Career Corner: How personal should a personal statement be?

A personal statement is a detailed statement of your career goals that reflects your personality and style. Basically, it tells the reader your true story, passion and motivations, which your resume and other professional documents cannot do. Many of you have probably had to or will have to write a personal statement if you’re planning on attending a master’s or professional program like medical school after graduation.

Personal statements are generally used to express a student’s interest in a certain program of study, ability to overcome obstacles, achieve goals, think critically and write effectively. One of the challenges you probably faced when writing your personal statement was trying to determine how personal to get in your document.

How personal you get in your document is dependent on the message and theme you are trying to convey in your personal statement while keeping in mind the overarching question being posed by the admissions committee.  Usually this question is why do you want to become a doctor or why do you want to do or become (insert profession). The answer to this question can be influenced by various components and factors including challenges you faced in your life that have impacted your outlook on your goals, passion for the field and plans to utilize your strengths in a career.

Let’s say you want to become a doctor and are brainstorming which experiences to include in your personal statement and are uncertain if you should discuss a difficult family situation such as a father or mother being sick with cancer or challenges you faced in your journey such as a semester you struggled. Just remember the key is to uncover how these stories relate to that overarching question. Sometimes these challenges, like a mother being sick with cancer, were the first spark that initiated an interest in healthcare if, for example, a doctor played a vital role in the improvement of your family member’s recovery as well as in creating a relationship with your family. This may have been an experience that lay the groundwork for the type of profession you want to enter where you can help others and be able to use strong interpersonal skills to make a difference because being a doctor is much more than just having a knowledge base alone.

It’s more than fine to include these challenges. Just make sure to follow it up with how that story impacted your individual journey toward this profession. In addition, the more storytelling you do throughout the document, the more likely the admissions committee will have a better understanding of who you are as an individual and why you would be ideal for their program.

Imagine the admissions committee reviewing your document. They have to read more than a thousand personal statements and afterward discuss who stood out to them and which applicants seem to be a great match for the program. Chances are the committee is not going to remember the individual who wrote generic statements like “I want to help others” and “I want to make a difference” without providing vivid examples through stories to exemplify such passions or interests.

Overall, the personal statement is your chance to make yourself stand out and provides you with an avenue to express why you are the right fit for this field and makes you more than just another number in an application. How personal you get in your document is up to you, but make sure that at the end of the day the admissions committee knows the true you.

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