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  1. 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.
  2. Hey y’all! For those of you that don’t know, I have started a personal statement editing service. I have read more than 100 statements over the last year working with PA school applicants and have really honed in on what makes a good essay. I was fortunate enough to have significant support from this community as well as r/prephysicianassistant with my own essay, and I want to pay it forward. For those of you working on your personal statements right now, feel free to DM me and I would be happy to give you some feedback on your draft for FREE. No strings attached. If you like the initial feedback I provide on your essay and you’re interested in using a service for your PS, we can talk more about working together! I want to say that there are plenty of applicants who DO NOT NEED TO USE AN EDITING SERVICE. There are people here and over on the prePA subreddit who will offer to help with your personal statement. Use them. Seriously. That being said, some essays need a lot more work than others, and in those cases working with a service (any personal statement editing service with a solid reputation, not just mine) can be helpful. Either way, I’m happy to read through things and give you some pointers, even if you’re not interested in using my paid service. If you want more information about my service, would like to check out reviews from students I helped this past cycle or are interested in reading articles I have written about the writing process, you can take a look at my page here: https://m.facebook.com/thepersonalstatementproject/
  3. 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.
  4. How to Prepare for PA School Interviews Each leg of the PA application process comes with its own unique kind of stress. First, there’s the chaos of preparing and submitting your CASPA. You have to round up letters of recommendation, order and input all of your transcripts, send out GRE scores, perfect your personal statement and keep track of supplementals for each program. After submitting, there’s an eerie quiet that settles over. You patiently wait to hear back from schools… or you check your email repeatedly hoping for news. Same thing, right? Some schools will get back to you in days, others may take weeks or months. Eventually the madness culminates in an interview invitation, which brings on a new kind of stress. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for, but how exactly do you prepare for the next step in the process? Research interview questions. There are many lists of PA school interview questions that you can find with a quick google search. Some major categories to focus on are behavioral, ethical, situational and standard PA interview questions. There are also books about the interview process with commonly asked questions. A good starting point is “How to Ace the PA School Interview” by Andrew Rodican. Brainstorm and practice! It was helpful for me to create a working document with a list of the questions I found. I brainstormed with each question in mind and made bullet points of things I could touch on in my answers. Often times these points were in reference to specific situations I found myself in or relevant experiences that I had. I was careful not to write out word for word answers. It’s important to maintain authenticity and some degree of spontaneity in your answers - you want to avoid sounding too rehearsed. I then made it a point to review my list and practice answering each question out loud. I would do this with friends or colleagues, but oftentimes I would just practice by myself when I was driving in the car. Research the program. When walking into an interview, you should be well informed about the program and faculty. Scour the website, reach out to alumni or current students and try to become as educated as possible. There are many things to keep in mind when researching a program, but here are a few things to consider: Is there anything unique about the curriculum format? How long is the program? Is the program well established? Is there a cadaver lab? If so, are cadavers prosected or are they dissected by students? What kind of opportunities are there for early clinical exposure? When researching, keep a list of questions that come up. Make notes of interesting aspects about the curriculum and clinical rotations. This will prepare you to ask thoughtful questions on your interview day and will ensure you don’t forget to ask about something that is important to you. If possible, arrange a mock interview! This is one of the best ways to prepare yourself for the interview process. It’s an excellent way to work through the nerves associated with interviewing and it can help you understand your weak spots. Mock interviews can be done with colleagues, peers, friends, family, professors and even through paid services online. My undergraduate institution offered free mock interviews for students, so be sure to check with your university to see if this is an option. Stay up to date about the PA profession. Be informed about issues facing the profession. Understand the role that PAs play in healthcare - be sure that you can articulate exactly what a PA does and how that can differ from NPs and physicians. Understand any state specific laws about practice. Know your application. This is a big one that can easily be overlooked. Know your application inside and out! The details should always be fresh in your mind. Maybe you worked on a research project sophomore year and the details are now long forgotten. You may have written your personal statement months ago, and it’s easy to forget what you chose to emphasize when talking about yourself. Anything you put on your application is free game, and you should be ready to answer questions accordingly.
  5. Put the Highlighter Down and Nobody Gets Hurt By Hannah Turner You’re sitting in class, pulling out your notebook and pencil when you see her. She’s sitting in the front row, right in the center of the classroom. It’s highlighter girl, and she has her game face on today. Her laptop is open and sits to her left, the lecture slides are printed out sitting directly in front of her, pens, pencils and erasers are ready to go on her right, and she has every color highlighter imaginable at her disposal. Class starts and highlighter girl stays true to her name, adding color to nearly every line of text on those printed slides, switching between markers rapidly as she goes. She seems like she really knows what she’s doing. You look down at your notes and can’t help but feel inferior, like you’re missing something. Weeks later, the class gets the first test back. When students are comparing scores you’re surprised to find that highlighter girl didn’t do very well… Maybe you weren’t missing something after all. One of the most important things you can learn in undergrad is how to streamline the note taking and studying processes to allow for maximum learning in a minimal amount of time - you have to learn how to be efficient . Everyone seems to have their own method, and many students tend to complicate the process with no real return on investment. Throughout my college career I have had to find ways to increase my studying and note taking efficiency to create more time for myself. Between upper level science coursework, extracurriculars, part-time and often even full-time work, more time is something that I desperately needed to be successful. Below are a few of the things I learned along the way that allowed me to maintain a 3.9 cumulative GPA and a 3.97 science GPA with a busy schedule in a science heavy major. Put Your Pack of Highlighters Down It’s easy to be enticed by underlining and highlighting the text on those lecture slides, but in reality you aren’t accomplishing much. The idea that these methods are useful in a note taking capacity comes from the Von Restorff Effect, which states that differentiating text by using color makes it stand out against other words on the page, aiding in memory recall. The problem here is that the information on a lecture slide has already been summarized and contains only the most salient, concise points, so you’re often tempted to highlight much of the text on the slide. If the majority of the text on a page is highlighted, you are defeating the purpose of highlighting entirely. Another issue with highlighting and underlining is that these methods are largely ineffective for actively processing information compared to other note taking methods. Writing out your notes forces you to condense and summarize information in your own words, allowing the learning process to begin. If you instead only pick up your highlighter and move it across the page, you’re accomplishing much less. Don’t take the bait! Actively take notes in lecture and put your highlighters away. Consider keeping one highlighter or pen out to make note of extremely important information, and resist the urge to colorize. Note Taking, the Better Way The better way to retain information is to actively take notes, and to take them by hand. Studies have shown that those who used laptops in class had a more shallow understanding of lecture material and performed more poorly on tests, especially with conceptual questions. This is even worse when students are multitasking with their laptops during lecture, creating a distraction for themselves. Although with a laptop students are able to take more notes, there is little processing involved in transcribing the material. Due to the time constraints associated with taking notes by hand, students are required to actively condense and summarize information throughout lecture while focusing on the most relevant pieces of information. This means that the learning starts from the moment the pen hits the paper, building a solid foundation for studying in the future. I believe that for nearly every undergraduate level course, note taking by hand is the superior method, as the speed at which the material is delivered tends to be fairly manageable. When considering graduate level coursework, I do feel that courses move at a more rigorous pace and typing can become a necessity. The moral of the story here is to use your best judgement and prioritize taking notes by hand whenever it is possible. The Next Step Taking notes is important, but this will only build the foundation for learning. What you do with your notes will determine how successful you are in your courses. My next article will address the most effective ways to study and provide tips for the best methods to utilize for different prerequisite courses.
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