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.
Per diem job opportunity described as easy, straight-forward, laidback, fun with good pay. Expect low-acuity urgent care cases.
Various open shifts throughout September and upcoming months w/ a particular need for weekend coverage
Full-time Sept 27-Oct 12
If you have any questions, message me directly.
If you have interest, please email your resume to email@example.com.
I am a Pre-PA student and now an Ambassador for a non-profit called Building Bridges of Hope.
LOOKING FOR VOLUNTEERS FOR MEDICAL MISSION TRIP August 11th-18th. NO MEDICAL BACKGROUND NECESSARY
I am leading a trip to the Elisa Pina Province, Dominican Republic for a medical mission trip. We will be in the most medically underserved area of the DR. In this trip, we will spend a week in El Llano where we spend most of our days helping in mobile medical clinics and other days helping in the communities where needed.
The clinics will take place in very remote villages in mountains along the border of Haiti. The patients that we see are Dominican and sometimes Haitian that have walked many miles to receive care for themselves or their children. We have a station set up to assess the children for malnutrition. We then give out 1000 calorie peanut butter packets, fortified rice, and vitamins in accordance to their need. Others will be assisting the doctor(s) and nurse(s) with whatever is needed which includes taking vitals, passing out medications, and more. The doctor will be holding consultations with the patients.
For the community aspect, we spend one day in the preschool the nonprofit made to help lower the malnutrition in the area, where most affected are preschool age because they are left at home alone while their parents are working. My last trip helped at a preschool and painted, other groups have built bunk beds for a family or help elsewhere in the community.
IF YOU ARE INTERESTED, OR WANT MORE INFORMATION- or know someone that is interested, I have a few more spots open on my trip.
email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or text me 989-309-0011
bbohdr.org (non-profits website)
The Finer Details of the Personal Statement
By Hannah Turner
Writing is a special form of masochism. You construct something you’re deeply proud of, fretting over the mechanics of each sentence and the placement of every word, only to ask peers and editors to tear it apart completely. You take in their criticisms, ditch the bad ideas and get right back to work on the next draft. Along the way you have to let go of concepts that you were deeply attached to, and it hurts. In the end, the writing process is satisfying in its own right - in search of perfection you can create something really remarkable.
The personal statement is an especially challenging form of writing, mostly because it’s so… deeply personal. The ideas and words that you choose to share are reflective of who you are; not only is it difficult to write about and articulate your own personal experiences and feelings, but you then have to submit this material to the editing process, which at times can be brutal. When applying to PA school, the personal statement is a challenging rite of passage that each of us must endure.
So, what exactly is the PA school personal statement? At first glance, the parameters appear to be simple - it’s a 5,000 character essay which asks the question “Why are you interested in being a PA?” Although this question seems direct, there are nuances to the essay that are left unstated. First and foremost, implied in any personal statement is the idea that this piece of writing should explain who you are. That means that this is your chance for the admissions committee to get to know you. In addition to answering “Why PA?” and “Who are you?” your personal statement should also chronicle your background, experiences in healthcare and understanding of the PA profession. Although the prompt asks a singular, unassuming question, it quickly becomes a complicated web. A good personal statement will integrate the answers to all of the stated and unstated questions seamlessly.
A big piece of understanding the personal statement is recognizing how programs utilize this portion of your application. The admissions committee will have your transcripts, summaries of clinical, volunteer and non-healthcare work experiences, information about awards or scholarships and explanations of any extracurricular activities. Although this is a major part of your application, a lot is left unsaid. They have your resume, but that doesn’t encompass who you are as a person. Are you are deeply passionate about caring for the medically underserved? Do you have a desire to work in primary care so that you can give back to your community? Tell the admissions committee about it! Here is your big opportunity to shine and leave your mark.
The personal statement can also give you the chance to discuss any personal issues, discrepancies in your application or bumps in the road. Some applicants choose to address their upbringing or any disadvantages they experienced in their childhood and adolescent years. Others will briefly touch on academic struggles and extenuating circumstances they dealt with that caused disruptions in their coursework. The floor is yours to expand on anything you feel isn’t clear.
Writing your personal statement will almost certainly be challenging, but it’s a necessary evil. This essay will allow admissions committees to understand who you are and what has been driving you towards the PA profession. It will give them an idea of what was happening in all of the space between the lines of your resume. Be genuine and get personal, because the personal statement can make or break your application. No pressure.
For tips on writing your personal statement, check out this article about the five steps that make the process easier.
The Five Steps to Writing a Strong Personal Statement
By Hannah Turner
The process of writing a personal statement is so overwhelming… Where do you start? How do you say so much with so few characters? In the beginning, it all feels so unattainable. Many applicants struggle with writing their personal statement, and I certainly struggled to write my own.
In the end I utilized a five step process that allowed me to produce a strong personal statement. Below I have detailed each step.
Step 1: Start Early + Free Write
First and foremost, start early. Not “give yourself a couple months” early, but “start thinking about this in the year before applying” early. Create a working document on your computer, keep a running note on your phone, carry around a notebook to log your ideas - whatever you need to do to keep track of your thoughts, DO IT. This is the most simple form of free writing. It’s low stakes, no pressure, and it allows you to write when the experiences are fresh in your mind.
So, what should you write about? Anything that answers the questions, “Why PA?” and “Who are you?” is a great start. It doesn’t have to be logical or organized, just keep track of things that feels important. For me, I would often be at work and something would happen and I would write it down. Other times I would be out and about or at home and think of sometime interesting that I wanted to convey and I would add that. Keep track of experiences with providers, memorable patients and breakthrough moments in your journey. This will make your life SO much easier when you sit down to formally write your personal statement.
Step 2: Organize + Trim the Fat
Now that you’ve got your material, it’s time to start organizing. Put all your notes into a word or google document and bullet each idea/statement/paragraph. At first everything, will feel unrelated and you’ll have much more to work with than what you will use. That’s okay. Start sifting through everything and identify the weak points. Get rid of anything that feels unimportant or trite. This is where you really start trimming the fat.
This is also a good time to expand on those ideas that resonate with you and really communicate who you are.
Step 3: Create a Story
After editing each bullet, begin to arrange things in a way that feels more like a story. I personally arranged my thoughts along a timeline allowing things to progress in chronological order. This can naturally lead to flow as your journey towards the PA profession happened in real time. There are other ways to create a story, like by identifying a common theme which can give your essay a backbone. Find what works for you.
Here you will continue to trim the fat and keep paring everything down. Keep those big questions in mind, “Why PA” and “Who are you?” This will allow you to find the main points that you want to get across about yourself and why you are pursuing this profession.
Step 4: Finishing Touches
At this point you should have some kind of working draft. Now you should concern yourself with adding some finishing touches. Make sure that there is flow within each paragraph and between. Add transitions so that each idea will feed into the next. Polish your introduction and conclusion, making sure that each are strong and interesting.
Things do not need to be perfect right now. This is a draft. Keep telling yourself this, and don’t worry that it’s not exactly how you want it. Don’t feel discouraged as your personal statement is still a work in progress.
Step 5: Editing
Step 5 is editing, and it’s crucial. It will make or break your essay, so take it seriously. Once you have a draft you need to get other eyes on your personal statement. After working your material over and over there are flaws that you can no longer see. To remedy this, reach out to current or former professors, PAs, friends, the writing center at your school or even this forum for editing.
From here, take it all in and just keep making edits. Each comment on your draft will provide you with a jumping off point to rework or change an idea. I went through at least 3 or 4 drafts, maybe more. Remember, your personal statement doesn't need to be perfect from the very beginning, so please don't be discouraged! Writing is a process and everyone's first draft kind of sucks. That's why editors exist.
Bonus Step: Keep the Faith
Eventually you will be done editing, and it’s kind of a strange feeling. There will be no more comments and you will be satisfied with what you’ve created. It’s hard to see the point from the beginning, so you have to resign yourself to taking the writing process one step at a time.
The most important thing that you can do is start, having faith that at some point it will come together. Start making notes, start writing, and don’t get discouraged when you don’t get it right the first time. If becoming a PA is your passion, a narrative will come through if you devote your time to this.