Within the next few months, medical and dental school applicants around the country will draft, revise, and ultimately submit their personal statement to admissions committees. So, I thought it would be helpful to re-post my blog post from 2014 with tips on writing an effective personal statement for professional school. Although drafting a personal statement can feel like an intimidating and time-consuming task, please remember that this is also an exciting opportunity to convey who you are as a person, in your own voice. So, dig deep and take your time to compose an essay that accurately illustrates your personal attributes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 to help you reflect on your experiences and provide you with feedback on your draft. We also offer Personal Statement Workshops; you can find the dates and times on the Career Services calendar.
One or two times a month, an advisee will share with me their dislike of their science classes and wonder if they should continue on the path towards medical school. There is not an easy or quick answer to this question and it’s a great discussion to have with your pre-health advisor or important people in your life.
First, elaborate on what it means to “not like your sciences classes.” How many classes have you taken? Is it one class or all of them? Is it only lecture classes or labs and seminars as well? Did you like science in high school? Is it that you like the material, but not the exams? Do you like the classes, but would like them a lot more if they were smaller or there was less grade pressure? Do you dislike the classes because you feel you are not doing well (and are you being too hard on yourself or are you truly struggling)?
It is quite common for students to be a great fit for medicine and not like all their science classes. Some people really do not like physics or chemistry, but are genuinely excited about physiology or neuroscience. Many people dislike the high stakes exams, but adore classes that integrate projects and readings from current journals.
Occasionally, students don’t like their science classes because they are conflicted about pursuing a medical career, or truly do not want it. Maybe they used to want it, or a parent wants it, or they have some other career interest tugging on them. If your heart isn’t in the long-term goal of working in healthcare, it can be very difficult to engage with the challenging scientific coursework.
If you are someone who confidently feels that you don’t like science at all, then you need to reconcile this with your desire to become a doctor. Medicine is a scientific career. You will undertake demanding studies in science in medical school and devote yourself to life-long learning in the sciences. Nearly all of the students we work with who go on to medical school demonstrate enthusiasm for science. It may be that there is another career that will encompass the aspects of medicine that attract you, but without the significant amount of scientific training.
As always, you can make an appointment with a pre-health advisor to talk through this question by calling 215.898.1789.
Are you planning (or just considering) going to medical or dental school after graduation? The process is long and there a lot of steps, and every institution handles the application process slightly differently. This week, Michael and Mylène speak with Caroline Wilkey from Penn’s pre-health advising team, who gives us an overview of our process and introduces us to the Health Professions Advisory Board (HPAB). The first HPAB workshop is this week, so juniors and seniors with medicine on the mind should plan on attending. All that, plus the usual rundown of this week’s events.
Are you considering taking time in between college and medical or dental school? You’re not alone. Taking a “gap year” or even multiple “gap years” before embarking on professional school has become increasingly popular. Students often wonder what they can or should do during their one or more gap years. There are many options, as the list of 2015-2016gap year experiences on our pre-med website indicates.
Ultimately, the decision whether or not to take a gap year is a personal one. The pre-health advising team in Career Services is here to talk through this decision with you as you plan for medical or dental school. In the meantime, check out this interesting article from The Atlantic about one person’s decision to take a gap year before starting an MD/PhD program.
Yes, many pre-health students find a rewarding way to study, conduct research, work or volunteer abroad. It may not seem possible when you consider all of your required coursework and campus commitments, but with a little planning, it can be done. These are some of the most common paths our pre-health students take to experience life in another country:
Penn Study Abroad – a traditional semester or year of study in another country. Some students choose programs related to health or science, others not at all. Whatever you choose is fine, but remember the requirements for health professions schools need to be taken in the U.S.
Penn Short Term Abroad – summer study abroad and short-term learning experiences. From a summer of international study to service learning and leadership ventures, Penn sponsors a number of opportunities if you want to “go global” outside of your regular class schedule.
International Fellowships – A number of fellowships, such as the Fulbright or Gates Cambridge Scholarship, fund study or research abroad. CURF is your stepping stone for applying to them. It is not at all uncommon for our applicants to health professions schools to delay their application to take advantage of a post-graduate opportunity in another country.