with more complex vocabulary. You know, compound words, using proper grammar, and smooth transitions.

If you know you aren’t the greatest writer a good way to go about this is just write your statement like you normally would. Then go through and count how many times you used certain words like “said”, “want” or “doctor” and if they feel overused find synonyms (that make sense, check meanings out before replacing words).  A lack of word variety makes a paper boring. Also check for things like too short sentences, run-on sentences and colloquial conversation words.

Describe something that demonstrates your abilities and traits 

Saying you want to be a doctor is just peachy keen! But in your personal statement should have something that proves you can actually be a doctor, not just explain how great being a doctor will be. You need to demonstrate, through your writing, that you have the passion and dedication to be a doctor as well as exemplary traits.

This can be done a few ways; you can state it (not recommended), you can sprinkle it throughout your paper or you can give a specific example. Each one has merits and faults. You just need to pick the best one for you and the flow of your paper.

Hash out anything you feel might need explaining

That is, if you choose to do so. No need to talk about mistakes if you don’t want to. But if you do, for this, it’s not a point of going over all the mistakes you think will hurt your chances of getting in. But if say you didn’t do well a semester, if you’re major isn’t so science-y, or even if you took a nontraditional path you have the right to mention something about it.

For instance, my lower grades happened in my sophomore year (when I started my pre-med track), so I talked about the struggle in transitioning to science classes, and even though I loved them they were a challenge for me. If your major is not the normal science track, explain why you picked it in a sentence or two and how it will benefit you in the long run.

Remember, you always need to take something less than complimentary and turn it into a positive note. Negativity is not very well received, especially in writing.

Read your personal statement out loud

Everyone says it. You know why? Because it works.

In most cases, a personal statement should have a conversational feel to it. If it doesn’t sound conversational, it isn’t. If it sounds broken and sad, it is. Reading it out loud will give you the best sense of how your paper portrays you.  It’s also a fantastic way to watch grammar and syntax errors you normally don’t “see” on paper.

Use your online resources

Basically just polite ways of saying look at other personal statements online. What you’re going to look for it those ones that are labeled “really awesome” and read them. You aren’t looking for yours and theirs to actually be similar. You want a similar feel. Writing is an extremely powerful tool that conveys emotion and purpose. And you want to be able to do that with your personal statement. You want your readers to feel just how being a doctor is important to you.

Let everyone read it

This does not mean let everyone edit your personal statement. Just let them read it and give their opinion. You shouldn’t ask if they think it’s good. I mean, I guess it’s nice to hear, but what you should ask is “does this make me sounds like a really good candidate for medical school?” this will provoke much more critical answers from you essay readers that you can actual build off of.

Make sure that you do have people who can edit your paper though.

Love your personal statement

Shit. What a concept.

I’m being completely serious though. Being confident in your personal statement is the same as being confident in yourself. Your personal statement is about YOU after all! You need to stand behind what you’ve written because it’s the first impression an admission committee will have of you beyond your scores. Love what you write, love who you are and love what you can become.

Good luck all you applicants out there! Believe in the power of the pen!

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