A couple of weeks ago, Med School Coach hosted a webinar about personal statements and got a ton of questions. The team tried to answer them all but were unable to, so Renee is taking some time today to answer even more questions.
Some of the questions are specific to some peoples’ individual situations, but most of them are applicable to everyone who is preparing a personal statement. Renee talks about what activities to include, how to tastefully mention awards, the process of getting feedback, and much more.
[1:20] What shouldn’t be included in a personal statement? How personal should it be?
The personal statement should be personal. However, it is very important to keep it professional. Make sure that you talk about your strengths in your professional aspect of life. That can include hobbies and personal things but keep it professional by not including details that could be worrisome to admissions committees.
For example, it would be wrong to just mention that you have depression or are struggling from mental issues. If you mention that you had depression but then you sought counselling and ultimately grew stronger, then that’s a sign of resiliency and perseverance and can be included. How you present it is crucial.
If you are on the fence and wondering if you should include something or not, get somebody’s opinion. Get somebody who has read personal statements, been on admissions committees, and knows what makes good content.
[4:08] What activities should be included in the personal statement?
Other activities that are appropriate to put in the personal statement are things related to your medical school extra-curricular activities like research, clinical activities, volunteer work, or personal hobbies and anecdotes that demonstrate your strengths.
It’s okay to talk about your research if you can demonstrate your strengths regarding it. Don’t go into details about your actual experiment, but you can talk about what you did, how you were successful, and how you worked as a team.
[5:49] How do I prioritize writing about experiences if so many of them are significant?
That takes a bit of introspection and maybe some opinions from other sources. Think about your experiences: which ones really did impact you the most? Which ones do you think can demonstrate your strengths as an applicant most effectively? If you’re not sure, talk about your experiences with a friend or mentor and get their opinion.
[6:58] Is it better to just focus on one experience and relate it to your application rather than using more than one experience?
You could do this, but it would have to be done with a lot of finesse. If you focus on just one experience, it could be a bit boring and make the admissions committee think that you’re not very well-rounded. However, if you’re able to really expand on this experience, talk about different aspects of it, and demonstrate your strengths throughout the experience, then it could be done. Since it’s uncommon to talk about just one experience, you should definitely get someone to read it over and give you some advice.
[7:42] Should we not mention any awards?
You don’t ever want to come off as arrogant so we try to avoid listing awards, but it does depend on the context. Let’s say you’re talking about your research project and about how you assembled a team, created a project, and your team won an award from this project. If it’s in the context of a story, then it is appropriate to mention. Just mention it in passing as it relates to the story and do not brag about it.
[8:36] I’m a non-traditional student, so should I explain why I’m changing careers? Or why I want to become a doctor rather than, say, a nurse?
It is important to address why you want to be a doctor, but this doesn’t need to be the focus of your entire personal statement. From what Renee has seen, she believes that the best explanations of why someone wants to become a doctor are placed in the conclusion of the personal statement. Make it brief and mention it in closing rather than harping on it throughout the entire statement.
If you’re a non-traditional student, it is important to explain why you’re switching careers. The best personal statements Renee has seen from these students are people who say that they were dissatisfied with their job, sought out more meaningful experiences, volunteered at a clinic, really liked being at the clinic, and everything progressed from there.
As far as why you don’t want to become a nurse, PA, etc., that’s not necessary to mention. Just focus on why you want to become a physician.
[10:52] How many people should I ask to review my personal statement?
Initially, it’s good to have a conversation with some people that know you really well. They can help you identify some important areas in your life that you may not have picked up on right away. As the process goes on and the writing gets more concise, you should have less people reviewing your personal statement. When finalizing the content, stick to one or two people; probably just one would be best.
[12:36] If I want to eventually go into medical academia and teach at a med school, is that a good thing to mention? Also, is it okay to mention a speciality of interest?
If you are certain about your career path or have a very strong interest, then it is okay to mention it. However, it’s also important to remain open, so don’t write anything in your personal statement like “I absolutely want to be a general surgeon.” You could write something like “I’m very interested in general surgery from my experiences working with Dr. Smith and watching his operations.” Describe your interest, but don’t over-commit to one thing.
[13:45] Some basic questions.
Should my personal statement have a title?
- No, it doesn’t really give you a spot for a title.
Do you have to use all 5300 characters?
- Absolutely not. Renee recommends keeping the personal statement to about one page. 5300 is about two. Quality over quantity.
If you have less than fifteen activities, would that be looked down upon?
- Again, quality over quantity. You don’t want to have four or five, but if you have ten to twelve that are really meaningful, that’s better than filling up slots with insignificant activities.