What is a Personal Statement?

Your personal statement is an opportunity to set yourself apart from other applicants.  It is the portion of the application where you get to discuss who you are and what is important to you, so take advantage of this opportunity! To successfully utilize the personal statement, spotlight two or three particular experiences or examples that demonstrate your motivation and preparation towards making an informed decision about your career path. Unlike the majority of your application, which is largely concerned with what you did, your personal statement should provide depth into why and how you came to your decision that a career in the health professions is a good fit for you.

Jump to a Section:

How does a Personal Statement Fit into Your Application?

Your personal statement is important, but so are the other components of your application (e.g., recommendations, clinical exposure, entrance exam score and GPA). The key to a strong application is to be strong in every area of your application. One common mistake students make is to waste time attempting to perfect their personal statement during the application submission phase. Remember to allocate appropriate time to creating a document that demonstrates your interest in the health professions and career goals; but do not let “personal statement perfecting” delay you in submitting your application. 

What Are Admissions Committees Looking For?

This is perhaps the most frequently asked question by health professional school applicants. Why is it asked so often? Well, there isn’t a clear-cut answer. Everyone has a different opinion on what should be included in a personal statement; therefore, every admissions committee member will have a different approach to reading and reviewing a personal statement. Below are a few questions that committees generally keep in mind when reading a personal statement. Remember, this is not an exhaustive list and opinions will vary from reader to reader.

  • Who you are as a person? (e.g., background, experiences, education, etc.)
  • Why did you choose ___ instead of another career path?
  • Do you possess the qualities necessary to be a health professional?
  • How do your professional goals coincide with going to a health professional school?
  • Have you explored your interest in the health professions?
  • Would I be interested in meeting you?
  • Do I want to learn more about you?
  • Are you a good fit for the program?

Before Writing: Brainstorm

The brainstorming phase is an important step in the writing process. During this phase, consider every potential topic to include in your statement. Answer the questions below to start the brainstorming process.

  • How have you prepared to be a student and why are you ready to enroll now?
  • What is special, distinctive, unique or impressive about you or your life story?
  • How did you learn about ___? What stimulated your interest in ___?
  • What characteristics and skills do you possess that enhance your prospects for success?
  • Have you overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships?
  • What is your biggest accomplishment? What are you proud of?
  • What are the most compelling reasons for the admissions committee to be interested in you?
  • What are your short- and long-term goals?
  • Did you take time off after earning your undergraduate degree? If so, why and how have you used this time to grow?
  • What is the most important thing for an admissions committee to know about you?
  • If you took a bridge year, how have you improved your candidacy since graduation?

The Writing Process

Writing Exercises

As you begin the writing process, use the following exercises to get you started.

  • Write your initial draft as if you were writing to a friend about going to a health professional school. Tell him/her why you want to go and why it is the best choice for you.
  • Imagine you have five minutes to talk to an admissions committee; what would you tell them and why?
  • Write down all you can about your goals, decision to attend a health professional school, what you hope to accomplish, your qualifications, etc. without stopping.

Create a Draft

As you begin to write your initial draft, emphasize identifying the message you want to convey and don’t worry about editing or length. This is the inventing stage of the writing process, so be creative.

Rewrite, Revise and Edit

Be prepared to write several drafts. Look at the content, clarity and overall tone of your statement. Read the introduction. Do you get a clear idea of where the statement is going? As you edit your statement, look at the mechanics, grammar, spelling and punctuation.

Express Your Clinical Experiences in Writing

The personal statement gives you the opportunity to express how your specific clinical experiences influenced your decision to pursue a career in the health professions. It is not uncommon for students to describe specific events that solidified their decision to pursue a career in healthcare. If you choose to describe a specific clinical experience (involving a physician or patient), please be cognizant of how you are conveying the experience. As a future healthcare professional, confidentiality and compassion are of utmost importance. Writing about one of your impactful clinical experiences is appropriate for the personal statement; but please be aware that including substantial details describing a physician or patient in a negative manner is not advised. Watch your use of adjectives in portraying your experience and aim for a professional tone.

General Do's and Don’ts

Do's
  • Read the applications’ requirements carefully and follow the directions.
  • Aim for depth, not breadth.
  • Describe why an event is significant to you and what you learned from it.
  • Focus on one or two specific themes and discuss experiences related to them.
  • Concentrate on capturing the reader’s interest in the opening paragraph.
  • Strive to make the essay unique by using concrete examples from your life experience.
  • Select people who you trust to read and provide feedback on your personal statement.
  • Create a conclusion that refers back to your introduction and ties your points together.
  • Connect life experiences to your professional goals and career motivation.
  • Articulate short- and long-term career goals clearly.
Don'ts
  • Write a clichéd introduction or conclusion.
  • Inappropriately describe interactions with patients during clinical experiences.
  • Preach to the reader.
  • Repeat information elsewhere in your application.
  • Discuss money as a motivating factor.
  • Cram too much information into the essay.
  • Exceed word and/or page limits.
  • Exaggerate your qualifications or experience.
  • Discuss potentially controversial topics (e.g., politics or religion).
  • Include spelling, punctuation, formatting or grammatical errors.
  • Excessively apologize for any preconceived shortcomings.

 

Resources

  • Meet with a Pre-Health Advisor
  • Make an appointment with the UVA Writing Center. Tutors at the writing center work one on one with students in 50-minute appointments. They can assist with drafting, revision, argument structure and other special concerns. 

Evaluate Your Personal Statement

Evaluation is an important part of the writing process. Carefully read over your personal statement and use the personal statement evaluation chart below to critique your statement. Ask at least one person whose opinion you value to review and evaluate your personal statement as well.

Content
  • Did it answer the prompt and/or questions asked?
  • Did the opening paragraph capture the reader's attention?
  • Is each topic supporting with specific and/or concrete examples?
  • Is it personal?
  • Does it reflect the writer’s qualifications?
  • Is it positive and upbeat?
  • Is it an honest and forthright presentation of the writer?
Structure
  • Is it clear and concise?
  • Do the first sentences of each paragraph express all the main points?
  • Do thoughts and themes flow from paragraph to paragraph?
  • Is it well-organized?
  • Does it have a main focus?
  • Are there an appropriate number of topics addressed? (2 to 3 main topics)
  • Does each paragraph have a main point and evidence to support the main point?
  • Does it have a solid conclusion that naturally develops from the previous paragraphs?
Interest
  • Does it have a compelling theme?
  • Does it sound interesting?
  • Does the ending give the reader a sense of completeness?
Mechanics
  • Is proper punctuation used?
  • Is proper capitalization used?
  • Do subjects agree with verbs?
  • Does it contain typos?
  • Are contractions used sparingly?
  • Does it use “I” appropriately?
  • Is active voice used?
Overall
  • Would I be interested in meeting the person who wrote this personal statement?
  • Do I want to learn more about the person that wrote this personal statement?
  • Would the writer be a good addition to the student body?