by Jeff Gonzalez, MD Resident, Department of Medicine, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
1. Underestimating the importance of the personal statement.
2. Underestimating the time and difficulty involved in developing the personal statement.
3. Lack of “flow”. You read the essay and have no idea what the applicant is trying to say. They jump from one tangent to another. When reading a statement like this I would rather not read the essay at all. To prevent this error you need not one, not two, but at least three people to read your essay and give you feedback. You need to revise your essay several times.
Therefore, you cannot start working on the essay one week before it is due. I recommend starting to work on your personal statement in July. Remember that most attendings will ask for a copy of your personal statement in order to write a letter of recommendation. You therefore need to start early.
4. Spelling and Grammar mistakes. These can kill you. It says a lot about an applicant if they have not taken the time to carefully proof read their essay. Is this someone who pays attention to detail and will spend time taking care of patients in my hospital? No!
5. Avoid clichés.
6. Making the writing process a group effort. This does not work.
7. Being too cute. This is not an essay for college admissions where originality/strangeness is applauded. Keep it simple to the point and address the issues I have brought up before.
8. Procrastinating until the very end to begin your statement. You need to start months in advance.
9. Failing to let yourself come through. This goes back to trying to make your statement too cute. You do not want to show up to an interview and have the interviewer thinking: Am I speaking to the same person that wrote this statement?
10. Including topics in the statement that if asked to discuss you would not be able to answer, such as particular research points, volunteer activities, etc… about the profession.