Kicking off my freshly revamped blog with a new post! Check out the Residency section for more juicy tidbits about how to
game master the MATCH system in your favor.
DISCLAIMER: This blog post errs on the side of humor because some people submit the craziest essays. Be sure to check out my follow-up post about Helpful Essay Tips (HERE!) if you’ve managed to avoid the few faux-pas (they are more common than you think!) listed below.
Faculty members probably spend 5-10 minutes MAX reading personal statements, so it’s important to make a lasting impression in those few precious seconds. Mistakes or bad first impressions can be a death-sentence and relegate your essay to the “Do Not Pass Go” pile, doomed to admissions purgatory. You can pretty much tell if an essay is going to be a nightmare or read like an excerpt from an Atul Gawande novel in the first few seconds. The rest fall in the large forgettable/generic/good enough category. This category is OKAY to be in. It means you Passed or even High-Passed. Sure, you can try shooting for an Honors, but it might mean you need to outgun your fellow students, or even your poor intern, and they might just Low-Pass you because you were being a dick.
Have I emphasized enough that it’s okay to be GENERIC and MEDIOCRE? Good. Then you are ready to learn the Top 8 Most Common Mistakes that befall poor medical students.
Top 8 Most Common Mistakes
1. Having mistakes.
I didn’t even want to put this here because it seems redundant. But you’d be SURPRISED at how many grammatical errors or mistakes sneak under the radar during the proofreading process. Print out your essay. Go over it with a fine-tooth comb and five highlighters like you’re annotating your First Aid book. Ask other people (even non-medical friends) to read it because sometimes you talk funny and that will translate into writing funny too.
2. Making it too long.
Two pages double-spaced or one page single-spaced MAX. Anything longer just looks physically daunting (and boring), and fatigued readers are more likely to glaze over the entire thing altogether. Do your readers a favor and make them feel excited about reading your personal statement, not dread it.
3. Making it too general.
Avoid generalizing your experiences. If you want to talk about patient interactions in your chosen specialty, anchor your stories on a few CONCRETE examples rather than glossing over a series of hypothetical scenarios that scream “copypasta” from an anonymous online forum. Saying “As a dermatologist, I can help the girl with boils on her underarms feel confident for prom again, and the leathery-skinned veteran regain his nose (and mojo) after losing it to a gnarly skin cancer,” is fine and all, but it doesn’t sound genuine. Focus on a specific story so that your readers are invested in the characters of your narrative.
I do this a lot in my blogs, but NOT in my personal statements. Each sentence needs to have a particular purpose, and they should be driving home your message. It’s like laying down bricks to a final destination. You can’t be laying bricks haphazardly from left to the right and back and forth — you’d never get anywhere. Each paragraph — each sentence — should be placed carefully and steer your reader towards your endgame.
5. Sensationalist language.
Avoid sensationalizing your experiences in your essays. If you want your essay to end up in this year’s greatest hits reel of ‘What NOT to Do’,” this is how you do it. Sentences like, “When I held up the baby doused in nature’s life milk gasping for his mother’s teat, I knew then and there that I was going to be an obstetrician.” First off, STFU. No one knows they’re going to be a so-and-so specialist from one biblical encounter, and nothing is that picture-perfect in real life. Your readers will scoff and you will lose all credibility. Next!
Name-dropping is a fine art. If you have a particular mentor who you connected with, or who inspired you to pursue a particular path, by all means name-drop away. But if you’re just naming famous giants in your field just to show you know who they are, that’s probably less effective. And for the love of god, NO FIRST NAMES PLEASE.
7. Being obnoxious.
No one like a humble-brag but you need to sell yourself. Unique life experiences are interesting to read about, but bragging just for the sake of bragging is rarely well-received. Ask your most honest critic, “Does the person in this essay sound insufferable to be around?” If the answer is “yes,” try to re-craft your language.
8. Self-incriminating yourself.
Don’t include any red flags in your essay as an attempt to come across as “real” or “raw.” An essay is a highly-filtered, highly-polished marketing tool that should only reveal your best self. Even your vulnerabilities should be carefully curated and used to bring out your strengths.
That’s all! Now you know how to avoid writing a bad personal statement, how in the hell do you know how to write a good one? The good news is, avoiding a bad personal statement is half the battle. Remember, most personal statements fall in the forgettable/generic/good enough category, so you should already be in good shape. Check out my follow-up blog post about how to craft a kickass personal statement (with examples!).