Now that Dec. 1 and Phase I/II Match Days have passed, it’s time for the next round of prospective dental school and residency applicants to start thinking about that personal statement. Many of us remember struggling as predental students to convey our passion for dentistry – all without using the word ‘passion’ – in only 4,500 characters. Yet, whether you’re a predental student or a residency hopeful, writing that personal statement rarely comes easy. After all, the personal statement is often considered the most important part of your application. When thousands of equally qualified candidates are applying to the same program with a similar GPA, test scores and extracurriculars, how can you make yourself stand out among the rest?
Your personal statement is an opportunity to bring your digital application to life and tell a story to the admissions committee. You should strive to fill in the gaps of your application and tell the story your GPA and letters of recommendation don’t tell. Here are some tips that I learned along the way to help you convey some of the most important chapters of your professional career.
Get up close (and personal). Catch the reader’s attention during the first sentence and keep it. Your goal is to inspire the reader to meet you by the end of your essay. This is why it is so important to ensure that your personal statement is truly written by you, in your own voice! Rather than writing about how my braces changed my life, I chose to write about how cutting hair gave me the opportunity to connect with my clients in a rewarding way. I was able to connect this to the patient-provider relationship, show readers that I loved to work with my hands and most of all, how much I valued growing and learning from those who I serve.
Ask for help. Admittedly, I didn’t focus a lot of my attention in high school and college on improving my writing skills, but I believe now that it’s one of the most important skills you can have. We are constantly in communication with others, from writing SOAP notes to emails to our professors and classmates. Regardless of whether it’s informal or formal communication, it’s crucial to be able to express yourself clearly through writing. I asked several people to read over various drafts of my personal statement, including mentors, current dental students and even a friend with a literature degree. If you are unsure who to ask, many university career centers offer drop-in writing services where you can get edits and feedback on your work. It’s always great to have an extra pair of eyes reading your personal statement. Just know that asking too many people may result in differing opinions that could detract from your own voice.
Try, try again. It takes time to construct a solid personal statement. It took me several months before I had a draft I was ready to submit. I wrote a total of 15 drafts that underwent a few serious makeovers. During the course of writing, I even bought several books claiming to offer the secrets to writing the perfect dental school personal statement. After writing several drafts based on these books, I couldn’t help but feel confined to a style of writing that didn’t feel true to who I was. It wasn’t until I did a final major overhaul that I had a draft I was happy with. It accurately represented who I was as a person and conveyed my own reasons for choosing this profession.
Ask yourself the same question. The prompt is the same year after year: why dentistry? Or, for our residency applicants, why oral surgery? Before asking yourself these broad questions, dig a little deeper to understand your personal motivations. For example, what do you value and how did you come to value those things? How can your life experiences help you become the clinician you want to be? How can you show the reader that your experiences made you who you are? If you are struggling to identify your personal passions, I recommend picking up a copy of “Mastery” by Robert Greene. This book was written to help individuals find their best vocation and truly master whatever their passions may be in life. This book helped me better understand how I developed my interest in dentistry over time and how it matched my personal interests.
We all enter this profession with different motivations, but understanding yourself is the key to constructing a personal statement that is true to you. So get out those pens and get writing! Your voice is waiting to be heard.
~ Steven Lu, Michigan ’20
Need more help? Join this ASDA webinar. Your personal statement is your big opportunity to demonstrate your enthusiasm, potential and suitability for dental school. The more competitive the school is, the more likely your personal statement could be the deciding factor. Learn from a group of panelists on how to craft a memorable statement that is personal to you.
About Steven Lu
Steven Lu is a first-year dental student at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. He is originally from Castro Valley, California and is super excited to be able to experience college football for the first time! He also encourages you to seek your own voice in writing.