Helpful tips and advice for drafting a compelling personal statement when applying for graduate admission
What does this statement need to accomplish?
The personal statement should give concrete evidence of your promise as a member of the academic community, giving the committee an image of you as a person.
This is also where you represent your potential to bring to your academic career a critical perspective rooted in a non-traditional educational background, or your understanding of the experiences of groups historically under-represented in higher education and your commitment to increase participation by a diverse population in higher education.
What kinds of content belongs here?
Anything that can give reviewers a sense of you as a person belongs here; you can repeat information about your experiences in your research statement, but any experiences that show your promise, initiative, and ability to persevere despite obstacles belongs here. This is also a good place to display your communication skills and discuss your ability to maximize effective collaboration with a diverse cross-section of the academic community. If you have faced any obstacles or barriers in your education, sharing those experiences serves both for the selection process, and for your nomination for fellowships. If one part of your academic record is not ideal, due to challenges you faced in that particular area, this is where you can explain that, and direct reviewers’ attention to the evidence of your promise for higher education.
The basic message: your academic achievement despite challenges
It is especially helpful for admissions committees considering nominating you for fellowships for diversity if you discuss any or all of the following:
- Demonstrated significant academic achievement by overcoming barriers such as economic, social, or educational disadvantage;
- Potential to contribute to higher education through understanding the barriers facing women, domestic minorities, students with disabilities, and other members of groups underrepresented in higher education careers, as evidenced by life experiences and educational background. For example,,
- attendance at a minority serving institution;
- ability to articulate the barriers facing women and minorities in science and engineering fields;
- participation in higher education pipeline programs such as, UC Leads, or McNair Scholars;
- Academic service advancing equitable access to higher education for women and racial minorities in fields where they are underrepresented;
- Leadership experience among students from groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education;
- Research interests focusing on underserved populations and understanding issues of racial or gender inequalities. For example,
- research that addresses issues such as race, gender, diversity, and inclusion;
- research that addresses health disparities, educational access and achievement, political engagement, economic justice, social mobility, civil and human rights, and other questions of interest to historically underrepresented groups;
- artistic expression and cultural production that reflects culturally diverse communities or voices not well represented in the arts and humanities.
Tips for Writing a Personal Statement
- Reflect on your academic and extracurricular experiences and how they have shaped your motivations for a career in health care.
- Create a list of experiences that represent the evolution of your path to a career in health care.
- Identify key people (mentors, faculty, supervisors...) who have inspired you.
- Think about the message you wish to convey.
- How do you want to tell your story?
- What are the key elements of your story that bring it into focus?
- If you start with a thesis statement, remember to return to that thesis at the end t provide closure.
- The conclusion is a restatement of your focus, but in a way that shows how your story has evolved over time from mere observations to reflection to wisdom that will continue to serve you in your medcial training and as a clinician.
In answering the prompt "why do you want to become a clinician?"
- Seek to illustrate rather than merely tell your story.
- Incorporate examples from your experiences that capture your commitment to serving in health care. For example, discuss an experience:
- shadowing a clinician,
- volunteering at the ER, hospice center, or inpatient clinic
- volunteering at the local medical, dental or vet clinic,
- working as an EMT,
- serving as a translator at a free clinic
- Incorporate examples of service outside the clinic, to help further illustrate your commitment to service and desire to help others.
- Incorporate examples of leadership and overcoming hardship, to demonstrate perseverance, resilience and grit.
- Be succinct in illustrating your examples.
- Create smooth yet strong transitions throughout your story.
How to SHOW and not tell
- Use sensory details to help set scenes. Note what the sky looks like, what color a child's dress is, how the food smells. Make sure your reader is right there with you.
- Share your personal emotions and indicate how your surroundings affected you. This will give the reader a better idea of your individualism and make experiences that are common seem unique.
- Be anecdotal and use examples to illustrate your observations.
- Write with the intention of communicating something original. Don't just put down what you think the reader wants to hear.
- Avoid general commentary.
Things to avoid
- Overly flowery language
- Controversial language
- Reference to longing to be a clinician since a very young age
- Discussing why you don't want to do research
- Discussing why you don't want to become a health care provider other than your intended career path
Final items to keep in mind
Style refers to how you choose to use words to say what you have to say. There are a lot of different styles, and many of them are acceptable for a personal statement. However, make sure your grammar (syntax) is correct. Proofread for errors, spelling, and subject-verb agreement. Make sure that you don't have sentence fragments or run on sentences. Use punctuation correctly. Always have someone proofread your statement, and if grammar is not your thing, have someone who is good at grammar check your statement for errors.
If you bring raise issues, follow through on them and offer explanation or background. A common mistake is to make a statement and then assume that the reader will be able to place it as relevant. You must be explicit, and make sure that you round out the issues you raise with supporting details. For example, if you introduce the fact that you are a single mother, you must make sure that it is relevant to your focus, and you should offer details about how it is relevant. If you say that your desire to become a doctor started after your trip to Mexico, you need to tell why this is so. Sometimes writers rely too much on meaning that they believe to be implicit and leave the reader with questions. Remember, the person reading your essay knows very little about you, your life experiences, your character, or your personality. Be clear.