How to Enhance Your Personal Statement: Putting the Spotlight on You

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The personal essay that you wrote to gain admission to your undergraduate studies is significantly different than the one you will write for your medical school applications. Undergraduate admissions officers expect that eighteen year olds have limited life experiences and developing writing skills.  However, the personal statement you’re expected to write for your medical school applications is one that should show growth, character development, and significant experiences that have influenced your decision to pursue a medical career.  Here are three critical areas for developing your best personal statement that deserve your full attention:

A student working at the orphanage in Iringa1. Tell your story.  The medical school admissions officers will know your academic stats from your transcripts, GPA, and MCAT scores.  These numbers, however, are not enough to capture your true nature and motivations for becoming a medical professional.  In your personal statement, tell the story of WHY you are committed to a medical career and HOW you have reached the point in life where this path is a right fit for you.  You might be tempted to tell a childhood story of a beloved, but sick, relative – DON’T indulge in recounting these memories for your reader.  We’ve all experienced family illness, and your personal statement should reveal the experiences that make you unique and differentiate yourself from the med school crowd. You might find that a summer spent working closely with a professional painter taught you the importance of fine motor skills, working with your hands, and paying attention to details, all vital skills for a future surgeon and a story worth sharing with an admissions committee.

2. Watch your language.  It’s tempting to directly tell the reader of your personal statement that you are intelligent, motivated, and hardworking.  Your transcript, GPA, and MCAT scores are likely to reveal that all these adjectives truly describe you.  However, direct statements like these, without supporting, explicit examples, serve to simply fill your essay with generalities rather than distinguish you from other applicants.  It’s almost assumed that every medical school applicant is intelligent, motivated, and hardworking… thus, your med school interests.  However, showing your reader “why you are what you claim you are” is much more powerful and influential than simply stating the fact.  Generalities, verbose, convoluted language, and overused clichés are your personal statement’s enemies!  Strike them out of your writing; banish them to the rough draft bin!  An authentic narrative in plain language is more likely to engage your application reader.

A student assisting her mentor with taking a patients blood pressure3. Manage your time.  Procrastination is your greatest foe when it comes to medical school applications, especially the personal statement.  Dashing off a personal statement a week before med school application deadlines is unlikely to generate a well-crafted, well-developed piece of writing.  Multiple drafts, spread over an extended period of time, are highly encouraged.  Write your draft, step away from it for a week or two, then revisit with fresh eyes.  The story you told about watching an EMT save your neighbor’s life might look juvenile and trivial in the light of day. You’ll also want to seek feedback from several sources, including your pre-health advisor and possibly a professional editor.  Don’t wait till the last minute to obtain their valuable insights.

Your personal statement is your chance to tell the story that only you can tell.  You can enhance your essay by being authentic, straightforward, and forward thinking.  So pick up that pen, or open that laptop, and let your personal statement begin to form and pour forth on the page! — Post by Madelaine Kingsbury.

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