FIRST STEP: The Variables
While working on a project last year, I found myself reading through a series of personal statements for applications to law, business, and medical school. To my astonishment, the letters were completely identical in structure to each other. What's more, they were indistinguishable to the personal statement I had written for medical school three years prior. And here I was thinking I had come up with some wholly unique document. Well, turns out there exists a formula to the personal statement which I will attempt to describe as well as giving some advice on how to personalize a entirely generic essay.
Writing the personal statement can be the toughest part of the application. The challenges are in being original and illustrating character without bragging. The first step is knowing yourself and seeing what makes you unique. Diversity is a hot commodity so, make sure your personal statement showcases your individuality and diverse life experience. Too often, we go through life not realizing or appreciating the people who have influenced us or experiences that shape us. So, before you begin writing your statement, think and write about these influences. What did you learn from each experience, from the people you served, and from those you worked with?
FIRST STEP: The Variable
What were the 5 experiences that helped you realize your chosen medical specialty is right for you?
Where were you?
What happened, what did you accomplish?
Who did you serve, who did you work with?
How did you feel, what did you realize?
How did the experience change you?
Who are the 5 people in your life that had the biggest influence on you?
Who is the person, what did they do?
How did you come to know them?
What is it about them that influenced you?
How did you feel, and how did they change you?
Paint a portrait of yourself using these specific examples. Hopefully, you'll have many experiences through your extracurricular activities to draw upon when writing your personal statement. Remember, its these experiences, influences and your feelings about them that will make your personal statement unique.
SECOND STEP: The Formula
The second step in creating your statement involves understanding the framework of your future masterpiece. Personal statements follow a rigid 5-7 paragraph format. Since it is recommended that your statement not exceed one page, 5-7 short paragraphs is all you'll have room for. The first paragraph contains the "catchy opening sentence" as well as the thesis statement. Most people consider the opening sentence the most difficult part of the personal statement. The goal is to highjack the readers attention. Despite what you learned in Freshman English, starting with a quote is NOT interesting. Rather, you end up communicating that you are so unimaginative you needed someone else write your opening sentence for you. If you think there is a quote that sums up your existence, consider using it in the body of your statement. The way to capture the attention of the reader is to make them FEEL an emotion. This is most appropriately done through humor, or surprise. Since the rest of your personal statement, most likely, will be trying to be warm and touching; a humorous, surprising, or odd intro will provide contrast (e.g. comic relief).
One way to accomplish this task as well as communicate how one-of-a-kind you are it to think about something you have done, seen, experienced, or know about what no one else on the planet has done, seen, experienced, or knows about; or at least no other residency applicants. Maybe you have a unique hobby or interest? Lead into your statement using an anecdote, quote, question, or engaging description based on your unique theme. Then tie your theme into your thesis. For example, I am into Amateur (HAM) radio. My callsign is KB7BXP. So, I started my personal statement with: "CQ, CQ, CQ. This is KB7BXP, calling CQ, CQ, CQ." The next step is to tie your "intro" into being a doctor, or why you want to be a [whatever]. For example, I told about the time I contacted someone from the still communist Russia and like radio, medicine allows me to "connect" with others in a unique way. Then comes the thesis statement. This is something stating that your interest in [your specialty] is rooted in or stems from several unique experiences which impacted you and several people who influenced you. Then you will go on to share a few anecdotes from your life which will illustrate who you are and why your so convinced [your specialty] is meant for you. The next 3-5 paragraphs will be the anecdotes derived from the list of events, people, etc. that you made in the FIRST STEP.
A great way to talk about your accomplishments with out bragging about them is to focus your paragraph on someone you met while you were running into burning buildings to save hundreds of helpless children. You could focus on the bravery of firefighter Joe who went into the burning building with you. Then by inference, the reader will know you must have been in the burning building as well.Finally, your concluding paragraph should make reference to your initial theme and restate your thesis. I accomplished this by writing: "The ability to communicate and connect with people all over the world makes amateur radio a rewarding hobby. As a physician, I will connect with others by . . ." I then restated my thesis by summing up again the theme of my personal statement.
SECOND STEP: The Formula
Paragraph 1: catchy intro, thesis
Paragraph 2: person/place/thing/experience 1,
Paragraph 3: person/place/thing/experience 2,
Paragraph 4: person/place/thing/ experience 3,
Paragraph 5: person/place/thing/ experience 4,
Paragraph 6: refer to intro, restate thesis.
THIRD STEP: Plug and Chug
The third and final step is to put it all together. Come up with several interesting introductions, thesis statements, and personal anecdotes. Your personal statement should be longer than a single page at this point with the goal to select the intro, and 3-5 personal anecdotes that will work the best. Solicit the advice of friends, fellow students, spouses, parents, teachers, doctors in helping you rework, develop, edit and select the best material to keep in your personal statement.Lastly, you must work on flow and continuity between paragraphs. This can be a challenge as each of your paragraphs will be talking about completely different things. One way to connect paragraphs is to briefly allude to your thesis statement to make the transition. Then don't forget to edit for spelling and grammar. Remember everything your Freshman English teacher told you about using parallel construction (not only, but also), and avoiding passive speech.
THIRD STEP: Plug and Chug
Write several interesting, odd, humorous intros
Compile 7-10 personal anecdotes
Solicit others to edit, develop, rework and weed out anecdotes
Work on flow and continuity between paragraphs
Edit for spelling and grammar
Remember, I said that most personal statements will follow this format. So, by mindlessly following the suggestions here you'll likely get a drab, boring statement. These suggestion are intended as a place to start but hopefully by the end it shouldn't be obvious that your statement is following any generic formula. Also, if you have an experience or "ah-hah" moment that is particularly profound, you should consider devoting 2-3 paragraphs or even the entire statement to it. Your statement should be in a light conversational tone. Do not include specific names as that wil be interpreted as name dropping. And finally, your statement should reflect a little of your personality. Getting a sense of your personality is the major purpose applicants are required to write personal statements in the first place. In the end, If your statement reflects who you are, it will be as unique as you are.