Top 5 Personal Statement Tips
How to Start
Brainstorm. Anytime a random idea pops into your head, write it down ASAP. Whenever I have an idea, I always type it into the notes app of my iPhone. You can refer back to this whenever you’re feeling motivated to sit down & actually start writing. I know it seems daunting to actually have a blank word doc open, but what I recommend is to start with a hook – a simple tool you probably heard of from your high school teacher. You don’t know who your reader will be. It can be an admissions officer who has had a rough start to his/her day & this can unintentionally form bias as they’re reading your essay. This person may decide to deny more people than usual that day. So hopefully, luck is in your favor & your reader will be in a good mood the moment they begin reading your essay.
How to structure your essay
The following recommended format is one that I have used for my college & med school applications. This structure was recommended to me by my high school English teacher, Mrs. Cardoza. So basically the structure is as follows:
1. Start in the middle of your experience with a hook (like the first point of the letter ‘S’). For example, it can be the middle of an action or a sentence that a person was saying.
2. Then, explain the story behind the hook. Visualize the letter ‘S’ as you are writing your story to see if you are following the line. Describe each step of your journey and make sure you they connect to each other as you transition from one experience to another. Not everyone has an “AHA moment” for why they decide to pursue a particular path. You’re allowed to talk about more than one experience. Just make sure that each experience connects to each other like links in a chain.
3. As you conclude your story remember the letter ‘S’. It is important to connect the end of your story with your introduction by bringing it full circle. This will show that you have reflected on all of your experiences and there will be a point of self-realization. At this point, hopefully, the reader will understand WHY you came to this decision; the decision to pursue the path of medicine, nursing, pharmacy, etc.
Make every word count
Many essays will have a character and/or word limit. Make sure EVERY WORD COUNTS. SHOW NOT TELL. I cannot stress this enough. It is not enough to make statements about what you learned from your experiences. SHOW the reader how these experiences have contributed to your journey and/or character. Be specific with each experience you describe. If the sentence doesn’t add to your journey or describe characteristics that you possess (ones that would make you a good fit for their program), then DELETE IT. A common mistake I’ve seen is redundancy. As you are reviewing your essay, make sure each sentence adds something DIFFERENT. Sometimes, you might get lost as you are writing and may unintentionally state the same thing, but in a different way. You only need to say it ONCE. Ask yourself “what exactly am I trying to convey by stating this?” If the answer to this question is the same for 2 sentences in a row. Delete one or combine both, but make it CLEAR, CONCISE, & DIRECT. Sometimes we try to sound a little fancy, so we may explain things in a roundabout way. Please try to avoid this at all costs. Get STRAIGHT TO THE POINT. Admissions officers read thousands and thousands of essays every application cycle. They don’t have time to dissect your essay to figure out what you’re trying to say. Look at the action words you are using & ask yourself “Can this be stated differently?” KEEP IT SIMPLE. You don’t need to take up extra space with fancy words, but if you do find yourself using the same word over and over again, just google a synonym but make sure it actually flows. Do NOT include a word you have NEVER heard before. Chances are the reader may have never heard it either. Again, you don’t know who your reader will be! Lastly, AVOID run-on sentences. Read your essay aloud and if you find yourself losing your breath, your sentence is probably too long. Break it up into two sentences or restructure it to make it more CLEAR, CONCISE & DIRECT. Also, AVOID contractions.
How many times you should revise your essay
There’s not an exact number! Revise it as many times as you need to. Some people will have 10 drafts and others will have 2. Everyone is different. Try to have one person who knows you and one person who does not review your essay. I personally feel like most people are not 100% happy with their essay when they submit it. That is OKAY. You probably feel this way because there is ALWAYS room for improvement. But just SUBMIT IT as soon as you feel happy with it. It’s very tempting to second guess yourself. TRUST YOURSELF. The only person that knows you best is YOU.
How to end your essay
By the end of the essay, the reader should feel like you have directly answered the prompt. Read it again & ask yourself, “Did I directly address this?” If yes, then you’re good to go! If not, try going back and revise it or have someone else read it WITHOUT telling them the prompt. After they have read it, ask them to summarize it. If their summary directly answers the prompt, then you’ve succeeded! YAY! I know I’ve said directly a million times by now. It’s because this is IMPORTANT. BE DIRECT. I can’t stress this enough.
If you get stuck or feel lost, TAKE A BREAK. Stop staring at the screen & go outside to get some fresh air. Clear your mind. I know it is hard to self-reflect and put your thoughts into words, but like many things in life, good things take time. Lastly, PLEASE DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS. I know it is easy to read someone else’s essay and think “WOW! Their story is so much more impressive than mine.” That is a lie. Your experiences are UNIQUE and VALID. Your feelings are YOURS. Your personal and professional growth has NOTHING to do with anyone else’s. Focus on your journey. Self reflect. You will come to realize that you have gained much more from these experiences than you originally thought. YOU GOT THIS!
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