Tips for the Application Process: Write your Personal Statement early… and often!
The Application Process for medical school (and really any professional endeavor) is tedious. The fill-in-the-blank form is often times annoying (I won’t even speak on how we used to struggle to fill it in with a typewriter, because that would be dating myself). Even more annoying however is how the application is by no means a solid reflection of who you are as an applicant and as a future physician/dentist/nurse/lawyer. That’s where the importance of the personal statement lies… You can fill in the blanks (between the blanks) with an actual narrative – descriptive adjectives that paint a larger picture that consists of more than dates and locations.
You should begin to write your personal statement very early in the application process – before you take the MCAT, before you ask for letters of recommendation, before you even become accustomed to the application website. Your personal statement speaks to more than just your ability to be a strong candidate – it speaks to your ability to summarize, highlight, justify, and communicate. For this reason, I highly recommend taking a humanities/english/literature course in order to gain a well-developed approach to the written word. A unfortunately large number of pre-health majors tend to neglect this portion of their education; however, with the upcoming MCAT changes, there is a growing acknowledgment that sciences alone are not enough of a preparation for a career in the health professions. So by taking other non-science courses (I myself was a public policy major), you can gain some experience and consider the critique of your writing ability early on.
By writing your essay early, you have the flexibility of having multiple drafts and having multiple parties provide comment. By multiple, I purposely sought out persons who know me well and those who may just be acquaintances. Family members and best friends will react to your description of an anecdote and its purpose very differently than will someone who only knows you from sitting in the same classroom. Your personal statement should provide a clear and defined picture of what you want to represent, so by having a variety of input, you will have a better sense of whether your picture is a work of art or a sloppy mess. Through multiple drafts, you can improve over time and not feel the rush during the application season of needing to churn out those 500 words.
Lastly, and most importantly, an overall approach to your personal statement should be with the intent of answering a question. Which question is for your own determination – which personal characteristics are not evident from your form application? What information does the application committee still need? What mistakes have you made that need explaining? The personal statement is not meant to explain your entire life, but instead, provide an outlook on your experiences that is positive, self-aware, and differentiating. Therefore, answering a single question – and not EVERY question – is the goal. Your personal statement should not re-iterate what is already found on your form application and resume, but should seek to define what your experiences have taught you, how your innate skills have assisted you, and how you will be a success on your career path. Along with your resume, your personal statement will be requested and by adopting good practices early, you can easily produce a good description of yourself as a professional and a worthy candidate.