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Depakote's Personal Statement Guide/Tips

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by Depakote, Jun 23, 2008.

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  1. Depakote

    Depakote Pediatric Anesthesiologist Moderator Emeritus Lifetime Donor 10+ Year Member

    Nov 2, 2004
    Rocket Scientist
    hSDN Member
    hSDN Alumni
    First let me apologize to everyone that already submitted their AMCAS applications. Yes, it's late June, this is too late to help those of you that got your stuff in early. That said... STOP READING HERE IF YOU HAVE ALREADY SUBMITTED. There's no sense in looking for mistakes/beating yourself up if you've already pulled the trigger.

    Second, I am doing this as a service to Pre-Allo, drawing on the statements I have read over the past few years and the many mistakes I made composing my own personal statement(s). Unfortunately, I do not have time to edit personal statements this year. If you contact me, I will have to politely refuse... just telling you now.

    On to the issue at hand.

    I know most of you are scientists, not writers. But you should still be able to pull off some of these basics.


    A personal statement works best if it has some unifying element to pull it together. This doesn't have to be an overt parable, just something simple that you can allude to in your intro and conclusion showing a nice point A->B flow of ideas.
    A rudimentary example of this would be equating your path to medicine to a growing child and your significant experiences developmental milestones (like learning to talk, going to school, etc. with medicine being your final destination and the child striking out on his/her own.) Side note: Don't do what I did (I'm not even linking you to it), that was a bit of a 3rd round Hail Mary that paid off.

    Intro and conclusion
    I was always one for the flashy hook intro. But there's a fine line between a hook and melodrama. It's ok to draw the reader into a scene using descriptive and vibrant language, but make sure what you're discussing is worth the attention it's getting. Basically, don't try to make a papercut sound like a severed artery.

    Conclusion, refer to the theme you set up in your intro and restate your answer to the "why medicine?" question (which you answered through the body of the personal statement) using your thematic imagery.

    What should you be discussing?
    This is where most pre-meds start missing the mark. Your personal statement is supposed to demonstrate your personal motivation for a career in medicine. You should answer the "why medicine?" question and give your best support possible. What many, many, many pre-meds do is fall into the Extra-Curricular trap. Rather than discussing why they are motivated to pursue medicine they simply state that they are motivated and then start talking about their extra-curricular activities. (I've done it, and it happened frequently in statements I helped edit) If the EC shows up in your ECs section and you talked about it there, there's no need to talk about the details of what you did in your personal statement. I'm pretty sure performing bench research counting drosophila did little to help your motivation to become a physician, don't throw in a line telling me it did just so you can remind me about that 4 weeks of research experience you've got.

    you want to cut anything that does not directly address the following:
    • intro
    • "why medicine?"
    • support for "why medicine?"
    • any problems/gaps in education along the way that really should be addressed in PS
    • conclusion

    This doesn't mean your ECs are off limits, it just means that you should discuss specific experiences that actually affected your motivation. It's better to use a single detailed example and illustrate how it drove you to medicine than to try to say you did X here which made you want to be a doc, then did Y there which made you want to be a doc, etc.

    Other Mistakes:
    -You are a pre-med. In general it is a bad idea to tell the admissions committee what makes a good Med Student/Doctor. You may identify your own positive qualities and say they will help you, but don't start defining what makes a good "doctor" that's their job.

    -Don't belittle yourself. Your personal statement is a time to show your good qualities, if you must address negative aspects of your application, do so, but watch for passive and negative wording that hurts the way you represent yourself.

    -Don't bash other schools/teachers/doctors/etc. This is a big no-no. You may have disagreements with another institution/party but the best way to handle this situation is to objectively present the facts and let the admissions committee draw their own conclusions. If you start criticizing an institution, it makes them wonder if you'd criticize them like that after you leave their school. Not a huge incentive to accept you.

    -Don't work other agendas. "Why Medicine?" is enough. You can mention an interest in research or other career goals (public health, etc) if you want to perform that, but don't spend a paragraph talking about socialized medicine, abortion, stem cell reseach, or other issues in medicine that do not directly affect your application.

    -Try to keep an open mind. It's fine to have an inkling of what you might want to do after you graduate, but be aware of the fact that you'll probably change your mind a few times in med school. It would be unwise to base your personal statement on a career goal of pediatric cardio-thoracic surgery.

    -Recognize your own self-unimportance. This goes along with the papercut comment above, don't portray your role to be anything more significant than what it was. People weren't looking to you with awe and heart-felt gratitude after you gave them a band-aid.

    -Previous mistakes:
    If you've made mistakes previously, own up to them and take responsibility. Don't try to blame someone else or something else. You want to show that you've moved on and matured. Don't try to make excuses.

    Yes, avoid making cliche statements, but you don't need to pretend you're going into medicine because you think your reasons might be cliche. Most pre-meds are motivated for the same reasons (wanting to help people, love science, early experience with medicine, etc). You don't need a unique reason, just try to discuss it in a way that is unique as possible.

    Other Advice:
    -Don't use the word "fascinating". Probably 80% of statements I reviewed last year used it, very cliched and got to be vomit inducing.

    -just use a single line between paragraphs, don't try to indent
    -don't use more than 1 space between sentences (no one will notice and this is a huge character saver)
    -re-read it for any sentences that could be re-worded more efficiently, then have someone else do it. Brevity is key.

    -Get your PS into as many hands as possible before you submit it, have your mom, brother, school's writing center, adviser, dog, everyone look at it if possible. You want good, honest feedback from multiple sources.
    Here's the 2008-2009 Personal Statement reader's thread:

    Other sources of PS advice, the Official PS Guide:

    I'll edit in more advice if any occurs to me. If anyone else has thoughts, feel free to contribute.
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2009
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  3. ejay286

    ejay286 Member 7+ Year Member

    Jul 10, 2005
    Bump, this is a good thread that seems to be getting overlooked.
  4. TheRealMD

    TheRealMD "The Mac Guy" 5+ Year Member

    May 23, 2007
    Houston, Texas
    Just one thing I'd like to add on: Even when you have the ideas for your personal statement pretty well fleshed out, you are likely to rewrite the actual words many times. Do not feel attached to "good sentences" you wrote days ago when you need to integrate it well with newer stuff. Save those sentences in a separate file since that CAN be useful later.

    Oh, and like what Depakote said, once it's submitted, never look at it again. Ever.
    orangeblue and Yolanda like this.
  5. TamarMD

    TamarMD 2+ Year Member

    Dec 23, 2006
    Thanks for bumping it. How early should someone start writing their personal statement?
    Posted via Mobile Device
  6. enjoydrywax

    enjoydrywax 5+ Year Member

    Mar 27, 2008

    I think all your advice is excellent except for the point quoted above. I highly doubt "good" doctors know whether they are good doctors and the same goes for med students. The only people qualified to speak about the quality of a doctor are his/her patients. I'm sure all of you have had good doctors and bad doctors, and are very aware of the qualities that exemplify both. Just throwing in my two cents.
  7. ACSurgeon

    ACSurgeon Acute Care Surgeon Bronze Donor 7+ Year Member

    Jun 8, 2008

    Actually patients have no idea what makes a doctor good or bad. I'd bet that most patients would judge a doctor mainly on manners, looks, humor, sensitivity... even if he was the worst doctor in the world (yes, knowledge and competency actually play a role). Finally, I think Depakote was trying to say that generally other doctors know if their colleagues are good or bad doctors, not the pre-med applicant.
  8. Nemethyst

    Nemethyst 2+ Year Member

    Mar 18, 2008
    I've read some friends PS's this year and I feel like I need to throw this in.

    Please try to write like a normal person. By this, I mean don't use flowery sentence structure or verbage you'd use for academic papers in this essay.

    Have you written a research paper? Is it published? Remember the language you used there? that's the type of language you don't want to use here.

    Stick to simple sentence structures and BE UPFRONT. You want to make the reader do either of two things: feel like they got what you said and don't have to read it again, or make them genuinely want to read it again because they thought it was good. You do not want to make them feel like they need to read it again because they didn't get what you were saying the first time or because they spaced out halfway through.

    Looking back, I think most/half of your time should have been spent in planning and brainstorming. Don't rush into writing the essay.
  9. s1lver

    s1lver ☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠ Lifetime Donor 2+ Year Member

    Aug 18, 2007
    Saved for future use... :thumbup:
  10. rowerlauren

    rowerlauren 2+ Year Member

    Feb 3, 2008
    Thank you so much Depakote. Reading through people's personal statements I feel that writers get too caught up in the writing process and are unable to actually express themselves.
    Don't try to use your vocabulary, just write, if you try to impress people your PS comes off as fake and difficult to read.
    Also try to avoid cliches... Even if you feel that certain way the AdComs will not understand how you feel. Use your own words to express yourself.
  11. Depakote

    Depakote Pediatric Anesthesiologist Moderator Emeritus Lifetime Donor 10+ Year Member

    Nov 2, 2004
    Rocket Scientist
    hSDN Member
    hSDN Alumni
    I forgot these so I'll go ahead and edit them in above:

    -Previous mistakes:
    If you've made mistakes previously, own up to them and take responsibility. Don't try to blame someone else or something else. You want to show that you've moved on and matured. Don't try to make excuses.

    Yes, avoid making cliche statements, but you don't need to pretend you're going into medicine because you think your reasons might be cliche. Most pre-meds are motivated for the same reasons (wanting to help people, love science, early experience with medicine, etc). You don't need a unique reason, just try to discuss it in a way that is unique as possible.
  12. metalhead1023

    metalhead1023 High School Student 2+ Year Member

    Apr 13, 2008
    hSDN Member
    bump, you guys should sticky this
  13. MilkmanAl

    MilkmanAl Al the Ass Mod 7+ Year Member

    I'm tired at the moment, but I'll throw in my 2 cents tomorrow. There are quite a few problems that were present in almost all of the statements I read this cycle. In case it wasn't obvious, this is a disguised bump. :D
  14. watifimnot

    watifimnot Newbie

    Jul 27, 2009

    So true. I have the worst writer's block. I keep editing myself in my head!!
    Hopefully the end result is worth the pain.

    Those were excellent tips btw.
  15. sv3

    sv3 2+ Year Member

    Feb 24, 2009
    great post
  16. njbmd

    njbmd Guest Moderator Emeritus 5+ Year Member

    May 30, 2001
    Gone Walkabout!
    I will add that you don't need to spend more than a sentence or two addressing any mistakes. If you received on or two grades that were less than B, don't address these at all. As an applicant to medical school, you are not expected to be perfect. If asked about those grades in an interview, give an explanation then but don't use your valuable personal statement space rehashing your transcript and trying to offer excuses for your grades.

    Your personal statement is the one place where you have total control over content. Use that content to try to present yourself in a manner that will allow members of an admissions committee to get to know you and to want to meet you. I can tell you from experience, reading why you received a C in Organic Chemistry is not going to induce me to want to meet you or get to know you period.

    The same thing goes for MCAT retakes. In general, one retake is probably OK and will speak for itself as you figured out your problems and scored well. This is a positive that will stand on its own without explanation. If you are sitting there with two or more retakes, your personal statement is not the place to try to "explain" these. Again, they will speak for themselves. Since they will not say much that is positive, don't mention this type of stuff in your PS. There is nothing that you can say that will "explain" why you kept taking this exam without correcting your mistakes.

    The OP has given you some excellent advice if you are starting out. If you have submitted, then your situation " is what it is." You will find out how good your statement is when it is either successful or not. Should you not gain acceptance, rework your statement even if you are "in love with it". If your application didn't work the first time, change everything that you can so that it works the second time. Don't sit there hoping that no one read it and that you can just hit the resubmit button. That action sends a message that you don't want to send.
  17. loveoforganic

    loveoforganic -Account Deactivated- 2+ Year Member

    Jan 30, 2009
    Bump, getting around that time again.

    Also, milkman never contributed his 2c!
  18. Daedra22

    Daedra22 ~Harm None~ 7+ Year Member

    Nov 20, 2009
    I'd like to add my (small) token of advice... to those who were inspired to get into medicine through hardship/tragedy, be sure to make your PS a net positive. Personally, my PS started out very dark, and eventually became "brighter" as I re-wrote it; instead of coming off like a sad narrative, it became a hopeful narrative. It worked pretty well for me.
  19. erskine

    erskine hit it, H 2+ Year Member

    Nov 12, 2008
    what kind of tone should we adopt for writing the PS?

    for instance, is it all right to inject some humor into it? Not knock-knock jokes or "a guy walks into a bar" setups, but maybe just interesting/amusing views?

    Or is a serious PS better applicable?
  20. LizzyM

    LizzyM the evil queen of numbers SDN Advisor 10+ Year Member

    Mar 7, 2005
    Consider your audience. You will be writing for people between the ages of 25 and 85 (I'm not kidding). Most will be physicians and medical students but not all - the adcom includes professors of the basic sciences (histology, anatomy, etc) and non-scientists (bioethics, medical humanties, professional education). What one person finds funny may be odd or even offensive to someone else. Some self-deprecating humor in a story might be ok but to be sure run it by everyone from your roommate to your roommate's grandmother just to be sure.
  21. FutureScaresMe

    FutureScaresMe UCSF '14 2+ Year Member

    Dec 12, 2008
    San Francisco
    Been almost 2 years. Still waiting for those 2 cents.
    orangeblue likes this.
  22. MilkmanAl

    MilkmanAl Al the Ass Mod 7+ Year Member

    And it's looking like you'll continue to wait...forevah!
  23. JJMrK

    JJMrK J to the J Moderator Emeritus 7+ Year Member

    Apr 26, 2007
    Bump for usefulness.
  24. NateM

    NateM 2+ Year Member

    Apr 11, 2009
    So I have spent the last few months touching up my PS to "perfection", a million people have read it including an English professor who told me that it was good and to use it... So what's the dilemma?

    My advisor told me to change it. That is what.

    My PS focused on my humanistic desires in medicine (human contact connection etc. In other words, I did not discuss my extensive research background or upward trend GPA. I have been under the impression that the PS does not "stand alone" to represent you but goes along to supplement the application as a whole. Research is important to me but doesn't that already show with a superb letter from my PI with over 2 years of research, multiple presentations, a thesis, an award and a publication? Do I need to rehash it in my PS and talk about why that is another reason that I am motivated to become a physician?

    Any advice is much appreciated and if you would like to see my PS just PM me. Thanks everyone! And wonderful thread!
  25. Dianyla

    Dianyla in denial 7+ Year Member

    May 26, 2006
    Portland, OR
    Sounds like your PS is great so far. You have space to address research in the ECs, the upward GPA trend gets documented in Coursework section of AMCAS.

    I think it's a complete waste of precious PS characters to talk about things that are listed elsewhere in your application. The only exception to this would be if you have some particularly bad academic skeletons in the closet that need to be qualified with information about what was happening in your life at the time.
  26. Depakote

    Depakote Pediatric Anesthesiologist Moderator Emeritus Lifetime Donor 10+ Year Member

    Nov 2, 2004
    Rocket Scientist
    hSDN Member
    hSDN Alumni
    My personal take is that it sounds like you're on the mark when you're discussing your desires and goals. You're telling the reader about you, not about things you've done. I wouldn't rehash experiences you discuss in your ECs section of your application.
  27. justinbaily

    justinbaily 5+ Year Member

    Dec 6, 2009
    I agree with Depakote. I'd be willing to read through your PS and give you some feedback.

    And for the record, my personal statement sounds similar to yours. I did not include anything about my extensive research in the PS, but I wrote a solid summary of it in the EC section. That seemed to be effective.
    Last edited: May 25, 2010
  28. NateM

    NateM 2+ Year Member

    Apr 11, 2009
    Thanks all for the positive feedback! It is tough when I have almost everyone praise my PS and then my advisor tell me to redo it - I value her opinion very much. I guess I will stick to my guns and instinct and take a risk... Hopefully all goes well... Best of luck to you all!
  29. innocentmed


    Mar 29, 2010
    Hey everyone - Thank you so much for all of your information on writing personal statements! Also, Thank you to all the readers. I have read over many suggestions, and this may be somewhat of a specific question, but I need to ask it. In my application, there is a significant downward trend in grades. I do take responsibility for this, but also feel I must address this in my personal statement. In someone's opinion, is there a particular strategy that works best for this? For example, I started writing my explanation and right now it seems too cliche - "I had personal lessons to learn". I'm trying to reach into my heart and find both an honest and mature way of tackling this, but just wanted to throw it out there and see if anyone had any advice. Sorry if this comes across as annoying - I know writing a PS is a very serious task.

    Thank you all!
  30. NateM

    NateM 2+ Year Member

    Apr 11, 2009
    I heard an admissions dean speak last year and someone asked him a similar question. He said to not spend too much time one it, to not give apologies or excuses but to admit the mistake and turn it into a positive. His main point really was to make your PS say something positive about you and your motivations, so try and turn your mishap into something positive; ie. what did you learn from it, how you have grown, and what you have done to show that you've grown? By showing that you have grown you can intertwine that in with your motivation for becoming a physician. Hope it helps. Good luck!
  31. innocentmed


    Mar 29, 2010
    Thank you for your help! I think this is a great strategy.
  32. FutureDoctor015

    FutureDoctor015 2+ Year Member

    Jul 13, 2009
    Does anyone know where I can get my personal statement edited at UC Berkeley? I thought they would have a service available at the career center, but apparently they don't (lame! there is totally a year-round editing service at UCSD - which I don't qualify for anymore :( ).

    Anyway, if any knows, please PM me. Also, if anyone knows any other ways I can get my essay edited in the Bay Area let me know. I PMed a bunch of editers on this forum, but haven't gotten a response back yet and I want to get my essay in the hands of as many as possible!

    Thanks in advance.
  33. mrdrdrjp

    mrdrdrjp Ph.D in Bastardology 2+ Year Member

    May 5, 2008
    Forest City, NC
    i vote to make this a possible sticky. this is some of the best and most sound advice i've seen in a while
  34. DonO

    DonO 7+ Year Member

    Dec 16, 2006
    Huntington Beach, Calif.
    Following on Depakote's excellent primer ... my pet peeve reading personal statements is the tangent.

    I see a *ton* of tangents in drafts of med school personal statements. Here's what I mean:

    [sentence about topic a]. Also, [topic b introduced]. And that's why, [another sentence about topic a].

    So topic b is a throw away, contributes nothing to the flow of the essay, and makes me ask, "Why is that there?"

    Make sure you can map out the topics of your essay and stick to the "one topic per paragraph" rule. Your essay will shine!
  35. Beginning can be the hardest part of the personal statement!

    Begin your personal statement by composing a few stories. Each one should make a strong argument for why you should be admitted to med school: Tell about a time you were a strong leader in college or after college. This can be in a classroom setting, at work, or in a volunteer activity. Tell about a time you had positive tangible impact on others. Maybe you led a study group, helped tutor economically disadvantaged children, or traveled with a nonprofit medical organization. This kind of story will show you have had real-world experience, and it also often demonstrates that you can look at issues from multiple perspectives. Once you have written down several stories that provide strong evidence for your skills and abilities, work them into an essay with smooth transitions. Also strive to add other engaging elements of style to your essay. Style makes the essay pleasurable for the reader—it can incorporate moments of humor, poignancy, or vivid description or a recurring image or theme to make the reader enjoy the essay.

    Stories are a powerful tool for personal statement writers because, most importantly, they provide evidence to support your claims about your skills and abilities. Once admissions committee members see specific evidence of leadership, compassion, and medical-related experience already in place, they will be more eager to admit you. Additionally, specific stories keep the interest and focus of the reader, since the human mind responds to stories by imagining characters, setting and action. Finally, stories gently force the reader to interpret your actions, thus getting them mentally involved as you “show” them your skills and talents (rather than “tell” them).

    Don’t forget to argue why you want to go to medical school and what field you are interested in based on your experiences. It is always stronger to tailor your personal statement to specific schools, if possible. Argue how their specific resources meet your needs exactly and what you will bring to their program.
  36. Quester

    Quester 7+ Year Member

    Feb 1, 2009
    Is it really okay to do this? I'm kinda worried they might say "how do you know that this is the field you're really interested in if you haven't experienced other fields to compare to?":(
  37. medzealot

    medzealot Best closer in NY 5+ Year Member

    Jan 24, 2011
    lol, I knew this was coming.

    That single part you put in bold is not necessarily good advice for every applicant. It is not necessarily bad advice, for some.

    You can read about it here:


    And from that thread, LizzyM's answer is:

  38. Quester

    Quester 7+ Year Member

    Feb 1, 2009
  39. SuperHiro

    SuperHiro Attending 10+ Year Member

    Apr 12, 2006
    Fantastic idea and advice. I've already linked my pre-med friends. Maybe this will inspire more people to join the forum.
  40. darkangelthn

    darkangelthn 5+ Year Member

    Apr 17, 2011
    I'm pretty new here so not sure if this question is valid here or not but here goes. Was wondering if the 5300 characters max includes spaces or not?
  41. mauberley

    mauberley radiating prestige 5+ Year Member

    Apr 13, 2009
    Urbs in Horto
    Yes, it does.
  42. mauberley

    mauberley radiating prestige 5+ Year Member

    Apr 13, 2009
    Urbs in Horto
    Just to reiterate Depakote's point:

    Consider this:

  43. desdes

    desdes 5+ Year Member

    Dec 28, 2010
    Thank you for posting
  44. ndlyon


    Jul 28, 2010
    this is great, thank you!
  45. Espadaleader

    Espadaleader 7+ Year Member

    May 27, 2010
    Motivation for medical school: your avatar. Thanks a ton!
  46. n3xa

    n3xa "the anchor" 7+ Year Member

    Jul 16, 2009
    No sirens in my anecdotes, no sireeeee

  47. sk8ngli

    sk8ngli 5+ Year Member

    May 28, 2010
    Funny, my essay last year did start with my EMS experience. I decided to postpone my application til this year and I'm STILL struggling to figure out what to say...
    At least I won't be starting with lights and sirens...
  48. mrt438

    mrt438 5+ Year Member

    Jan 17, 2007
    Thanks very much for the advice, still as helpful today as back in 2008!

    I was wondering if you had any advice in general for people reapplying (how best to address previous rejection or whether to address it at all). In particular, I first applied way back in the 2009 cycle and didn't get in anywhere. I was going to reapply in the next cycle, but partly because of some advice I received from a disgruntled doctor ("If you can imagine yourself doing anything besides medicine and being happy you should do that because medicine requires such sacrifices it's only worth it if medicine is your one and only calling in life") I decided to pursue some other experiences and reconsider med school later. I ended up working as an EMT, then as a community organizer, getting a Masters degree in health policy and working in state and national health policy.

    I enjoyed these experiences and far from turning me off medicine, they afforded me a much broader view of healthcare and heightened my desire to practice medicine. I now have a much stronger and more precise idea of why I want to be a doctor. But, I'm still worried that admissions committees will see time spent away from a lab or clinic as a red flag for lack of commitment to medicine.
    I was thinking about developing a hook with some combination of my first rejection and the advice I got from the doctor and then using the body to explain how the different experiences strengthened my desire to be a physician. I thought this could be an honest way to make my PS stand out, but is probably way to risky and overall a bad idea. Any thoughts?
  49. mauberley

    mauberley radiating prestige 5+ Year Member

    Apr 13, 2009
    Urbs in Horto
    I think that's a valid idea to begin drafting your statement around. I don't know that you can avoid talking about your past application cycle, but I would advise that when it comes to discussing it, don't linger on the subject too much and be sure to spin it positively (which you should already be on you way to doing, according to your stated plan).

    See what you manage to come up with and then seek out others' opinions of what you wrote. That's the only way you can be sure if it's a good approach or not.
  50. blockle

    blockle 7+ Year Member

    Mar 27, 2009
    Great advice, and I definitely agree with most of the points.
    However, I believe it is acceptable to mention which field you are pursuing, as long as you don't write your whole essay based on it.
  51. MedianEminence

    MedianEminence 2+ Year Member

    Feb 23, 2011
    Since spaces count toward max character number, can I not space after each sentence? is it going to look weird?

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