What makes a personal statement competitive?
Great question! The factors that make a truly competitive personal statement (or personal comments essay, as med schools are calling them now) are easy to outline, but much harder to achieve in the actual writing process. I don’t say that to be scary or anything – it’s just true. So I tell you what. I’ll outline the factors, and then I’ll give really helpful insight on how to make your writing process go as smoothly as possible and to the greatest success impact possible!
So, the factors that make your personal statement competitive:
- It’s well-written!
- Well thought out
- Error-free (which means punctuation and grammar should be stellar)
- It’s personally insightful and reflective!
- It’s 100% absolutely representative of you!
- It’s compelling!
- It’s persuasive!
- It is a story explaining your informed reasons for choosing this profession – note the operative words being = INFORMED REASONS
- It is a story extolling your awesomeness through your accomplishments!
- What are 3 – 5 qualities about you that your reviewers need to know about you?
- Which experiences did you engage (3 – 5 of them) that made the difference for you. That really showed you that this is what you want to do? You need to do? That you won’t feel complete if you’re not doing it?
- It is filled with positive language!
- Avoid using negatives. Positive wording brings your reader up, while negative wording brings your reader down. You want to keep your reader going up and up and up and feeling so positive and great about you. Even using simple words like “can’t or cannot” … immediate downers. Stick to the affirmative!!!! Stick to building a positive picture of who you are, what you’ve learned, and what you have to offer.
- For good measure, throw in some “Relevant Sparkle” as I like to call it!
- Relevant Sparkle can be anything, but for my students it is often some totally brilliant/shiny quote or something of the like that is used to start off the statement and that sets the tone and theme of your story.
- Generally, you figure out what your Relevant Sparkle is after you get into writing and see what your story looks and sounds like.
- And without fail, if you have an “Elephant,” you need to use some of your character count to discuss it. To explain it. NEVER to be defensive about it. Instead, you want to talk about it. What happened. Why it happened. What you learned. How how you can now apply what you have learned from going through it.
- An elephant is anything in your record that isn’t you at your best and that could detract from your competitive status.
- This can be a dip in your grades.
- Below average MCAT/DAT scores
- A break in your education
- Overall, it needs to be your story about why you want to be a doctor (or dentist, etc) and how you know.
- BOTTOM LINE SPOILER ALERT … this means you are supposed to talk about the experiences you’ve undertaken that have moved you personally and professionally into making the decision to care about other people and their health and wanting to help them using the skills, tools, practices, methodologies, etc of the healthcare profession you are choosing.
- APPROACH WITH EXTREME CAUTION: unless your story about your grandmother/father moving in to be taken care of by your family is one of EXCEPTIONAL, AMAZING, NEVER-BEEN-HEARD-BEFORE WOWNESS … reconsider using this example as your story. Consider digging deeper into you and your other experiences. Don’t make this be your main line, go to, big reason. It’s so over used that it can make the eyes roll in your reader. And trust me, the last thing you want to do is make your reviewers roll their eyes at you. You want them standing up and pointing to your app and exclaiming loudly with conviction to the other committee members, “This one! We want this one!”
Ohmigod, MK, you said the list of factors was the easy part – that’s A LOT!!!!
Yes it is. But it is entirely achievable!!! You’ve just spent the last how many ever years taking courses, getting involved, learning, growing, doing, making a difference in people’s lives and in your life! This is simply the story of all that goodness, learning, and growth!!!
And it is a story worth telling … that needs to be told … so that your admissions committees can see you for all your goodness and everything you have to offer to their program and your future patients!!!
So how can we help you write your AWESOME STORY?
Well, I recommend you do the following:
- Accept that this isn’t a one and done kind of writing assignment.
- Accept that to write a competitive statement, it will likely take you a considerable amount of time. In other words, it’s most likely going to take you more than a quicky night or weekend.
- Give yourself at least 4 – 6 weeks to engage this reflective writing process
- I know you may be freaking out at this … like WTH MK? It’s only a page and a third. How in the hell does it take that long to write?
- Well, true. It is only a page and a third, roughly speaking (5,300 characters for the AMCAS app and 4,500 characters for the AADSAS applications – and for both that character count INCLUDES spaces), but it is an exceptionally well-written, jam-packed-with-your-AWESOMENESS page and a third … and that character space flies by in a blink, leaving you wondering how in the hell you are going to get all the rest of your goodness in there.
- Start by NOT WRITING your personal statement. Start by either reviewing your experience journals (in which you’ve been highly detailed and uber reflective), or if you don’t have these awesome journals, then do what I call a Free Form Write.
- A Free Form Write (FFW) is when you sit down an recall and reflect upon your experiences and education to date with the sole goal of answering the question: Why do I want to be a doctor/dentist, and how do I know/what have I done to help me make this decision?
- Once you’ve done your experience journal review and reflection or your FFW, pick out your 3 – 5 best, most wonderful experiences AND pick out what you feel are your 3 – 5 best qualities (ie, leadership, empathetic, love helping people get well, super helpful lesson learned, etc.)
- Using those experiences and qualities, write a first draft keeping all those factors that make a competitive personal statement in mind.
- For your first draft, do not even remotely think about character count. Just write and get your story in order and together.
- Then keep tweaking your drafts until you’ve told your story meeting those criteria … and when you do, you will have your Best Shining Draft (as I call it), which is your most competitive personal statement!
That is what makes a personal statement competitive!
Want to learn more? Check out this FREE video!
Best wishes to you while you are reflecting and writing! You can do this!!!
Mary Kate :0)