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This is it: these sections of your application are what makes you special and sets you apart from other applicants. As record numbers of applications are being received by the health professions schools, it is important that you realize the weight that is given to your personal statement by the admissions committee. This is the first information the health professions schools will get about you that is "non-numerical", and until you are given the opportunity to present additional (secondary) information or interview in person, combined with experience, it is what will determine if schools choose you instead of someone else with a similar GPA or test scores.
A personal statement is about YOU and should be PERSONAL. Discuss things such as: your personal journey toward your chosen career, important moments and what you learned from them, the special strengths you feel you offer the profession, your future goals or how you will contribute to the diversity of the class. Anecdotes are often more effective than pure descriptive passages that simply list the qualities you possess.
Consider the following guidelines:
Include mention of family here. Are you a first-generation college student? Is your family from a low-income background? Did your inspiration come from family members involved in a health field? The influences that your family or early experiences had on you often convey what you value.
Motivation for a Health Career
When did your motivation begin? Did you first realize you wanted this career in grade school or college? Did you have a role model? Did someone inspire or influence you in a way, positive or negative? Use personal experiences to validate your reasons & commitment for your chosen career path. Select incidents/vignettes to support your claims that will help personalize your essay.
Are you a student athlete? Have you been involved in community service? Are you involved in a club, student organization? Are you in any leadership roles? What did you learn from these experiences? Describe in a way that allows your reader to conclude that you are a mature, independent, & motivated individual.
Work Experiences/Volunteer Experiences
Remember that it does not matter whether or not you were paid for an experience. If you have had to work many hours a week to put yourself through school, make sure you mention that. Discuss how you have matured as a result of these experiences.
There is no right or wrong here. If your hobbies or interests have nothing to do with a health career . . . great! You will be considered well-rounded. If they are related, you may be considered devoted. Get it? It doesn't matter as long as you have a life!
Do you plan to consider the option of research with a health profession career? Do you plan to practice in a rural or inner-city area? Devote space to this in your essay if you have a genuine interest, not because you think the admissions committee wants to read it.
Gaps or Problems in Your Background
Have you been out of school for awhile? Did you have one bad quarter? Did you lack focus in your freshman year? For what reason? Poor grades? Why? What did you do about it? How did you grow or mature through these experiences? When you write, you want to give your reader an explanation, not an excuse. It is okay to have made mistakes, but be sure to explain what you are doing as a result of having learned from them. If you have anything in your background which you feels need to be explained, include it in your personal statement.
You should be keeping a file or have developed another method where you can place notes and documentation regarding your thoughts about the health professions, keep copies of articles from a printed source that caught your attention, or write comments on your health experiences. Such a file will help you write your essay when the time comes much like research notes help you write a term paper.
If you are not sure where or how to start your statement, just start writing. You may end up with many pages, but you can go back later and consider what is important to you. Write a portion then write again at another time. Put the document away and come back to it later. Something you wrote earlier may seem unimportant. You may want to further develop an idea or concept. Rewrite. When you have edited your work to about two pages or less, it is probably ready to be shown to others.
Edit and Polish
Personal statements are usually limited to one page. Obviously, you cannot fit your entire life story on this assigned space. You cannot tell the reader everything, but with advance preparation, you can be confident you have conveyed necessary and relevant information. Plan to spend quite a bit of time writing, editing, re-writing, and polishing. Your statement cannot be thrown together at the last minute! Utilize these resources for help:
- Members of the Health Professions Resource Committee
- Health Professions or Academic Advisor
- Career Services Career Counselors
- Family or friends who can be honest
- University Writing Lab
Publications to Help You in the Writing Process
Write for Success, by Harold Bardo. Geared to help you write the professional school application. Uses examples of both successful and unsuccessful applications, critical review of actual applications of admission deans, and offers advice on the writing and editing process. Published by the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions. This book is available to read in the Health Professions Resource Center, the Health Professions office, or Career Services.
Supplemental application “Secondaries”
Upon receipt of the applicant’s materials from the centralized application service, each professional school will notify the applicant directly regarding the need for additional material. Generally, you will be asked to complete a secondary application with a variety of essay questions. Some of these questions will be specific to that school, call for your opinion, or ask you to deal with a controversial topic. It is in your best interest to complete and submit the secondary applications as quickly as possible.