Take a Break
After you've completed your first draft, take a break for a couple of days so that you can distance yourself from the essay and gain some objectivity. Because the personal statement is such an important part of your application, it shouldn't be done overnight. A strong personal statement may take shape over the course of weeks or months and will require several different drafts. Once you have let your work sit for awhile, you will be in a better position to take a second look at it and make some revisions. Time gives you valuable perspective on something you've written. If you leave it alone for a significant period of time you may find (to your astonishment) that your first instincts were good ones; on the other hand, you may shudder at how you could have ever considered submitting such a piece of garbage.
Once you've taken a break from writing, come back to it and read it with a fresh perspective. Begin with focusing on large issues like structure, substance, and interest before moving on to smaller things like grammar and spelling. Remember that writing is not a one-step process; your essay will probably require several revisions or re-writes before it is finally finished. Don't be afraid to overhaul your essay or re-start it from scratch if you are not completely satisfied. The essay is a critical component of your application, so do whatever it takes to make it perfect.
Attention to detail often eludes the medical school applicant. The failure to proofread can be a devastating omission, as nothing destroys the credibility of an application faster than misspelled words and faulty grammar. Admissions committees place a high value on strong communication skills – both written and verbal – and expect high quality writing in the personal statement. Nothing catches an admissions officer's eye more quickly than a misspelled word.
To help polish your essay even further, read it aloud. This is a good way to help you catch errors that your eyes might otherwise skim over when reading silently. You will be amazed at how much faulty grammar and awkward language your ears will detect. It will also give you a good sense of the flow of your essay.
View a checklist of questions you should ask yourself while revising your first draft.
You should always have multiple people read over your essay before submitting it. It is often difficult for us to distance ourselves from our writing, and listening to feedback from others can give us fresh insight into what we're saying and reveal areas in which we aren't being clear or are saying something we don't mean to say. Have those you trust and who know you read it to see if really captures what you want to convey, asking them about their initial reactions as well as their feelings after studying it more carefully. Once you've achieved a draft you feel comfortable with, have it read by people who barely know you. Since they haven't heard the story before and don't know the characters, they're often able to tell you when something is missing or confusing.
Two resources you should make sure to utilize are Leslie North, who will tell if you're saying what you need to say in the personal statement and if you're on the right track, and the Writing Center, which can help you to improve your overall writing ability. Get your drafts to Leslie and the writing tutors as soon as possible so that you can visit them multiple times.
The bottom line is to let a reasonable number of people read the essay and make suggestions. To avoid being overly influenced by an individual reader, try to read all of the comments at once. If certain criticisms are constantly made, then they're probably legitimate. But don't be carried away by every suggestion every reader makes. Stick to your basic instincts – after all, this is your personal statement.
In addition to having your reviewers make sure that your essay makes sense, you should also ask them to answer questions like:
- Is it interesting? Does it grab your attention at the outset and keep it there?
- What sort of impression do I give in the essay? How do I come across? (If the reviewer knows you well, do they think that it sounds like you speaking to them?)
- What do you think I'm trying to say in the essay? (Hopefully their answer to this matches what you think you're saying in the essay.)
- After reading my essay, do you understand why I want to be a doctor and what led me to that decision?
Previous | Next