Personal Statement: What To Include Part 1

Saturday, May 7, 2016




By now, most of you have started your CASPA application and started to fill it in. For most people, writing their personal statement is the most daunting task about the application process. How are you supposed to set yourself apart from other applicants in just 5000 characters? Worry not, you're not alone. A reader of my blog recently asked me to read her personal statement and give her my feedback. I had a great time reading about her experiences and her desire to become a PA. It gave me an insight as to what it's like to be on the other side of the table and made me think about what goes through the minds of the admissions committee while reading our personal statements. I've decided to do a series of posts so I can share my experience and suggestions with all of my readers.
First let me start by saying that writing a personal statement that you're satisfied with enough to submit takes time. I started writing mine and reviewed and changed it so many times (over the course of almost two months) that I've lost count. It's difficult in the beginning to decide which things to include and what to skip talking about. In this first post, let's go over what you should be doing with your personal statement.

Introduction Paragraph

Start with an interesting story or anecdote that reels in your reader(s). You want to grab your reader's attention and give them an idea of what to expect in the following paragraphs. Beginning with a strong first paragraph is crucial as it sets the tone for the rest of your personal statement. Think about a time that you were in a situation that required you to do something or nudged you towards wanting to become a PA. Of course, don't lie and make up a story because the admissions committee will see right through that. Your story needs to be interesting, but it also needs to be true.

Why PA?

This is the key answer they're looking for in your personal statement. Your entire personal statement should be answering this prompt in one way or another. Show that you know what a PA does and what role they play in the healthcare field, but also talk about how that appeals to you. Why do YOU want to do this for the rest of your life? Stating your reasons is not enough and you need to expand on them.

Highlight Your Accomplishments

You want to take this opportunity to talk about what makes you a strong applicant. This is your time to mention the organizations you were a part of in undergrad, your leadership roles, research experience, how you work well as a part of a team, etc. You can also talk about your time management skills if you worked while you were taking higher level chemistry/biology classes in undergrad. Also highlight your strengths as a person, and how that pertains to you being an effective PA. These are just some of the examples that come to my mind and it is not a limited list.

Healthcare Experience

If you're someone like me who doesn't have paid  hands on healthcare experience before applying to PA School, you want to make sure you talk in depth about your HCE. It's important to go in detail because it's not as apparent from just your application as it might be for someone with a lot more experience. You should also talk about your shadowing experience with PAs, what you learned from it, and how that played a part in your decision of wanting to pursue this career. However, keep your sentences clear, concise, and effective since there is a 5000 character limit.

Volunteer Work

The admissions committee also wants to know what you do outside of school and work. If you are passionate about a certain organization, be sure to mention that. They like knowing how an applicant is well rounded and what all they are involved with other than academics and medicine. However, if your volunteer work has only been in the medical field, don't shy away from including that.

Change Obstacles into Strengths

I think it's a little pretentious to only mention our uniqueness and strengths in our personal statements. We all know that no one is perfect and we all have our flaws. While you don't want to list your weakness or talk about that bad grade on your personal statement, I think it's important to show that you have the strength to overcome obstacles and learn something from it. As a PA, there will be many roadblocks in your way that will stall you. The important part is how will you tackle it and will you be humble enough to let it teach you something?  The admissions committee will appreciate your honesty and more than that, it shows your humanity. My suggestion is to mention one small life experience that could have become a road block in your life/career but you overcame it by strong will and perseverance. It doesn't have to be anything major because you don't want it to be the only highlight of personal statement. I know some people might disagree with me here, but it's just a suggestion. Do what feels right to you personally.

Have a Strong Conclusion

Your conclusion should leave a lasting impression on the reader. What do you want your reader to remember most about you? Also, you should mention one last time why you would make a great PA or want to become a PA, but in a short one or two sentences. Basically, go out with a bang.

All in all, your personal statement is your holy grail. If you don't have a very competitive GPA or have limited healthcare experience, your PS is your chance to make yourself an irresistible applicant. Even if your numbers do make you a strong applicant, there are so many others with the same stats as yours. Therefore, it's important you understand that you need to spend time reviewing and rewriting your personal statement since it does set you apart from everyone else.

Don't come off as attention-seeking or needing to please the admissions committee. Yes, your ultimate goal is to get an interview by impressing them, but do it by using strong yet subtle words. Lastly, while you're trying to set yourself apart from other applicants, make sure you're not doing so at the cost of quality. Your PS sets a tone with the admissions committee and you want to make sure it's a good one.

I'm linking with PA Journey in this post to share with you another PA blogger's suggestions about personal statements. Before starting your PS, I also suggest reading this post as it helps you answer the most common yet difficult question for most applicants.

Ask me your questions in the comments section and be sure to share this post to help out other pre-PAs, as they will be in your shoes one day. Good luck!

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