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Writing Personal Statements

A personal statement provides professional programs the opportunity to learn more about you — take advantage of it.

Each type of application has different length requirements and a slightly different question. Basically, they are trying to get to know you more and discover your motivations for wanting to enter that particular field. Remember, this is their first interaction with you, so be yourself and give them the opportunity to get to know you.

This is your opportunity to expand upon your experiences or to address anything you feel has not already been covered in your application. The essay, as much as possible, should give them insight into you. How have various experiences motivated you and changed the way you view the world? What unique qualities do you bring? What have you gained from various experiences? Saying that you are a very empathetic person isn't really helpful. You need to give them concrete examples of how this has played out in your life.

Remember that most applicants are generally really well-qualified, so do not underestimate the time it takes to write your statement or the importance of it. Take advantage of this opportunity.

If you need assistance, we are here to help. Send what you have to preprofessional@purdue.edu then make an appointment to come discuss your personal statement. Don't even know where to begin? Come see us! Also remember we have a great resource at Purdue: Purdue Writing Lab.

Getting Started

Writing these statements can be surprisingly difficult. It is hard to know where to begin, and many times can be awkward to talk about yourself in a boastful, yet humble, way. Make sure you get help from other readers, such as friends, family and those who know you. You can also email it to the Pre-Professional Advising office, so advisors can provide feedback as well.

  • Start well in advance, and be prepared to write a number of drafts. Be sure to save any discarded paragraphs as these might help you with your supplementary or secondary application essays.
  • Focus on two to three points to share.
  • Don't feel like you have to start at the beginning. Write separate paragraphs about experiences you would like to include. You can work on how to connect these later.
  • Think about vignettes of your experiences that you can describe, and use those to exemplify your motivations, skills and interests.
  • You can and probably should discuss parts of your life other than interests in the professional field you want to enter. Often your other interests can help show your motivations, how you have developed as the person you are and offer you an opportunity for self-reflection.

Questions to ask yourself (don't feel like you have to answer all of these):

  • What is special, unique, distinctive about you?
  • What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, events) have shaped you or influenced your goals?
  • When and how did you become interested in medicine? How have you explored this? What makes you think you are well-suited to medicine?
  • How have you learned about the field?
  • Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain?
  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships?
  • What personal characteristics do you have that would make you successful in this field?
  • Why do you love what you love? For example, if you have a hobby that you are passionate about, talk about your dedication to this. (Then make the link that you would bring these same qualities to health care.)
  • Who are the most influential people in your life and how did they affect your development?
  • How have you changed over time?
  • What are the most important events/activities in your life?
  • How have you demonstrated a strong work ethic, the ability to manage your time, communication skills and leadership qualities?
  • How have you worked with patients and health care professionals?
  • How have you been involved in scientific research?
  • What can you do as a member of this profession that you could not do in other professions?

Tips

  • Create a unifying theme — your volunteer work and how it exemplifies your leadership, caring and communication skills, for example. Another example could be your dedication to athletics, the work you put into getting better and overcoming obstacles. Choose 2-3 main points you want to make and tie them together.
  • Give good examples and explanations. Don't just tell me you were dedicated, show me an example of where your dedication went above and beyond.
  • Help your reader understand how the information is important.
  • Answer the actual question posed in the application and follow instructions carefully.
  • Be specific. Don't just state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up.
  • Strive for depth rather than breadth
  • Show the reader what makes you "tick."
  • Evaluate your experiences rather than just recounting them.
  • Enlist others to help proofread and to give you comments.
  • If you are explaining something negative on your application (such as a bad semester), be honest but positive. What did you learn from going through this? Mention it and move on, but don't make excuses.
  • If you are reapplying, write a new personal statement!
  • Use everyday words. You don't need to impress them with obscure vocabulary.
  • Avoid contractions. This is a formal essay.

Common Pitfalls

  • Grammatical and spelling errors.
  • Not answering the question they asked.
  • Waiting until deadline to begin working on it — this essay is important and generally difficult to write.
  • Duplication from other sections of the application. If you have already mentioned it in another portion of the application (under the activities section, for example) then you should only bring it up again if you have more to add (especially if you are adding information on how it has impacted you).
  • Starting with a quotation –– this is overused.
  • Using cliches: "I want to help people"; "I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I received my first toy doctor's kit"; "I'm fascinated with science"; or even, "I want to save lives." Also, salary should not be used as a motivating factor.
  • Not making it personal. They are trying to get to know you. Make your essay distinctive by adding a story or anecdote from your life.
  • Being clever. Clever often translates as weird to admissions committees.
  • Trying to be who you think they want you to be. They read hundreds and even thousands of essays. They know when you aren't being yourself.
  • Including certain subjects. Most programs cannot assess you based on your religion, sexuality or political beliefs. Making these a major focus of your essay means you are wasting space. You might also offend one of your readers, so tread carefully on these subjects.
  • Starting every sentence with I. You certainly can and should write in first person at times, but avoid having every statement start with I.
  • Preaching or getting on a soapbox about your pet subject. Expressing an opinion is fine — even desirable — but you need to avoid coming across as fanatical.