Writing a personal statement to get into grad school, college, residency or any other big academic program is probably unlike anything else you’ve written recently. This time, the focus is all about YOU, which is often a topic many struggle to write about.
Here are some of our editors’ favorite resources for crafting the best statements of purpose:
Favorite tip: “It’s not just a resume or a regurgitation of everything you’ve done. It needs to tell a story with passion, using personal, entertaining anecdotes that showcase your character, your interests, your values, your life experiences, your views of the world, your ambitions and even your sense of humor.”
Favorite tip: “In your personal statement, show that you’ve given thought to the actual program that you’re applying to. Don't tell them that you applied to their school because it is the highest-ranking school, or that it’s in a city you’d love to live in.”
Preparing your personal statement for graduate school applications; American Psychology Association
Favorite tip: “When writing about your goals and experiences, aim for precision and detail. Avoid generic statements (‘I have a lot of research experience,’ ‘I did an internship’). Provide details, as space permits. What exactly did you do in your research, and what did you learn from it? What did your internship entail, and, again, what did you learn from it?”
Writing the Personal Statement for Medical School; Yale Office of Career Strategy
Favorite tip: “Make a list of some of your most defining experiences – extracurricular activities, specific classes, volunteer work, research, hobbies, etc. Try not to include overly personal experiences (breakups, trouble with parents, illnesses in the family, and so on). It’s difficult to write about such things without being sentimental or cliché. You want experiences in which you did something and had to make a choice.”
5 Medical School Personal Statement Writing Pitfalls; US News
Favorite tip: “Just listing a series of positive attributes will not impress any one on an admissions committee. Instead they want to know if you have strong interpersonal skills and that you can thoughtfully demonstrate how you acquired those interpersonal skills through interactions with patients or teamwork with a diverse group of peers.”
People often wonder what the most common pitfall is among grad school personal statements. Run-on sentences? Nope. Confusing structure? Nope. Give up? Well, without a doubt, it’s a lack of story-telling. Stories are so crucial because they can offer PROOF about your experiences, personality traits and motivations. Any applicant can say they like to work with children. But only YOU can share a story about that one summer you spent helping children in a rural South African clinic, and how you returned with a different perspective of our healthcare system.
More than anything, sharing stories about the moments that had an impact on your life allows the admissions team to get a window into your personality. Rather than just saying you’re a hard worker or a great team player, stories can prove those attributes for you. It’s up to you to decide how long the stories should be. Sometimes they may take over entire paragraphs. Other times, it’s best to just include a short anecdote within the context of a description. For example, if you’re describing your work as a pharmacy technician and all the responsibilities you had, you can sneak in a quick two-sentence story about a patient you went above and beyond to help. For some examples on crafting simple stories, check out this other blog post we wrote on showing vs. telling.
You may be wondering: Do admissions teams really want me to tell a story? Wouldn’t they rather just read about my responsibilities and accomplishments? The answer is that they want both! Put yourself in the shoes of an admissions officer for a moment: They are likely sitting at a desk scrolling through application after application, essay after essay, hour after hour. How can you grab their attention out of a sea of monotony? How can you make them perk up and want to learn more about you? Chances are, many applicants in that pile will have some of the same academic experiences and ambitions as you. But what will set you apart is how you present yourself and your life. Admissions officers are craving stories because stories will draw them in and get their attention. Stories also validate the very attributes they’re looking for.
So go for it! Weave a story into your intro. Sprinkle in anecdotes or short stories throughout your body paragraphs. Your essay will be better for it! (And the admissions team will love you for it.)
The key to having a personal statement that flows well is strong transitions. These are sentences that connect concepts like little bridges throughout your essay. Without them, your essay can feel choppy, disconnected and confusing.
Here are some ways you can create transitions for a smooth and seamless essay:
- Placement. First and foremost, when transitioning between paragraphs, your transitional sentence should always come as the first sentence of the new paragraph.
- Find the common element. If you’re trying to link two very different concepts, try to find what the two have in common and focus on that. For example, if your last paragraph was about your volunteer work and your next one is about some important lab research you did, you can focus on how one reinforces the other.
- Transition Example: After working with children suffering from heart defects for three months, I was excited to investigate those same issues from a different angle, this time under a microscope.
- Lean on your timeline. When you're trying to bridge one sentence to the next and things are flowing in a chronological order, you can use time to your advantage. For example, if your last paragraph discussed your accomplishments in college, and your next paragraph discusses the work you did after graduating, go with the flow.
- Transition Example: After graduation, I put my architecture degree to work immediately at an interior design firm in San Francisco.
- Lean on a story. If you’re trying to transition from a general statement to a story, it can sometimes be tricky to figure out how to weave into it without an awkward jump. There’s no need to set it up with an overly complex introduction — just dive in with leads like: “One example of this…”; “One way I was able to accomplish this was…”; “By doing…”; “When I…”
- Transition Example: “I believe that developing strong doctor-patient relationships is key to delivering quality healthcare. I put this value into practice while working with at-risk children in Chicago. For example, I always started our sessions by asking them to tell me about themselves and what they love to do.”
- When in doubt, turn to these transitional words to start your transitional sentences:
- Even though
- In addition
- What’s more
- For the same reason
- In fact
Transitional sentences are key to creating a personal statement that flows well and that guides the admissions reader effortlessly through your past, present and future. If you’re struggling with a choppy essay, try these tips and then send your essay to one of our experienced editors at www.edityour.net. They can help polish your essay until it’s as smooth as glass.
You finally have time to sit down and write you personal statement. You know it’s a big deal, and maybe you know vaguely what you want to write about. But all you can do is stare at that blank white screen helplessly.
“Where do I even begin?”
There are several key points you want to hit with a personal statement, regardless of what your background is and what type of program you’re applying to. A good starting point is to answer the following questions:
- What ignited your passion for career X?
- What moments reaffirmed your decision that YES, this is the career for you?
- How do your background, personality and experiences make you a great fit for career X?
- How does the program you’re applying to take your career to the next level? How is it a good fit for you?
- What are your long-term career goals?
By the way, if you need a little more guidance than that, we have an awesome Brainstorming Packet that we highly recommend for any applicant: https://edityour.net/product/personal-statement-brainstorming-packet/
Ok so if you’ve figured out generally what you’re going to write about, believe it or not, that’s not actually enough! You also need to structure your personal statement in a way that will draw the admissions team into your story and keep them hooked from start to finish. The structure and flow can have a big impact on how powerfully your experiences come across and how organized as a person you seem. For some tips on how to best structure your personal statement, check out our blog post on the topic of structure: https://edityour.net/structuring-your-personal-statement-with-a-strong-backbone/
Once you know what you’re going to write about and how you’re going to structure it, you are well on your way! After that first draft is complete, don’t forget the last step: Get it edited by a professional editor. That way you know it’s as strong as it can possibly be from a grammatical, structural and content point of view.
See all our best tips and resources on the EditYour Blog: https://edityour.net/blog/
It happens: Your grades slid in college for one reason or another. Now you’re applying to the program of your dreams and those low GPAs are stressing you out. Do you mention your poor academic performance in your personal statement and provide an explanation for the dip? Or do you ignore the topic and hope the admissions team doesn’t worry about it?
Here’s our answer:
In many cases, it’s not worth bringing up poor academic performance if it was very brief (such as a single semester). It may draw a red flag to an area that the admissions team wasn’t previously concerned about.
If you do choose to bring up poor academic performance because it went on for an extended period of time (perhaps a year or two), here are our tips on doing it right:
- DON’T MAKE EXCUSES: The last thing an admissions team wants to read are excuses from applicants on why bad grades weren’t their fault. A family member died. You were trying to work too many hours and juggle classes at the same time. You took classes that were too advanced for you. Whatever the reason, own it. Take responsibility and don’t place blame on outside forces.
- FOCUS ON HOW YOU BOUNCED BACK: Rather than writing about what went wrong, focus on what went right. How did you dig yourself out and finally achieve the higher GPA you desired? Be as specific as you can here, as it will highlight your strengths rather than your weaknesses.
- MAKE IT BRIEF: We’ve seen personal essays where entire paragraphs were dedicated to explaining away poor GPAs. Don’t do it. Spend no more than a couple sentences on the topic and then pivot to more important points about your background and goals.
Crafting language around this topic can be tricky. We always recommend submitting your essay to one of our experienced editors so they can give you advice on how to wordsmith your way out of a tough scenario.
Your personal statement has one key goal: To tell the admissions team things about you they could never otherwise know by reading other parts of your application. This mainly includes sharing elements of your personal background, motivations and aspirations with the reader. Consider those parts the vital organs of your essay. To make sure those vital organs function properly, you’ll need strong bones in place. Those bones are the structure of your essay.
After editing hundreds of essays and speaking with former admissions personnel, the strongest structure for a personal statement is typically as follows:
- Introduction Paragraph
- Body Paragraph 1 – Topic: Back to the Beginning
- Body Paragraph 2 – Topic: Confirmation of Your Passion
- Body Paragraph 3 – Topic: Current Self + Future Aspirations
- Conclusion Paragraph
Now, depending on your situation, you may have another body paragraph or two in your essay, and usually that’s fine as long as those paragraphs have important themes. But the above structure serves as a great starting point when you’re looking to write an essay from scratch. Most importantly, you’ll notice that the body paragraphs have elements that the admissions team is looking to learn about you. Let’s take a closer look at those body paragraphs:
Body Paragraph 1: Back to the Beginning
After your killer introduction (which you can learn more about how to write here), you’ll ideally want to take the admissions team back to where/when your passion for career X started and grew. For example, let’s say in your intro, you shared a story about breaking your arm at the age of 7, which led to your first hospital visit. Perhaps the experience ignited an interest in medicine. In your first body paragraph, you would want to bring the admissions team on a journey through the most important stages from that hospital visit through to med school. That may mean talking them through your decision to study biology in college, to volunteer at a free clinic, etc. Share anecdotes about moments that had a profound impact along the way.
Body Paragraph 2: Confirmation of Your Passion
While your first body paragraph should talk about the genesis of your passion and how it bubbled to the surface, your second body paragraph should show the admissions team that YES, this is the career for you. Show them proof that this is the path meant for you. This paragraph should be heavy on story-telling, detailing moments that made you think, “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” For some tips on how to tell powerful stories in your essay, check out this blog post on showing vs. telling.
Body Paragraph 3: Current Self + Future Aspirations
In your third body paragraph, you want to share where you’re at today, what your next steps are, and what your future goals look like. Areas to discuss include why you want to pursue program X (the one you’re applying to) and why it’s a good fit for you. How will this program achieve your ultimate career goal? And what is that ultimate career goal? Try to be as specific as you can. For example, instead of saying you want to be a physician, you could say that you want to be a physician who works at an inner-city hospital. Then connect it back to your previous body paragraphs by citing how you enjoyed the volunteer opportunity you had at the inner-city free clinic while in college (again, for a fictitious example). This third paragraph will allow your essay to flow seamlessly into your conclusion. For how to write a killer conclusion, we recommend you check out our previous blog post on that subject. Applicants who have used our services in the past report back to us that this blog post really helped them take their essays to the next level.
Once you implement this strong structure, you’ll find that your sentences flow much smoother and that your essay becomes more concise. The last thing you want is for your essay to be an expanded version of your resume, and this type of structure lends itself well to demonstrating how this career is right for you and why. Good luck!
When writing a personal statement, an amazing conclusion simply has to do three things:
- It recaps where you’ve been
- It recaps where you are.
- It recaps where you are going.
If you can tie it back to some memorable aspect of your introduction while hitting on those three points, you’ve hit the Holy Grail. So let’s go in depth on each of these three crucial aspects for your own essay:
1) It recaps where you’ve been.
Throughout your essay, you’ve shared experiences, skills and knowledge that have driven you toward who you are today. In your conclusion, remind the admissions team about how all those different elements work in combination to make you a unique candidate for their program.
2) It recaps where you are.
This is an aspect applicants often forget to include. You are at a crucial junction between the past and the future, and this program you’re applying to is the bridge. Recap why this program is an important stepping stone in your career path and how it’s a good fit for you personally.
3) It recaps where you are going.
Most importantly, you must tell the admissions team what your long-term career goal is. The more specific you can be, the better (even if you aren’t 100% sure, it’s best to come off as confident that you know what you want!). For example, rather than just recapping that you want to become a doctor, you can share additional sub-goals, such as wanting to be a doctor who works in low-income, inner city hospitals since you volunteered at those types of facilities before. Or perhaps you plan to go back to the country where you grew up and work as a surgeon there since they are in such short supply.
Bring It Together
Once we bring all three of those elements together, you can see how they link together to form one, solid conclusion. Ideally, your conclusion should be about 4-6 sentences long — not too short but not a long ramble. Below is an example showing how fusing the past (1), present (2) and future (3) together can end your essay on a strong note:
With my experience volunteering in Chicago’s free health clinics combined with my passion for helping children (1), I am ready to take the next step in my career. My grandmother always told me I would make a great pediatrician as she watched me perform checkups on my teddy bear, but it wasn’t until college that I realized she might have been on to something (1 + reference to intro). The University of XYZ’s program would help give me the tools, skills and knowledge necessary to excel in this career path (2). Moreover, its hands-on approach and small class size are the perfect fit with how I learn best (2). I look forward to one day becoming a pediatrician who can work with the same types of children and families I did back in Chicago so that I can make an even bigger difference in both their lives and in the community at large (3).
Applicants typically have the toughest time writing the introductions of personal statements. You have all this great experience — where to begin? If you find yourself thinking the same thing, these 4 tips are about to change everything:
#1: Start with a story
The best way hook the admissions team into your essay is to start with a gripping story from a moment that changed your life. For example, one applicant described how she had lost a friend in a car accident and pulled the reader right into the thick of that life-changing situation: “Her body laid on the gurney, cold to the touch. I looked at her face once more, kissed her forehead, and whispered goodbye.” A little story like this not only gives the selection committee better insight into who you are, but it also keeps their attention longer so they WANT to learn more about you.
#2: Use vivid imagery
By including little details, active verbs and a more story-like format, you can transform your introduction into a gripping start to your essay. Incorporate aspects of the five senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste) to really take it to the next level. As you can see in the following two examples, the little details make all the difference:
Not very vivid: We were sitting in the emergency room and were staring at the ground. It was hard to wait so long and not know if she was ok.
More vivid: The fluorescent lights buzzed as we sat in the emergency room. I sat bent forward with my head resting on my knees, staring blankly at the cracks in the tile floor below. Would she make it? Would I ever see her again?
#3: Bridge your past, present and future
Your introduction has one primary goal: It must tell the admissions team where you’ve been, where you are and where you’re going. You can do this by using transitions that seamlessly weave those parts together. For example:
“After working for five years as a researcher , I discovered that while I loved problem-solving, I longed to be able to work directly with the real people behind the data. By applying to medical school , I look forward to bringing my unique lab experience into a clinical setting. Becoming a physician , will allow me to form strong relationships with my patients and problem solve for them on an individual level.”
#4: End with your ultimate goal
In the above example, you’ll notice that the final sentence includes a note about what the long-term goal is: becoming a physician. Always make sure to include this in the last sentence or two of your introduction! The admissions team wants to know that you have a specific career goal in mind, which will give them more confidence in you.
Once you sew together a great introduction, it's always smart to run it past an editor to make sure you're on the right track. Don't hesitate to send your first paragraph to our team of pros and we'll help you craft the best intro possible for your killer personal statement.
Show and tell isn’t just for elementary school anymore – it turns out it can have a HUGE impact on your personal statement.
When writing your personal statement, it's crucial to ask yourself whether you are showing the admissions team who you are or telling them about yourself. The bottom line is that using stories to show the admissions committee who you are can really highlight your personality, motivations and goals in a unique and interesting way that will truly strengthen your chances of getting in.
Here’s a great example. Say you’re trying to get into medical school and you want to convey a few key strengths about yourself. Here are two ways to present those points:
Telling: “I come from a diverse background and believe it is important to give 100% in every project I do. Whether it’s in school or at work, I always go above and beyond to ensure a successful outcome. I’m also an organized person.”
Showing: “If you came into my kitchen, which is filled which curries and spices from my home country of Sri Lanka, you would see that all the little jars are organized in alphabetical order. I’ve been doing this type of organization since I was a child. My big sister used to tease me growing up, because even my dolls were arranged in order from biggest to smallest. But when my family decided to move to the United States when I was 15, my organization skills helped me transition into my new life. I made flash cards to study English every day; I meticulously prepared for each quiz and test according to a pre-set schedule; and I practiced soccer after school just like I did in Sri Lanka, just to make sure I kept up my abilities. Thanks to my organizational skills, I was able to quickly excel and became an honor’s student in just my second semester of high school.”
That’s a pretty big difference between the two versions, right? The same points were conveyed, but in the first option, they were very plainly stated; in the second, we use stories and anecdotes to convey them. Not only does the admissions team get a much better sense of your personality, motivations and background in the second version, but they also have a much more enjoyable reading experience!
Visualize Their Perspective
Any applicant can say “I’m an organized person” or “I give 100%.”
Imagine if you are an admissions team member, you are sifting through hundreds if not thousands of essays over the course of several weeks. Any applicant can say “I’m an organized person” or “I give 100%.” But if you can tell that admissions reader why and how you are unique, you’ve just gotten their attention. Plus, admissions committee members can spot good writing in a sea of essays, and if yours has the right tone and stories, they’ll be hooked. If you hook the reader, you have a better chance of earning their favor when their votes are cast for the next incoming class.
What You Can Do to Show Not Tell
So how do you go about writing an essay that shows? The first step is writing out the parts of your life you want to tell. To start, what are the key points about yourself you want to convey? Start by making a list, such as this:
- I learn best by jumping in and participating
- I’m driven to succeed
- I know four languages
Once you have your key points laid out, plot out a list of stories or short anecdotes that prove those points. Remember, this is like an outline of notes for your essay:
- I learn best by jumping in and participating
- That time my boss commended me for helping to fill orders on my first day on the job at the pharmacy when we were short staffed.
- When I learned about anatomy for months, but once I dissected that frog, everything clicked.
- I’m driven to succeed
- My grandfather’s death fueled my passion to follow his footsteps toward a career in medicine
- Even in playing card games, my grandfather never just let me win – I had to work for it. He taught me how valuable this lesson is in all aspects of life.
- I know four languages
- I traveled a lot as a child and have visited 16 countries.
- I grew up with friends across different continents and had to always learn new languages in order to make new friends and stay in touch with old ones.
Once you have a list of stories and anecdotes you can rely on, you can whittle it down to which ones you think are strongest, and then start weaving them into your essay. Whenever you feel pulled to write a tell statement (ie, I’m an organized person), take a step back and figure out how to weave in a show statement instead (ie, My spices are all arranged in alphabetical order.).
The show and tell method is the single best way to take your essay to the next level. It effectively gives the reader insight into your personality, what drives you to succeed, and what kind of background has made you who you are today. You know you deserve a spot in this program, so let your life experiences show the admissions team why.
Bolstering your application by incorporating several, or all, of these suggestions will transform you from numbers and letters on a page into a substantial and competitive candidate.
Hey everyone! Ben Frederick here. Here's another great post from Kyle Smith (aka @askaDDSstudent) on general dental school requirements.
Creating a Competitive Dental School Application
Over 12,000 students applied to dental school in 2013. In these times of highly competitive admissions, it is imperative that your application stands out and is well rounded. Not only do you have to showcase your academic ability, you also have to prove to the admissions committee that you have what it takes to succeed as a dental professional.
The following additions to your dental school application may just put you in position to get noticed, or maybe even push you over the top, when it comes time to apply.
Take additional recommended electives or upper level science classes.
Take them and excel at them! Many of these classes will cover subject material that you will be exposed to in dental school. Showing that you can tackle these types of courses as an undergraduate student will give schools confidence that you can handle a dental school curriculum. Classes that fall into this category can include anatomy, cell biology, microbiology, histology, immunology, neuroscience, physiology, and medical terminology. Your potential school’s admissions website may also provide additional suggestions.
Add a minor, major, or master’s degree to your resume.
This may be especially helpful for applicants who intend to take a gap year or are re-applying. Showing your dedication to additional academics or completion of master’s level courses can, once again, give schools more confidence in your abilities. Variety in your classes can also showcase aspects that make you unique. For example, a minor in a non-science area of study as a science major, or vice versa, can show your diversity in academic or personal interests.
Participate in research.
Many schools do place considerable value on student experience in research and working with a research team. Showing you have an interest in problem-solving and analysis is a valuable asset in any potential dental student. Any type of research is fine - it doesn’t necessarily have to be dental related.
Rock the DAT!
This can be a big help for those applicants with GPAs towards the lower end of the accepted GPA ranges (found in the ADEA book mentioned above). It can show improvement in areas where you may have been lacking and it can also show that you have the ability to conquer large comprehensive exams under pressure (of which you will take a few in dental school! NBDE parts I and II anyone?). A score above 20 AA should give you a good chance of being noticed by the school you are applying to, but aim high. Make sure that you are consistently performing in all the sections scored on the exam. Some schools have recommendations for minimum scores in each of the individual sections. It is always a good idea to take the test once you are fully prepared, but I typically suggest that applicants take the test sometime between December and February of the year they plan on applying. I recommend this because taking the test at this time will allow for a retake attempt (if necessary) prior to the AADSAS application cycle opening and will not delay the submission of your application. Avoiding this delay and submitting earlier means schools will receive your application sooner, which is a big advantage since dental schools operate on a rolling admissions process.
Shadow, shadow, shadow!
Accumulate those hours and make sure to document them! Schools love to see your investment in exploring dentistry through shadowing, as it gives them confidence that you have evaluated your decision to pursue this path. Make notes of things you saw that you found interesting or inspiring. These notes may come in handy when writing your personal statement (more to come on this later). Diversify your shadowing experiences by spending time observing dental specialties to show that you are interested in all aspects of the dental field. Finding a specialist to observe is usually as easy as asking the general dentist that you shadow if they can recommend one to you. Make sure to make connections while shadowing since that can lead to opportunities to work in a dental clinic and maybe even as an associate dentist if you’re lucky!
Volunteer and get involved!
Volunteer experiences are amazing additions to your application. These experiences in your community or with student groups on campus can show your passion for giving back, leadership skills, and/or an ability to work with a team. These are all extremely valuable components of dentistry, especially as our medical care continues to emphasize the importance interprofessional relationships to facilitate more comprehensive patient care. Having unique, long-term, or varied volunteer experiences can make your application stand out and show dedication to giving back to others. Volunteer experiences can also give you experience in working with different populations, age groups, or cultures, all of which are extremely valuable skills in treating a diverse patient population.
Learn a second language.
This skill can greatly enhance your ability to connect with a diverse patient population and it adds another dimension to your application as well. Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language in the US next to English, and there have been many times in my clinical experiences that I wish I could directly converse with my patient instead of working through an interpreter. (I definitely appreciate their services but I believe direct communication adds another level of connection and comfort between patient and provider.) You may even get a chance to put this skill to use when you travel abroad on dental mission trips in the future!
Write a personal statement that stands out!
The personal statement is your chance to show a unique side of yourself to the admissions committee that cannot be seen in the grades, numbers, and lists that make up your application. I have previously written an article on dental school personal statements so instead of rambling on here, I’ll just provide you with the link: How to Write a Dental School Personal Statement.
Get great letters of recommendation.
This will undoubtedly require you making a personal connection with a professor at some point during your academic career. Asking a professor who only knows you because he sees your name on his class roster probably isn’t the greatest idea. Different schools have different requirements for letters of rec so make sure you are targeting the right people (again, check out their admissions website). Once you have your targets, it’s time to make the connection. Sit towards the front, go to office hours, ask questions in class, and basically do whatever you can (within reason) to allow that professor to get to know you or at least recognize you when you approach them. Once you’ve established this, the time has come to ask for your letter. This can be done either in person or via e-mail. If you prefer the latter, I suggest you read this article: 5 Rules for Requesting a Letter of Recommendation via Email.
Don’t give up too soon!
Perseverance is an integral trait of any future professional. Many successful applicants are re-applicants in these times of competitive admissions to professional programs. Over half of my classmates in dental school were 2nd or 3rd time applicants. If getting into dental school is your goal, do everything you can (of course within reason) to attain it!
Bolstering your application by incorporating several, or all, of these suggestions will transform you from numbers and letters on a page into a substantial and competitive candidate. Creating this almost tangible representation of yourself through your application could make all the difference when it comes time for the dental school admissions committees to decide who will receive an invitation to interview or even an acceptance letter.
Kyle Smith D.D.S.