When you’re getting ready to sit down and gather all of your credentials for nursing school, med school, PA school, physical therapy school, or any other type of competitive medical program, the prospect of writing a personal statement that not only connects with and leaves a profound impact on the school of your dreams, but also captures the essence of you in a mere page or 1000 characters can be extremely daunting. For some, it feels totally impossible. Especially if you’re someone who struggles to successfully convey who you are on paper.
As a professional writer and someone who has coached many students through the process of writing killer personal statements (including my own) that helped land them in the school of their dreams, hopefully the tips I share below will set your mind at ease and launch your personal statement into ultra-memorable territory.
Killer Personal Statement Tip One:
Make it personal. There’s a reason why this task is titled personal statement. It is a personal account of your experience thus far and should contain emotional elements of what initially drew you to the medical health field. The easiest way to avoid the lackluster word-vomit trap of a laundry list of scholastic and non-scholastic achievements is to make your story the focus of your personal statement.
It’s difficult for students to not fall victim to an emotionless and yawn-worthy account of their life because they really want to make themselves stand out against the crowd and assume that the way to do this is through highlighting achievements. I get it. I really do; all of us have been conditioned to believe that the only way we’re going to succeed in this dog-eat-dog medical world is to outperform our peers. The flaw in this thinking is that one; every other student is probably thinking the same thing, so the bulk of everyone’s statements are going to read shockingly similar, and two; the selection team knows what you’re capable of achieving because they can see your transcripts and they can read your application.
Don’t waste your only real chance to connect with the person reading your statement by boring him/her to tears. Take full advantage of the opportunity to share your human-ness with them in all your human-y glory. Stand out from the crowd. Put another way, would you rather watch an emotional and heart-warming video about someone whose story changes your life, or would you rather watch a weather report?
Successes are worth mentioning of course, just be strategic about it. Choose situations that shaped you as a person and spend time describing that situation as richly as possible.
Killer Personal Statement Tip Two:
Convey your passion. There’s a reason why you chose this medical journey; maybe it chose you. Whatever it was that drew you to this career in the first place, make sure you share that in your personal statement. Here’s why: schooling for the medical professions is no joke. You want the school of your choice to feel confident that you can hack the rigor of the program. Intelligence and test-taking skills are important, but those skills aren’t going to pull you through the halfway mark slump, or help remind you of your priorities when you thumb through your first 1200-page medical book. The point is to help reinforce the fact that you have what it takes to not only survive the program, but thrive. Your personal statement is your only opportunity to convince the school that choosing you for the program will be the right decision.
Killer Personal Statement Tip Three:
Focus on your flow. This tip is one of the most valuable and yet, often the most abstract to convey. If you’re someone who has some natural writing talent, then this may be a method you employ subconsciously. If you’re someone who feels overwhelmed with the writing process and tend to overthink it, you may struggle with this task more. The easiest way to ensure that your piece has a natural flow to it is to monitor your sentence length.
All writing, especially story-writing, should read like poetry. I’m not suggesting that you contort your personal statement into a soliloquy, but rather that you attempt to sing the tempo of your story with the same fervor as you would writing poetry. If you don’t have a natural propensity for identifying a musical flow in prose, simply change the length of your sentences throughout your piece. Everyone has a sentence length that feels natural and safe to them when writing. For me, I am partial to long-winded sentences with numerous apostrophes and dichotomous ideas. I was also a former ellipsis abuser, but I digress…
In order for my work to flow, I need to infuse more medium length and short sentences. This is short. Usually a sentence that has around or less than five words is short. This sentence would be considered medium length or average. Short sentences pack a punch and shouldn’t be overused. Having a personal statement chock full of short sentences feels like riding in a car with someone terrified of driving and slams on the brakes every twenty-five feet. On the other hand, incorporating too many average length sentences will read like a book report written by an eight-year-old. It will feel monotonous and boring. Similarly, reading a personal statement with only long sentences is akin to sitting down and nonchalantly reading Descartes. You can’t read philosophy the same way you devour a really great thriller book because it’s far too complex and you’d be doing it a disservice to approach it as such. Long sentences have the same effect. They can steer the reader into abstract and mind-numbing space really quickly. You’ll lose your audience. Not really the kind of impression you want to leave on a person reading your personal statement.
However, the last notion I want you to walk away with when you’re thinking about sitting down to write your personal statement is to filter everything you want to say through the gates of sentence length. I’m not telling you to obsess over this suggestion and write in a short, medium, length pattern only. I’m trying to help you nurture your own creativity, not damper it. I’m just trying to create a framework for those who struggle with writing and feel like they don’t really know where to start. It’s also a friendly reminder for those of us who can get a little too comfortable in our primary writing style to shake things up a bit. And use short sentences. It breaks up the monotony and helps keep pieces balanced and engaging.
Killer Personal Statement Tip Four:
Appeal to the culture of your school. This tip is especially critical if you’re applying to a school that is non-traditional, like my online school is. Because the nursing school is primarily online, it’s designed to suit a “different” type of student. One who is probably employed full-time, has a family, or prefers the flexibility of learning independently. In my personal statement I drew parallels between my personal nursing journey and the obstacles my school likely faced fighting the stigma of distance learning. Incorporating this element into my personal statement not only helped the selection committee visualize where I could fit into their program, but it also demonstrated my understanding of the school’s culture. This illustrates that you are capable of seeing beyond what most students can see...it’s easy to forget that schools are a business. Yes, they educate us, but we pay them tens of thousands of dollars and they rely on students to perform research, to qualify them for special funding for their programs, and a whole heap of other factors that dictate how successful the school is. You wouldn’t walk into a job interview without researching what the company does, right?
The key is to help whomever is reading your personal statement see the value you would add to the school and the program. It definitely panders to the whole “what’s in it for them” adage. Use that to your advantage by approaching your personal statement as a way to market yourself. It’s your “portfolio” if you will. The better you can picture yourself as a product you’re trying to sell to someone, the better prepared you will be for writing a strategic and impactful personal statement.
Killer Personal Statement Tip Five:
Enlist help. There’s a lot riding on your personal statement. Actually, there’s a lot riding on the entire application process for your health profession school of choice, so please try not to cut any corners. Especially the corner that offers a very large return on your time investment like your personal statement. This is your first (and maybe your only) opportunity to emotionally connect with someone at your program, so don’t approach your personal statement as an afterthought. Get help. Have as many people read it as possible and don’t give up on editing it until you’ve read it so many times, it’s practically memorized.
Another great option is to track down a skilled writer or individual who is qualified to read through your statement and coach you through the process. I’ve edited and tweaked numerous students’ personal statements applying for the gamut of medical professions and also fine-tuned a statement that got me selected to attend the prelicensure BSN program at WGU. If you don’t know anyone who has this unique set of editing skills, or can’t afford to hire some help, then take advantage of friends, family, coworkers, and strangers. Actually, bonus points for handing your personal statement to someone who doesn’t know you because their impression of you won’t be colored by their relationship with you. They’ll be judging you entirely based on how well you conveyed your essence in the statement.
And finally, don’t stress too much if you can help it. Give yourself plenty of time to put your personal statement together (at least a week), and have fun with the process. Remember, emotion matters. Make it fun, impactful, or moving. Just focus on connecting with your audience and highlighting the uniqueness that is you and your journey. Good luck.
If you need a hand writing your statement, feel free to reach out to me.
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There's nothing particularly special about me. I'm simply on a journey of discovering my truth, so that my existence can add some value to the world.