The personal statement is your opportunity to set yourself apart in the application process. Personal statements generally fall into one of two categories:
- The general, comprehensive personal statement: This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms.
- The response to very specific questions: Often, business and graduate school applications ask specific questions, and your statement should respond specifically to the question being asked. Some business school applications favor multiple essays, typically asking for responses to three or more questions.
Personal background: What are significant experiences, events or relationships that reveal something about you, your value system, and the challenges you face? What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you? What personal characteristics (e.g. integrity, compassion, 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?
Development of your interest: How did your interest in this program/career develop? How have you learned about this field – through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field? What do you love about the profession? Have you been inspired by doctors who balanced research and patient care? Have you been exposed to the medical field through volunteer work? Do you have the science background to understand your coursework?
Related experiences: Describe experiences that helped you explore your career interests – relate a specific event, story, experience to this. Express the insight you gained from these. Let your passion and personality come through.
Future goals: What are some ideals and objectives? What situations and career settings do you see yourself working in?
Obstacles and inconsistencies: Be open about obstacles you have encountered and overcome (e.g. family, illness, tragedy, workload, stumbling blocks). If there are inconsistencies in your academic performance – this is the time to briefly explain these – be factual, positive and non-defensive.
Answer the questions that are asked
- If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar. Don’t be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the question being asked.
Tell a story
- Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you’ll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.
- Don’t, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.
Find an angle
- If you’re like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or a “hook” is vital.
Concentrate on your opening paragraph
- The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader’s attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.
Tell what you know
- The middle section of your essay might detail your interest and experience in your particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the field. Be as specific as you can in relating some of what you know about the field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you’ve read, seminars you’ve attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you are pursuing.
- If a school wants to know why you’re applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs.
Write well and correctly
- Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Avoid clichés. Do not use acronyms. Adhere to stated word limits. Be honest; do not exaggerate your experiences and achievements. Show maturity and sincerity.
- Set a professional tone.
- Organize effectively – use this as a chance to highlight the 3-4 key things you would want someone to know about you.
- Use transitions between paragraphs.
- Vary your sentences; don’t start every sentence with “I.”
- Use easy-to-read font.
- Think in terms of a “5” paragraph statement – start with a “catch” paragraph – grab their attention with a quote, a story, a point of emphasis, and idea
- Use the next 3-4 paragraphs to share two to four key points that you would want an interviewer to know about you – include at least 1-2 examples – relate a story, something that will help them remember these points
- Use a strong concluding point that leaves a challenge, a statement – you may refer back to the opening paragraph, a theme, etc.
Reviewing and Editing Questions
Ask your friends and family to keep these questions in mind:
- Does my essay have one central theme?
- Does my introduction engage the reader? Does my conclusion provide closure?
- Do my introduction and conclusion avoid summary?
- Do I use concrete experiences as supporting details?
- Have I used active-voice verbs wherever possible?
- Is my sentence structure varied, or do I use all long or short sentences?
- Are there any cliches such as “cutting edge” or “learned my lesson?”
- Do I use transitions appropriately?
- What about the essay is memorable?
- What’s the worst part of the essay?
- What parts of the essay need elaboration or are unclear?
- What parts of the essay do not support my main argument?
- Is every single sentence crucial to the essay?
- What does the essay reveal about my personality?
Sample Personal Statement
His eyesight was almost completely gone, yet there he was on the diamond. I met Jason last summer in Chicago, where I volunteered at a tournament for Beep Baseball, a baseball-like sport for the visually impaired. He was my age–handsome, friendly, and athletic. But Jason was blind. Struck by glaucoma, he had begun to lose his vision in his early teens. By high school, he had become legally blind. My sympathy only intensified when I learned that, had his disease been diagnosed earlier, he almost surely would have retained partial vision. Financially strapped, Jason’s family had avoided taking him to a doctor for as long as they could; when he finally visited a physician, it was too late. For years I had planned to work in technology, but my encounters with Jason and others like him convinced me that medicine is my true calling.
Actually, growing up I had always planned to become a doctor, but my goals changed as I began to take computer science classes at [COLLEGE NAME]. In the first meeting of my sophomore-year class on Programming in Artificial Intelligence, Professor Larry Birnbaum joked, “You know those movies where killer robots eventually take over the world? Believe them.” I did just that, placing my trust in the vast opportunities offered by computer programming. In my first computer course, I created applications that could beat a human in tic-tac-toe, calculate complex mathematical problems, and even converse with humans on a specified topic. Fascinated with the potential of these programs, I embarked on a different path, away from clinical medicine. I saw a world in which computers would change and even replace processes in every industry, and I wanted to join the researchers at the forefront of this revolution.
Five years after that first class, the potential contribution of computer technology still inspires me. The possibilities are astounding. Scientists mapped the human genome years before their original deadline. Nanotechnology promises to revolutionize the way we detect and cure diseases. Still, the more I learn about technology, the more I recognize its inadequacies. Although the “psychologist” program I created faithfully reproduces human responses, I discovered that I would never want to speak with a computer about my problems. Certain interactions simply demand personal contact. As I have tutored underclassmen in math and science, worked with athletes in the Special Olympics, and visited with patients as a volunteer at Northwest Community Hospital, I have realized that the human element in such relationships is irreplaceable. While technology may shape the future of mankind, only humanity can touch individual lives.
Jason’s story touched mine, confirming my growing sense of the deficiencies in science and technology. Advances in medical knowledge and techniques are useless without parallel progress in healthcare accessibility, widespread education about health issues, and most importantly, strong doctor-patient relationships. The revolutionary treatment methods I imagined myself inventing might never have an impact on patients like Jason. On the other hand, the dedication of just a few volunteers allowed him to play the sport he had always loved. Science could not fix Jason’s eyesight, but supportive doctors, volunteers, and friends could help him live a fulfilling life. Spending time with him and others convinced me that, in addition to my research in medical science and technology, I wanted to work directly with those whose ailments cannot currently be cured.
I have thus circled back to my original path towards medicine, with no regrets about the scenic route that led me here. Indeed, I am confident that I will make good use of my computer science skills as I research potential advancements in medical technology. This summer, I began work as a research assistant to Dr. Chi-Hung Chang at Northwestern’s Buehler Center on Aging. With Dr. Chang, I am developing a computer program that determines the “quality of life” of terminally ill patients. By compiling physician diagnostics and patient responses to questionnaires, the system assesses the value of given treatments as well as the efficacy of specific pharmaceuticals.
Through this project, we hope to understand and improve the current care of the terminally ill. After watching Dr. Chang and other doctors at the medical research facility, I can now declare with confidence that I want to follow their example in my own career, combining clinical practice and research.
My work on the “quality of life” evaluation project gave me a perfect opportunity to fulfill this dual goal, and I look forward to a lifetime spent on similar pursuits. Yet I will never forget that the seeds of my current ambition arose not in the laboratory or at the health center, but on a baseball diamond filled with people playing a game they likely thought they would never play again. In my own career as a physician, I will strive to serve my patients not only as a healer, but also as a friend, supporting them in their toughest moments, and as a mentor, guiding them to live healthy lifestyles. Robots may assist in my endeavors, but they will never possess the compassion of my fellow physicians and me.