Personal statements are often the most difficult and yet the most fun part of the veterinary school application. Most of the VMCAS application is simply a matter of entering in data from transcripts or copying and pasting information from your resume or CV. The personal statement is the one and only area of the VMCAS application that allows the admissions committee to get a sense of who you are and your personality. This is why I consider the personal statement to be fun!
My advice for writing a winning personal statement for veterinary school:
- Don’t force yourself to write. While you may be able to write a paper for class at the last minute (or even ahead of time) by simply forcing yourself to sit down and write, this is generally not an effective strategy for a personal statement. Rather than forcing yourself to start, simply let ideas formulate in your head for some time before you actually sit down to write.
- Jot ideas down as they come to mind. When you’re working in the field or just going about your daily life, jot ideas down as they come to mind. Many of them you will ultimately not end up using; nevertheless it is beneficial to get those ideas down on paper as they come to mind so that you can contemplate them more later. Of course, writing down one word might not do the trick. I can speak from personal experience that you may write down a word or two when you have an epiphany and then come back to your notepad hours or days later and the notes mean nothing and you stare at the words, confused, wondering whether that is really your hand writing and what you might have been getting at. That being said, be sure to write down the thought process or at least where you’re going with your idea. The more you can include in your notes, the more helpful your notes will be when you sit down to write your statement.
- Don’t expect to write the entire statement in one, two, or even three sittings. Sure it can be done, but you really don’t want that to be the case for you. The amount of time and thought you put into your statement will be readily apparent in the finished product. Sit down to write when inspiration strikes and stop when you’re feeling like you’re tired or have run out of things to say. Come back to it later to add, revise, etc. I know even once I created the first full draft of my personal statement (which took many writing sessions), I did another 13 revisions before I was content with the final version.
- Do not waste time or space attempting to put your resume into your personal statement. There are places in the VMCAS application to list all veterinary, animal, and other employment experience as well as to list honors and activities you’ve been involved in. Your personal statement should not sound like an autobiography! If it does, you should scratch it and re-write or make significant revisions.
- Spend the most time on the first sentence! You need to catch the audience’s attention and draw them into the statement, making them excited and interested to read and learn more about you. You can do this in many ways and there is no real way to advise you to write the perfect introductory sentence, but you’ll know it when you have it. My personal statement began with the following, “Brakes screeched, tires squealed, and the car abruptly came to a halt.” You may wonder how that statement is at all related to veterinary medicine, but I can guarantee you that it all tied in. In fact, I will be posting my own personal statement on this blog in the near future — so stay tuned for it!
- Make sure the first paragraph and the last paragraph are the strongest. Notice that I do not call these paragraphs the introduction and conclusion; that is because a personal statement doesn’t necessarily have to have the strict format that is generally used in literary essays. That being said, if you are able to, try to tie things together by referencing something from the first paragraph in the last paragraph, excellent! If not, don’t stress over it. Sometimes it just won’t work and it is better not to force the connection. In psychology we talk about something called primacy and recency effects. This is a principle that describes how people tend to remember the first and last things in a list or, in this case, essay the best. A good way to gauge whether or not you have effectively developed your first and last paragraphs is to read them by themselves and ask yourself whether or not you sound like a person that should be accepted.
- Proofread, proofread, proofread! I cannot stress this enough! Proofreading can often get difficult when you’ve read your statement so many times that you can practically recite it by heart (yes, I almost got to that point). Once you’re there, no matter what you read, it will sound correct to you. My advice is to read it aloud and slowly — perhaps to a friend or family member, if they are around. By doing so you are forcing yourself to hear how the words sound and often makes mistakes or awkward sentences more apparent. Or, you can do the reverse and have a friend or family member read the statement aloud to you. This is particularly useful because you are able to hear how an admissions committee member is likely to read the statement and will make any potential issues readily apparent.
- Get feedback! Once your statement is at a point that you are happy with it and it’s been proofread for any and all grammatical and spelling mistakes, email it out as an attachment to anyone and everyone who would be willing to read it. Don’t just send it out though — be sure to ask people ahead of time whether they will have time and are willing to provide feedback to you on your statement. The more people, the better, but try not to send it out to multiple people at the same time. This is for multiple reasons: 1) many of them will provide the same feedback which creates redundancy 2) it gets difficult to coordinate the changes of so many different people. It’s okay to ask people if they can have it back to you by a certain date/time so that you can pass it on to the next person.
- Let your personality shine through! The entire purpose of the personal statement is to give the reader an idea of what you’re like. This can give the admissions committee a “good” or “bad” feeling about you, so be sure to make a good impression! Of course, I would advise you to avoid things like negativity and sarcasm, even if that is really your personality as they won’t translate well to admissions committees. W hen you ask people for feedback, be sure to ask them whether or not the statement sounded like “you” and had your personality. If they know you, they’ll be able to gauge that pretty well.