Ok okurr this is going to be one long a$$ blog post because it’s a topic in which I feel strongly inclined, more than any other AADSAS application topic. I’m a former Writing Center tutor and have been the second set of eyes for many, many pieces of writing, including many personal statements. Writing is rewriting, and nothing written is ever officially *done*. Writing and revision are both ongoing processes.
In the wise words of Kyle L., the personal statement is the “most efficient, controllable way to improve your chances of landing an interview.” I couldn’t agree with him more. Firstly, your personal statement will not be read unless you reach the school’s minimum DAT score and GPA threshold. Your DAT score is the product of countless hours of studying and your GPA is the product of years of hard work, and none of that is to be taken lightly or glossed over. However, with thousands of dental school hopefuls applying across the country, there’s a good chance that many of them will achieve those minimum thresholds, and only the most interesting pre-dental students in the world will receive interview invites. How can you be one of the most interesting pre-dental students in the world?
I don’t always apply for dental school but when I do, I always get an interview
For starters, you can work on making your application well-rounded and full of dental-related experience. You can excel in your extracurriculars, receive accolade for your dedication, and volunteer your time to others. All of this will fall in the Supporting Information section of the AADSAS, where you can list your shadowing and community service commitments.
But, the personal statement is efficient because it takes a lot less time to complete than your DAT and GPA and controllable because it’s a toss up what questions you’re going to get on your exam day. The personal statement is powerful.
The personal statement is a single page* (4500 characters is about one page with Times New Roman, 12-point font, one-inch margins) essay to explain your motivation for why you want to be a dentist. Your personal statement should showcase your fabulous personality (flips hair) and the human side of your application. The personal statement should reveal important traits and talents of yours to the admission committee, be that in leadership, compassion, dedication, experience, etc. It also demonstrates that you can communicate clearly through writing. (All of these goals are relevant to supplemental application questions as well, but your personal statement is still the most important.)
Prompt: Why do you desire to pursue dental education?
“Admissions committee members are looking for motivated, academically prepared, articulate, socially conscious, and knowledgeable applicants.”
Your job? Keep it to 4,500 characters or less.
In answering this loaded question, keep several points in mind:
– Why dentistry if you want to be in healthcare? Why not medicine?
– Why dentistry if you like science? Why not pursue a research job or a PhD?
– Why dentistry if you wanna make dat ca$h money? Why not work on Wall Street?
All of the above are potential questions to address. It’s your job in the personal statement to debunk all of these, indirectly of course. Above all, your personal statement needs to highlight why you arrived at dentistry as your choice of career over many other, potentially more lucrative or appealing (in other ways) occupations. Why do you love dentistry above everything else? Your reasons should be qualifying and compelling and should allude to personal anecdotes in your life, hence a “personal” statement.
Personal Statement Do’s:
- Start writing early on! Look back upon your life experience – was there a trigger that inclined you toward dentistry? Perhaps you had an avulsed tooth? A bad experience at the dentist’s office? A great one? Maybe you felt a great injustice in the world when you realized oral healthcare and the state of one’s mouth are some of the greatest indicators of socioeconomic class there is? Consider all factors and write them down. Make a word cloud, brainstorm, and put your thoughts to paper. Sitting in front of a blank Microsoft Word document is restrictive, it stifles creativity.
- Understand your audience – admission committees will comprise established dentists and faculty of all ages, and you want your writing to be appealing across audiences, professional writing is a must (though I did make a reference to Nelly’s “Grillz” track in mine).
- Limit the number of personal anecdotes you include to 2-4, any more and the entire personal statement becomes muddled and difficult to follow. Fewer anecdotes make your statement far more powerful and personal, providing for richer detail, quality over quantity.
- Use an attention-grabbing lead! (See below.)
- End the personal statement with a conclusion that reflects back to your central theme, your message in your essay. This should ultimately be why you want to be a dentist, but with the specific examples qualifying the why.
- Have others read your personal statement. Go to your college’s writing center, consult with a trusted professor, friend, etc. A minimum two people should read your personal statement, someone with AADSAS experience (maybe a fellow pre-dental, a health professions advisor, or a current dental student) and someone with a heavy English background to evaluate your grammar, syntax, and organization.
- Be yourself! But the professional, polished version of yourself.
Personal Statement Don’t’s:
- Don’t fall into the “I” syndrome trap. Beginning so many of your sentences with “I” is drab and narcissistic, oxymoronic since the essay is a “personal” statement. Just trust me here, overuse of “I” indicates a lack of syntactical creativity and grasp of higher linguistic elements.
- Don’t write an autobiography or a resume. The personal statement is just an inappropriate location for it. The school will already have the remainder of your AADSAS application. You don’t need to show off your GPA here, it and your DAT score will speak for themselves elsewhere.
- Don’t try to impress with big vocabulary. So maybe some of you took the GRE in addition to the DAT and have your headspace filled with unnecessary words that no one ever uses in real life. Your personal statement is not the place to flex ’em. Save it to impress your Tinder date.
- Don’t give generic statements like, “I want to be a dentist because I want to help people!” Yay! 4,000 other applicants that express their feelings far better than you do as well! Generic statements are boring, lackluster, and overall tell a reader that you haven’t actually done your research and are skating by on cliches and catch phrases. Instead, tell them why you want to help people.
- Don’t be afraid of revision! Writing is rewriting. Nothing will ever feel complete. If you begin writing your personal statement early in your pre-dental career (as you should), don’t get married to it, or even put a ring on it. You two are only dating and that’s all. As you push further into your academic career, do not be afraid to make significant revisions to better streamline and highlight your experiences.
The following information is modified from a Powerpoint presentation Christian Piers, former ASDA National President, once delivered to my Summer Pre-Dental Academy. Christian was actually a creative writing major in undergrad and is now in his orthodontic residency at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.
Christian, Kyle, and I think similarly in the power of the personal statement. Christian, however, has come up with a comprehensive backbone to a personal statement that is tried and true. Hey, it got me into dental school and ever since, I’ve been passing on the same advice to pre-dental students and other pre-health students.
His ultimate goal for pre-dentals? Achieving the “under the bedcovers” moment. He asks his advisees, “Think about it. The bedcovers are what you pull over you to box out the world for the next eight hours to be alone in your own mind. You want your personal statement to follow your reader there. You want your personal statement to be so pervasive in their mind that you’re not letting them be alone with themselves.” Powerful stuff.
Christian’s structure of the application is as such:
- The lead should be the attention grabbing opener, the sucker punch. Prior to reading your personal statement, your reader (presumably a Dean/Director of Admission at your dental school of choice and/or a faculty member of the admission committee) may be half asleep, lulled into a slumber by stacks of AADSAS applications in which students are trying to sound smart and impress them.
- Be short, simple, and confident with your lead. Declarative statements will do exactly as they sound, declare your presence in the reader’s mind.
- Readers are impressed with your writing skills only when the writer isn’t straining themselves to sound impressive. This is important for the entire personal statement, but especially so here. Do not try to impress someone, especially by using long, complex first sentences. Next!
- The “personal” statement is called a *personal* statement for a good reason. It is a statement of who you are as a person. You are the sum of your life experience. Therefore, it is important to have a story in your personal statement, or at least a short one at best. Stories invite readers into your world, your life. Your goal is to be the most interesting dental school applicant they read that day.
- Transport your reader with sensory detail and literary device. Christian advices, “Disorient them from their cluttered office and administrative duties and reorient them where YOU want them.”
- Sensory details will invoke all five senses. If you tell your story of crippling defeat at a collegiate baseball game or your experience of witnessing a fatal car accident, consider the situations sights, smells, etc. E.g. “The broken glass crunched beneath my thin flip flops as I made my way toward the crushed Subaru.”
- Literary devices like similes and metaphors will also help you invoke senses and feelings. E.g. “When I was seven years old I had a mouth full of stainless steel crowns that rivaled that of a modern rapper’s.”
- Often, it’s here, in the Story section that many writers will fall prey to “healer” syndrome and write something akin to, “I want to be a dentist because I want to help people.” Again, this is the single worst sentence you could ever put pen to paper and write – though it may not be disingenuous and you may actually be a kind-hearted person, it comes across as disingenuous because so many other applicants say it too. You’re better off finding something else to say.
- Christian did us all a favor and asked our admission office what other personal pitfall statements may exist, here they are, bottled at the source: “Don’t tell a story about your little brother who lost his tooth” and “Don’t tell a story about how you went to the orthodontist for braces as a kid and got curious about dentistry.“
- The story is the anecdotal evidence that will carry them to your throughline. The story is the HOOK.
- The throughline creates context for your story. It should be written in an expository style to tell the reader your explanation.
- Thread the reader through your personal narrative and explain the ultimate impact of the anecdote you wrote about. You can cite pertinent accomplishments here that aren’t iterated in the rest of the AADSAS.
- Do not try to explain your entire life’s story. Be concise with the details. Provide only the most detailed accounts of the most important parts of your story.
- All expository statements in the throughline must relate to the central theme of your personal statement.
- Recall that the purpose of the personal statement is to get the reader to do a double-take and offer you an interview invite. It will not necessarily make a case to them as a capable dental student. That is what the rest of your application is for. “Lean, effective applications only have room for minimal overlap between the two.”
- This is where you go out with a bang. Provide your conclusion, but the fireworks are the most crucial part of creating an “Under the Covers” moment.
- The fireworks are what the reader will remember you by, and its effectiveness will be judged by how well the reader remembers you.
- Tie everything back to the Story and the Lead as well. Symmetry is aesthetically pleasing – there is no better way to impress dentists that are on the lookout for symmetry and perfection.
- However, if your fireworks show falls flat and fizzles out, you may have just destroyed all you’ve built up thus far in your personal statement. The fireworks may be last, but they are the grand finale of your entire AADSAS application.
Another post will be coming on how to revise and edit your personal statement. Stay tuned for part deux.
*This post is sponsored by Colorado ASDA
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