Writing a personal statement is one of the most difficult parts of the application process. For some, it may be the single most daunting and intimidating aspect of applying to PA school. The personal statement is something I have discussed here before, with previous articles addressing what the personal statement is and the best way to go about writing it.
If you already have a solid understanding of the purpose of the personal statement and have an idea of how you will approach the writing process, you may be thinking about what pitfalls you should try to avoid. After reading and critiquing nearly a hundred personal statements over the last year, I’ve learned that most applicants are all making the same mistakes when writing their essays.
In a two part series over the next two weeks, I will be sharing the biggest mistakes applicants are making when writing their personal statement. Here are the first five:
1. Forgetting the Question at Hand - This one is huge, and I tend to make comments about this concept on almost every essay that I read. The purpose of the personal statement is to explain who you are while answering the question, “Why PA?” It really is that simple, and because of that it’s so easy to lose sight of why you’re writing in the first place. I get to the end of so many essays and think, “I have no idea why you want to be a PA.” Which is a huge issue. My advice is to make sure you aren’t getting so caught up in the details of sharing your story that you forget the question at hand. When speaking about your experiences, work to explain how they furthered your interest in the PA profession. Continue to speak directly to that idea throughout the entirety of your essay.
2. Speaking in Generalities - Many applicants write about how they’re interested in medicine or healthcare… but there are so many careers that allow you to work in medicine and healthcare! Be sure that your essay is addressing the PA profession directly. Don’t say that you want to work in healthcare, or that your goal is to be a great provider. Say that you want to be a PA, and tell the reader explicitly why.
3. Telling too Many Stories - Applicants often tell too many stories centered around other people in their personal statement. Often times, each paragraph is a patient story, or a story about a provider they shadowed or have worked with. Your personal statement should not be a series of observations about others. Tell one or two stories about other people, max. Make sure sure that your essay is still about you. And be certain to share your insights on how these experiences furthered your desire to become a PA.
4. Not Telling a Coherent Story - Oftentimes I read through an essay and find that there is nothing that is connecting each of the individual paragraphs. The essay will feel disjointed and scattered, creating a big distraction for the reader. One remedy for this is to identify a theme. You don’t necessarily need to construct a dramatic literary device - a theme can be subtle. Having some kind of running thread throughout your essay that can provide a backbone to relate all your stories helps with continuity. Overall, a theme can make an essay much easier to read.
5. Transitions - This is my absolute, number one personal pet peeve. Seriously, it kills me. I would say that in about 80% of the essays I read I end up writing, “How does this paragraph relate to the last? These are two completely unrelated ideas and you’re in need of a transition.” I find that applicants will regularly paste five paragraphs into a document, with each paragraph having no connection to the next. Starting a new paragraph is NOT a transition. Transitions are so important, as they’re the glue that will hold your essay together. Do not abandon basic grammar and writing rules just because the personal statement is a format that you’re uncomfortable with. Be sure that each paragraph feeds into the next. Much like a theme, transitions create flow throughout an essay and they’re integral to creating a seamless, easy to read personal statement.
Keep these common mistakes in mind throughout the writing process. Check back next week when I will share five more of the biggest mistakes that applicants make when writing their personal statements.