It’s not a big secret that I’ve critiquing [link] premeds’ personal statements lately. It would appear that my deadline is closing tomorrow, per my previous own post. I’ll take a breather for myself, then maybe open up reading again for the slower drafters. If you’ve already submitted your personal statement before the due date, then I’ll continue to work with you as you’re already on my agenda — so don’t worry about me cutting you off or anything if we’re already working with each other. But really, the point of this post is to discuss how I’ve been critiquing them. With any luck, if you know how I do/would read them, then it may improve how personal statements come to me in the first place. This is a win-win for all parties involved.
As a reference, I’ve also posted my own personal statement. It’s probably not the crown jewel of personal statements; but, it was received well by medical schools. I received eight interview invites from it, all schools I was honored to interview at also gave me positive feedback on my personal statement (and my AMCAS application as a whole). I created the personal statement the and applied to medical school the exact way I’ve laid out: I structured my first draft, found my own narrative, and then formed and utilized a self selected critique panel to help temper the form. As the draft matured, I went back and trimmed as much “fat” as possible. I redacted redundant phrases, mating congruent ideas in a logical place. I tossed out as many cliche words as I could manage to lose, instead I chose to qualify them and let the reader evoke the cliche word themselves as their logical conclusion. If I was stuck with a cliche word, I’d try to attribute it to others, but this was mostly to be economical about my characters and the readers time. Most importantly, I’d always go back to my ending and asking myself, “Is my narrative congruent enough to make my ending [getting into medschool and beyond] probable to my reader?”. I want to note that this doesn’t equate to making up details, instead, as a writer of your personal statement this instead translates to channeling the true reason why you’ve decided to travel down the arduous path of becoming a physician: premises.
How I Critique Other’s Personal Statement
First, you should all know that I never actually compare anyone’s personal statement to mine. It wouldn’t make sense to contrast my statement directly, as everyone has a different story; i.e. it’s easy to normalize for scores but difficult for personal experiences. After all, just because a story isn’t told well doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a potential to be a great story — you can’t fault the joke for a bad comedian. A personal statement can come in a lot of forms, the only book I used for admissions had equitable though disparate examples. But, in general when I read someone’s personal statement I pretty much do the following.
1. I print out your personal statement (I’m old fashioned, I think the best editing happens on printed paper). I then read it, and try not to take any notes yet, so I don’t get too carried away with editing. I just read your story, and try to imagine what’s happening. If anything, my first time through I try to make sense of the timeline and what your strengths may be.
Tip: after using your word processor to scan for grammar mistakes, print a copy out and read it aloud. I’ve found a lot of pretty awkward mistake in peoples’ personal statements. Growing up, I missed most of elementary school, so grammar doesn’t come naturally to me. If you need grammar help then consider taking your personal statement to your university “writing center” first, that is if you don’t have a grammar gifted pal. Just beware, a lot of writing conventions are okay with your friends, maybe even on some of your college papers. For the personal statement, stick to the traditional writing conventions.
2. I ignore everything you said in the introduction, and I look for the premises you’ve introduced. If they are introduced, I then circle them. If they are not introduced I frown, because I know I need to go fishing for your premises to why you want to get into medical school. This usually also translates to the introduction bleeding into the next 2-3 paragraphs. I
Tip: try listing your premises at the top of your page so you keep things in context throughout the personal statement. Then simply ask yourself, are you really qualifying these premises, or just parroting stuff you think they (admissions) would like to hear.
3. I then simply look through the body paragraphs, and I make a quick note about what each body paragraph was trying to tell me. For example, I might note something like, “The body paragraph 2 is trying to demonstrate their ability to X”. I then ask myself, was this brought up during the introduction at all, or was it an M. Night Shamalyan plot twist?
tip: tossing in a premise without introducing it, or having it unified in some way is a writing misstep. Sometimes, you need to go back and re-write things to make sure your premises make sense, were introduced at a logical time. Don’t toss in a trillion premises, and hope that one of them will stick to the reader.
4. I then look at the beginning and end of each paragraph, or cap and tail of the paragraph. Each paragraph, like processed RNA has a head a tail. Like RNA, if the head or the tail is coded wrong there’s likely going to be problems. Each paragraph is a “dependent” miniature essay, of facet of a whole composition. Imagine the MCAT VR, they rip a passage from a longer piece of work — but the passage you read can be analyzed on it’s own despite being dependent on a longer piece of writing. Each paragraph has a point, a beginning and end.
tip: above all us, remember that each paragraph you write must give you the RIGHT to compose the next paragraph. The paragraphs containing the premises should be united, don’t just jot down beautiful paragraphs that are divorced from each other.
5. I then go to the ending, testing if your “grand” ending is sensible given the personal statement alone (i.e. your plea to be accepted). Then, it’s just a matter of identifying when you qualified the premises in the conclusion; and, well, how convincing those arguments were — that’s obviously rather subjective.
tip: look at your introduction and your list of premises, then ask yourself have you made a case for yourself — or did you just narrate your AMCAS application aloud? Then ask yourself, if they could of just gleaned the same information from your AMCAS application, why would they be enthusiastic about reading another personal statement?
6. The last thing I do is finalize my comments (I then upload them into Word using track changes). I found that grouping tasks together was the best way to ensure I didn’t forget to mention something. So, although I openly say I won’t help your grammar, when I decide to I’ll do them all at once. I’ll search for cliche words all at once. I’d search for premises all at once etc. More or less, I’ve constructed my own check list, and I simply run down it.
tip: construct your own check list, try to group similar tasks so you’re consistent. It will help you remember where you left off, and what you have left to do. Its easy to lose track of your progress on your drafts mostly because they’ll take so time to write that you’ll be sick of seeing it (case in point, until I posted my personal statement on my blog I haven’t actually read it since last year). Tick off grammar issues at the same time, and don’t worry about them much until then. Make your own list as you feel comfortable: style, premises, concurrency, whatever you wish. I again just suggest that you make a process for dealing with things all at once.
That’s all for now. When I see more tips worth pointing out I’ll go ahead and do so!
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