When I first published “Personal Statement Failure Formula: Mistakes that will get you rejected” on SDN, people complained that there is no formula for writing a personal statement and that your personal statement should be unique.
They also told me that I shouldn’t preach my way of writing personal statements, the way that got me into schools like UCSF, UPenn, Pitt, Rutgers, and NYU. How Foolish!!!
Over the last year, I have helped hundreds of students turn their terrible first shitty drafts into a remarkable personal statement that guaranteed admission.
Each of these 120+ remarkable essays had a pattern.
A pattern is not necessarily a formula, however. But it does show that successful essay writers are consistently doing something different from those who are not getting interviews or getting acceptances.
They have all answered the following 4 questions in their personal statements.
- Why Dentistry? How did you FIRST become interested in dentistry?
- Who are you as a person? What characteristics do you have that will make you a great dentist?
- Why you will become a “damn good dentist”?
- What’s your vision and goal with the profession of dentistry?
These four answers are what adcoms look for in your essay. Understanding the adcom’s psychology is quite important and you should do that before you even write a word in your personal statement.
Now let’s talk about how you can answer these four questions in your essay:
1. Why do you want to be a dentist? How did you FIRST become interested in dentistry?
This is the easiest question to answer. You need to SHOW the adcoms why you want to be a dentist. I said “Show” because you have to illustrate a vivid STORY that shows the reader how you became interested in the profession.
Many of my past students wrote about how their dentists inspired them. I myself wrote about it as well. For example:
That change came when my orthodontist halved my fee after sympathizing with my situation. This drew me to a dentist’s prerogative to demonstrate compassion. The importance of a good patient-doctor relationship stood out even more when I shadowed Dr. Pinto, an oral surgeon. During his interaction with a medically compromised patient, who was suffering from a prior iatrogenic procedure, I saw how dentists not just treat the local symptoms of pain, but also address it in a systemic way.
My friend Mariam discussed how her uncle’s premature death from oral cancer inspired her to become a dentist.
A few of my students talked about their own parents who are dentists. They discuss how their interaction with their parents’ profession from an early age inspired them to be a dentist.
2. Who are you as a person? What characteristics do you have that will make you a great dentist?
This is a pretty vague question, which makes it the hardest part of the essay.
Essentially, adcoms want to know whether you have the qualities/characteristics that will make you a great dentist (i.e: patience, perseverance, appreciation and love for science in particular dental science, etc.)
So, how do you show adcoms that you are a worthy candidate? The answer is to write colorful STORIES that demonstrates your characteristics/personality.
I, for example, wrote:
‘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.
What did you get out from reading these two paragraphs?
These paragraphs SHOW that I am a patient and perseverant person. These are two characteristics someone must have in order to become a successful dentist.
3. why you will become a damn good dentist?
In this part of the essay, you will explain to adcoms what activities you have participated in during the last few years of college to improve your chances of getting into a dental school.
- you participated in or lead your pre-dental society?
- you volunteered in any dental related activities?
- taken class(es) to improve your manual dexterity? (guitar, piano, sculpture or woodwork etc.,)
For example, I wrote:
In addition to treating individuals, I want to expand the influence of dental awareness on a community-wide scale and I began this by targeting my local Philadelphia community. I co-founded the Community Dental Disease Prevention Society aiming to reduce the prevalence of dental diseases. We conducted workshops at low-income schools in the city. Despite the initial lack of interest among students, gradually the number of workshop participants grew as they could relate the workshops to their real life experiences. Here Tagita, a first grader shared her story of waiting for a dental appointment due to her family’s financial incapacity, reiterating the inaccessibility of the dental care provision. Meanwhile, high school students expressed concerns about the increasing prevalence of dental malpractice. This made me extend our goals to educate dental providers of iatrogenic dentistry. Additionally, we also set about spreading scientifically based awareness in dispelling damaging propagandas such as those spread by the Fluoride Action Network about the harmful effects of water fluoridation.
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 bust 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.
Don’t repeat your resume/activities list here. Provide colorful stories about the activities/classes/obstacles you overcame to show dental adcoms that you are invested in becoming successful in this profession.
4. What’s your long term vision and how dentistry can get you there?
Most likely, you will use your conclusion to answer this question. You goal and vision should follow the single thesis that you have been talking about in your entire essay.
For example, I wrote:
Perseverance gained throughout my life and from my involvement in science, arts and community activism makes dentistry a perfect match for me. Be it campaigning against iatrogenic dentistry via CDDPS, or making someone like Abdi smile confidently, dentistry has allowed me to consolidate my ideals. As I continue to advocate for increased accessibility to dental care for financially disadvantaged patients, I understand that progress will be slow; for now, I vow to stay focused, stay patient.
Writing about long term vision can be challenging. You do not want to sound cliché or unauthentic. Your vision should be aligned with the stories you have told earlier in your essay.
Wanna learn more about personal statements? Check out the video webinar where I described