This week, I am continuing my series on the most common personal statement mistakes. If you didn’t catch part one, check it out here. Below, you can find five more mistakes that applicants make when writing their personal statements.
Writing About Something That Makes You a “Good Applicant” - Referencing being a “strong applicant” in a personal statement is not something I am a huge fan of. Your goal throughout your academic and clinical experiences should be to build a foundation that will make a better PA student and a stronger PA. It should not be about checking off boxes just because you think that it's what adcoms want to see.
Don’t list off your extracurriculars in your personal statement, including things because you feel that they make you a “more competitive” applicant. This essay is not a resume. Instead, write about experiences that you’ve had that are central to your decision to pursue this profession, not about those that you think adcoms want to hear about.
Addressing Difficult Topics the Wrong Way - To include or not to include… that always seems to be the question. Whether it’s bad grades, mental health issues, struggles with addiction or other life tragedy, it’s hard to know what should be addressed in a personal statement. I find that when applicants choose to include difficult topics, they focus too much on the negative without emphasizing the positive while including lots of unnecessary details. They often don’t even mention how their experience was relevant to their journey towards the PA profession at all.
The big takeaway here is if you are going to touch on a difficult topic in your personal statement, make sure that it's an integral part of your journey before dedicating characters to it. If you have decided to include it, the best thing you can do is be concise about shortcomings/difficult subject matter/etc. Don't dwell on the negative. Instead, emphasize how you addressed the issue whether it's mental health, grades, chronic illness or whatever other issue or circumstance you experienced. Did you grow from it? Did it push you towards the profession more? Did it motivate you to change something? Explore that.
Forcing the Reader to Read Between the Lines - I can’t tell you how many times I highlight a sentence and make the comment, “Why?” Applicants will often say something like, “Being a paramedic/scribe/MA/EMT made me want to become a PA. It was a great experience.” But, why?! What exactly was it about this experience that drove you to pursue your goal of becoming a PA? When sharing your experiences, make sure you say exactly what you want to say. Don’t force the reader to make inferences about your feelings and insights.
Using Passive, Questioning Language - This one seems minor but it can change the entire tone of your essay.
Let me give you an example - “Some of my grades in my undergraduate career were not stellar, but I think that with my recent successes I am likely more prepared to take on PA school. I know it will be a challenge but I feel I could be ready.” Try to avoid using terms like, “I feel… I think… Could… Would... Probably… Likely…” when projecting your future success. Be certain of yourself in your language and your tone.
Reframing this and emphasizing some stronger language - “Although I occasionally struggled early on in my undergraduate career, my more recent successes are a reflection of my true academic ability. PA school will be a challenge, but I know that I am ready and more prepared than ever to take it on.” In this iteration, you’ve said that your recent successes are reflective of your abilities, not that “they might be.” You have said that you “know” you are prepared to handle PA school as opposed to just “thinking” you could be ready.
Flowery Language - Last, but definitely not least, flowery language. This one is an essay killer. “The morning was crisp and bright when I stepped out my creaky, old door. I noticed the beautiful, pink rose sprouting from the green bush, covered with dew droplets on petals that were as bold and stunning as they were fragrant.” This is drowning in unnecessary descriptors. Please, don’t do this. Adcoms don’t want to read this. You probably don’t even want to read this. It’s all filler. Tell an engaging story but avoid using flowery, overly descriptive prose that says absolutely nothing while taking up an offensive amount of characters. Be concise and intentional with your writing.