We’ve talked about writing and editing the Personal Statement over 3 parts:
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
I have always been a curious person. When I do not fully understand something, I ask questions, and I constantly follow my curiosities to new and interesting topics. This curiosity has led me to science and the field of medicine. [Good hook, but rather than just saying you’re curious, give a real, detailed example of your curiosity. Convince your readers!] I am attracted to the logic and extreme depth of science. As a detail oriented person, the scientific approach of objectivity fits my personality and suits my curiosity needs. I decided to study in the field of science by majoring in Exercise Biology at [my university]. Along with studying the body and its processes through biology, I also studied the mind and behavior by minoring in Psychology. With these two subjects, I studied the human condition as a whole. The mixture of these subjects also gave me a better understanding of the interaction between the physical and the mental aspects of medicine. After graduating, I continued to expand my knowledge of science by joining the Health Professions Post Baccalaureate Program at [my university]. Through this program, I enrolled in extremely interesting courses that continue to spark my curiosity and increase my passion for medicine. My ultimate goal is to unite my passion for medicine with my passion for people and the community through becoming a doctor who can provide care and educate communities to lead healthier lives. [“Lead healthier lifestyles” is a very broad statement. Do you have any specific interest or experience you can talk about that narrows this down?]
[Your path and integration of majors is interesting, but your language makes it sound like you’re reading off your CV. You can distill this down into a couple of sentences by simply describing your integration of psychology & biology. Then you can expand that by saying how this gave you a unique perspective on how health should be delivered. Then give examples of how you would use that to benefit your patients. Instead of listing your classes or majors, try to string your experiences into a single narrative.]
My interest in volunteering in the community started when I was an adolescent. I was born and raised in a region that has a prevalence of migrant workers and lower income families. This environment exposed me to the difficulties faced by disadvantaged populations and I decided to help those in my community who were underserved. [This story about your childhood is VERY interesting! However, you never gave us any real, gritty examples or stories about this part of your life. Pinpoint a sharp memory in your childhood that really defines your experience there. Just by telling the story it should answer things like: Who were these migrant workers? Did they teach you anything important? How did they impact your life? What difficulties did they face? How can this be solved?] When I left this region to attend college, I felt the need to continue to volunteer. I satiated this need by joining [redacted] Women’s Honor Society, whose main mission was to help the community through service-oriented activities. Through volunteering with [the Women’s Honor Society], I learned about the importance of effective communication and how simple acts of kindness can go a long way. I was particularly fond of the Inter-Faith Rotating Winter Shelter. I helped provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner for homeless individuals, and also spent the night in the facility. Interacting with the homeless people was educational because I learned that most of these individuals were similar to myself, or people I know. A significant amount of the homeless people was educated and a few were around my age. This affirmed my belief that community service is essential because anyone, no matter his background, can undergo difficulties and need assistance.
[This paragraph, like the first, sounds like a CV. On the AMCAS application you’ll have plenty of room to list and describe your extracurricular activities. Avoid repeating your activities in your essay, otherwise the admissions committee will be essentially reading it over twice. You want your personal statement to be an entirely different piece from the rest of your application. This doesn’t not mean experiences on the AMCAS application have to be exclusive from the personal statement, but you should be speaking about those experiences on a deeper, more emotional and more personal level.]
The Red Cross exemplifies all that I believe a community service organization should be. The Red Cross not only provides service to individuals and communities in need, it also prepares the community for disasters and other difficult situations in order to prevent or minimize suffering. [Avoid describing organizations, especially something as widely known as the Red Cross. Any descriptors associated with the organization should be focused on what YOU did and how this changed YOU.] This is similar to how I want to be as a physician. [This correlation is somewhat confusing because you’re comparing yourself, a single person, to a global organization. Try picking one person, maybe within the Red Cross, that you admire.] I not only want to help people who are suffering, but I also want to help educate people to make healthier decisions to prevent disease whenever possible. While volunteering for the Red Cross the last seven years, I educated others in subjects such as swimming, CPR/first aid, and community preparedness. I have also taught and/or tutored science, math, anatomy, athletics, and even religion. [These lists create a very monotonous tone, and it’s unlikely that a reader is to remember much, if at all, from the list. Rather than typing out ALL of the activities you did, pick one significant moment that stuck with you and describe it in detail.] I take pleasure spreading my knowledge about my passions and helping others to overcome their fears. Recently, I started volunteering with an organization called the Special Needs Aquatic Program. This program enabled me to help special needs children become comfortable in the water while rehabilitating them and teaching them how to swim. Through this program, I have learned about physical and mental disabilities and how to overcome them in order to teach and communicate effectively.
Communication is key when it comes to education. While teaching over the years, I have worked with individuals of most ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. [How does this paragraph relate to the ones above? It feels very disconnected. Everything should flow and connect with one another.] I have also learned to adapt my teaching styles to fit to my student’s abilities. I understand what it feels like to be misunderstood. I lost my ability to properly communicate while studying abroad in Italy. I felt frustrated with my lack of communication skills, and even after catching onto the language; I still had difficulty expressing exactly what I wanted with my limited vocabulary. This experience helped me understand what it is like to be unable to communicate my intentions and how to overcome this boundary through non-verbal communication and observation. [I understand what you’re trying to say, but the way you’ve worded your experience in Italy can come off as slightly naive. Traveling to Italy is a privilege, and you should treat it this way. Rather than putting the focus on you here, you can quickly talk about how your experience was difficult, but then go back and say, “what I experienced was on a timeline of a few weeks/months in a foreign country, while others have to experience this on a day to day basis in a place they call home.”] When I have the same problem with communicating with someone because he is unable to speak English, or cannot speak at all, I use observation and the non-verbal forms of communication I have learned to rise above this limitation. Adapting to the given circumstances of a situation is a valuable tool that I have fine-tuned over the years of teaching and I feel that this quality is critical for an aspiring doctor such as myself. [Does this skill of observation and non-verbal communication truly set you apart from everyone else? Unless you are a professional in the art, it is better to tell a story where you saw the hardship these people go through and from there was enlightened/inspired to do something about it.]
I am a well-rounded, logic-driven, and generous person who has a lot to offer the field of medicine. I think that my communication skills along with my passion for education, science, and medicine will help me succeed as a medical student and as a future physician. I hope to spread my knowledge to help people in America make healthier decisions in order to battle the obesity, cancer, and heart disease epidemics, as well as fighting for the rights of underserved and overlooked communities.
[Your goals are very scattered and broad. Coming to the end, I find myself wishing you spoke more about the migrant workers and your experience there. I can easily see you stringing together an essay revolving around the migrant workers, their difficulty in communicating in their world, and their hardship of being medically underserved. Thus drawing connections between each of the topics you touched on with one very descriptive and heartfelt story.]
First off I want to state that when writing the personal statement, everyone should keep this in mind: on the AMCAS application you will be allowed to list up to 15 experiences of any kind. You will also be given 700 characters to describe each activity, as well as an additional 1325 characters for 3 experiences you find “most meaningful.” As you can see, you will have plenty of room to write and list off your activities. Therefore, in your personal statement you should limit yourself to talking about a few potent experiences.
Moving forward. This essay felt like a run-off of a CV. It listed your coursework, majors, and several volunteer activities. Then, when there were more intimate details about your childhood and life experiences, I felt myself looking for more to the story.
Remember this: your essay will be read by a committee that may have seen thousands of essays before yours. Think to yourself, if you had to read 10,000 personal statements, which ones would stand out?
The key to making an essay memorable is to tell a story that hooks the reader like a good book. Instead of listing a number of your experiences and skills, pick one to three incredible and defining moments in your life that will effectively communicate your story and drive for medicine. This will take some serious reflection, and may take a long time to work out.
Your essay already has a lot of great ideas that you can pick from. In particular, your childhood experience with migrant workers can develop into an intriguing story that strings together the difficulties they face in communicating and in accessing medical resources. Then, you could delve into the deeper and more emotionally rooted topics such as how this affected you from a young age, how it changed your perspective, how it shaped your goals, and how your unique drives you to aid the underserved.
In doing this, your ultimate goal is to make that one guy in the committee, after reviewing thousands of applications, speak up and say “what about that one who was so dedicated to fight for migrant workers? There was something special there.”
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.