Personal Statements

A tale of two statements...what do you think of each?  Who would you rather study with for the next four years?  Which makes it easier to know the student and make an admissions decision?  Why?

                #1 -- (An excerpt From

    As the time approached for me to set my personal and professional goals, I made a conscientious decision to enter a field which would provide me with a sense of achievement and, at the same time, produce a positive impact on mankind. It became apparent to me that the practice of medicine would fulfill these objectives. In retrospect, my ever-growing commitment to medicine has been crystallizing for years. My intense interest in social issues, education, and athletics seems particularly appropriate to this field and has prepared me well for such a critical choice...
    I’ve been asked many times why I wish to become a physician. Upon considerable reflection, the thought of possessing the ability to help others provides me with tremendous internal gratification and offers the feeling that my life’s efforts have been focused in a positive direction. Becoming a physician is the culmination of a lifelong dream; and I am prepared to dedicate myself, as I have in the past, to achieving this goal.

#2 -- (an excerpt from a former student)   
     “Look at the person sitting to your left . . . now look to the right . . . now to the front, back, and every which way diagonally.”
   Each new, fresh-out-of-high-school Gator followed the professor’s instructions and acknowledged—with his or her own blend of straight “A” confidence and freshman cockiness—the other newbies in the lecture hall. The professor’s steel-faced smile, however, told me we weren’t in Kansas any longer: “Not one of these people will get into medical school.”    I had been a student of the University of Florida for exactly twenty-two minutes, and I had already decided to give up a goal I had defended for eight years. What would Pop-Pop say?           
     The Geriatric Neurology Unit of Naples Community Hospital may not be the destination of choice for an evening out—unless, of course, one mistakes “L-Dopa” for the newest import from Miami. Otherwise, it’s true: a hospital can be a sad place to visit—especially for a ten-year-old. However, when my Pop-Pop—my once-burly, sauerkraut-making, soccer-playing personal hero—was sidelined by both Parkinson’s and prostate cancer, I visited him every chance I could and hoped that my mother was right: “Laughter is the best medicine.”

Note: the AMCAS made changes beginning with the 2012 cycle that includes new essay information -- with regards to the personal statement, you need to be aware of the new "3 most meaningful experiences" section. This section frees you from having to include everything in the personal statement because you'll have the opportunity to write about your experiences elsewhere. This means the personal statement can focus more on motivation and qualities.

The Personal Statement

Keep in mind that all writing is READER-CENTERED and PURPOSE-DRIVEN.

To this end, here are some pointers on writing personal statements.

Best Practices

"Best Practices" is a new fancy term for using techniques with a proven history of working well (sort of like "evidence based", but without the research requirement attached).  There are a couple of them pertaining to personal statement writing that are missed surprisingly often.  Here are a few of the biggies that will help.

    • Keep it positive.  Do not write negatively about yourself or your profession or anyone else!  If you need to explain a dip in grades, do so briefly and objectively; do not belabour whatever trauma/situation caused the problem.  Also, do not to say things like "I went into CSD because I couldn't cut in organic chemistry, thereby destroying my dreams of being a pediatrician."  Always find the "positive" (meaning not negative, not meaning ridiculously idealistic) way of communicating the same information.  For instance, another way of expressing the previous example is -- "Though I'd planned on becoming a pediatrician, I found that speech pathology provides the sort of sustained, personal contact with children I really crave as part of my career."

    • Details sell.  Lists do not.  Do not rehash your resume.  Instead, choose a few experiences that were particularly meaningful and/or can illustrate qualities  that you want the admissions committee to know.  To succeed as illustrative examples, experiences must have the following 3 parts (you can't expect the readers to fill in missing parts -- they have too many essays to read to spend time performing literary interpretation):

      1. Tell the story (what happened)

      2. Tell what you learned (what you got out of it)

      3.  Tell how what you learned applies to success in grad school or in your profession (why it matters).

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