The Catch: How to Decide What to Write in Your Personal Statement
Your personal statement can’t say enough about you—but then again it must.
Keep your personal statement too short, and programs will think you’ve got something to hide or that you can’t be bothered to tell your story. Go on for too long, and programs will think your wordiness is a cover for having nothing significant to say or you don’t know how to make a decision.
Either way, the less effort you put into writing a fully developed, streamlined personal statement, the less effort programs will put into reading it—and considering you as a candidate.
The Lure: Personal Statement Samples
Looking at examples of personal statements can be a great way to get ideas for what to write in your own personal statement. However, have you ever noticed that the more ideas you get from examples of personal statements, the harder it becomes to decide on just one idea to use?
Have you ever noticed that the more personal statements you look at, the harder it is to align the details of what you like about them with your own personal background, experience and goals?
To give you an example, here’s an example of a personal statement we helped our client—an international medical graduate (IMG) with a leave of absence—write for her application for medical residency in obstetrics and gynecology (she ended up matching to one of her top-choice programs):
This personal statement was developed with our PS Development service.
And here’s another example of a personal statement we helped another client write, this time for medical fellowship in geriatric and palliative care:
This was with our PS Revision & Critique service.
The Calico Personal Statement: A Crime of Copy and Paste
We see it all the time—words, phrases, or even entire sentences or paragraphs—copied from a sample personal statement, or a friend’s or colleague’s personal statement, and pasted, as if no one would ever notice, into someone else’s personal statement.
But of course, we do notice, and it is very easy to notice, when an applicant has copied and pasted from someone else’s personal statement—like the brightly colored patches of a calico quilt.
It is not just a crime of plagiarism, it is a crime against the applicant’s self-confidence in writing his or her own personal statement.
And it is a crime against his or her ability to achieve his or her best personal statement.
We even once came across a personal statement that was wholly someone else’s and figured it out within just a few seconds of picking up the phone and talking to our client.
As if he thought no one would ever notice, he was trying to pass off as his own a personal statement written by someone else who had graduated the year before from his same program and had been accepted to the same fellowship our candidate was now applying for.
This other candidate, now in fellowship, had given our client his personal statement to use. And it was easy to see.
Search Within, Not Without, to Find Your Best Personal Statement
The best personal statements—and this can be seen easily from the examples linked above—are ones that are unique to the candidate not because of some fancy words they used, or some other gimmick, but because the candidate has written their personal statement in their own voice.
They have written their personal statements from their own perspective, narrating their own story about the path that has brought them to be applying for the particular program, and, after the program is finished, where that path is headed.
The Key—the Lynchpin—Is in How You Start Your Personal Statement
The key to deciding what to write in your personal statement—the lynchpin—is not in what to write in the body of the personal statement or even how to write a strong conclusion to your personal statement.
The key—the lynchpin—to deciding what to write in your personal statement is in the introduction, and how you start your personal statement to grab your reader’s attention.
And this comes from within. No amount of copying ideas from sample personal statements can help you with this.
Make Sure to Get Feedback, and Not Just From Your Mother, Professor or Attending Physician
Mothers, professors and attending physicians all have one characteristic in common—they all aim, in their own way, to guide and educate others. But they may not always know how to do so in crafting a concise, engaging personal statement.
Getting smart, objective feedback on the voice and content of your personal statement is key to ensuring no critical details are missing and that all details in your personal statement come across exactly as you had intended.
When selecting a professional personal statement development, revision, critique or evaluation service, take advantage of the service you've selected by taking their feedback to heart, and keep getting their feedback and taking it to heart until you’ve arrived at your final, polished personal statement.
Get Our Expert Advice on Your Personal Statement
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published July 12, 2019, and last updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness June 22, 2022.