Personal Statements: Going Back to the Basics

February 4, 2008

Writing a personal statement for Graduate School, Medical School or Law School is an important step in the acceptance process. Your personal statement allows the review boards to understand who you are: your goals, your personality, and why you want enter a post-secondary program. But a trend among some students when they are writing their personal statements is they have forgotten how to write! So when writing the first draft of your personal statement you need to go back to the basics. Think middle school/high school basics of writing.

First, think about what you want to say in your personal statement. Do you want to focus on why you want to be a doctor, what contributions you will make to the world of anthropology, how your liberal arts degree translates to medical know-how, or many other possibilities. Pick a focus then stay on it.

Second, make an outline of your topic. For the purposes of the first draft of your personal statement keep it to a five paragraph essay outline. Then as you revise your draft you can add and delete paragraphs and sentences. The five paragraphs will help you stay on topic and not get too long. Your personal statement does not have to be a book but long enough to make a statement about who you are. Check the length the graduate school wants.

Third, while the personal statement focuses on you, you do not want to start every sentence with ‘I’. If you do this then the writing becomes monotonous and boring. Keep the readers interest by varying sentence structure, word usage, and sentence length. Limiting yourself to two “I” sentences per paragraph is a good rule to observe when writing.

Fourth, (and a very important basic) in all the writing stages of your personal statement review it for spelling and grammar. A simple mistake can make a review board cringe. Who wants a doctor that cannot spell physician or a doctorate candidate who keeps writing run on sentences? As future doctors, MBAs, and PhDs you are the best and brightest, make sure the review board thinks that as well.

These were just a few tips to help you get started on your personal statement. Remember to start writing it months in advance before you have to submit it. This will allow you to have several drafts behind you and to have several people review it as well. For more great tips check out this website: Ten Do’s and Don’ts for Your Statement of Purpose

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