I. Purpose of the personal statement
The most important consideration in a personal statement, no matter what the topic, is the impression that a writer creates for others to read.
An effective statement encourages the reader to believe that the applicant will be interesting to interview.
This statement is very difficult to write because it asks an applicant to do two contradictory things: there's a need to be self-promoting, and at the same time, the personal statement must communicate modesty. Consider the following elements when composing a personal statement.
Cognitive vs Non-cognitive Evaluation:
Cognitive Skills: intellect, ability to succeed, critical thinking and
Ways to assess: GPA, curriculum, MCATs, letters of recommendation
Non-cognitive Skills: motivation, commitment, sincerity, diversity, compassion, empathy, sensitivity, communication skills, humanitarianism, enthusiasm, creativity, leadership, uniqueness, honesty, maturity etc.
Ways to assess: personal statement, interview, letters of recommendation, extra-curricular activities
Explain the Unusual
Don’t leave the admissions committee with any questions. Explain gaps in academic record or other unusual circumstances
Admissions Committees can be made up of admissions staff, faculty, students and alumni. There are probably very diverse perspectives across this group. In general, the medical community still remains fairly conservative. Therefore, although it is best to but forth an accurate depiction of oneself in a personal statement, it is probably best to avoid trying something overly unusual, and it is wise to avoid gimmicks.
Admissions Committees have read thousands of personal statements; in general, they may only spend between 5-10 minutes on any one personal statement. Therefore, a personal statement should make an impression and stand out.
III. The Writing Process
This is an organic process. Although all of the steps below are a part of writing, it’s possible to repeat some of them at different times during the process.
Brainstorming and self-reflection
Free-Writing, generating first drafts
Refining your message and approach
Revise… revise… revise
Share work: get feedback
IV. General Advice
Show Don’t Tell. Show or demonstrate points by using concrete examples from personal experience. For instance, perhaps an interaction with a particular patient that you met while volunteering can illustrate a particularly important point.
Be specific. Broad and sweeping statements will not make the author of a personal statement stand out as an individual. Use details and examples to support a message
Find an angle. An angle provides focus and makes a personal statement interesting.
Have a strong opening paragraph. The first paragraph should state the thesis of a personal statement and grab the attention of a reader.
Avoid cliches. Applicants to the health professions that write about how they enjoy science and how they also would like to help people do not express any new ideas. Avoid using quotations from others: the personal statement is personal.
Write well. Be meticulous about the writing style of a personal statement. Type and proofread each essay very carefully.
Give yourself some distance. During revision process, put the personal statement away for a day or two and then come back to look at it with fresh eyes.
Don’t be afraid to delete. It’s okay to let it go. Sometimes it will be necessary to delete words, sentences, or entire paragraphs as a personal statement, as well as the ideas behind it, evolve. Get rid of that which no longer fits.
V. Questions to Ask during Revision
(This is taken from the handout from the CU Office of Scholars and Fellows)
Is the introductory paragraph interesting? How so?
Is the direction of the essay clear from the first paragraph?
Does the personal statement establish a clear theme that will guide how the essay develops? What is it and why is it appropriate?
Is a relationship established with the audience that will compel them to become interested in what the personal statement says?
Does the personal statement have continuity and focus and a successful organizational structure? How so? Check your thesis against every paragraph and then check every sentence within a paragraph for relation to theme.
Is the conclusion interesting? How so? Does it pull things together and at the same time bow towards the future, to something just slightly beyond the scope of the statement? Why is it important?
Has attention been paid to diction, sentence flow and accuracy?