The personal statement is arguably the most daunting portion of the application mainly because it demands you to truly reflect upon yourself: "Why dentistry?" In almost any case, the personal statement takes countless drafts to perfect. As the new dental school application opens, here are 3 tips for you to take your personal statement to the next level.
Note: this post is directed toward the student who is closer to adding the finishing touches of his/her personal statement. If you are in the beginning stages of your draft, please refer to our previous blog post: Writing a "Unique" Personal Statement You Are Proud Of.
Step 1: Your character count is 4,500 characters. Consider every word to be treasured real estate.
Too many times when I've read personal statements, it isn't until the second or third paragraph that I get a glimpse of who the applicant is.
Go through each sentence tooth and comb and ask yourself: "What does this sentence reveal about me as a person, why I want to pursue dentistry, or why this dental profession is fitting to me?"
Do what is necessary and consider the simple filter below:
If a sentence doesn't answer one of those three questions, remove the sentence.
If that idea is already highlighted in another portion of your personal statement, remove it. Avoid redundancies!
Step 2: Utilize dental terminology to convey a greater understanding of the dental profession.
In my years as a pre-dental advisor, I saw hundreds of sentences in personal statements along the lines of, "As I was shadowing the doctor, I saw how the patient's eyes light up when the silver filling on the front tooth was replaced with a plastic filling. This completely changed the patient's confidence and I realized what potential this role can serve for others."
While that statement is a true observation and a good indication of what you learned while shadowing, I invite you all to pick apart each sentence in your personal statement that mirrors this, and start using the dental terminology you'll be accustomed to for the rest of your life! This is something I now see so evidently as a dental student and wish I did when I was applying.
Elevating the example sentence above would result in: "As I was shadowing the general dentist, I observed how the patient's eyes lit up when the leaking amalgam filling on the anterior tooth was replaced with an aesthetic composite restoration."
This simple change shows that you were truly immersed in your shadowing experience, since you are demonstrating the technical terminology you may have learned as a shadow.
Didn't pay attention when you were shadowing? We got your back. Below are some words you can "control-F" in your personal statement and may consider switching out with:
Filling --> restoration
Silver --> Amalgam
Plastic --> Composite
Instruments --> (Be specific) mirror, explorer, high-speed suction, surgical suction, etc...
Barrier --> Rubber dam
Front or back teeth --> anterior or posterior region of the mouth
"Holes" in teeth or cavities --> caries
Remove teeth --> extraction
Wisdom teeth --> third molars
Fake teeth --> implants, a fixed prosthesis (three-five unit bridge), removable partial denture, complete denture
"A mouth with no teeth" --> edentulous
Medicine --> antibiotics (bacteria), analgesics (pain)
Upper and lower --> maxillary and mandibular
Step 3: Personalize your observations.
A common mistake I often see applicants make is writing blanket sentences that simply state what they saw.
For example, a common type of sentence you'll find in any average personal statement might read something like:
"A dentist is a healthcare professional, leader, artist, and most importantly, a compassionate friend."
What's wrong here? These sentences are not optimal to include in a personal statement for several reasons:
Any pre-dental student can write a generic observation like this and therefore is not impressionable for the admissions reader who may read hundreds of personal statements
The sentences don't involve the applicant, which defeats the point of including them in a personal statement
The sentences fail to address the question of: "So what?" Remember, every sentence should have a purpose and an impact on the reader.
So how do we avoid these traps of writing generic observations/statements? You can personalize these sentences when you elaborate on:
What you learned from the observation
How the experience made you feel
Simply include "I" in the sentence!
The most basic example of improving the sentence above may be closer to something like:
"After shadowing at Dr. Ng's office, I saw firsthand how a dentist is not only a healthcare professional, but also a leader, an artist, and most importantly a friend."
For more tips and tricks on crafting a better personal statement, check out this post.
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