With Regards to the Personal Statement (it’s Capitalized because it’s Intimidating)
The Prompt: Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school. 5300 characters (including spaces).
Before I go on, personal statement writing is pretty similar for any endeavor— substitute medical school for veterinary school, art school, a specific research program, etc. In general, it’s about being able to articulate your passion and tell the story of how you found it; and why you are suited for it.
This resource helped me quite a bit during the process: John Hopkins University Pre Professional Programs & Advising, The Personal Statement.
The point of the personal statement— this is your opportunity to speak in your own voice and tell your unique and personal story. Without it, you’re just demographics, standardized test scores, grades, and a list of activities. Be an advocate for your characteristics and strengths that are not apparent in the rest of your application.
So this is the way I approached it. First you need to identify a coherent narrative in your life story. It might be an ‘aha!’ moment or it might be a series of experiences that built one on top of the other. Regardless, you need to find a focus. This requires a lot of introspection (ie. word vomit).
The first thing I did was threw my heart at a word document in a bloody, incoherent, passionate mess (I have it saved under “Heart and Soul.doc”). Without worrying about the real essay, I just stream of consciousness responded to:
- Why do you want to be a [blank]? What experiences have motivated and reinforced your desire to pursue this profession? What about the profession specifically draws you to it?
- Identify the skills and characteristics in yourself that qualify you to pursue this career. Illustrate the experiences which exemplify or served to develop them.
- What can you as an individual contribute to the greater community?
- What personally defines you? (ie. family, ethnicity, hobbies and interests, academics, specific individuals, etc.)
Now that that’s done you’ve got a good skeleton to work off of (mind you the bones of the skeleton are probably scattered all over the place). Now you need to identify your story and the aspects and experiences you want to highlight the most. Start writing.
Just write. You’re starting early. You’ll have plenty of revisions, upon revisions; and several pairs of eyes as well to help you through it. Just write.
The story— Your story is uniquely yours. There are very few instances in which your story will be ‘cliche’. Maybe your interest in medicine stems from the health problems you experienced or witnessed in someone else when you were young. If this is legitimately your story, it won’t be cliche. The important part is to tell it honestly and with sincerity, the rest will follow.
However, don’t say you watched an open heart surgery on a 5 month old and you knew and that was it. There may be a specific moment when the passion began, but the decision to pursue anything (medicine especially) requires a lot of thoughtful, conscious, and reflective decisions. The more difficult the road is, the less feasible it becomes to simply say you had an ‘epiphany’.
Choose a few aspects from your application to focus on. Do not repeat your entire activities list, but choose two or three that mean the most to you and are the most relevant to illustrating your commitment to your career choice and to your story.
Revise and flesh your essay out. The character limit might seem a little restrictive (it was for me because I write so much) but this is an exercise in being as economic with your words as possible. General rules for essay writing apply— do not use passive voice, choose interesting verbs and adjectives, vary sentence structure, etc.
Also remember you have to convey qualities such as honesty, sincerity, and passion. Others to consider: leadership, integrity, commitment, ability to self-reflect, etc.
Finally, triple check everything. Use your own eyes, your friends, your mom, your friends’ moms. Take advantage of your professors and your letter writers and your pre-professional resources. As many people as you feel comfortable pestering. While you know what you are saying, it helps to have an outside perspective to address sentences that might sound awkward, or transitions that may not be as fluid. And spelling!! This essay has to be as pristine as you can make it.
If mistakes leak through, then that’s it. You can’t stress. Forgetting an ‘S’ at the end of a word that was meant to be plural doesn’t look great, but it’s not going to be the thing that prevents you from getting an interview or an acceptance.
Also be aware that this may become a talking point later during interviews. Do not even think about making something up. This is an important essay, but it’s not scary. It might be difficult to balance story telling with advocating yourself without sounding narcissistic, but it can (and will) be done.
And if you’re applying this cycle, now would be a good time to start.
Most importantly— “be yourself.” I’ve said this enough times before, but it should always be reiterated. That’s why I stuck Terriermon at the end of this post. :)
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