Archive | 7:26 PM

How to Chose a Focus or Angle for the Personal Statement

17 Jul

I am sort of on hold with my personal statement as I wait for editing.  You know, making changes while a version is out for review might make things more difficult.  I’d have to piece together my new changes with their input, and this wastes valuable time.  While I wait, I’m not sitting here doing nothing!  Aside from focusing on other projects (CV, neuroanatomy reading, outlining, figures, and tables, flash cards and running) I’m thinking about how to make my personal statement reflect ME.  It not only has to tell a great story of inspiration, career knowledge, and future research/career direction, but has to convey traits about my personality that I want the admissions committee to know.  Mainly–WHY the topics within my personal statement are important to me and how they shape me as a future professional.  In short, this hiatus is the thinking portion of the show. . .  These are great tips for my statement when I get this last version back:



Begin to focus your thoughts by examining your actual experiences. Use the information you’ve uncovered through brainstorming to address the following topics.

• An achievement that made me feel terrific…

• Something I have struggled to overcome or change about myself or my life…

• An event or experience that taught me something special…

• A “real drag” of an experience that I had to get past…

• Someone’s act of strength or courage that affected me…

• A family experience that influenced me in some powerful way…

• A lesson, class project, activity or job that had an impact on my academic or career goals…

• A time I blew it, failed, made bad choices, and how I got past it…

• Some memorable event or advice involving an older person…

• An event that helps to define me, in terms of my background…


Choose one or two of your favorite respones from the list above (or combine a couple that evoked similar responses). Check to make sure your written description addresses the following three questions. If it doesn’t, add details so that the experience you describe will be vivid to a reader who doesn’t know you.

1. What were the key moments and details of the event?

2. What did I learn from this event?

3. What aspect of this event stays with me most?


Decide on a theme for your essay. Taking the experience you wrote about in Step Two, answer the following questions:

•What does this event reveal about me?

•What makes it special or significant?

•How does this event make me special or make me stand out?

• What truth about me is revealed through this event?

-Here are some tips to consider when choosing an experience to evaluate for a focus:

  • It should be unique. It does not have to be life shattering, but you should be able to write about it with conviction, enthusiasm and authority.
  • It should be an experience you feel some passion for. You must be able to support it as a “turning point” in your life. Ask yourself, “How did I change as a result of this experience?” For example, did it give you a new perspective or understanding, did it give you a new direction in life, or help you come to an important realization?
  • Don’t limit yourself to thinking of experiences that can translate well into the moral of ” . . . and that’s why I want to be a doctor.” Choose something that you feel is truly representative of you, and something that you feel you can use to transition to other relevant aspects of your life. Otherwise, your statement may come off sounding staged or strained.
  • It should be sustainable throughout your statement. In other words it has to have enough depth and flexibility to carry you through your statement while avoiding repetition. The details of the event should afford you opportunity to talk about related experiences that you want the people who are considering your for an interview to know.
  • Of course, you don’t want to use up too much of your limited space just setting a scene. Make sure your frame serves multiple purposes:
    • It introduces the occasion of the focus
    • It introduces you
    • It is creative enough to spark interest in the rest of your statement

    By framing the statement with an anecdote, you provide your audience with immediate access to some aspect of your past, your character, and your personality. Also, you give them incentive to read on to find our what happens next.