In this episode, Ryan answers a commonly asked question among nontraditional students which is about how you can fit in your life experiences into a personal statement. How do you actually fit your life into 4500 or 5300 characters?
We take questions directly from the OldPreMeds.org forum where they will be answered here on the podcast. If you have questions, whether you’re a nontraditional or traditional student, go to OldPreMeds.org and register for an account.
OldPreMeds Question of the Week:
The poster is asking how to fit everything into his personal statement considering that he has done a lot of traveling and did online courses because his parents threatened to take away his funds for school if he didn’t study. Now, he has been working hard in the last few months to gain volunteer hours, research work, shadowing experience, focusing on GPA, studying for the MCAT. However, he is having a hard time visualizing how all the travel experience and unique approach to his 20s will look in a personal statement versus being lazy or avoiding work life.
Here are the insights from Ryan:
“How do you fit in your life experiences into a personal statement?” Such is a wrong question for you to ask.
Your life experiences are a huge part of who you are in your application. However, your personal statement is your story about why you’re pursuing medicine. At the end of your personal statement, the admissions committee needs to be able to understand why you want to be a doctor.
So it’s not about your travel experiences, not about how all this travel has led to you being culturally diverse or how it’s helped you develop time management skills, etc.
Therefore, the question should be:
“Why do you want to be a doctor and how do you write about that?”
Have these travel experiences deepened your resolve to be a physician? If yes, then talk about a little bit of that since you need to support “why you want to be a doctor” with these experiences you’ve had along the way.
Major takeaway from this episode:
You don’t need to talk about your travel and how it’s taught you all these skills in your personal statement. This does not belong there. What your personal statement should contain rather is why you essentially want to become a doctor.
If you need help with your personal statement, Ryan offers editing services. Simply go to www.medicalschoolhq.net/personal-statement-editing
Links and Other Resources:
Dr. Ryan Gray: The Old Premeds Podcast, session number 44.
You’re a nontraditional student entering the medical field on your terms. You may have had some hiccups along the way, but now you’re now ready to change course and go back and serve others as a physician. This podcast is here to help answer your questions and help educate you on your journey to becoming a physician.
Now welcome back if this is not your first time joining us, and welcome if it is. The Old Premeds Podcast is part of the Med Ed Media network, Medical Education Media network, which you can find at www.MedEdMedia.com. You can see all of the podcasts and other interesting things that we’re doing over there. Again that’s www.MedEdMedia.com.
We take questions directly from the www.OldPremeds.org forums and answer them here on the podcast. So if you have questions and you’re a nontraditional student, or even if you’re a traditional student but still have questions, go over to www.OldPremeds.org, register for an account if you don’t already have one. It’s free, it’s easy, and go ask questions and we’ll hopefully pick it up here on the podcast. Now the question for this week is from a nontrad who has a very unique back story of traveling all over the place, and he is interested to know how to approach this on his personal statement. So we’ve talked a lot about personal statements lately, and here’s another question along those same lines. And as you go through this process, and you hear some of these questions, or you read the questions in the forums, everybody thinks they have a unique situation, and what you will find out is that every situation kind of fits into a certain bucket. And so this bucket is ‘how do I write about my past in a personal statement?’ And so let me ask the question first, and then I’ll kind of answer that question about how to write about your past in a personal statement.
What to Include in a Personal Statement
So I’ll give a brief overview because this student, this poster basically gave his whole life of traveling, and it sounds like he’s had some amazing experiences living all over the world, and has now re-dedicated himself to becoming a physician. And so he is talking about how to fit everything into his personal statement. He’s got a lot of traveling, he did online courses because his parents threatened to take away his funds for school. His parents had saved some money for him to go to university, and I say ‘university’ because he’s Canadian, and so that’s what everybody outside of the US says. In the US we just call it college. And so his parents had saved up money for college, and he wanted to go travel, and his parents said, “Well if you travel we’re going to take your money away.” And so he signed up for online classes so that he could travel and take classes, which is a good compromise there I think. And so he now has been working hard in the last few months to gain volunteer hours, research work, shadowing experience, focusing on GPA, studying for the MCAT. He says, ‘However I am having a hard time visualizing how all of this travel experience and unique approach to my twenties will look in a personal statement, rather than being lazy or avoiding work life.’
And so he says, ‘Taking distance education has been extremely challenging and it requires a lot of dedication and determination as well as other important skills such as time management discipline, and all the travels and interesting foreign countries I travelled to taught me so much about other cultures and about myself that I think are all beneficial, but I don’t know how to show all of this with an appropriate length of time.’
Alright so again, this question of how do you fit in your life experiences into a personal statement is the wrong question to be asking. So your life experiences are going to be a huge part of who you are about your application, but your personal statement is your story about why you are pursuing medicine. At the end of your personal statement I need to be able to understand why you want to be a doctor, not about your travel experiences, not about how all this travel has led to you being culturally diverse, how it’s helped you develop time management skills, and all of these other things that you’re talking about here- that this poster is talking about.
So again it comes down to the wrong question. The question should be ‘why do I want to be a doctor, and how do I write about that?’ Now have these travel experiences deepened your resolve to be a physician, then you can talk about a little bit of that because you’re going to talk about why you want to be a doctor, and you’re going to support that with your experiences that you’ve had along the way. What is supporting that decision? Now if you go back and read this original post, it doesn’t really sound like the experiences of traveling strengthened the desire to be a physician, it’s more of a conversation that he had with a resident- a cardiothoracic surgery resident. So I’m hard-pressed to see at least in the question here that was written how the traveling has led to wanting to be a physician. But definitely, definitely, definitely you don’t need to talk about your traveling, you don’t need to talk about how it’s taught you all of these skills that you mentioned here about being dedicated, and determined, and building time management, and discipline; that stuff doesn’t belong in the personal statement, that belongs elsewhere. Maybe it belongs in one section of your application where you talk about your extracurricular activities, you just talk about travel and then you talk about the experiences you had traveling, and what you learned from that and how you hope to carry that forward as a physician. I think that would be a good place for it, but your personal statement again, that’s your place to talk about why you want to be a doctor, that’s it.
Alright I hope that answered that question. Pretty straightforward one. I like talking about personal statements because a lot of students make this same mistake. They come into it thinking or wondering how they write about their experiences, especially for nontrad students, you sit there and you question, ‘I’m thirty years old, I’m forty years old, how am I supposed to fit my life into 5,300 characters or 4,500 characters.’ And you’re sitting there slamming your fist on the table going, ‘Oh these 21 year olds and 22 year olds, they have plenty of room because they’re not as old as I am, and haven’t had the experiences that I’ve had.’ But again, you want to talk about why you want to be a doctor, not about your whole life experience. So focus on that, figure out what that inciting event was, and this poster for this question talked about checking out a book in fourth grade called ‘Brain Surgery for Beginners.’ I don’t know why somebody in the fourth grade is reading that, but it’s interesting and kind of funny, and so you can talk about that and then talk about those experiences afterwards that are continuing to support that decision to be a physician.
So if you need help with your personal statement, I do offer personal statement editing. You can go to www.MedicalSchoolHQ.net/personal-statement-editing with hyphens in between personal and statement, and statement and editing. Or just go to www.MedicalSchoolHQ.net and at the top in the menu there, there is a menu option called ‘Our Services’ and personal statement editing is on there. So go check that out, again www.MedicalSchoolHQ.net.
Alright if you have questions that you want answered here on the podcast, go to www.OldPremeds.org, register for an account, go ask a question and if we don’t get to your question here immediately on the podcast, which again we only release them once a week, there are- the Old Premeds community is phenomenal and is very helpful. So even if we don’t answer your question right away on the podcast, somebody will get to your question hopefully.
Alright I hope you got some good information out of the episode today. Go check out, like I mentioned earlier, www.MedEdMedia.com, check out all the other podcasts that we’re working on, and next week I hope you join us for another amazing episode- I think they’re amazing, here Old Premeds and the Old Premeds Podcast. Have a great week.
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