Personal Statements

What is a personal statement?

A personal statement is an opportunity for you to support or enhance other parts of your application. It is your first chance to help the admissions committee understand your motivation for pursuing this career while giving them a sense of who you are. The personal statement tells your story and the context that shaped who you are as a person – your values, interests and goals. Your statement should breathe life into your application and make the admission committee feel something.

Why is the personal statement important?

The biggest “cut” in the admission process is based on application content, and your personal statement is part of the application. You will be applying with other students who may be academically similar to you. The personal statement can help you to stand out in a positive way. Simply by telling your story, you have the opportunity to highlight your uniqueness and how you will positively contribute to the health professions community.

This process will be different for everyone, but these steps can guide you through the process of telling your story.

Step 1: Reflect

Take a moment to reassess why you want to join this profession. If you have kept a reflection journal from your activities, now is the time to review it. Use these questions to help guide your reflection and use a notebook to write down reflections:

Motivation:

  • Why are you applying?

  • What inspires you to pursue this profession?

  • What makes you so passionate about this?

Fit:

  • What are your values?
  • How do these align with the values of the profession?
  • What personal qualities do you have that will enable you to positively contribute to the profession?

Capacity:

  • What are your most defining experiences?
  • What competencies did you develop/demonstrate through these experiences?
  • What errors or regrets have taught you something about yourself?
  • How have you changed/grown from your experiences?

Vision:

  • What do you want to do and be (professionally speaking)?

  • What impact do you want to have?

Step 2: Brainstorm

Start thinking about what you want your central message to be. Set aside time when you will not be rushed. Read the Personal Statement question/prompt. Using your notes from your reflection, start grouping like thoughts and look for an emerging theme. Remember, this is YOUR personal statement. Think about the aspect of yourself you want to convey to the admissions committee.

Possible Topics:

  • Explain your clinical experience and what you have learned about the patient-provider relationship.

  • A diverse/unique experience or event and how it shaped you.

  • A leadership role you played and how it challenged you.

  • Athletes: How has your discipline and teamwork molded you?

  • Study Abroad: How has your appreciation for diversity and gaining a global perspective shaped your outlook?

  • Actors/Artists/Musicians: How has your focus, discipline, and/or creative energy contributed to your passion for healthcare?

  • Volunteers: How can you apply your compassion, altruism, appreciation for others and dedication of time and energy to medicine?

Step 3: Execution

Once you have a well-developed thesis statement, start writing! At this point, focus on your message and save editing for later. You should open with a hook and conclude by reinforcing your thesis.  It is helpful to use an essay outline to make sure your statement stays on point and paragraph outlines to keep structure within the paragraph and help with flow.

Essay Outline:

  • Introduction (Motivation)
    • Initial inspiration, provides context
  • Body (Fit and Capacity)
    • Action/Experiences
    • Change
    • Insight into change/growth
  • Conclusion (Vision)
    • Future goals
    • What impact do you want to have

Paragraph Outline:

  • Point (Introduction to the main point of the paragraph)
  • Evidence
  • Explanation of how/why it is relevant to the profession
  • Link (transition to next paragraph)

*Not all paragraphs will follow the outline in the exact order, but all elements of the outline should be present in each category.

Step 4: Take a break!

After finishing your draft, set it aside for a few days. Come back to it with fresh eyes and perspective.

Step 5: Editing and Proofing

Read over your essay and analyze it line by line. Double space so you have plenty of room to mark up the page. As your reading, ask yourself if this essay could apply to any other profession. If so, it is not specific enough. Ask yourself what is missing, what works/doesn’t work, is the message clear?

Identify trusted proofreaders. After they read the essay, ask them what your central message was. If they interpreted it differently than you intended, you may not have been clear enough. Be open to their suggestions, but make sure the statement still has your sentiment.

Tips:

  • Open with a hook and conclude by reinforcing your thesis.
  • Use examples to go with your statements.
  • Write with a distinct voice.
  • Be clear and concise.

Themes to Avoid in Your Personal Statement:

  • Clichés: “I like science and want to help people.” – This is a job requirement, not something that makes you stand out.
  • Epiphany into Healthcare /Manifest Destiny: Your pursuit of the health professions should be a result of a series of thoughtful, conscious, and reflective decisions, not an instantaneous realization or something you’ve “always known”.
  • The Narrative Resume: Do not rehash all of your activities and achievements. Your statement should focus on one or two significant experiences that offer sincere insight into you.
  • Grandiosity: While it’s good to have goals, claiming in your personal statement that you are going to “cure cancer” or “eliminate healthcare disparities” shows a lack of understanding of the problem you’re planning to solve.
  • Excuses: There are much better uses for your personal statement than justifying poor grades, conduct violations, etc. However, if you choose to address this, make it brief and focus should be on what you learned from the incident.
  • Name Dropping: Your experiences are what make you unique, not who you know. Keep the focus on you.
  • Inflammatory/Controversial Remarks: You do not know the values, beliefs, and background of the person who is reading your essay. Refrain from making strong statements on politics, religion, and other polarizing topics.
  • Lies: This not only includes blatant lies, but also includes providing information that may be factually accurate but is presented in a misleading way. It will not take an admission committee long to figure out when you are embellishing.
  • Quotations: You have around 5,000 characters for your personal statement. Don’t waste them using someone else’s words.
  • Unusual Format: Do not try to stand out by using an unusual format. Do not submit artwork, videos, or poems. You do not need gimmicks to stand out.
  • Experience providing any treatments you are not licensed to provide: If you have ever participated in treatments while shadowing or volunteering do not discuss this experience unless you are licensed. Please see the AAMC’s policy regarding such behavior HERE and the ADEA's guidelines HERE.

Things to watch out for:

  • Too many thoughts – stay focused on one or two strong ideas         

  • Wordiness/Using the same word repeatedly

  • Slang, contractions, informal tone

  • Too many $10 words

  • Passive voice

See the chart below for character prompts and word limits for the various Centralized Application Services.

personal statement character prompts chart