So, you’re facing the blank page–mostly likely your computer screen, with a cursor flashing expectantly. You think it shouldn’t be that hard to write a personal statement. Yet you’ve already gotten up for a second cup of coffee, clicked around the internet, and tinkered with a new gadget for your computer.
What’s getting in the way? Well, for one thing, this essay is personal! Little in most of our academic careers prepares us to write about ourselves in a revealing manner. In freshman composition we learn about modes of discourse and maybe the format for a term paper. All through the undergraduate years we explore the lofty world of ideas and learn to analyze and make arguments and develop critical thinking skills. Write a paper on monoclonal antibodies as therapeutic agents? An opinion piece on the need for reform in the U.S. health care system? No problem. Our left-brain muscles are incredibly well-developed.
But the personal statement requires that we reveal to others the private world of our hopes, dreams, and individual experiences. For most of us, that feels risky. It goes against everything we’ve been taught about excising ourselves and our personal biases from our work. It also requires using language differently. To talk about our lives in a way that engages our reader, we must turn inward rather than outward. We must be honest in our expression of who we are while weaving a story that captures the best of who we are. It is time to flex our right-brain muscles, and most of us are out of practice.
It’s no wonder we don’t know where to start.
- Tip #1: Breathe. Really. Deep, slow breaths will help you relax. Most of us hold our breath when we’re stressed, and that can exacerbate anxiety and interrupt our creative flow.
- Tip #2: Be gentle with yourself. Writing a personal essay is a new experience, and it will likely take many drafts before you have one you’re satisfied with. This is normal.
- Tip #3: Begin at the beginning. Before you start writing, you’ll want to brainstorm to generate the raw data (personal qualities, life experiences, accomplishments) upon which you will build your essay. A prewriting question to consider: What do you have to contribute that is uniquely you?
By Nancy Evans, who in addition to having years of experience as a college-level writing teacher and medical text editor, is both skilled in and passionate about helping people tell their stories in writing. She would be delighted to help you tell your story in your medical school personal statement.