Premedical Advising: Writing Personal Statements
Most professional school applications ask for some form of personal statement. The AMCAS personal comments essay allows 5,300 characters, and statements for other professional programs are usually a little shorter.
Your statement is an important first impression! Most of your readers will be admissions committee members, often faculty and admissions staff. If your GPA and test scores are marginal, your statement can determine whether or not you'll be offered an interview. When you interview, you'll likely be asked questions drawn from your essay. A well-written statement can also help recommendation writers, and, with some tuning, can be used to apply for related programs.
You'll have other places in your application to list courses, grades, test scores, volunteer and paid experiences, extracurricular activities, awards and honors, etc. Your statement should therefore be much more than another list! The statement gives you an opportunity to integrate, describe, explain, and share the meaning you attach to your activities. There are many ways of relating who you are to your interest in becoming a health care professional. Whatever format you choose, your statement should show who you are, and how and why you've prepared yourself to become a member of the profession.
Some questions to help you generate material for your essay (you don't have to use them all, just use the ones that help):
Hint: As you go, think of little stories from your life that help answer the following questions.
1. Who are you?
- Who are the most influential people in your life, and how did they affect your development?
- Where have you lived?
- How have you changed over time?
- What are the most important events in your life?
- What are the most important activities in your life?
- What are your core values - what is important to you?
- How are you different from other applicants?
- Would you describe yourself as coming from a disadvantaged background? If so, describe and explain the disadvantages you have overcome.
- How have you demonstrated a strong work ethic, the ability to manage your time, communication skills, and management and leadership qualities?
- How have you demonstrated teaching and counseling skills?
- How have you involved yourself in community, cultural and social service activities?
- How have you demonstrated the ability to live and work with people from different cultural backgrounds?
2. How and why have prepared yourself to enter this profession?:
- What other careers have you considered?
- How did you decide to become a member of this profession?
- What can you do as a member of this profession that you could not do in other professions?
- How have you demonstrated your passion for this profession?
- How have you worked with patients and health care professionals?
- How have you been involved in scientific research?
- How does the possibility of becoming a health care professional make you feel?
- Do you intend to serve an underserved population or community? If so, how have you demonstrated your connection and commitment to serve this population?
- Do you have interest in teaching future members of the profession? If so, what kind of mentoring, tutoring and teaching experiences have had?
- What reservations do you have about entering the profession?
- What are your professional goals?
Once you have raw ingredients for your essay, hopefully several pages worth, here are some tips for preparing an essay:
Make your statement personal. Don't derive your statement from a friend's essay, or an example from a website, and don't use quotes or clichés. Use your own words!
Organize your statement. Let your structure flow from the content you have chosen. Many essays use both time and another type of element, e.g., a chronology of personal stories, life changing events, places you've lived, important activities, influential people, or recurring themes.
Go deeper than just saying you want to help people with science. What can you do as a member of this profession that you can you cannot do in other professions?
Show with true stories. Rather than telling your readers you're compassionate, use a story that shows you in action, being compassionate.
Provide details, examples and explanations. Name the people (except the patients) and places (towns, schools, etc.), Describe how you were involved in research projects, What you did as a health care volunteer; etc. Who, what, when, where, how, and why.
Support your assertions. Give examples before you make assertions - inductive logic is more persuasive than deductive logic. If space is tight, it's usually better to give examples, and let your readers draw their own conclusions.
Write with feeling! Admission committee members are looking for a passion for the profession. One way to convey your passion, is to use emotional language. Write and talk about your feelings!
Offer explanations for significant weaknesses. The line between explanation and excuse is very thin. Have some readers help you find where that line lies. Take responsibility for your decisions, especially regarding the use of your time. How have you overcome problems, and what have you learned from these experiences?
Avoid criticizing members of the profession. Some candidates argue they want to become doctors, because they think they could do a better job than some professionals they've encountered. Perhaps this is true, but it sets a negative tone, and invites a defensive reaction. Without being in the profession, you cannot fully appreciate the demands and realities which often lead to less than ideal health care.
Avoid overusing "I," "that," "have," or other words. It's easy to fall into the trap of using too many "I's," especially at the beginning of sentences. Some strategies for reducing I's include focusing more on other people, using other personal pronouns (e.g., we), chaining (e.g., I did this. I did that. I did the other = I did this, that and the other.), and removing unnecessary double I's (e.g., I believe I want = I want). "That's" should always be checked to see if they're grammatically necessary.
Constructively fill most of the space you're given. This isn't a ten-page English essay, so you don't need to fluff up your sentences, or repeat what you've already written. Keep your essay moving forward, and usefully fill most of the space for the statement.
Last, and most importantly, have readers review your statement. Make full use of the KU Writing Center, www.writing.ku.edu, and have English instructors, friends, parents, recommendation writers, members of the profession, and your primary academic advisor in your major department review your statement. If you're a KU student or graduate, you can call (785) 864-3500 (M-F, 8-5) to schedule a statement review meeting with your premedical advisor, Paul Crosby.