What Makes a Great Personal Statement? Pt. 1 of 3

This week we invited John Nathan of Essay Doctor to share with us what makes a great personal statement. John has attended personal statement writing workshops and edited numerous personal statements of classmates applying to medical and dental school. He matriculated at his top choice dental school, Columbia University College of Dental Medicine.

This is part one of a three part series. Read part two, part three.

A personal statement can be approached from many different angles. However, all personal statements should answer the basic question of why the applicant is pursuing the profession, while shedding light on their personal qualities that can’t be evaluated from test scores. The best statements concisely answer these questions using specific life experiences that provide insight into the applicant’s background and personality to the admissions committee.

Let’s evaluate a personal statement and show you how to turn an average essay into an excellent one.

Sample Personal Statement:

When you evaluate a personal statement, it can be broken down into ten main components:

  1. grammar
  2. organization / flow
  3. clarity
  4. perception
  5. vocabulary
  6. persuasion
  7. content
  8. passion
  9. uniqueness
  10. confidence

We’ll be taking a look at the components in blue for part one.

Essay Doctor starts an evaluation by reviewing grammar. Are there obvious grammar errors such as improper spelling, punctuation usage, or formatting? Multiple grammar errors and typos in a personal statement shows the admissions committee the applicant does not care enough to have their statement reviewed and edited. If the applicant can’t take the time to fix simple errors, how can the admissions committee believe the applicant will put in the time and effort to pursue the dental profession? Correcting grammar errors is an easy fix that every applicant must do.

We follow grammar review by evaluating the statement’s organization and flow; an incredibly important component of every personal statement. In the sample statement, the applicant follows a logical timeline, referencing life experiences that have led him to dentistry. However, there is no thesis or mission statement that gives the reader a sense of direction. In the context of a personal statement, a thesis statement lets the admissions committee know why and how you have chosen the dental profession. The thesis statement should be written first so that the remaining essay can be written and structured based on it. In the sample statement, the applicant references a mission trip and working at various clinics as how they learned they were interested in using their hands through dentistry to treat underprivileged patients. While mentioned in places throughout the statement, it needs to be stated in the beginning.

I would recommend the following thesis statement for the sample:

“After having gone on a dental mission trip to Mexico and working in various dental clinics, I have learned that dentistry will allow me to combine my manual dexterity with my desire to treat the underprivileged while constantly being challenged to improve myself professionally and as a person.”

This sentence encompasses the main idea of the statement, but more importantly, gives the admissions committee a general idea of who the applicant is as a person.

The clarity of a personal statement is dependent on its organization and thesis statement. One of the most common mistakes made while writing a personal statement is distracting the reader with topics that are not found in the thesis. Unfortunately, this only serves the purpose of “fluff.” Keeping your personal statement concise is especially important because of the limited character count. Organization and flow help maintain an easy-to-follow timeline that creates clarity. Each paragraph should have a clear purpose, and should not deviate too far from that purpose.

When reading an article, you sometimes conjure up a mental image of the article author – this is your perception of the author. A statement’s perception is one of the most important components an admissions officer considers. An applicant should ask themselves the following questions when revising their essay:

  • Does the essay portray a future physician or dentist?
  • Does the essay portray an intelligent and well-informed medical or dental student?
  • Does the essay portray the applicant’s true personality while being positive?

Perception can be interpreted differently depending on who is reading the essay. It’s important that the statement portrays the applicant’s personality while maintaining a professional tone. The medical and dental professions are combinations of elements from different professions. There is a balance between multiple different aspects, but a few of the major elements are treating patients, learning the biomedical sciences, and being a leader in the field. It’s important not to overemphasize one component without addressing the others. The statement should not make the reader believe that another profession is more suitable for the applicant. For example, overemphasizing the desire to serve people without mentioning an interest in science and medicine would have the reader believe that ministry or social work is a better professional match.

Check back next week for part two in our three post series on personal statement editing. Visit John & company over at Essay Doctor to work on your personal statement with their highly qualified editors.