Saturday, March 10, 2012

How to Write a Winning Personal Statement - Book Review



A while back I wrote a post on tips for writing a medical school personal statement. This morning I received an email from the Contact Me form with a question that I think is worth answering publicly:


In your posts about writing a personal statement, you mention reading other people's successful personal statements. Can you tell me how I can have access to these? Are there any specific books or any other resources with sample essays that you would recommend?
Sincerely, A.T.


To answer this question, I went to my school's library and looked this book up. I took the above pictures and sat down with a coffee to write this post. Back when I was figuring out how to apply to med schools and write the essays, I was lucky enough to have a couple of great advisors, one of which led me to this book. I was glad he did, because the style of writing used in composing a personal statement is very different than that to which most people are accustomed, especially science majors. Most premeds are used to writing dry, informative lab reports or research articles. They're not used to figuring out how to grab and hold their readers' attention. For the first time ever, premeds have to blatantly write about why they want to, should, and can become doctors without making it seem like they're full of themselves. That is not easy to do well.


My advisor recommended this book to me, and I can confidently pass along his recommendation.The book is called "How to Write a Winning Personal Statement for Graduate and Professional School," by Richard J. Stelzer. For those interested, the ISBN number is 1-56079-855-6 and can be found on Amazon.com here. It may seem a little dated (published 15 years ago), but I assure you that the content is golden.


The book takes you though a structured process on how to go about composing your story, then gives you examples of both good and bad personal statements. I can't tell you how important this is, as doing web searches will not always result in trustworthy examples. The book also tells you specifically what types of words and errors to avoid in your writing - things that admissions committee members will probably be sick of seeing all the time, and thus will ignore. It helps you figure out how to make your personal statement stand out without doing so in a bad way.


In the last section of the book, it gives advice from "representatives of leading graduate and professional schools," separating the schools out by discipline. The medical school representatives included members from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, Yale University School of Medicine, and UCLA School of Medicine. It even supplies a questionnaire to pass around to friends and family members. At just $0.04 for a used copy from Amazon, you really can't go wrong. I found this book to be an incredibly valuable resource.

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