When in doubt, tell a story!

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.)

Writing a Personal Statement?


Ben Frederick M.D.
Co-Founder
During my fourth year of medical school, I was faced with writing yet another personal statement, this time for a radiology residency. I'm not a strong writer, but after sending my personal statement to our founding editor, Sam Dever, I had to turn down interviews because I was getting too many. True story!

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