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Show, Don’t Tell: Writing About Your Experiences in Your Personal Statement

Throughout the admissions process, there’s no doubt you will be asked to reflect and write about the experiences you’ve had that drove you to pursue a career in medicine. While brainstorming with other applicants, searching for tips and examples on the internet, and perusing forums can be helpful, it can also have the unintended side effect of instilling a lot of self-doubt. If you’ve ever felt intimidated, or left questioning the merit of your own application, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s not uncommon for members of the admissions committee to feel outdone by some of the things premedical students are accomplishing.

Interestingly, some of the most impressive applicants on paper, never receive an admissions offer. A frequent misjudgment these students make is relying too much on the perceived magnitude of their achievements. In doing so, they’ve made a gross oversight. Admissions committees care far less about what you did, and more about the reasons why you did them, what you’ve learned, and how you grew as an individual.

If this point seems obvious, I’d challenge you to screen your writing for opportunities to increase the sophistication of your message. That’s where the concept of “show, don’t tell” can be helpful. Take the following statements from an applicant who volunteered at a soup kitchen prior to medical school.

“Through my work at the local food pantry, I came to understand the daily battles many individuals face, and it allowed me to develop deeper empathy and compassion.”

“When I saw Mr. Jones, a regular at the kitchen, struggling to maneuver his grocery cart through the door, I hustled over to assist him. My heart sunk when I saw he was wearing a new cast after having been assaulted the night prior.”

Which do you think performed better in terms of actually conveying personal characteristics?

In the first example, the writer took the position that the admissions committee would not “get” that they possessed the qualities of empathy and compassion without stating it explicitly. Unfortunately, this approach often results in overly broad clichés that makes the experience largely unremarkable.

If you’re trying to convey meaningful leadership, I don’t want you to tell me you’re a leader—I want you to show me you’re a leader. If you can describe the experience in a way that guides someone to their own natural conclusion of you as a leader, then you’ve unlocked one of the greatest secrets to a successful personal statement.

If you want more guidance with your personal statement, please check out “The Formula For A Good Personal Statement”.

About Lucy Dilworth

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