The dreaded personal statement. Most people like to procrastinate, but this is something you truly want to start early. The longer you work on it, the more likely it will be polished and perfected. Start well in advance of September 1st, preferably in May or June. To begin, simply start writing about your life experiences, how you have come to where you are today, and what you look and hope for in the future. Make as many rough drafts as you’d like. This is your story, so tell it! After a few weeks of rough drafts, take the good points from each draft and scrap the rest. Hopefully you’ll start seeing paragraphs coming together; then it’s just a matter of organizing and transitioning. Remember, the personal statement should preferably be one page in length, not longer, not shorter. Most program directors do not have time to get past the first page (if that), so keep it concise. The goal of a personal statement is to give the reader an idea of who you are and what’s special about you. There’s always those type of personal statements you need to avoid:

List every achievement I’ve accomplished till today
“My parents are doctors so I want to be one”
“First time in a hospital I was moved”
“Since I was a little boy I wanted to be a doctor”

Each of the above examples are bad and you want to avoid these!

A good personal statement gets personal. It is something no one else can write for you. Once you complete your personal statement, go back and read every line. If someone else could have written that line, it’s not personal enough. While a lot of people do have an experience that made them want to pursue medicine, don’t make it too cliché. Write about how that shaped you in becoming who you are today. Write about something important in your life and how residency is the next step.

Some applicants like to tailor a personal statement towards each application, while others make one generic statement for every application in a specialty. It’s truly up to you how much time effort you want to put in. If you feel that your top programs deserve a more focused personal statement, then spend some extra time on those. If you are applying to multiple specialties, please make sure each specialty gets a different personal statement. A Psychology personal statement is very different from an Internal Medicine one. Also, there a lot greater emphasis on a Psychology personal statement than any other specialty.

Here are some topics to discuss in your personal statement:

  • What’s special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
  • What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
  • When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
  • How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
  • If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has that work contributed to your growth?
  • What are your career goals?
  • Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre USMLE scores, vice versa)
  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?
  • What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
  • What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?
  • Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school—and more successful and effective in the profession or field than other applicants?
  • What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?

As for formatting, it should be organized and fluent. Every line should be in transition for the next. There should be no awkward sentences in between an important statement or thought. Make it flow and easy to read and understand. This statement will be the most important document you have written till today. Make it perfect! It takes time, so give it time! While many personal statement discuss similar things in peoples lives, its expected. 95% of personal statements are similar (my own opinion). There is nothing wrong with that. If your personal statement is of the outside the norm, make sure its the “good” unique and not the “bad.” You don’t want your personal statement to hurt you. Some people like to start with an anecdote. It is fine if you can make it work into your personal statement. Don’t force it in to make it look unique; it will end up making your writing skills look worse.

The most important thing: you absolutely MUST have second opinions on your personal statement. Something you may think seems normal may be a red flag in another’s eyes. Ask your professors, teachers, colleagues, friends, and family to all give it a read. Everyone sees and reads differently, so it’s always nice to get different opinions. Don’t take everyone’s advice, just whatever you feel needs to be changed or redone.  I’d recommend a minimum of five people reading, if not ten or more. Don’t be shy or ashamed, this is YOUR personal statement and every program director will be reading it. They will be deciding whether to grant you an interview or not! This statement is too important to keep it to yourself and think its OK. Get others peoples advice and keep making improvements. You’ll be amazed how much progression there will be from your first draft till the final. You may even end up uploading new personal statements during the application process. While it is not the best idea to deselect a personal statement and upload a new one to programs you have already applied to, you can always apply to new programs with the new statement. Start early so you perfect it in time!

Sample Personal Statments
(do not copy – you will get in trouble; these are very common examples and are known to be online by ERAS)

 

Step 7: The Interiew