The personal statement is a narrative that allows you to tell the admissions committee more about who you are using a central theme or thesis.
It is an opportunity to set yourself apart from other applicants and allows the reader to get to know you beyond your grades, test scores, and resume.
- Adds a “human element”
- Explains motivation/characteristics
- Describes experiences that have shaped your goals
- Generates interest in meeting you
Before you begin your personal statement, you need to familiarize yourself with the personal statement parameters specified by your application.
- Character Limitations - AMCAS and AACOMAS 5,300 characters. AADSAS, OptomCAS, OTCAS, CASPA, and PTCAS 4,500 character.
- Formatting - The personal statement text fields of most applications have limited (if any) formatting options. This means you can't bold, underline, or italicize text. We recommend writing your personal statement in a plain text document.
- Specific Prompt - Your application will have a specific prompt around which you should orient your personal statement. Make sure that your statement adequately addresses the prompt. For some applications the prompt can change from year-to-year, so be sure to verify the prompt for your application cycle.
Once you know the parameters, you can begin brainstorming and drafting your personal statement.
Your personal statement is about selling yourself to the admissions committee. You should begin with reflecting on your values, your best qualities, what you are passionate about, what's important to you, and how all of that has led you down the path to this career. You will need to identify activities or experiences where you demonstrate qualities that will prepare you for professional school and a career in healthcare. Telling professional schools that you possess various qualities is one thing, but the point is to really show them through your activities.
If you are having trouble formulating ideas about what to include in your personal statement, utilize the Wandering Map worksheet linked below to help organize your thoughts about why you are pursuing this pathway and to catalog your various experiences and activities over the last few years.
Once you have a good grasp on your "why" and have a list of all of your activities, you should consider how all of your experiences have developed skills that will be helpful in your future career and how to go about selling those experiences in your application. Many students believe that everything they include in the application should be clinically related, but that is not the case. Your leadership experiences, research, athletics, non-clinical volunteering, job, study abroad, and other campus and community involvements have likely played a significant role in shaping who you are. You can and should include these in your application.
The AAMC has outlined a set of 15 Core Competencies that represent skills they believe applicants must have for success in medical school and in their future careers as physicians. These broad ranging skills are critical for all the healthcare professions and can be utilized to help you frame your various experiences in both your personal statement and other areas of the application. They may also be able to help you see the value in some of the activities which you may feel are very disconnected from your professional goals -- e.g. a customer service part-time job, club sports, volunteering for The Guide Dog Foundation, etc. The Core Competencies worksheet below can help you organize your experiences by their corresponding skill set.
Your personal statement is your chance to tell the admissions committee your story. Since space is limited, you will need to determine what is most relevant and valuable to include and also convey it in the most impactful way. You should identify when you realized your career goal and what you have done in order to prepare for professional school and that career. In your statement you should highlight stories that show your resilience, passions, individuality, and skills that will make you successful in your respective field. Include experiences that demonstrate your intellectual curiosity, dedication to service, composure under pressure, and leadership ability as well as experiences that challenged or changed your perspective about your field. You want to convey that you have a realistic understanding of the field and that you are the right fit for your chosen profession. The latter must be demonstrated through actions, so be mindful of how you construct your statement.
Consider this example from Dr. Renee Marinelli:
In the example on the left, the writer tells the reader what they have learned, but gives the reader no insight into the process. However, in the example on the right, the reader can infer that same skill set without it being overtly stated. But more importantly the writer takes on a more active role showing how that skill set was honed and how it ultimately produced a desired result. This is the difference between "showing" vs "telling." Statements that focus more on showing will allow the reader to better connect with you.
In your personal statement you should demonstrate that you have a clear understanding of your "why." The "why" is your purpose and your motivation. If you don’t know why you do what you do and why you are pursing this career, how can you expect the admissions committee to know and trust that this is the right path for you? To begin outlining your why statement you have to think about what it is you want to contribute to your chosen profession. Once you’ve identified your contribution you have to figure out what you want the impact of your contribution to be.
Once you have your "why" you want to support your stated motivation with actions which demonstrate your right fit for the profession, you capacity to succeed in your career, and an overall vision which ties all of this together.
- Why do you want to pursue this career?
- What was your initial aspiration?
- Did you have a "moment" when you realized your goal?
- What has been your ongoing preparation?
- How do you know this is the right career for you?
- What values or traits do you have that align with this profession well?
- How do you know that you have what it takes to be successful in this career?
- Accurately assess your skills, strengths, weaknesses and challenges you may face.
- Put your skills in a context that demonstrates your ability to succeed.
- How do you want to impact the profession?
- Why do you want to impact the field?
Your personal statement should not be a rehash of your resume nor is it necessarily in your best interest to organize your statement chronologically. As you approach writing your statement, you should identify a theme and goals for what you want your personal statement to convey. You could consider:
- After the admissions committee has read your statement, what three words do you hope they would use to describe you?
- Are there any common threads when examining your activities and interests?
- Is your application narrative consistent?"
A strong "why" and excellent theme cannot make up for poor writing and grammar mistakes. Clarity of writing in your personal statement is just as important as your message. While this is your story, it is also a professional document. Make sure that you are using a structure that is clear and easy to follow to ensure that you are getting your point across. If you are having trouble with organizations consider using the PEEL structure.
- Point – topic sentence – what is the point you want to make? “Extracurricular activities provided me the opportunity to broaden my leadership experience."
- Evidence – make your point – what evidence supports your point? “In M.O.V.E (Mobilization of Volunteer Effort), I was responsible for soliciting and training volunteers which enabled me to work with other organizations within the University. I also helped coordinate the scheduling of volunteers for two Red Cross blood drives. As vice president of the campus premed club, I scheduled meetings, arranged for guest speakers and publicized events.”
- Explanation – explain your point – why is this relevant to the program you are pursuing? “In the process, I learned that it takes a lot of patience and discipline to meet the responsibilities for organizing group activities. ”
- Link – link your point to the next paragraph. “These responsibilities have contributed
to developing leadership and understanding more about the healthcare field.” Examples
- Progression of time (immediately, thereafter, soon, after a few hours, finally, then, later, previously, formerly, first (second, etc.), next and then)
- Change in place (Coming to, When taking)
- Additional example (Not only...,but also; Also; Similarly)
- Contradiction of Limitation (However, Even though, At the same time)
- Cause or Effect (as a result, because, because of, caused by, consequently, for that reason, that is why, therefore, thus)
Below is a outline for you to use to help you organize your personal statement before you begin your first draft.
Make sure to have your personal statement proofread by professionals as well as people who know you that you can trust to be objective. You will want to get feedback from multiple sources, but you want to make sure you stay true to your own voice. Additional web resources to help with the writing process:
- Personal Statement: Top 10 Rules and Pitfalls
- Writing the Personal Statement for Medical School
- Writing A Personal Statement
UGA Personal Statement Resources: