Students at Xavier who plan on applying to medical, dental, etc. school are encouraged to CONTINUALLY work on their personal statements (a.k.a. career essays) beginning freshman year until they submit their professional school applications during the summer between junior and senior years. Even before a student applies to professional school, he/she will need a GOOD copy of the personal statement to submit to summer programs and to collect letters of evaluation to support those summer program applications.
A GOOD copy of the personal statement that you will include on your medical, dental, etc. school should be prepared in the Fall of Junior Year. It is extremely important that your personal statement be in good shape in the Fall of Junior year because...
1) the draft prepared at this time will be used by faculty who write individual letters of evaluation on your behalf for medical, dental, etc. school applications and
2) the FINAL version (critiqued and revised multiple times) should be ready to include on your professional school application (e.g. AMCAS, AACOMAS, AADSAS, etc.) when you apply the summer between junior and senior years.
NOTE: Finalizing your medical, dental, etc. school personal statement in Fall of Junior Year will allow you to focus solely on MCAT, DAT, etc. test prep and performing competitively in your coursework during Spring of Junior Year.
Almost all health professional schools require that applicants write one or more essays. This handout is intended to provide guidance as you work on your personal statement/career essay. It has three supplements: "Supp #1: Questions to Answer BEFORE You Begin Your Essay","Supp #2: Good Essays From the Past" (must be picked up from PM Office), and "Supp #3: Essay Evaluation Form". It is also recommended that you read the AAMC's "What are the most important things I should write about in my personal statement?" available here.
Your Personal Statement for AMCAS, AADSAS, etc.
General: The essay (i.e. personal statement) is the part of your application where you have a chance to let an admissions committee know something about you as a person and why you, rather than someone else, should be admitted into medical, dental, or another type of health professions school. Therefore, you shouldn't use it merely to list things which will appear in other parts of the application such as grades, extracurricular activities, honors, etc. Rather you should use the essay to give a more personal perspective.
Characteristics Admissions Committees Look for in Your Essay: If an admissions committee is actively looking at your essay, they have probably already decided that you may be able to handle the academic load in medical, dental, etc. school (that is, you are already past the first stage indicated in #1 in this series of handouts). Therefore, they are probably reading the essay to see whether or not they think you will be a good physician, dentist, or other health professional. What they generally look for are:
- a positive self-concept
- the ability to realistically assess yourself
- the ability to deal with racism (or sexism)
- long-range goals (rather than short-range ones)
- whether or not you have someone on whom you can depend if trouble arises
- leadership ability
- a desire to work with people (rather than test tubes)
- demonstrated medical interest.
It is better, however, if you don't just say that you have these qualities or have done these things (i.e. that you don't just say "I have demonstrated my interest by...".). Instead, you should talk about what you have done and what experience or insight you have gained in such a way that the person reading your essay will recognize that you have the qualities listed above. (Note: Another way to let the admissions committee know about your qualities is to keep your Post-Secondary Experiences Form up-to-date and to give a copy to faculty when you ask them for evaluations. Then, with a little luck, they will pick up the information and say it for you.)
First, Some Practical Details About the Essay: Your AMCAS, AADSAS, etc. application will be completed and submitted online. Please note that the essays MUST fit into the space allotted on the online applications. For many applications, it is okay to compose your essay in MS Word, have someone check it for you, and after multiple revisions, cut and paste it into the online application form. The AMCAS essay (a.k.a. "Personal Comments" may not exceed 5,300 characters (including spaces). We recommend developing your personal statement (medical, dental, etc. school) in MS Word using the following formatting guidelines: No more than 5,300 characters (including spaces); single spacing (use double space to separate paragraphs---do not indent); 1" margins (top and bottom); 1.25" margins (left and right); and 10-12 point Times New Roman font. If you follow these formatting guidelines, your personal statement should be 1-1.5 pages long. When submitting the essay (in MS Word) to the Premedical Office via email for review, please be sure to change the file name to "PSLastNameFirstName" (for example, if your name is James Doe, then your document should be named "PSDoeJames"). Further, when you email your essay to the Premedical Office at firstname.lastname@example.org, be sure to identify yourself and the item being submitted in the email subject line (e.g. "Personal Statement for James Doe"). NOTE: Students applying vis other application services such as AADSAS, AACOMAS, etc. should also aim to produce an essay with the above-referenced formatting guidelines; if the application requires more or fewer characters, you'll be able to revise accordingly.
Here are some specific content and layout instructions from the AMCAS website (which is the application that most XU students complete) regarding the personal statement:
Consider and write your Personal Comments (i.e. Personal Statement, Career Essay) carefully; most admissions committees place significant weight on this section. Some questions you might want to consider while drafting this essay are:
- Why have you selected the field of medicine, dentistry, etc.?
- What motivates you to learn more about medicine, dentistry, etc.?
- What do you want medical, dental, etc. schools to know about you that hasn't been disclosed in another part of the application?
In addition you may wish to include information such as:
- Special hardships, challenges, or obstacles that may have influenced your educational pursuits.
- Commentary on significant fluctuations in your academic record which are not explained elsewhere in your application.
Additional instructions for all applicants
- Proofread carefully. No changes (including grammatical and typographical errors) may be made after your application is submitted to to AMCAS, AADSAS, etc.
- It is not necessary to repeat information reported elsewhere in your application, unless it is absolutely relevant to the message you are conveying in your personal statement.
- Plagiarism or misrepresentations will prompt an investigation.
In summary: Your essay should...
- Look good on the page at first impression because it is your first chance to try to "sell yourself" to an admissions committee -- typographical and grammatical errors will make a bad impression because this is something you have control over if you choose to proofread carefully.
- Focus on what is unique about you.
- Not just list what you have done (which will be listed on another part of the medical school application) but rather focus on what you have gained from your experiences.
- Not say directly that you "have leadership qualities" or "are people-oriented" or any of the other items listed above. Instead, it should tell your story in such a way that the reader can readily infer that you have developed those qualities by way of your experiences.
- Have a beginning, middle, and end (i.e. INTRODUCTION, BODY, and CONCLUSION) presented in a simple, flowing manner.
Finally, please note that the best essay in the world is a waste if it contains misspelled words, has grammatical mistakes, or has words used improperly. Therefore, you MUST proofread it carefully. Suggestion: Have someone else proofread it for you. A person less familiar with what is supposed to be written there is more likely to pick up on mistakes that you might easily overlook.
Some General Points on Form -- Essays in General: Essays can serve a number of purposes, among them to provide information, to narrate, to persuade. Given what the AMCAS indicates that admissions committees are looking for in these essays, the purpose here is to provide information and/or to narrate. You should probably avoid editorializing.
Essays have structure. They usually consist of several paragraphs:
- The INTRODUCTION sets the stage. If you intend to use a unifying image in your essay, this is where you set it up. If you have a clear, well-articulated statement about your future and goals, don't wait until the very end, express that here. You can always come back to it in the conclusion.
- The BODY of the essay consists of several paragraphs that provide more detail about what you have laid out in your introduction. Generally each of these paragraphs develops a discrete thought or aspect related to what you've talked about in your introduction.
- The CONCLUSION is where you tie it all up and bring your ideas to closure. Don't leave your audience hanging.
In a good essay you have UNITY ~ COHERENCE ~ ORGANIZATION. These are accomplished by:
- A unifying theme that runs through the whole essay.
- Logical flow from one thought to another. Caution: The use of transitional words (because, since, although, however, therefore, etc.) is very important in providing flow and coherence. Make sure you are using them properly and conveying the meaning you intend.
- Sticking to the topic set out in the introduction -- use only related thoughts -- don't introduce stray or unrelated thoughts.
Next, a Specific Procedure to Use In Writing the Essay: The overall goal is to write an essay which both provides a perspective of who you are and is distinctive enough to catch the attention of people (the admissions committee) who read lots of similar essays. The specific procedure we suggest is as follows:
- Answer the series of "prep" questions on Supp #1: Questions to Answer BEFORE You Begin Your Essay. These questions are designed to help you focus on very specific and important aspects of the choice you're making. NOTE: These questions are NOT designed to serve as an outline for your essay; rather, you should use your responses to these questions to help you reflect on your motivation and to develop those aspects of who you are that are most relevant to your pursuit of medicine, dentistry, etc.
- Write a coherent, creative essay telling a story from YOUR point of view -- an essay which incorporates relevant information developed from the prep questions. Additional suggestions:
- Keep it simple. Pare your essay down to include only the strongest, most appropriate items.
- Use "first person" pronouns (i.e. use "I" and "my" instead of "you" and third person pronouns).
- Don't be afraid to express your thoughts and feelings.
- "Show" instead of "tell" by using strong action verbs and vivid images (where appropriate) so that the reader becomes involved in the essay.
- Look for common elements or images to repeat or reinforce. However, beware of complex images that might leave the reader wondering what you're trying to say. Use of multiple images can be distracting and/or confusing. Simplicity is not necessarily plain or boring; it can be very elegant.
- Develop the strongest ideas or actions in your essay rather than trying to include all ideas.
- After you have finished, use the "Premed Essay Checklist" Supp #3: Essay Evaluation Form to check on crucial points your readers are likely to note.
Summary on Content: The purpose of the Personal Statement or Personal Comments portion of the AMCAS application is to give information about you relative to your application:
- Your goals (long- and short-range ones, but focusing on long-term goals)
- Your motivation for this career choice (however, be careful not to put too much emphasis on a particular specialty as most admissions committees will not think you've experienced medicine in such a way that you definitely know which specialty will be best suited for you)
- What in your life has brought you to this point (applying to medical, dental, etc. school)
- How you have demonstrated the qualities that admissions committees are looking for
- What is unique about you, what makes you a better candidate for medical, dental, etc. school admission than another candidate equally qualified academically.
Things to remember as you write and rewrite and rewrite your essay:
- Who is your audience? What do they need to know about you?
- Whether or not the reader perseveres to the end of your essay depends on how you present yourself. Does your essay make the person want to read on?
- Your audience does not know you, does not know what a wonderful, impressive person you are. Your readers are going to make some judgments based on what they see in your essay (from both form and content). First impressions are important and tend to be difficult to overcome (especially bad ones).
- The essay speaks for you. It is your "voice." Be sure that whatever you say here is accurate and that you can substantiate it.
- Don't use "big" words unless you are sure you're using them properly.
- Try to proofread with some distance, i.e. from the stance of one who does not know you. What impression do you get from what you read? Have you satisfactorily covered motivation and medical interest, reflected your personal values and long-term goals, demonstrated leadership, etc.
Sample Essays: Several good essays written by former Xavier students are available for pick-up in the Premed Office. They are provided as samples only. If you merely change names and rearrange one of those essays, it is plagiarism (a form of cheating) which will immediately cause your application to be rejected because the U.S. does not need dishonest physicians. Finally, please note that the persons who read and critique essays in XU's Premedical Office have also read those sample essays. Therefore, they will know immediately if you plagiarize AND will tell you in blunt words that you have done so. The moral: Dishonesty is not only wrong BUT it can endanger your chance for a career in medicine. Therefore, don't do it!!!
Additional Resources for Essay Help: In addition to referring to the sample essays provided by the Premedical Office, extensive information on writing personal statements for medical, dental, etc. school are available by searching the internet. The most extensive and reliable information can be found on college or university websites (".edu" in the URL). For example, the Health Careers Center at the University of Minnesota has an online health careers personal statement workshop that is open to public users. Be wary of sites that you have to pay to join or that claim they can write your personal statement for you. Remember, it's YOUR personal statement. Plagiarism and dishonesty do nothing to prove your integrity as a future professional.
Also, some students have found "mind mapping" to be helpful to the process of generating thoughts and ideas for their personal statements. There are a number of mind mapping software applications (e.g. Coogle) that you can use to help identify your thoughts and organize them in a meaningful way as you explore themes for your career interests. Student Doctor Network offers a detailed instructional video "Mapping Your Life: Personal Statement Brainstorming Workshop" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unEEqCazjlY. Additional information on creating a mind map is available at http://www.art-is-fun.com/create-a-mind-map.html.
Essay Critique: Students are encouraged to email their personal statements (typed in MS Word) to the Premedical Office at email@example.com multiple times throughout enrollment for feedback that will aid in the revision process. Before submitting, please be sure to change the file name to "PSLastNameFirstName" (for example, if your name is James Doe, then your document should be named "PSDoeJames"). Be sure to identify yourself and the item being submitted in the email subject line (e.g. "Personal Statement for James Doe"). Be advised that the views expressed by the Premedical Office regarding your essay represent only one objective perspective, particularly on the content of your essay. By seeking out feedback from a variety of objective sources, you are able to gain insight from multiple perspectives as you cultivate a personal statement that best represents you. If you need assistance with grammar, usage, and the mechanics of your essay, be sure to visit XU's Writing Center or any other resource you find that can help you with the revision process.
Other Essays: In addition to the major essays required by AMCAS, AADSAS, etc., most health professions schools also require one or more additional essays when you apply for MD/PhD or submit secondary materials. These essays often ask specific questions which you can often answer by elaborating on points in your AMCAS, AADSAS, etc. essay. If you have to say some of the same things that are in the essay from your primary application, at least rewrite it so it looks different. Even before you apply to professional school, however, you will need essays for most summer program applications.