Today I want to reach out to those prospective students out there who are trying to tackle the ever-daunting personal statement. For some of you, writing isn’t your strong suit, writing about yourself is uncomfortable, and fitting everything within 4,500 characters seems impossible. However, personal statements are extremely important. They are the “face” to your application. Without it, you’re only a list of achievements and scores.
Kristen Tobin, Director of Admissions at NECO, says, “The purpose of a personal statement is for a student to provide a more personalized overview of who they are as a person and as an applicant. The personal statement is great opportunity for a student to talk about their journey and what has led them to the decision to pursue optometry.” This is your is your chance to show admissions who you really are before they call you in to interview!
In this blog I’ve compiled some strategies I found helpful, some advice from NECO Admissions, and web resources to help you write a killer personal statement.
Start early. Writing is a process, and this is one of the most important things you’ll write, so you want to give yourself plenty of time. Begin your brainstorming at least a month in advance! Ms. Tobin advises, “As students sit down to write their personal statement, I encourage them to take some time to reflect on their own academic, professional and personal experiences and how those experiences led them to applying to optometry school and to NECO.” After cranking out your first draft, put it away for several days. Look at it again with fresh eyes, then revise and revise again. When you think you’ve finished, take it to a friend, mentor, or writing center for feedback. Repeat as necessary. You’ll go through several revisions before you have a final copy.
Avoid summarizing your resume. Your personal statement is not your resume in word form. Admissions will already have a list of your achievements and extracurricular activities in addition to your GPA and OAT scores. What they really need to know is who you are as a person, what you value, and what kind of doctor you will be. Ms. Tobin explains, “At NECO we complete a very holistic approach of applications which includes reviewing grades, test scores, work, volunteer and extracurricular experience, and letters of recommendation. What the personal statement adds to the equation is insight into the student as a person and also as a potential student and optometrist.”
Tell a story. Admissions staff will be reading through hundreds of applications; yours needs to stand out. Try structuring your personal statement in a way that follows a narrative. Begin with a hook, something that draws the reader in, such as a particular experience or personality trait that makes you unique. Then use that throughout the paper to keep a natural flow. While a thesis statement is not necessary for personal statements, I recommend having one to guide and structure the rest of your paper.
For example, I began my personal statement by describing the scene at one of my volunteer experiences. I then used aspects of that experience throughout the paper to illustrate why optometry is a good fit and what traits I felt qualified me to be admitted.
Be you. One of the purposes of the personal statement is for admissions to find out what kind of person you are. This is your chance to show your personality! Talk about why you chose optometry and what motivates you to succeed. It might feel more natural to talk about your family, the doctors you shadowed, or particular patient experiences, but remember to focus on you. The admissions staff at NECO wants you to know “The best personal statements are reflective, thoughtful, honest and most importantly, well written! We understand that not every student has a radically compelling story but we know that everyone does have something to share. I find that optometry students are some of the most dedicated, hard-working and compassionate people I have ever met and often times the best essays exude these qualities.
Still feeling lost? Check out these articles written for students just like you:
- “Optometry schools are looking for “well-rounded” candidates who have achieved success not only in the classroom but also in other areas. Leadership ability, a disposition to serve others, and a work ethic characterized by dedication and persistence are just a few of the qualities that impress most admission committees.”
- “Your application to [optometry] school is a testimony to your desire to ultimately be a doctor. The admissions committee will look at your essay to see that you’ve answered the obvious, but not so simple, question “Why?” You must be able to explain your motivation for attending [optometry] school.”
- “Remember that you’re selling yourself as a great addition to the profession. This is where you talk about your strengths, passion for the field, and all your extra-curricular hard work you’ve done in preparing for optometry school.”
- “The goal of this essay is to have your reader put down your [personal statement] and say to themselves “wow, this applicant knows exactly why they want to become a [optometrist] and it's legit.” NOT “oh wow this applicant is very qualified.”