4 Tips to Writing an Effective Personal Statement for Professional School Applications

The personal statement can be the most daunting part of an application to professional school. What do I write about? How do I eloquently convey my thoughts? How can I possibly stay within the stated space limit? Here are 4 quick tips to help you make the most of this opportunity to share yourself with the admissions committee.

  1. Be self-reflective and introspective. What insights have you learned about yourself through a particular experience? Share one or two of your personal qualities, abilities, or characteristics by focusing on a meaningful experience you had. Do not simply restate your resume in narrative form or summarize all of your college experiences. Rather, convey something about yourself beyond your test scores, transcript, and resume. Use your personal statement to tell the admissions committee something about yourself that they cannot glean from the rest of your application, such as your compassion, determination, or meticulousness.
  2. Be concise and straightforward. Admissions officers will be reading thousands of these essays. They won’t have the patience for rhetorical flourishes. The introductory sentence and paragraph are the most important parts; use them to grab the reader’s attention and create a good first impression.
  3. Keep it positive. A personal statement is usually not the place to explain a weakness in your application, such as a low grade or test score. Save that for the secondary application (for medical school applicants) or a brief addendum.
  4. Proof-read! Again. And Again. And then have someone else read it and give you feedback. Ask that person what your personal statement says about you. Is that the impression you want to make? Finally, be sure to follow character or length limits to demonstrate that you can follow directions.

We in the pre-professional team here in Career Services are happy critique your personal statement and provide you with feedback. We also offer Personal Statement Workshops; you can find the dates and times on the Career Services calendar:

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The Multiple Mini-Interview (MMI): Interviewing the Speed-Dating Way

by Mia Carpiniello, Associate Director

If you’re considering applying to medical or dental schools, you’ve probably heard of the Multiple Mini-Interview (MMI). As an increasing number of schools adopt the MMI format this year, it’s important to understand the new format and be prepared if you are invited to an MMI interview.

What is the MMI?

The MMI is a health professions school interview format that originated at McMaster University’s medical school in Canada over ten years ago, and aims to more accurately predict an applicant’s future clinical performance as a physician (as compared to a traditional interview format). In the MMI format applicants respond to a series of scripted questions at timed interview stations. If you have an MMI interview, expect to rotate between 8 to 10 stations. At each station you will be given a set amount of time – usually 2 minutes – to read a passage and formulate a response. Then, you’ll be given an additional amount of time – usually 8 to 10 minutes – to respond before moving on to the next station. At each station you will encounter a different interviewer who will score you based on your response at that station.

Interviewers may be physicians, medical residents, lawyers, nurses, hospital administrators, or even patients – reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of health care teams in today’s world. The questions are designed to address specific skills, such as problem-solving, cultural competency, teamwork, empathy, professionalism, interpersonal skills, ethics, and stress management – not necessarily scientific and/or medical knowledge. Because most of the questions ask you to respond to a situation or an issue, the MMI format provides fewer opportunities for you to talk about your own application and experiences. Although, one station may be devoted to a traditional interview question, such as “why do you want to be a physician?”

For more descriptions of the MMI format and why medical schools are adopting it, take a look at this New York Times article and this article from Stanford School of Medicine.

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Undergrad Interested in Research? Consider NSF-REU Programs!

*NOTE:  Event on Tuesday 11/5 related directly to this post!
The National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) Programs Panel, Tuesday, November 5, 2013, 5:30 – 6:30 PM, Raisler Lounge, 2nd Floor Towne Building, 220 S. 33rd Street, Philadelphia, PA
(Open to UPenn students, with faculty presenters from UPenn and Temple U., information from CHOP’s program, as well as Q&A with student panelists who have worked across the country in REUs)

Considering research this summer, in the future, or for your career?

A research-based experience is one of the primary ways in which undergraduate students – including freshmen – can gain experience and knowledge beyond the classroom, most especially in the early years of their education.  While many opportunities exist throughout the year – on campus with faculty, in labs, as part of nearby facilities like HUP and CHOP, among many other places – a few special programs exist in the summer months to help students gain specialized research experience.

A prestigious option to consider is the National Science Foundation-sponsored “Research Experience for Undergraduates” programs – NSF-REUs for short.

NSF-REU experiences offer a multitude of benefits to participating students, including the opportunity to:

  • work in small, diverse yet focused groups with noted faculty on novel topics
  • complete guided and independent research in areas including:
    • economics
    • engineering (a variety of fields available including nanotech, clean energy, biomedical, chemical and others)
    • ethics and values studies
    • mathematics
    • physics
    • sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, and others)
    • social sciences (psychology, criminology, diversity and inclusion, social aspects of hurricanes, anthropology, sustainability, politics and political science, civil conflict management,
    • technology (cyberinfrastructure, Department of Defense, etc.)
    • and more!
  • be published in well-respected publications and return to school with impressive projects to add to your resume
  • receive a highly competitive salary (referred to as stipends, typically ranging from $3,000 – $5,000) and often also receive additional funding to cover housing and/or meals
  • participate in fun activities organized by the site host
  • and more (benefits vary by location)

Sites can be found right here in Philadelphia, at UPenn, CHOP, and Temple U., as well as across the country and around the world (there are even polar research sites in the Arctic!)

Click on the below link to see a list of topics and find your site within.  Most students apply to more than one program, and individual requirements and deadlines (which can vary) are included on each program’s page as the site updates it.

http://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/index.jsp

If you’d like to speak with a Penn student who has done an REU or any other type of research, be sure to use the Penn Internship Network to search, or attend the panel in 11/5/13!: http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/undergrad/pin.html

Best of luck in your search for a research opportunity – it’s a surefire way to build a great resume and potentially launch a lifelong career!

by Jamie Grant, C’98, GEd ’99

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Clinical Volunteering with Older Patients

Amy Weiss headshotby Amy Weiss, COL ’13

Friends told me that volunteering in a long-term care facility would be sad and depressing.  “Why don’t you volunteer at a children’s hospital,” they said, “…where you can play games with sick kids who want to have a good time? After all,” they said, “nursing homes are just full of lifeless, hopeless people waiting to die.”

It turned out that this was not the case, as I discovered shortly after beginning my weekly visits to the Penn Center for Rehabilitation and Care, a nursing and rehabilitation center where patients suffer from a variety of debilitating diseases, including stroke, Parkinson’s Disease, and Alzheimer’s Disease.  Instead of leaving my three hours of volunteering each week with a feeling of sullenness, I leave with a sense of satisfaction.  I also leave with a much-needed boost in motivation to keep working through my pre-med course requirements because I am reminded of how much I want to be a doctor.

The patients at Penn Center have become familiar people to me, each with a unique personality and story to share.  Melinda, a 73-year-old resident, who owned and managed a restaurant in south Philly for her entire adult life, waits for me outside her room every Friday at2 pm, the time each week when I arrive at the center and head towards the recreation room where I play the piano to entertain the residents and help run art class.  “You remind me so much of my daughter,” she told me at least five times the first day I met her.  I look forward to seeing her every week as well; as a student at a big anonymous place like Penn, it is a wonderful feeling to have someone eagerly and warmly awaiting my arrival.

My experiences at Penn Center illustrated for me the basic difference between caring for young children and caring for the elderly.  Yes, the tangible tasks involved are often the same: they both need help eating, speaking, and going to the bathroom.  However, helping an adult with such needs requires an important additional component: you  must help them while also taking care to allow them to feel respected and dignified as adults.  Volunteering at Penn Center also gave me the opportunity to hear really cool life stories from the residents, many of whom are eager to share them because they are happy to see a young and vibrant  person who can  take the time to listen.  Ultimately, I have learned a great deal from volunteering at Penn Center about how to interact with sick people, but also from the wisdom of older patients who know a great deal about life in general.

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Exploring Outside the Pre-Health “Bubble” — Philadelphia’s College of Physicians

The Mütter Museum's "Soap Lady"

The Mütter Museum’s “Soap Lady”

We know how much time pre-health students spend on the beaten path between libraries, labs and lectures, which is why we’re calling your attention to The College of Physicians of Philadelphia located at 19 South 22nd Street in Center City.  Not only is it the home of the Mütter Museum where you can learn about medical history while gawking at the giant colon (look up: Hirschprung’s disease), one of MANY truly impressive specimens in the collection that will challenge your mind and stomach, but the College is also home to four lively special interest “sections” devoted to Medical History, Medicine & the Arts, Public Health & Preventative Medicine, and Medicine, Ethics & the Law.  Recently, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Donald F. Schwarz MD/MPH spoke on the status of public health in Philadelphia and Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer at the US Department of Health & Human Services, shared his insights on “Using Open Data to Improve Health.”  Most of the lectures are free, open to the public, and listed on the website’s calendar of events.

If attending a lecture is the last way you want to spend your free time, you might enjoy visiting an art exhibit, hearing a reading of play addressing medical ethics, or attending a film screening like the upcoming showing of the Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (2011) on February 25.  You can also volunteer at The College of Physicians, which co-sponsors several public health initiatives in Philadelphia such as Hip2Know tackling STD’s and the Memories project addressing gun violence.  If you are interested in public health and/or the arts you may be able to give your time in a way that is intellectually engaging and creative.  Or, you may be able to use the College’s resources for another project.

Taking a little time away from campus, exploring how your interests connect with the city and history, or mingling with professionals outside of the classroom, keeps you fresh and motivated.  The College of Physicians is an excellent stop “outside the bubble” when you need to come up for air.

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