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Medschool Personal Statement Critiques – Lessons Learned

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Hello All,

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.

My Personal Statement

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!

follow me on twitter @doctorORbust

 

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My Personal Statement…is down for now

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Hello!

Sorry, I temporarily took my personal statement down because I’m borrowing elements from it for my residency personal statement. It’ll be back up once my residency applications are done, I wouldn’t want to look like I’m plagiarizing myself. Thanks for understanding!

Here are my medical school personal statement tips:

6 Simple Rules to Help the First Draft of Your Personal Statement

You can find me on twitter at @doctorORbust

 

 

 

Personal Statement — Other Tips

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Medical school invites come in ornate scrolls, typically delivered by a flaming arrow shot through your window — after you’ve been invited once it dissolves into dust.

As you might already know, I’ve been critiquing premed personal statements for medical school for several weeks (hence my blog slow down, after all I do work, and well I’m only one man =D). I decided to take some time from my editing hole to write some general thoughts that can be used  to overall your personal statement overall. Bare in mind that most of this tips are probably more useful to you once you’ve already strung together a draft, so if you already have a draft this post is good for you. If you haven’t made a draft yet, then you might want to read this article about writing a personal statement in general first, then come back. Though, it may help to know both — it’s up to you. So, many a personal statement later here are my thoughts:

1. Avoid using clichè words to explain big ideas. This is especially true when you are the direct object or not of words like: compassion, passion, passionate, love, enjoyed, intrigue(d), empathy, self-motivated, hard-working, determined etc. [In fact, to improve your personal statement by a large margin go back and use Control +F to search and destroy these words. Don’t just replace them with their respective thesaurus compliment, qualify them each where you can afford to.]

Why: Admittedly, clichès gain their status by having some shred of truth to them. However, if you decide to use a clichè word then you’re making the reader take your “word for it”. And really, why should we take your word for it that you have integrity — the first thing a snake oil sales man says’ is “trust” me. When writing your personal statement, remember that the point give a vivid enough picture of you that schools want to invite you for an interview. Instead of saying you’re compassionate, show how you are. Let the reader figure it out. The only time clichè words are to be used is when they’re pretty much unavoidable, like some introductions and conclusions where the premises are being laid out. Another time where it’s okay to use those ‘dirty’ words is when you’re referring to other people, because they are not the topic of the PS anyways. In situations like that it’s okay to use brevity to your advantage. For example, if you looked up to your mentor, then it’s probably okay to just say, “…my mentor believed all success starts with integrity”, and get away with it. If it’s about you then qualify it. Don’t worry about going too deep into any one story as you’ll have a lot of fun rehashing your story in 80 different ways during the secondary period of the application.

2. Remember that it’s a personal statement, so that probably means that it’s about you. It’s okay to acknowledge others, in fact it’s encouraged. But, don’t let other’s visions and ambitions shroud your own on the personal statement.

Why: again, let’s remember that the personal statement is your bid for why you should be summoned to an interview. It’s expected that you’ll bring up some of your experiences that shaped your decision(s) to apply to medical school. And, though Dr. Jacobson might be an awesome cardiologist, frothing over her dexterous surgical fingers for three paragraphs probably isn’t a judicious usage of your character limits. Try to avoid going into parent/family motivation, unless without telling their story the “cog” of your personal statement machine would fall apart. You want to be able to discriminate your ambitions from others living vicariously through you. If you’re rushing to explain your own story, then it’s really time to find a way to still give credit to others while not giving them much screen time. (Sorry, I’m from LA)

3. It’s a personal statement, make it personal. The caveat there is that you want to “appear” stable. 

Why: I’ve read a of personal statements in the last few weeks (one a day in the last week). I know you guys aren’t stupid, I know you all know all the rumors out there flying around about how cruddy the physician/medical school life can be — and yet here you are, thinking about applying. So, there’s probably a pretty solid reason for you wanting to go to medical school besides “having a love for science and positive health outcomes”. If you think about it, there’s a lot of things you could do and still help people. The medical schools know this, it comes up during the interview (or at least it did for mine). So, really put yourself out there — tell the truth. Ask yourself, why are you really doing this? It may seem like a silly question, but I can tell you the number of times I’ve read a “dry” personal statement only to reach the end and have my socks blown off. I then think, “What the…I had to wait all this time to learn this?”, then the personal statement is abruptly over. Remember, they do have the rest of your application to refer to, so as long as everything is congruent throughout your application leave the humdrum listings to the CV part of your AMCAS.

It may help you to fill out some of your AMCAS first or concurrently, so that you can see how repetitive you are.

4. Remember you’re writing a composition (congruent premises, unified by a theme), not a hodgepodge of seemingly connected premises. 

Why: because people don’t consider this, I often see a personal statement will have great elements, however they are not necessarily strung together well to tell the best story. And while it’s okay to use chronological order, to avoid anachronism, but remember that each part of your story (paragraph) should play off the next. And all of the premises should ring in harmony. Just slamming your fingers on the piano and hitting the “right notes” doesn’t guarantee a symphony will be played. So, don’t try to just say enough stuff and hope some of it sticks to the reader, be more strategic about what/why/when you decide to bring things up.

5. If you don’t usually use that “fancy word” during conversation, then ought not use it on your personal statement.

Why: when writing, always remember that you’re trying to communicate, attempting to “convey” your feelings through space-time into someone else’s noggin. So, why muddy the waters with words that may either confuse or distract your reader.

For example, no one say’s things like: I read my books with great felicity.

This is both distracting, and looks pretty silly in this context, even worse it fails to really describe you. Let’s look at a piece totally unrelated by writer and poet Oscar Wilde:

  • I.  “The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.”
  • II.  From the corner of the divan of Persian saddle-bags on which he was lying, smoking, as was his custom, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flamelike as theirs; and now….

Notice that the first sentence  (I) doesn’t use one fancy word, and yet it’s still able to convey something quite graphic and detailed.  In the second paragraph, that is II, the only word that may even show up on a nice word radar is really innumerable.  In this case, this word is able to say a lot about the cigarettes in the story, it would take perhaps several clauses to try to voice the same imagery. But, at the same time note that the clause before that word was “as was his custom”, i.e. the guy he’s talking about made his own cigarettes and had a lot of them. Everything surrounding innumerable strengthens our understanding of why he mentioned the word “innumerable”. Then Wilder did something smart, he used nouns you probably wouldn’t know,  “laburnum”, and then used elementary language help you understand that that “laburnum” thing probably is a huge tree with possibly orange and red leaves (perhaps during autumn). It’s a random noun, so you weren’t expected to really know it; well, unless you work at an arboretum.  Similarly, in paragraph II,  no one expects you to know what a “divan” was without decent context provided at some point in the story. Simple words can do a lot, and often are just as effect if not more than an oddly placed “fancy word”.

Well, that’s all for me. I’m a little tired from work and reading personal statements. So, I’ll have more next time!

You can add yourself to the personal statement queue by sending it to doctororbust@gmail.com Feel free to find me on Twitter, or perhaps tell me the secret of life etc @doctororbust

Personal Statements – Taking Drafts

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Hello Everybody,

As you may already know I do help people with the personal statements from time to time. I am used to receiving pretty critical feedback, I think this was the nature of my previous lab work. I remember when I gave my principal investigator my first writing sample. When he returned it I was certain he had for some mysterious reason changed all the font to red. Well, turned out he thought one part was pretty good, my name and the title. Assuaging my battered ego, who tried to relate to me by explaining the time he felt eviscerated by reviewers. Take some time off without looking at the review, let the emotions die down, and approach it again once I’m able to distance myself from the piece was his advice to me. He was right. Now, I love to see critiques, because it means I have room for improvement.

So, that introduction was to parlay into my point of today’s post, which is I’m taking drafts for personal statements. I review/critique legally binding research documents,research protocol applications, and  personal statements (for scholarships). So, I’ll try to use that experience, plus my own with my own personal statement I wrote last year. I think in August (when my first year of medschool starts) I’m going to post my own personal statement, as a temporary template. For now, I’m still going through the background check, so I’d prefer if my words didn’t come up as a “originality issue” until after I matriculate in August.

Here’s the deal:

  • I will for no charge read and critique your personal statement.
  • The dates of submission can start from now 3/19/14 until 4/15/14 (I’ll probably regret this later =) ).
  • Because of time commitments, I can all do three rounds of feedback. So, the third round of feedback I send you will be the last, if a third is necessary at all. But, beware, I’m pretty critical, so if you don’t want an actual critique (or you feel you’re not ready) I can be pretty honest, but I try to be nice =).
  • How to contact me — just email me at ruedjgtc(at symbol)gmail.com  (sorry I don’t want bot spam). Be sure to title the email Personal Statement with First name only. I get a lot of emails each day, so it’ll get lost in the sea if you don’t label it.
  • If you follow me on Twitter, then just direct message me and we’ll work something out. If you have gmail, and we can chat there, that’d be optimal because then I can put things into context better. But, don’t feel beholden to that, just email me.
  • And on my end, I promise to not share your personal statement, nor break confidentiality. I will delete your personal statement off of my machine no later than 7 days after we finish our last session (so, I’m sorry if you lose your PS, I won’t keep a copy).
  • I will also make sure to have it back to you in a timely manner, say no more than 3 business days after I send you a receipt email to confirm I’ve gotten it.

Good luck!

Personal Statement: Part 1

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follow or ask me Q’s on twitter!  https://twitter.com/masterofsleep

As you probably are already well aware applying for medical school is a rather lengthy process. However, we should be comforted by the fact that now more than ever medical schools are attempting to bring a diversity of physicians into the field (diversity includes a lot more than sex and race), and therefore a lot of medical schools are taking a more holistic approach to reviewing an applicant’s file. Let’s face it, a solid GPA and MCAT are almost compulsory for US MD programs, though each school makes it’s own definition for what constitutes ‘solid’ scores. For example,looking at the prestigious East Virginia Medical School  2013 matriculated class their values range from 3.15-3.93 and 28-35 when looking at the 10-90th percentile. However, for Harvard Medical School if we look at the same percentile break down for the same year we get a more scores 3.71-4.0 and 33-40 as our range (stats via MSAR). So, no matter the program there’s going to be a mixture of scores among matriculated students despite all students being equal from the day of matriculation. With that being said, there are also plenty of students rejected with exceptional scores. How can both realities be congruent? The answer is besides scores you should also develop a strong application (primary and secondary), this especially includes  your personal statement (PS).

By now you’ve probably had to write at least one personal statement for your internship, research position etc. Now that I’ve reminded you of your old versions you might even have the urge to drudge through your hard drive to find your old PS. Feel free to use your old PS for material and as a bare-bones template, but don’t expect it to come even close to the 5300 character Pulitzer Prize PS you’re expected to craft. I’m not saying this to insult you, in fact I assume you’re probably ahead of the bell-curve when it comes to English composition. Instead, I advise you totally overhaul your PS because if you’re like any successful premed you’ve likely mastered the art essay fluffing (bullious shitticus in latin). In college I almost always turned in my first draft after checking for grammar mistakes, college writing was formulaic and automatic. I needed to move past the last second ‘sophomoric writing’ we are accustomed to, and start to think in terms of ‘professional writing’. As an undergraduate research scholar I had to write timely reports, that required a concise and meticulous style. Later I was a contributing writer for health, tech and fitness articles, writing 5 articles a week taught me how to write quickly, experiment with narrative tools and develop ideas. So, in this article will share with you my amalgamated  experience I used to write my personal statement. You’ll probably find my manner of writing a PS to be somewhat involved, but I decided I was getting into medical school or bust. Originally, I had intended to make a quick post about this, but my draft has just gotten heftier as I keep editing it, so I decided to break it out into manageable bits. Without further delay here is the anticipated layout of the articles to come describing how I put my PS together:

  1. Forming the editing committee
  2. Rough draft stage  I (content focused draft > grammar)
  3. Rough draft stage II (grammar & style)
  4. Rough draft stage III (re-center focus on content and flow)
  5. Finalizing draft stage IV (show mentor PS & get feed back)
  6. Finalizing draft V (style & flow & cutting back)
  7. Final Draft VI (send out final draft to all editors)

Besides your individual effort the most important aspect of your PS will be your editors. The reason why I ordered my drafts in that order was to do the least amount of backtracking as possible, i.e. conflicting editorial based revisions. Your editors will make or break your PS, therefore this article will be devoted to forming and understanding the purpose of an editing committee (a term I just pulled out of the ether).  You have a choice, get reviewed harshly now, or get reviewed harshly later by the admissions committee. In general don’t respond to reviewers with explanations about why your essay is the way it is, instead respond with the revision(s) they requested to see, you can argue about editorial issues later:

Committee Members

1. Blind content editor  – an editor who only cares about the narrative and impact.  This editor will be the most unbiased hopefully, because you won’t give them your CV/resume or any background, they will get to know you through your PS only. The more ‘blind’ your reviewer the more genuine the critique. For my blind reader I selected a friend who was getting her PhD in Organic Chemistry, and she was nice enough to volunteer her undergraduate slave  student as another cursory reader. I decided to go with someone who knows empirically what type of PS it takes to get into professional school, also she works 2D NMR so I knew not much would get past her.

2. Content editor (non-blind) – they will have access to your information, and they will make sure the story you portray is both accurate and succinct.  If they are worth the weight in salt then they’ll also be able to tell when things sound like ‘fluff’ and when you have substance. I made sure to choose another friend who was in the same scholarship cohort, she was a very strong reader and a very clear critic by training as a research ethics officer.

3. Grammar editor – they will not particularly care about the content of your writing, but rather the grammar. This editor should be encouraged to use the track changes option in Microsoft Word, after you understand their changes and agree to them just heed their advice. Take care of your grammar editor, they are your wing(wo)man. It’s okay to have more than one grammar editor, just be careful not to confuse style and grammar edits between conflicted editors. If you don’t have a grammar wizard as buddy go to your university’s learning resource center to seek out a tutor for free, but sure to let them know they’re in for a long term relationship with you. Fortunately, I had myself a grammar high chancellor, I made sure to buy her boba milk tea for her efforts.

4. End stage content editor – this editor will take your smooth and finalized product and help you polish into a work of literature.  It’s important that this editor be more focused on the beauty of the composition then anything else — they will help make your PS read as smooth as velvet. Therefore at this stage of the game there should be no grammatical mistakes or structure faus paux. Finding an editor this good can be difficult. For myself I found an editor via twitter, I explained my situation to her, she agreed and did an excellent job even getting me to take a riskier format for my introduction; it paid off. I employed the help of my past editor from work to give it a read over for feedback mostly because I respected her opinion, she knew my bad habits, and considered her an accomplished writer and colleague.

Here’s a table of how the flow of my drafts went:

Stage of PS

Editor Type Main Goal of Each Stage

Rough Draft stage I*

  • Non-blind content editor
  • Grammar editor
Clear narrative, nothing fancy, just the nuts and bolts to address you should go to medical school.

Rough draft stage II

  • Blind content editor
  • Grammar editor checks revisions before next stage
Have your blind editor surmise your plot in a 140 character composition. If it tells your story then you have fulfilled your mission.

Rough draft stage III

  • Satisfy both blind and non-blind editors
  • Grammar editor checks revisions before next stage
Sometimes editors may debate about when things are not explicit or implicit enough, semantics etc., just make sure they’re satisfied. Understand that you might not be able to maximize at this step. The main goal is to put a polished professional piece together for the next step.

Finalizing draft stage IV

  • Is your mentor/advisor impressed? If so, great move on, if not find out why and make the revisions
If you put a lot of work into the drafts then there’s a high chance you’ll receive a thumbs up.

Finalizing draft V (optional)

  • End stage content editors focusing on readability and style
  • Grammar editor optional unless you make major changes
This is the last chance for your editors to make any meaningful changes. Or, you can just skip this stage and go to step VI.

Final Draft VI

  • Distribute final draft to all editors
  • Decide if you act on suggestions, go with the majority if your editors disagree
  • Distribute PS to anyone you can get to read it, but your editor’s comments trump the casual reader
Testing the waters, you’re done, but give a ‘movie’ pre-screening and get an audience reaction. If you like how your audience reacts then you are fine, if not find a way to satisfy them before the final release.

You’ve probably noticed there’s a lot of revisions/drafting going on, it’s just part of the writing process (FYI my typical blog entry receives about 10-20 revisions, usually minor, before I feel okay about it).

*Note that the first draft you show an editor should be your 3-5 draft you’ve worked on alone with due diligence — after all no matter how much you polish a turd it’s still in fact a turd.

Last note, how to respond to editors/critics:

Remember, the sole goal of the editors is to improve your PS, that is all. It can be very devastating to work on a draft and receive brutal feedback, but remember these critiques aren’t personal attacks nor are they indicative of your intelligence. Just take them for what they are, that is ways to improve your personal statement. So, never defend or resist a revision unless you have extraordinary reasons (unless you have other editors agreeing with you). At lastly, if your editors are using kid gloves with you ask them not to, because the admissions committee won’t.

Stay tuned for when I revisit PS where I will focus on the Rough Draft stage I.

For part 2 of this article click here.

Agenda for This Week

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Hello Everyone,

Hope you all survived finals. You’re either on vacation now, or slaving away on a research project during your “vacation”, studying for the impending MCAT, or weeping over finals grades etc. Either way happy holidays! I had to attend my best friend’s bachelor party as the ‘best-man’, so as you may of figured out there were no updates this past weekend.  I actually release updates anytime during the weekend, but the weekend seems to be the best time to catch up on my writing after the work week is over. Here’s this week’s schedule:

Premed Blog Updates: Personal Statement How to be released…

I’ve been drafting this for several weeks, but it’s gotten pretty bloated and I’m thinking about releasing it in manageable/logical chunks to get the release out faster, this will also allow me to focus more on the detail better. So, it’ll come out in sections, expect the series to be over sometime in January.

I will be featured on Accepted.com as an accepted MD candidate…

I will be a featured Q&A MD candidate on http://www.accepted.com/, a website hosts a gambit of pre-professional advising services, e.g. personal statements, for such graduate programs as: medicine, law school, MBA, and doctoral programs. This also part of the reason why I have to break up the PS entry into parts. I’ll be sure to post the link.

I need to withdraw my acceptances for several programs this week…

This is one of the most difficult things to do, that is to tell schools you will not be attending their programs. While you can hold multiple acceptances as I currently have, if you’re certain you won’t attend the program you should withdraw, this will create more seats for others to be accepted. So, good luck for people on the waiting list at schools I’m pulling out from.

Lots to finish this week…

Besides my work (IRB & ACUC, and undergraduate research office outreach work), PS blog entry to write, Q&A session, and of course wedding this weekend. As you may have figured out, life doesn’t stop for you when you’re busy =)