How to turn your trash personal statement into treasure

There you are, face-to-face with the lone barrier keeping you from submitting your application to professional school - your old personal statement. “Is it that bad?” you wonder. How do you determine what to keep, what to add, and when to start over? After editing numerous statements for applicants, here are some questions that I ask when evaluating whether an old statement is salvageable or not. Take a piece of paper and ask yourself the questions below, only pulling the answers from your statement. The less answers you have, the more you may need to change it.

Who are you?

Imagine a stranger coming up to you, no introduction, and they start rambling about what they did to become a doctor. You’d be confused and disinterested, maybe thinking they are out of their mind. Well, is your statement equally disorienting?  Did you introduce yourself? After you read your statement, can someone summarize your personality, background, and interests? If you can’t answer these questions, here’s a good place to start to add new material.

What’s new?

If you are reapplying, something hopefully changed for the better: scores, coursework, experiences, or your own insight. It’s pretty obvious when applicants submit an unchanged statement. If you’re at a loss on what to do, adding these new things is fastest way to freshen up your statement, and honestly, who wants to look lazy?

Why are you here?

Did you say you always knew you wanted to pursue this field since you were a kid? Did your career start with a sudden realization? These common clichés are ineffective and take up valuable space. Instead, talk about what you like about the field you are pursuing. How is this field a good match for your personality? A reader should walk away feeling this is the right field for you.

Did you observe someone who was really good at their job and then rambled about the inspiring things they did for several paragraphs? Instead of extensively elaborating about what you liked about that person, share how you exhibit some of the qualities that you admired.

Why are you sure you should be doing this?

A reader should able to summarize a few strong reasons why you’d be great in the field. It should come across in your statement as a mature decision. To do this, be selective about the experiences you highlight that demonstrate that you have the skills and experience to do the job that you want to have.

What are your strengths?

A great career match is one that overlaps with your strengths. Can someone bullet point your strengths from this statement?

What would you like to do with this career?

Can someone tell what kind of work you’d like to do? You don’t need to narrow in on an area, but should share your general aspirations. If would like to help others, expand upon that: with what, doing what, and in what way?

Does each paragraph have a point?

When you isolate each paragraph can you define the topic? Does the topic support the point of your statement? Since you don’t have a lot of space, make sure that each sentence and paragraph is purposeful. Write an outline from your statement, and if it doesn’t make sense you have some rearranging to do.

Does it feel positive?

Would you buy a product after someone said nothing in particular was great about it? Would you buy a car if someone told you that it broke down all the time, never saying that they fixed it? Are you doing that with yourself? Check the energy levels of your statement. If it’s sounding a little sad, rewrite to make it sound more positive and optimistic.

Editing your old statement can be challenging, but these questions are a great place to start. Follow up your edits with another set of eyes from someone experienced and get it out the door.