Some thoughts on the Personal Statement

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Oct 28, 2015
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In the past year or so, I've read a lot of personal statements and identified some common pitfalls that people might encounter. I thought I would share some of my thoughts and tips on this. Disclaimer: I'm decidedly not on an admissions committee, I'm just a guy who has read a lot of personal statements. I will also note than in re-reading my medical school personal statement, I realized that I definitely made common mistakes on it.

-The essay should basically boil down to, "Why do I want to do medicine?" It should be an argument that's logical. I almost think of it like a mathematical proof. What experiences have you had that have strengthened or weakened your resolve to pursue this field? In my opinion, it's absolutely okay to discuss moments or experiences that have made you question medicine. It demonstrates maturity and honesty (I don't think anybody is 100% of anything, especially something as big a commitment as medicine). Overall, the explicit theme of the essay should be "why I want to be a physician." The implicit theme of the essay should be "why should you accept me to be a physician?"

-It should flow and have a unifying theme. You should question what the purpose of each sentence is, and really ask if it adds something to the overall essay. Another thing: I've read personal statements where it comes to an end, and then there is an additional paragraph after that which discusses something completely unrelated like a bad semester. You should avoid this.

-It should be honest and sincere. It's completely fine if your motivations for medicine aren't flashy or a "good story." It also feels weird when the writer tries to make a bigger deal out of something than it really is. The people on the admissions committee have read hundreds, if not thousands, of these essays and they know that the ten hours spent shadowing were not a life-altering experience. In that vein, statements like "in this moment, I knew/realized/discovered this, that, or the other thing" sound a bit insincere.

-If you're not a really good writer (which is totally fine, most people aren't, certainly not me!) be careful with things where you need to be a really good writer to pull it off. I think the most common example where this applies is a "hook" where sometimes people try and do an introduction that immediately enthralls the reader, like jumping into a dramatic hospital scene or health scare or something like that. Often a simple thesis statement is completely fine.

-It doesn't have to push up against the character limit. Most of them turn out to be long because it's a big topic and you probably have a lot of evidence to argue your point, but if you've said what you need to say then it's fine to end it. When it seems like the writer is just putting extraneous information into the essay for the sake of making it longer, the overall quality suffers.

-It is 100% essential to have at least one other person read it. When you read your own writing, you edit out all kinds of mistakes (grammatical, spelling, logic, etc.) because you know what you are trying to say.

-Don't read it after you've submitted it!

Best of luck to everyone applying!

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