For many people, going to graduate school is a great move. It can deliver a vital intellectual wake-up call or start you on the path to a new, more satisfying career. It can even increase your earning power. But if you don't know why you're going, grad school can leave you with a whole lot of debt—and not much else. Make sure that you're choosing a program because it makes sense within a larger plan and not simply because you're frustrated with your current job or unsure of the next step.
TIPS FOR WRITING A WINNING PERSONAL STATEMENT
Everybody is "hardworking, disciplined, and dedicated to delivering excellent health care." That is boring! What makes you stand out? Talk about personal issues, life-changing events, your family, goals, interests, and expectations of residency programs. The bottom line is that you want your personal statement to be outstanding and linger in the readers’ minds. Try out this worksheet for practice!
- What is special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
- What details of your life (personal or family history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
- When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
- How have you learned about this field – through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
- If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has that work contributed to your growth?
- What are your career goals?
- Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?
- What personal characteristics (for example; integrity, compassion, or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession?
- Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
- What skills (for example: leadership, communication, or analytical) do you possess?
- Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school – and more successful and effective in the profession or field than other applicants?
- What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?
- Why you have chosen to pursue a particular specialty?
- What you are looking for in a program?
- What you have done between college graduation and applying to programs (explain gaps in time)?
- What is your background?
- What are special/different/unusual/unique accomplishments/talents/honors that you possess?
Self-reflection is the first step in the application process. Ask yourself, "What am I looking for?" and "What do I want to do?", and think about your answers in ideal terms. "What is the connection between my academic work and my interests outside of classes?" Personal essays addressing such open-ended questions are almost invariably required in graduate school applications. In essence, you present a selective life history and life plan. It is hard work, but it can also be a rewarding and intensely satisfying process. For what may be the first time in your life, you will be asked to put your deepest convictions into words, to step outside yourself, to think about where you came from, where you are standing now, and what your ultimate destination might be. You will be challenged to justify yourself by making connections between your academic and other interests. Simply put, who are you, and what do you want to do with your life? So, ask yourself questions like these:
- When have I been so immersed in what I was doing that time seemed to vanish?
- What errors or regrets have taught me something about myself?
- To what extent do my current commitments reflect my most strongly held values?
- Under what conditions do I do my best, most creative work?
- What really makes me angry?
- To what extent am I a typical product of my generation and/or culture? Do I deviate from the norm?
- What ideas, books, courses, events have had a profound impact on me? How so?
Answer the questions
- If you are applying to several graduate programs, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar.
- Don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the question being asked.
Tell a story
- Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.
- Don’t, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or any other professional role should be logical, and the result of specific experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.
Find an angle
- If you're like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or a "hook" is vital.
Concentrate on your opening paragraph
- The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader's attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.
Tell what you know
- The middle section of your essay might detail your interest and experience in your particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the Too many people graduate with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they hope to enter. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it. Since you will have to select what you include in your statement, the choices you make are often an indication of your judgment.
Do some research, if needed
- If a school wants to know why you're applying to their program rather than another program, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. If the school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this might be a fact to mention. It is also helpful to mention the faculty and research being conducted at that program regarding why you are interested.
Write well and correctly
- Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits – they are not a recommendation, but a guideline. Cut the fluff. Make sure if someone would read one sentence in your personal statement, they would learn something meaningful about you and why you are a good fit.
- A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements