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Pwning the Personal Statement Part IIIB: Example 1

We’ve talked about writing and editing the Personal Statement over 3 parts:

Pwning the Personal Statement Part I: Intro and Free Essay Reviews!
Pwning the Personal Statement Part II: Writing the thing
Pwning the Personal Statement Part IIIA: Editing

Now we want to show you how to put it in action. This series of example Personal Statements are from real students who have sent in their essays to us for review. We’ve carefully redacted identifying information, but the core contents remain the same. We’ve invited our guest blogger, Yumi Kovic of madeMD.com to share her insights with the submitted essays.


Actual Essay with Comments

“Beep! Beep!” the drive-thru sensor alarmed.
[With this line I see you’re attempting to captivate your reader. That is great – however your captive mark should be more soothing and intriguing. I will touch more on this throughout the essay.] 

“Welcome to Rooster’s. How may I help you?” It was the thirty-seventh time that
[The “thirty-seventh” descriptor put me in a somewhat negative mindset. I immediately thought to myself, “Did he/she really count every customer?” It’s better to exaggerate to a point where it’s obvious and somewhat funny. “It must have been the thousandth time that…”]
night I had asked that question at my after-school job in high school. Rooster’s was a fast-food chicken restaurant conveniently located down the street from my house. Before clocking out, I had a conversation with my manager, Sam, about him looking for another job because Rooster’s was not paying him enough to support himself and he did not want to live with his mother anymore. As I clocked out, I saw him boxing up what was probably the only food he would have to eat at home that night. “I cannot live like this for the rest of my life, “ I thought as I looked down at my greasy work shirt.

[The Rooster’s paragraph does not fit in with the rest of the essay and lacks to describe your reasons or goals for medicine. I understand you’re trying to describe a desire to do something greater. However, many high school students, including myself, have done menial work, and this likely has little effect on our career choices. Rather than looming on Sam’s poor situation, find something you’re inspired by.]

My thoughts quickly went back to Mrs. Marsh’s fourth grade classroom at [my] Elementary School. Over a snack of Ritz Bitz cheese crackers and a Juicy Juice apple juice box, my friend Sally and I were discussing our life’s goals. I decided I wanted to be a pediatrician because I loved kids and needed a profession that would be a support the type of lifestyle I wanted to provide for myself. Sally wanted to be a plastic surgeon. We both agreed to go to the same college and medical school, move to California to practice and be next door neighbors in our luxurious mansions. That plan soon became unrealistic as Sally and I got older and grew apart; however, it played a large role in the motivation I had to succeed throughout middle school and high school.

[The mention of “mansions” brings in a very negative connotation early on that cannot be easily salvaged. Rather than turning it around later on, which you did, it’s better to focus on more positive aspects. Also, the language of the paragraph has a strong sense of adult character in what is a childhood scene. If you want to talk about your childhood, make it sound fun and playful and not so serious, unless of course it is a serious topic.]

When I entered high school and had a little control over what classes I could take I found myself choosing science courses such as Chemistry and Human Anatomy & Physiology. [This sentence is somewhat contradictory because you say you had little control over your classes, yet you chose your courses.]
I really became intrigued with the human body and how it functions. A class called Health Science Careers gave me the opportunity to be exposed to a variety of careers in the health field through researching the careers and shadowing. [Rather than arbitrarily listing the things you did, be DESCRIPTIVE! Real, descriptive examples are always more powerful than listing off a number of things you did, even if it’s only one example. For instance, what careers did you explore? Who did you shadow? What was that like? How did you feel?] I realized that the health field offered the best combination of two things I loved: science and people. Acknowledging this was indeed the path for me, I entered into college declaring a major in Biomedical Science. [At this point, you have told us that you had made a huge life decision to dive into the science & health field, however we have no reason to believe you. Again, give hefty descriptive examples. What excited you about science? Can you describe some specific experiment that enthralled you?]

As I rode into the campus of [my] University, I noticed a sign on each side that read “Enter to Learn” and “Depart to Serve” respectively. [These signs are very intriguing and could work well as your lead in for the personal statement. Consider making this your first paragraph. You may want to get more descriptive by telling us about the environment around you, the bustling students, your nerves and excitement.] I had no idea at that time that those words would shape and mold my desire to become a physician. [Another good hook that would work well in the first paragraph.] Service is a universal theme at [my University] no matter what club/organization [Avoid slashes, it’s better to keep the writing narrative-like by writing “club OR organization”.] you are involved in. My participation in various outreach experiences with different groups of people caused my eyes to be opened to an important life-long lesson: this world is not about me. [Again – give us a real, descriptive example full of emotions. This is a very emotional and important part of your life. Pick a moment that perfectly describes this tipping point.] Prior to college I was more interested in what medicine could do for me. Within one semester of being at [my University], my mentality switched to a desire to know what I could do for medicine. [Very good line: “what I could do for medicine.” – you may want to include people or humanity in that.] I soon saw my desire fulfilled by working with an Internal Medicine physician named Dr. Harold Mandet. I have been able to work with her all throughout my undergraduate education and have seen literally every patient [This feels a bit overstated.] leave her better than when they came. A transformation of their countenance would take place as she was treating them. I was amazed to see how she was able to combine the knowledge and skills she received in medical school with another tool that cannot be learned from a book—love. The love she has towards her patients makes them feel like a person and not a condition she is treating. [Good ideas – humanizing the process of medicine.] She takes the time to talk to her patients and shows a genuine concern for their health. By watching Dr. Handet [First you say Dr. Harold Mandet, and then Dr. Handet – be forewarned, spelling mistakes on important words like physician names will not look good!] I could see that what drove her was her passion to better someone else’s life through knowledge and training received in medical school.

Becoming a physician will allow me to impact individuals in the same way Dr. Handet does. [Rather than referring back to Dr. Handet, describe exactly what kind of physician YOU want to be. Remember, YOU are the one trying to get into medical school, not Dr. Mandet.] Physicians receive a certain level of trust and respect from their patients that will allow me to not only assist patients physically but emotionally. [This sentence feels somewhat like a power-trip. Instead, talk about carefully building trust and relationships with your patients. Remember – you have to earn your patients’ trust, even as a doctor.] There is a song that says “If I can help somebody, my living shall not be in vain.” I believe becoming a physician is the best career choice for me to make because it combines my love of science and people with my desire to serve others. [Be careful with this type of line. Virtually everyone going to medical school wants to go because they like science and people. It’s okay to like those two things, but you have to state it in an genuine and convincing way. For instance, chemistry teachers and nurses like science and people. What sets you apart from them? How is being a physician different from every other job involving science and people? Once again, stories go much farther than a run of words.]

For this case I focused on suggesting and analyzing the content of the essay, which is a great first step towards writing the personal statement. This essay brings in a range of ideas and experiences that can be narrowed and, at the same time, expanded.

Overall takeaway

It took nearly half the essay to get to the real essence of why you wanted to become a physician. You want to hook your readers early, and hook them with the right information. Rather, the essay started with a slightly upsetting story about Sam’s managerial position at Rooster’s.

If you are going to start off with a somewhat irrelevant topic, you MUST circle back to the story in the end and tie it into your goals and/or desires for medicine.

The essay had great ideas and thoughts towards the end when describing your university experience. However, they came in a little too late. An easy way to fix this is to push this paragraph straight to the top. The anecdote about seeing the signs “Enter to Learn” and “Depart to Serve” are intriguing hooks that you can add on to and play off of throughout the entire essay.

My biggest piece of advice is to go back to the drawing board and really reflect. Your essay is full of rather artificial descriptions of your passion. You cannot just say that you “like” science; you must SHOW it through pure example. After you show your detailed example you can summarize it. But you cannot claim anything without a captivating story.

Try to pinpoint very specific, colorful and meaningful moments in your university life that truly directed your passion to become a physician. Write them out with excruciating detail, choose which ones describe you and your goals best, and finally shave out the unneeded fluff.

By doing this you will hopefully turn the focus to YOU. Throughout the essay, we are constantly referred to outsiders: Sam, Sally, and then Dr. Mandet. This is the personal statement. Make it about you!

Descriptive examples. That is my best advice. Dig deep and reflect!


Yumi Kovic is the founder of madeMD.com, a comprehensive site of advice for all things pre-med. Yumi has a passion for writing, advising, and extreme multi-tasking. Follow Yumi on Twitter and check out her services for more personal and detailed essay edits.

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