17 May 2008

Personal Statement 101

Writing a personal statement can be a daunting task for many people who are not familiar with the process. By definition, a personal statement is something over which, you have total control. This is your area in the application process to make sure that any evaluator has a complete understanding of your ideas. Unfortunately, many people have great difficulty with expressing their ideas in a clear and concise manner. The key here is that your ideas give a complete and clear picture of you as an individual person.

Characteristics of Well-written Documents
Any well-written document contains an introduction or presentation of a hypothesis, evidence to support that hypothesis and a conclusion. If you have clearly stated or presented your case and evidence, the conclusion should be very easy to write and should stay in the mind of the reader. Unfortunately, conceiving and writing an introduction is the most difficult portion of personal statement writing for most people.

A well-written document is easy to outline or present in outline form. This is why starting with an outline is not a bad strategy for writing any document from personal statement to term paper. Outlines should be logical and should help your ideas from from one to the next as you present your evidence or data to support your original thesis or hypothesis. Most people mistakenly place too much information in their outline which makes their document difficult to understand after it is written. Your outline should be brief and should leave plenty of room for you to "flesh out" your evidence.

A well-written document contains good grammar and word usage. If your reading and writing skills have been "dumbed down" to the state of text messaging and sound bites, you are going to have a very difficult time getting your skills back up to a standard that is acceptable for a university-educated person. Being able to understand and utilize text messaging is quite useful in today's world of electronic communication but make no mistake, trying to use the same methods of communication to a professional school admissions committee that you would use to your "chums" is not a good strategy. A better strategy is to become literate in every level of writing and communication.

Getting Started
To get around the difficulty of getting started on your personal statement, write down a list of words or phrases that describe you as an individual. You can certainly start anywhere with anything such as your "likes" and "dislikes", your favorite activities, activities that you enjoy daily or do not enjoy, or persons that have strongly influenced you. This "idea" list need not be detailed but should be as descriptive or related to you as possible.

For example, if you listed your Uncle Andy as the person who had a strong influence on you, then under a subheading, list the characteristics and you and Uncle Andy share in common. If you can't list any, then Uncle Andy did not have much of an influence on you. If Uncle Andy was the person who helped you through a difficult struggle, then list some of the specific things that Uncle Andy helped you to gain insight that helped you through your difficulties.

Do not list autobiographical data such as I was born in Las Angeles California on December 1,1983 and grew up in San Jose. I am certain that a couple of hundred folks were born in LA on that date and several million have grown up in San Jose. Those are not unique factors though growing up in San Jose may have had a profound influence on you as a person but you have to list the things about growing up in San Jose that have molded you into the person you are today.

Were there any sentinel events that shaped you interest and drive to pursue medicine as a career? Many people have gone through a life altering illness or experienced the emotions of the illness of a loved one. If you use this type of experience to weave your personal statement, you have to be sure that you carefully weave this event into your character and experience. It is your experience that you need and want to elucidate.

Take Your Time with this Document

Writing your personal statement is something that needs to take many drafts and many revisions. It's a good idea to allow a minimum of five people (who know you well) to assist you in the editing of this document. If one or two of your personal statement readers are excellent writers, then you will be fortunate indeed. Allow them to objectively critique your document and allow them to change things. It is definitely certain, than you cannot be objective when you are attempting to write about a personal issue. This is where a good editor can help you clearly express your ideas and thoughts especially if they know you well.

The last thing that you should do is send your personal statement for edit to someone who does not know you or copy a personal statement from a website or service. By sending your personal statement to a stranger, you run the risk of them plagiarizing your material. You also give up some measure of your privacy which may come back to cause problems in the future. If you copy a personal statement from another person or allow a "service" to write your personal statement, they may be writing the same statement in the same style for several people. This can leave you open to plagiarism which will "tank" your chances of getting into medical school.

Admissions committees have plenty of resources for detecting plagiarism at our disposal. Don't take the risk or leaving yourself open to this type of error. It is far better to write your own statement, in your own style than to copy anything or allow anything to be written for you that you present as your own work. While ghost writers are common in today's world of celebrity authors, if you are not a celebrity, then you should not use a ghost writer.


Medical Student said...

Hello DRNJBMD! I'm a fellow med student and I have been reading your blog recently. I have just started my own blog (http://medschoolishard.blogspot.com/ ... yes, that's "med school is hard") and I was wondering if you would be willing to link to my blog in your links section. In return, I would be happy to do the same! (My blog is kinda a satirical look at everything medical school stands for. Also, it's not supposed to be personal, so I don't have my name on it anywhere :P ) So yeah, that's all I wanted to say, so please let me know! Thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your blog. Please keep it up!