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How important is "crafting a narrative"?

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begoood95

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--Begin rant/confession/vent--

Honestly, this frightens me a bit. At least on SDN, it seems that in addition to "checking all the boxes" (or whatever you want to call it), in order to be a stellar applicant, you must also have this "narrative" -- beautifully crafted in such a fanciful way that catches the eye of a fishing adcomm.

Thing is, while my stats are good, I don't know how I feel about this "craft." I mean, I wouldn't say I have an uninteresting story -- immigrant family, father had cancer, etc etc etc -- but I don't know how this is supposed to be "crafted" within my PS and AAMCAS app. I honestly feel like I'm struggling writing my personal statement, because of the people I've sent it to, I keep on getting "BUT WHY MEDICINE" or "TOO GENERAL, EVERYONE SAYS THIS."

Uh, okay, I mean I get that, but I'm in an applicant pool the makeup of which is insane and filled to the brim with interesting people with "compelling" stories. And after numerous edits, and literally spelling out why medicine explicitly, I get the same thing. (Well, now it's more of the "everyone says this" stuff.) I really don't think I'm -- or anyone else really -- is going to come up with some elegantly novel way of saying "I want to become a physician," after an adcomm has read hundreds of PS's.

--end--

So, Adcomms, how much weight does this crafting count for? My PS? Maybe I'm getting neurotic and nervous because the application cycle is about to start, but I really don't feel like there's a real way to "stand out," in reality. Is an otherwise good applicant going to be shut out because they happened to not suffer incredibly in some way or another?
 
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Lifeblood_20

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I'm not an Adcomm but I have been thinking about this for a while too. I think it's extremely easy for your PS readers to critique you that way, but I don't believe that every single med student had written unique reasons for "why medicine." But saying something unoriginal doesn't mean that it can't be good. All we can do is write down our own words and thoughts and hope for the best. That's why we have to apply broadly.
 
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LizzyM

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Forget about telling me who you are, tell me what you've done.

Five paragraphs:
1) I became interested in medicine as a career because I had experience x.
2) I tested my interest in medicine by doing activity a.
3) I also got involved with b.
4) my interest in science/community servicewhatever lead me to be involved in c.
5) Given my experience with a, b and c, I am more sure than ever than medicine is the best way to use my talents, etc, etc.
 
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begoood95

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Forget about telling me who you are, tell me what you've done.

Five paragraphs:
1) I became interested in medicine as a career because I had experience x.
2) I tested my interest in medicine by doing activity a.
3) I also got involved with b.
4) my interest in science/community servicewhatever lead me to be involved in c.
5) Given my experience with a, b and c, I am more sure than ever than medicine is the best way to use my talents, etc, etc.

Such a precise and helpful answer. Thank you a thousand times.

Now what about those who say that because I have room on the primary application to describe activities and etc., they should be left off the PS? Because it seems like, at least in the checklist above, there's a lot of "activity-oriented" dialogue.

Your responses has settled some of my nervousness, because that's essentially what I've done but it seems like readers don't like that and want some sort of angelic/novel/extra-extra-extraordinary event to be elucidated and twisted and turned to fit into medicine.

But in my head, no, I'm not going to spend my 5300 characters trying to spuriously connect some unique-but-not-that-relevant activity to medicine. I figure that you all are reading a ton of these, and would not prefer such things.
 

LizzyM

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I'm going to give you an example that I've changed a bit but that was a way of crafting a narrative that was memorable.

My road to medicine can be summed up by one word: Fire. The fire I've felt for medicine was kindled by my experiences...

In high school, I worked the grill at a snack bar. Working to create flame broiled food required discipline, teamwork, yada, yada. I also seemed to be the person called on when someone on the team needed some first aid and I was grateful for the skills I'd acquired with my Boy Scout first aid training.

My second experience with fire was in the lab. My research involved heating xyz...

Finally, I've had some experience with cigarette lighters, or rather with getting people to give up cigaretttes and their lighters through a campus smoking cessation campaign....

Caring for others, making discoveries, advocating for better health are what I'm hoping for in a career in medicine. I have the fire in my belly and hope I can be given the opportunity to make my dream come true.


Note, too, how this weaves in some experiences from before college which many people say shouldn't take up spots in the Experience section of your application.
 
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Goro

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You've been on SDN too long. Just have a well written PS that explains who you are and why Medicine, and you're done.

The narrative is more important for people with compelling stories. Not everybody has one, don't fuss about this.

EDIT. note that my answer is very different from the wise LizzyM's. That's OK.
--Begin rant/confession/vent--

Honestly, this frightens me a bit. At least on SDN, it seems that in addition to "checking all the boxes" (or whatever you want to call it), in order to be a stellar applicant, you must also have this "narrative" -- beautifully crafted in such a fanciful way that catches the eye of a fishing adcomm.

Thing is, while my stats are good, I don't know how I feel about this "craft." I mean, I wouldn't say I have an uninteresting story -- immigrant family, father had cancer, etc etc etc -- but I don't know how this is supposed to be "crafted" within my PS and AAMCAS app. I honestly feel like I'm struggling writing my personal statement, because of the people I've sent it to, I keep on getting "BUT WHY MEDICINE" or "TOO GENERAL, EVERYONE SAYS THIS."

Uh, okay, I mean I get that, but I'm in an applicant pool the makeup of which is insane and filled to the brim with interesting people with "compelling" stories. And after numerous edits, and literally spelling out why medicine explicitly, I get the same thing. (Well, now it's more of the "everyone says this" stuff.) I really don't think I'm -- or anyone else really -- is going to come up with some elegantly novel way of saying "I want to become a physician," after an adcomm has read hundreds of PS's.

--end--

So, Adcomms, how much weight does this crafting count for? My PS? Maybe I'm getting neurotic and nervous because the application cycle is about to start, but I really don't feel like there's a real way to "stand out," in reality. Is an otherwise good applicant going to be shut out because they happened to not suffer incredibly in some way or another?
 
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MareNostrummm

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Forget about telling me who you are, tell me what you've done.

Five paragraphs:
1) I became interested in medicine as a career because I had experience x.
2) I tested my interest in medicine by doing activity a.
3) I also got involved with b.
4) my interest in science/community servicewhatever lead me to be involved in c.
5) Given my experience with a, b and c, I am more sure than ever than medicine is the best way to use my talents, etc, etc.

Thanks a lot for this, I am working on my personal statement right now and needed a good framework!
 
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So, Adcomms, how much weight does this crafting count for? My PS? Maybe I'm getting neurotic and nervous because the application cycle is about to start, but I really don't feel like there's a real way to "stand out," in reality. Is an otherwise good applicant going to be shut out because they happened to not suffer incredibly in some way or another?

I'm not really looking for a "crafted narrative." But after I read your application I should not still be wondering who you are and why you're doing this.
 
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AnotherLawyer

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--Begin rant/confession/vent--

Honestly, this frightens me a bit. At least on SDN, it seems that in addition to "checking all the boxes" (or whatever you want to call it), in order to be a stellar applicant, you must also have this "narrative" -- beautifully crafted in such a fanciful way that catches the eye of a fishing adcomm.

Thing is, while my stats are good, I don't know how I feel about this "craft." I mean, I wouldn't say I have an uninteresting story -- immigrant family, father had cancer, etc etc etc -- but I don't know how this is supposed to be "crafted" within my PS and AAMCAS app. I honestly feel like I'm struggling writing my personal statement, because of the people I've sent it to, I keep on getting "BUT WHY MEDICINE" or "TOO GENERAL, EVERYONE SAYS THIS."

Uh, okay, I mean I get that, but I'm in an applicant pool the makeup of which is insane and filled to the brim with interesting people with "compelling" stories. And after numerous edits, and literally spelling out why medicine explicitly, I get the same thing. (Well, now it's more of the "everyone says this" stuff.) I really don't think I'm -- or anyone else really -- is going to come up with some elegantly novel way of saying "I want to become a physician," after an adcomm has read hundreds of PS's.

--end--

So, Adcomms, how much weight does this crafting count for? My PS? Maybe I'm getting neurotic and nervous because the application cycle is about to start, but I really don't feel like there's a real way to "stand out," in reality. Is an otherwise good applicant going to be shut out because they happened to not suffer incredibly in some way or another?

Some adcom recently posted that only 1% of the personal statements he reads make a positive impact. 92% make no impact and 7% make a negative impact. His advice is don't even try to be the 1%. Just be happy being among the 92% of people that make no impact with their PS. I took that advice to heart in writing my PS and the stress dissipated.
 
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AnotherLawyer

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Forget about telling me who you are, tell me what you've done.

Five paragraphs:
1) I became interested in medicine as a career because I had experience x.
2) I tested my interest in medicine by doing activity a.
3) I also got involved with b.
4) my interest in science/community servicewhatever lead me to be involved in c.
5) Given my experience with a, b and c, I am more sure than ever than medicine is the best way to use my talents, etc, etc.

This seems to run contrary to the oft heard advice that the PS is not the place for repeating what's otherwise apparent from the app. Your paragraphs 2-4 seem to simply repeat what will be listed as activities and, if they make the cut for the PS, are very likely to be marked most meaningful, in which case each will have 2000+ characters already dedicated to them. But what do I know.
 
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MareNostrummm

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This seems to run contrary to the oft heard advice that the PS is not the place for repeating whats otherwise apparent from the app. Your paragraphs 2-4 seem to simply repeat what will be listed as activities and, if they make the cut for the PS, are very likely to be marked most meaningful, in which case each will have 2000+ characters already dedicated to them. But what do I know.

Good point..
 

MareNostrummm

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Some adcom recently posted that only 1% of the personal statements he reads make a positive impact. 92% make no impact and 7% make a negative impact. His advice is don't even try to be the 1%. Just be happy being among the 92% of people that make no impact with their PS. I took that advice to heart in writing my PS and the stress dissipated.

Do you have a link by any chance?
 
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efle

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Don't sweat it. As already covered above, you can just be straightforward and give a pretty generic breakdown of how/why you've gotten to this step. It's gonna get quickly read and is unlikely to be what decides if you're gonna get an interview.

FWIW I had the same fears at first, very generic non-diverse applicant with the strongest thing my similar stats and some research, otherwise cookie cutter stuff. It went totally fine. You would have to screw up pretty badly to not get interest from half or more of the top 20s.

Edit: P.S. at a glance your narrative should be interest in academics/doing research to advance the field and help far more people than just your own patients. They love that.
 
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Lawpy

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Forget about telling me who you are, tell me what you've done.

Five paragraphs:
1) I became interested in medicine as a career because I had experience x.
2) I tested my interest in medicine by doing activity a.
3) I also got involved with b.
4) my interest in science/community servicewhatever lead me to be involved in c.
5) Given my experience with a, b and c, I am more sure than ever than medicine is the best way to use my talents, etc, etc.

Awesome stuff, thanks!

You've been on SDN too long. Just have a well written PS that explains who you are and why Medicine, and you're done.

The narrative is more important for people with compelling stories. Not everybody has one, don't fuss about this.

EDIT. note that my answer is very different from the wise LizzyM's. That's OK.

Pretty sure there's a way to address both points and @Med Ed framework well in a cogent manner
 
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LizzyM

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This seems to run contrary to the oft heard advice that the PS is not the place for repeating what's otherwise apparent from the app. Your paragraphs 2-4 seem to simply repeat what will be listed as activities and, if they make the cut for the PS, are very likely to be marked most meaningful, in which case each will have 2000+ characters already dedicated to them. But what do I know.

Most people say that experiences from HS shouldn't be included in the Experience section. In your essay, you can work in something from HS.

You can write about one-off activities that you wouldn't put in your experience section description such as first aid that you provided on a job that was not a clinical job (e.g. while babysitting or caddying) or helping a physically or mentally ill roommate.

You can also provide an anecdote about an experience that would not have fit in the experience section. E.g. while shadowing or as a scribe or whatever, you witnessed how the physician gave the patient autonomy in making decisions that were not decisions representing the physician's values but that were respected by the physician. These are the typical, "I met "Mr. D" who was had survived a traumatic brain injury in ..."
 
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jcorpsmanMD

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This seems to run contrary to the oft heard advice that the PS is not the place for repeating what's otherwise apparent from the app. Your paragraphs 2-4 seem to simply repeat what will be listed as activities and, if they make the cut for the PS, are very likely to be marked most meaningful, in which case each will have 2000+ characters already dedicated to them. But what do I know.
I disagree. I don't believe that LizzyM is saying you should rattle off a list of experiences & what you did in your PS. Personally in my PS, I used my intro to explain who I am / where I come from. Then I spoke about 4 activities briefly, 2-3 sentences each. I didn't explain what I did persay but I explained what I learned and how I grew from that. How those experiences will positively affect me being a doctor someday and the skills I learned from those experiences that may benefit me someday. When you describe your activities in AMCAS all you really do is explain what you did / potential impact you had. In my PS I was able to elaborate on the personal growth I gained from said activities and I don't believe that's something you can do in the "activities" section.
 
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LizzyM

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I disagree. I don't believe that LizzyM is saying you should rattle off a list of experiences & what you did in your PS. Personally in my PS, I used my intro to explain who I am / where I come from. Then I spoke about 4 activities briefly, 2-3 sentences each. I didn't explain what I did persay but I explained what I learned and how I grew from that. How those experiences will positively affect me being a doctor someday and the skills I learned from those experiences that may benefit me as a doctor someday. When you describe your activities in AMCAS all you really do is explain what you did / potential impact you had. In my PS I was able to elaborate on the personal growth I gained from said activities and I don't believe that's something you can do in the "activities" section.

You get it. One former assistant dean of admissions used to say that she wanted to see "how the applicant has tested their interest in medicine" and how that contributed to their interest in making a career of it.
 
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AnotherLawyer

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jcorpsmanMD

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Do you disagree with me or with LizzyM because it looks like you did exactly what she advised not to do.
I didn't use my whole PS to explain "who I am". You can take things out of context to try to win this disagreement but I assure you we are just trying to help. LizzyM is an adcom and I'm just a measley successful applicant but by all means do what YOU think is best. Good luck this cycle!
 
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jcorpsmanMD

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Boy he sure lawyered you good there
Typical lawyer taking things out of context to put things in their favor ;)

P.S. He can do whatever he likes I was simply agreeing with LizzyM and stating how I wrote MY PS. There is no right or wrong way to write one!
 
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LizzyM

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Typical lawyer taking things out of context to put things in their favor ;)

P.S. He can do whatever he likes I was simply agreeing with LizzyM and stating how I wrote MY PS. There is no right or wrong way to write one!

Hmmm... there are some wrong ways...

I've been called by God... I've known since I was a baby in the cradle and tugged my father's stethoscope that medicine was my calling. My loved one would not have died if I had known what to do and that's why I want to be a doctor. I deeply admire the doctor who saved: 1) my grandmother 2) my life 3) my Little League pitching career. I shadowed a doctor who was terrible. When I saw how he treated patients I knew that I was never going to be like that and I will be a model of: 1) punctuality 2) decorum 3) thorough hand washing. I was heartbroken when I saw a baby die of malaria in Mali and I will dedicate my career to bringing cures to the incurable in the developing world. My family's world was turned upside down when my parents filed for bankruptcy and I am seeking a career that will give me the ability to be useful and financially comfortable.
 
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Chromium Surfer

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I disagree. I don't believe that LizzyM is saying you should rattle off a list of experiences & what you did in your PS. Personally in my PS, I used my intro to explain who I am / where I come from. Then I spoke about 4 activities briefly, 2-3 sentences each. I didn't explain what I did persay but I explained what I learned and how I grew from that. How those experiences will positively affect me being a doctor someday and the skills I learned from those experiences that may benefit me someday. When you describe your activities in AMCAS all you really do is explain what you did / potential impact you had. In my PS I was able to elaborate on the personal growth I gained from said activities and I don't believe that's something you can do in the "activities" section.

You get it. One former assistant dean of admissions used to say that she wanted to see "how the applicant has tested their interest in medicine" and how that contributed to their interest in making a career of it.

So for the three activities that are most meaningful we have extra characters to explain why, and I assume that would mean including how we grew from said experience right?

With that in mind, is it better to stray away from talking about these experiences in our PS even if they were how we also tested our interest in medicine, or what solidified our desire to make it a career? I've also heard that redundancy should be minimized. So what is more important?

Thanks for your time everyone!
 

gonnif

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This seems to run contrary to the oft heard advice that the PS is not the place for repeating what's otherwise apparent from the app. Your paragraphs 2-4 seem to simply repeat what will be listed as activities and, if they make the cut for the PS, are very likely to be marked most meaningful, in which case each will have 2000+ characters already dedicated to them. But what do I know.

in many schools, the application reading/evaluation may be split among several readers. Therefore, the person who evaluates you ECs may not be the same person who reads your PS or evaluates your academics
 
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kitkat13

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Edit: P.S. at a glance your narrative should be interest in academics/doing research to advance the field and help far more people than just your own patients. They love that.

What if we have done wetlab research and not clinical research before applying? Would this still work?
 

efle

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What if we have done wetlab research and not clinical research before applying? Would this still work?
Sure, there are people that split clinic work with more basic science. E.g. collect samples from patients you see in clinic, then analyze them in your wetlab. Some of the studies I assist with right now are under PIs like this!
 

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I would ask that you avoid "the hook," onomatopoeia, strained metaphor, high adverb/adj count and "the quote."
Speak in your own voice about something that matters.

Is the hook always bad, or is it just usually bad because most people don't know how to pull it off?
 
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Matthew9Thirtyfive

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I can't remember a good one.

I just ask because I actually am a writer (as in I got paid to write creative non-fiction and have sold fiction to paying journals). Would seeing a good one still be a turnoff? I tend to write personal statements as a narrative. I've had success doing that so far, but this will be my first AMCAS personal statement.
 
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gyngyn

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I just ask because I actually am a writer (as in I got paid to write creative non-fiction and have sold fiction to paying journals). Would seeing a good one still be a turnoff? I tend to write personal statements as a narrative. I've had success doing that so far, but this will be my first AMCAS personal statement.
I don't even read the first few sentences anymore. I skip to the second paragraph where there begins to flicker a hope of authenticity.
 
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@Hazel-rah

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I would ask that you avoid "the hook," onomatopoeia, strained metaphor, high adverb/adj count and "the quote."
Speak in your own voice about something that matters.

Do you mind sharing some examples?
 

gyngyn

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Do you mind sharing some examples?

Slam! Crack! Whirr!

Lights flashing, the ambulance pulls up to the ER...

Drip, drip, drip the sound of relentless rain on the corrugated tin roof in my tiny Guatemalan lean-to...

"Anything by Maya Angelou." I don't think I can take "how you made them feel" one more time.

"My journey can best be exemplified by the serenity and skill of golf" (followed by forcing everything into a sports metaphor).

The use of any word you wouldn't say aloud. I have an especially low regard for "plethora" and "panoply."
 
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mwsapphire

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Slam! Crack! Whirr!

Lights flashing, the ambulance pulls up to the ER...

Drip, drip, drip the sound of relentless rain on the corrugated tin roof in my tiny Guatemalan lean-to...

"Anything by Maya Angelou." I don't think I can take "how you made them feel" one more time.

"My journey can best be exemplified by the serenity and skill of golf" (followed by forcing everything into a sports metaphor).

The use of any word you wouldn't say aloud. I have an especially low regard for "plethora" and "panoply."
Wait wait...I actually *do* say "plethora" outloud....:oops:
Isn't weaving a single theme into your PS normal, even if it relates to an EC? I thought that was a valid way to write a PS? ( referring to the "golf" example)
 
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gyngyn

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Isn't weaving a single theme into your PS normal, even if it relates to an EC? I thought that was a valid way to write a PS? ( referring to the "golf" example)
A theme is fine.
A forced metaphor is not.

The things I listed are as common as they are painful to read.
They don't keep anyone out of medical school.
 
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Matthew9Thirtyfive

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Wait wait...I actually *do* say "plethora" outloud....:oops:
Isn't weaving a single theme into your PS normal, even if it relates to an EC? I thought that was a valid way to write a PS? ( referring to the "golf" example)

LizzyM put an example up where she related all the activities to fire. That's different from the golf example, because it's not a forced metaphor. It's a running theme.
 
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SUP360

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This advice to avoid "the hook" frustrates me because until now, everything I've read insofar as advice for writing the PS states that you should say something in the first sentence to get the reader's attention. I was writing my PS by starting with an exciting anecdote/story demonstrating one of my best soft skills...

So if "the hook" is an eye-roller, do you have any suggestions to avoid our essay getting ignored/tossed out??
What other way(s) can the statement start that makes it unique among the thousands of others?

@Goro, @LizzyM, @gyngyn, @Med Ed, anyone else who reads PSes...
 

jcorpsmanMD

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This advice to avoid "the hook" frustrates me because until now, everything I've read insofar as advice for writing the PS states that you should say something in the first sentence to get the reader's attention. I was writing my PS by starting with an exciting anecdote/story demonstrating one of my best soft skills...

So if "the hook" is an eye-roller, do you have any suggestions to avoid our essay getting ignored/tossed out??
What other way(s) can the statement start that makes it unique among the thousands of others?

@Goro, @LizzyM, @gyngyn, @Med Ed, anyone else who reads PSes...
Just because @gyngyn doesn't like hooks doesn't mean you should change the way you're writing your PS (in my opinion). I had a hook, I got plenty of interviews.. it's just personal preference some of your readers might like it some might not. You may decide not to use a hook then a reader might get bored 1-2 sentences in.. it's just personal preference. You cant please everybody. Don't have a panic attack. Good luck this cycle.
 

vellez

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Looking back, my PS (I got into med school, btw) was not very good. I mean, it was obviously okay, but as far as literature goes, it wasn't anything special. I said what I had done, what I had learned, what I want to do and why I wanted to be a doctor. That's basically it. No plot twists, no colorful adjectives. In fact, I went through and pretty much deleted any adjective and that gave me a lot of characters.

Tip: write you PS. Then delete the entire first paragraph. I think you'll find it makes your PS better.
 

Calculator38

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LizzyM put an example up where she related all the activities to fire. That's different from the golf example, because it's not a forced metaphor. It's a running theme.

Yeah, but honestly I thought that was kind of terrible. I've read a ton of PS at this point and the idea of theme/narrative seems to be wildly confused. Theme/narrative is that there is a overarching coherence to your experiences/purpose, LizzyM's brief example was more of a motif and I think any prose artifice like that comes across as strained/un-genuine (because it is, it's essentially a writing trick).
 

Goro

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This advice to avoid "the hook" frustrates me because until now, everything I've read insofar as advice for writing the PS states that you should say something in the first sentence to get the reader's attention. I was writing my PS by starting with an exciting anecdote/story demonstrating one of my best soft skills...

So if "the hook" is an eye-roller, do you have any suggestions to avoid our essay getting ignored/tossed out??
What other way(s) can the statement start that makes it unique among the thousands of others?

@Goro, @LizzyM, @gyngyn, @Med Ed, anyone else who reads PSes...
Every possible hook has been used, so, don't bother. I especially despise the "the patient was brought in confused and frightened..."
 
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Matthew9Thirtyfive

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Yeah, but honestly I thought that was kind of terrible. I've read a ton of PS at this point and the idea of theme/narrative seems to be wildly confused. Theme/narrative is that there is a overarching coherence to your experiences/purpose, LizzyM's brief example was more of a motif and I think any prose artifice like that comes across as strained/un-genuine (because it is, it's essentially a writing trick).

I'm pretty sure she pulled that out of her ass as an example. And I have a good idea of what theme is, but thanks.
 
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