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Last weekend I got to edit a couple of personal statements. Some had really great points and stories, but the rest was just total crap. Now, I don’t mean to offend anyone. People whose essays I read are great writers, but they are making some serious mistakes in writing personal statements.
I have spend at least 3 hours on each essay– dissecting it to pieces, critiquing rigorously and then uploading video screen-flow of those essays so that students know a) I am a real person reading their essay and they can always reach out to me for a second review, and b) they had a quality review process.
When I reviewed those essay, I was ruthless. I went to deep to point out mistakes that students were making and some people will be hurt by this review. But, in retrospect, they will respect that I was ruthless with their first essay draft.
Now, going back to my earlier point, I have seen some major mistakes that students repeatedly made. Not just 1-2 students, I am talking about 15+ students. If you are making those mistakes, trust me, your application will be in the rejection pile.
Personal statement is the best way to get your foot in the door of the dental school and to secure an interview. Not taking full advantage of it can really hurt your chances of getting into dental school !!!
So what are these mistakes? Let’s talk about them:
# 1 ) Not writing a “storified” introduction
I have seen really terrible generic introductions. If you write them, the ad-com will just hit “REJECT” key. Let’s take a look:
College is my time of seeking directions and facing many uncertainties. There are times I feel the hours of studying and working part-time jobs have no destination, thus the feelings of disappointment and distraught always are always on the back of my mind.
or the following:
I am different from the average applicant to dental school……
If you write these type of introduction, you will be in the rejection pile immediately.
Do you know the purpose of the first sentence of your personal statement?
It is to compel the reader to read the second sentence. And the purpose of the second sentence is to make the reader read the third sentence.
Every single sentence in your essay has to make the reader say: ” I am curious, I wanna read whats next.”
Every paragraph has to be compelling. But the first paragraph has to be SUPER DUPER compelling.
How to fix it:
a) Write a story. Take a look at the following example from my personal statement ( #humblebrag)
‘Shri Ramajeyam!’ chanted the village magician back in Bangladesh, as he tried to heal my grandmother’s toothache for 40 Taka (equilivalent to $0.50 in the US). The cheap hocus pocus failed and ultimately, an oral screening at a local hospital diagnosed an oral lesion in her mouth. However, it remained untreated because of my family’s limited finances.
These financial challenges that have continually haunted my family have helped ingrain the value of patience within the very essence of my personality. Our patience in reapplying for the Diversity Visa Lottery over and over finally paid off the 9th time, when we won. We thought our financial distress would improve, so we happily left for America. But, surprises ensued. Extreme poverty, accompanied by a sudden cut in Medicaid forced me to curtail my visits to the orthodontist, but I continued to wait, as I had always been, for a change in fortune.
“Mom, mom! Amy just fell!” I cried out loudly as I saw my sister Amy accidentally fell of the bed while playing with me. Blood started gushing out of little Amy’s mouth.
My mother rushed into the room. Fortunately she called 911 and took Amy to the nearest ER. After stopping the blood, the ER nurse told us that Amy’s central incisor is broken. Amy was immediately referred to an endodontist and a cosmetic surgeon. It took a root canal, years of therapy, and many more cosmetic processes to replace the damage done by the fall.
Growing up with cracked incisor, Amy was made fun of in her classes and was bullied because of the way she looked. She did not have any self-confidence. However, when she got her last crown just a few years ago, she started feeling more confident and comfortable with the way she looked. The powerful shift in Amy’s self-image inspired me to pursue dentistry. I realized that a dentist not only has the power to beautify someone but also has ability contribute to someone’s mental health and well-being—a crucial reason for me to choose dentistry.
b) Evoke Emotional Response. Instead of writing a ROBOTIC introduction where you just about yourself, tell me a story. Trust me, YOU ARE A BETTER STORY-TELLER THAN YOU THINK YOU ARE.
#2) Selling yourself Short
Ask yourself: Why are you writing a personal statement to a dental school?
You are not begging for a favor from the ad-com to take you into their schools.
You are writing this statement because you ARE a qualified candidate for dental school AND dental school should know EXACTLY why you are qualified.
If you sell yourself short in your personal statement, you will be in the REJECTION pile.
Let’s see the example below:
Although my duties were simple, such as providing suctioning, by personally working along side dental students, the experience has gave me a glimpse to what it would be like to work as an actual dentist. This edifying experience has cemented my dedication of pursuing dentistry as a life long career.
Do not write anything that trivializes the impact you made during your shadowing, extra curricular, and research, etc.
Dental school adcoms know that the things you have done during your shadowing or research, may not be world class. They are completely okay with that.
What they want to know are:
a) How did the activity motivate you to become a dentist? and
b) What IMPACT did you make in that specific activity?
So, I repeat, do not sell yourself short!!!
Even if you felt that you did not make an impact while you shadowed a dentist, talk about how you were inspired by the variety of patients that came into your dentist’s office. For example:
While shadowing Dr. XYZ, I remember a new patient, who walked in with severe trigeminal neuralgia pain. Dr. XYZ will be his 7th dentist! He traveled from all the from Maryland to see my dentist (in Philadelphia). His neuralgia pain was unbearable and none of the other dentists were able to cure the pain.
I was amazed at how Dr. XYZ listened to the patient and comforted him. Instead of jumping onto giving a morphine injection, like other dentists, he consulted a pain psychologist and came up with a treatment plan for the patient.
Trust me you are impacting somebody by your work and you should talk about it.
#3) Lots of Generic Sh*t, No specific example/stories
Read this paragraph and tell me what you got out of it about the applicant:
My volunteering experience gives me the opportunity of witnessing many dental procedures. The limitless uses of materials to restore teeth and form impression for braces confirm my interest in dentistry. The medical knowledge, which the dentist possesses to counsel patients in preventative actions for oral diseases, is very appealing to me. I am amazed that medicine is also practiced in dentistry through administration of anesthesia. I am truly passionate about dentistry because it revolves around practicing the art of tooth restoration. Thus, dentistry is my career of choice.
Can you tell me anything about the person from reading this statement? Nope!
How to fix it:
Dental School DO CARE about your invaluable leadership and management skills. BUT SHOW IT TO THEM. Don’t tell them what you know. Show them the result and convince them that you are qualified.
Here’s look at an example from my Personal Statement:
Aside from my involvement with the community, I found personal gratification and further enhancement of my endurance while I was taking a sculpture course. After the caffeinated nights and clay-stained hands at the studio, looking at my first project – a clay bosom of Abraham Lincoln, an unprecedented sense of pride flooded through me. Right then, I knew that in order to be fulfilled I would need manual involvement in my future profession.
The unique opportunity offered by dentistry to integrate my manual dexterity with my love for science further drew me in. My passion for science grew in a crowded lab-hood at my organic synthesis lab, where I endured repeated tedious phases of optimization of the reaction conditions. Ultimately, I experienced a deep sense of satisfaction as I produced newer molecules in high yield culminating in a co-authorship of a paper in Organic Letters.
I talk about RESULTS — Something that dental school adcom can visualize. They can juxtapose these results and my application and can recognize me for these achievements.
Tell stories of things you have accomplished (eg. projects, publications) and leadership position you have held. Show me specific results of your work.
P:S: Talk about your success and accomplishment without coming across arrogant.
#4) Lack of stories in the statement
Personal statements that don’t tell stories are BORING. If you tell meaningful stories that show some of your characteristics, adcoms will remember you 10X more than the kid who didn’t tell stories.
Bill Clinton said,
Telling purposeful stories are the best way to persuade, motivate, and convince who want to do what you need.
Look at the beginning of a personal statement written by aqz. Study how graphically she portrayed herself playing tennis. Now this is a compelling story that ad com would like to read forward.
Adrenaline began rushing through my veins as I prepared to return my opponent’s serve. All of a sudden, the tennis ball zoomed across the court, blistering deep into my forehand wing. Eyes on the ball, I rapidly shuffled over to the right as the energy stored in my calf muscles channeled into my arms. In a split second, I whipped my racquet through the air, smacking the ball right on the sweet spot. The ball soared over the net to the other side, landing only to briefly graze the baseline. Triumphant, I flashed a smile as the ball smoked past my opponent and slammed soundly into the fence.
Simply put, the return of a tennis serve is one of my greatest fascinations. Contrary to the belief of an unsuspecting passerby, my pleasure does not purely come from hitting a winning shot. Rather, it is from the technical execution of the shot that I draw a sense of inexplicable satisfaction. From the footwork to the follow-through, each technique is a complex art that needs to be perfected in order for the shot to be carried out flawlessly. It is the unseen reason behind why some shots end in failure while other shots become sensations. Hence, I have come to value the underlying process rather than the final achievement itself.
or check this PS written by a medical student at UCLA ( I know he’s med student but the point is story is powerful).
I’m sure, you have better and more graphically stimulating stories to tell. Just remember that it takes some time in getting good at story telling. The more you practice telling those stories, they better it will be.
#5) Not Having an outline for your essay
This is a killer! If you are writing a PS and you don’t have an outline, go make one. Otherwise, you will write paragraphs like this.
I love that the satisfaction of the dental profession comes personally through patient interaction. I acknowledge the bond between the dentist and his patients is long lasting because the dentist I volunteer with has a lot of long-time patients. Thus, dentistry is truly my career of choice because I will have a chance to close a gap between a health professional and a patient through regular interaction. Through this, the patients will be more likely to trust the dentist’s goodness in his treatment suggestion and comply with the dentist’s treatment plan. By promoting patient-dentist trust, I will not feel alienated from my future patients and will have the family environment in my workplace setting. Thus, this environment will help me feel relaxed and more focused on harnessing my skills in dentistry.
From reading this, you might think this is a crappy conclusion, but it’s actually a body paragraph. To Avoid writing crappy paragraph like this, make sure you make an outline.
Now, if you are just jotting your thoughts down and writing your “first sh*tty draft”, it’s fine to write paragraphs like this. But then make sure you have a coherent structure that you are following to write your personal statement.
For example, here’s a structure that I suggested to someone:
Talk about your experience as a patient and how it motivated you to become a dentist; mention that you want to create impact that your dentist had on you
Transition to your public health internship where you had real impact on people’s lives and how you see dentistry as a way to give people a good life. Also make sure you tell stories of people you had interacted with. Don’t just tell me, show me with examples and stories.
Mention your experiences shadowing. Talk about one or two unusual but interesting cases you have seen.
Talk about your research and academic accomplishments. Mention how your research instilled in you qualities that will make you a great dentist
Wrap it up with some concluding statement mentioning why dentistry is a career you should choose.
Your structure will be different. But bottom line is : Having an outline will make the PS writing so much more enjoyable.
#6) Lack of Clarity
I have read something like this:
After seven application cycles, I was so grateful when my father told me he was accepted to a residency program—he was finally going to become a physician in America, a dream he had pursued ever since my parents immigrated to the United States from **a developing country** in 1989. My father has inspired me to pursue higher education so that I may help serve others—and I have found dentistry to be the best way for me to do so. First and foremost, I want to have a meaningful occupation in which I may provide others with some type of benefit. However, I am a very family-oriented person, and I also desire a balance between my professional life and family life. I like how dentistry is hands on and requires fine motor skills, which is an exciting challenge. I found myself enjoying the outpatient setting as well as the wide range of patient populations.
What is this supposed to tell me? The sentences are unclear and fail to draw attention to the main purpose the person is writing the PS. Clarity is one of the most important part in a successful application. If your statement is not clear and to the point, it will be in the rejection pile.
How to fix this:
A technique that has helped write clear essay/blog post is the following:
- Create a solid outline of what you want to write
- Write the essay
- Get off of your chair and go for a walk/run or do something else (This will refresh your mind)
- Come back after 2 -4 hours and READ the essay out loud
- If something is not CLEAR enough, you clarify it. If need be, throw away the entire essay and start writing again until you attain 100% clarity.
These are some of the major mistakes I have seen. Make sure you avoid them if you want to get into dental school. If you want to get rejected from dental school, I recommend trying out some of these mistakes.