Hello, hello! This is Holy writing again! Sorry that it’s been a while since my last post. I took a nice hiatus from writing. Since it’s *that* time of the year again, this post is to help you write your personal statement. Thankfully, over the past five cycles, I had learned how to draft and write a personal statement. If this is your first time writing one, fear not! It is actually not as hard as you think it is. 🙂 We shall dive riiight in! Long read ahead!
What is a Personal Statement (PS)?
According to AMCAS, a personal statement is defined as:
“…an argumentative essay. You want to reveal something about yourself and your thoughts around your future in medicine while also making an argument that provides evidence supporting your readiness for your career.”
In plain English, it means write something about yourself, list why that something would help you become a good doctor, and give evidence to back your claim up.
Common Mistakes in Personal Statements
- When I work with other students, their personal statements tend to have amazing answers. However, they don’t know how to organize their ideas! You could have good answers but not structure your essay to answer the prompt. This could also lead to a “choppy” essay – each paragraph is its own topic and there is no flow between paragraphs.
- Students also tend to just “list” their accomplishments – I did this and this and this and this. However, does that tell the reader why those events matter and what they learned from them. Make sure you watch out for this as you work on your personal statement.
- Some students use the same vocabulary over and over again! Utilize Google or a thesaurus to help you come up with better vocab. Rule: I will not use the same vocab twice in the same essay. I will absolutely not have two of the same vocab in the same paragraph. Keep this in mind especially.
Phase 0 – How Do I Start My Personal Statement?
First, answer the following question: Why do you want to be a doctor?
I promise it is not a trick question! A lot of people find it extremely difficult to answer this question because they always think that they have to give that one answer. However, this question is actually pretty open-ended and you will have multiple answers! Today, I want to present the two most common paths that people take when they answer this question in their personal statement:
- This one (or two) major event(s) that led you into medicine (refer as Option 1)
- You have multiple little events that eventually led you to medicine (refer as Option 2 – this is the best one!)
I personally took the second route. Figure this question out, and then we can move on to our brain storming phrase!
Phrase I – Brain Storming
Now, this is the phrase where you do all the brain dump. If you have a major event that led you into medicine, which event is it? If you have multiple little events, list the events and write what happened. Write. Get a blank of sheet of paper and free write – don’t mind about the grammar and the spelling. Do not stop. Do this for three to five minutes. Flush out your ideas. We will organize your thoughts later. Free write should look something like this:
“oh what a good question why did i want to be a doctor hmm let’s see i don’t always want to be a doctor until that event called the 30 hour famine hosted by our church and i was really touched by the experience and then i volunteered and shadowed next to get my interest up…”
If you are done with this phase – good job! Go take a break and come back for Phase II.
Phase II – Organization
You have so many great ideas in front of you – use them! Highlight particular events that you would definitely like to mention in your PS. Before I talk about about organization, I would like to point out that most of people’s essay have good answers – BUT they often lack organization! Make sure your essay flows and has a logical organization to it. Make a outline and then fill them in. Do not worry about word count. Just do it.
Mention that major turning point. Then make sure you mention that what have you done after that major turning point to improve yourself to become a better candidate. Three is a good magic number!
Introduction: that major turning point
Paragraph 1: Event 1 that I had done to improve myself, what have I learned from it, and why does that help me become a good physician?
Paragraph 2: Event 2 that I had done to improve myself, what have I learned from it, and why does that help me become a good physician?
Paragraph 3: Event 3 that I had done to improve myself, what have I learned from it, and why does that help me become a good physician?
Conclusion: Wrap it up and finish strong – why are you the bomb? summarize what you wrote body 1-3.
Remember in the previous section that I mentioned having multiple events that led to your decision is the best one for writing? Well, it is! Because if you taken this route, there are so many ways that you can spin this. For example, I opened my paragraph Below was my spin to my personal statement:
Introduction: Are there three characteristics that I think a good physician should have?
Body 1: Characteristic 1 – Why is it good? What things did I do to say that I have this characteristic?
Body 2: Characteristic 2 – Why is it good? What things did I do to say that I have this characteristic?
Body 3: Characteristic 3 – Why is it good? What things did I do to say that I have this characteristic?
Conclusion: I am a good candidate because I have those characteristics.
Another way that you can spin this is to have an “eye-catching paragraph” (although according to my advisor, this is falling out of style). Then talk about your experiences, chronologically, that led you to to your decision to pursue medicine.
Introduction: Your eye-catching event (could be the time when you working a scribe and you witnessed something or you were a bystander to a CPR, etc).
Body 1: Your first exposure to medicine.
Body 2: What have you done after that exposure to medicine that led you to medicine?
Body 3: What have you done to improve yourself as a candidate?
Conclusion: Why are you a good candidate?
Just keep in mind that you can spin your personal statement in any way you like but make sure you stay organized!
Phase III – Trim / Polish
I know I kept on saying don’t worry about your word count (and I hope you didn’t!), but this is the section where you are going to trim your essay down to meet that word count. This is the section where you also control-F your buzzword (such as “learn” or “doctor” or “want”) and change them up! Here are some tips on trimming:
- Being Concise. Are there any sentences that you can combine? Are there phrases that you can rewrite them to be more concise?
- Synonyms, synonyms, synonyms (I know, I just used the same word three times)! Make sure you switch it up for any common buzzword (control-F will tell you which word you use and how many times you used them). 1 buzzword per paragraph and 2 buzzword per essay max (maybe three if really can’t make it work)
- Hardest part: Are some of your answers relevant but not absolutely necessary? Take them out. Cut the fluff. I promise you it will be OK. Think of it this way – if you get an interview, they will ask you if they are more interested! Don’t be afraid to be concise and straight to the point! I mean, you only have so many words 🙂
This phase will probably take much longer than you think. It is a good thing because your personal statement is like a wine – the more you let it sit (and come back to work on it), the finer it is going to be.
Phrase IV – Proof-reading
Take a day or two break from writing your personal statement and then proof-read it yourself. Next, let people read your personal statement. I would ask at most (pay attention) three people to look over it. The more is not always merrier when it comes to proof-reading! If you ask too many people, you will get mixed feedback, and you will want to put all those extra things in your essay! Then you will have repeat Phase 1-4 again because you probably would need to reorganize it. You might actually lose the focus of your essay as well. Trust me when I say… three people at most.
The question is, which three people?
- Someone that knows you very well – your best friend. This is to scan for authenticity: Does it sound like you?
- Someone that knows you but a professional – your adviser, close professor, mentor, etc: scan for content: Do you have solid content and grammar?
- Someone that doesn’t really know you – your coworker, your neighbor, that kid that sits next to you in class but you don’t know his or her name – scan for clarity: Does he/she knows what you are trying to say? When people know you, they already know what you are trying to say without having to elaborate and explain. However, if that person doesn’t know you, it will help you understand what you have and what you can work on to strengthen clarity.
From here, you might move back and fourth between Phrase III and Phase IV until you feel ready!
I know writing a personal statement is a very challenging task, but it is definitely not another academic essay that we usually BS through the night before it’s due. However, it is extremely fun and rewarding when you finish writing it. Remember, it is all about you. They can find out your accomplishments by looking at your CV/resume. However, the personal statement is a place where you can present yourself as a person for them to see. I hope this will help you compose your PS. If you have any questions, don’t be shy – comment below and we will get back to you!
Again, thanks for sticking around and I wish you the best of luck this upcoming cycle!