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Residency Personal Statements: You Need A Second Set of Eyes

Personal statements are one of the biggest mental sinks on any residency application.

Whether it be AMCAS, ERAS, fellowship applications, or even job cover letters, condensing your essence into a single page, using just your words (and none of your charm) is a daunting task. Combine this challenge with the fact that admissions committees have precious little time to review the relatively enormous stack of applications that come their way, and it can be difficult to produce a personal statement that you feel really makes a difference.

In “Seven Tips to Make a Statement with Your Residency Personal Statement”, we talked about the importance — the absolute necessity — of having someone look over your personal statement. This ensures that your work is error-free, and more importantly, that whatever general message you are trying to convey makes sense to a fresh reader (namely, the admissions officer). An applicant’s writing will always make sense to himself; the writer is combining the words on the paper, and filling in any imperceptible gaps with the implied thoughts in his head. A second reader isn’t privy to the writer’s thoughts, and can give them objective feedback about whether or not the writer was successful in getting the point across.

But what if this second reader brings along their own preconceived notions about the applicant? Often times, they do.

Who does one turn to for a second personal statement reader?

Family members are great and can often be honest with us, but we run into the syndrome where despite their efforts to remain objective, they think that everything you do is marvelous.

Our next logical choice for a reviewer is an excellent one – a mentor in the field who knows you well, who you trust, and who has never steered you wrong in the past. However, one small issue exists: they know you well. This is the opposite perspective of the admissions committee, who knows nothing about you other than the electronic information which you transmit with your ERAS. A mentor views you and your application through rose-colored glasses. Everything that you say in your residency personal statement will be viewed in the context of all the good work that your mentor has seen you do. When you say “I’m a hardworking, driven, selfless, perfect candidate,” your mentor will affirm that all of this is true, and tell you how great your personal statement is.

When you, the faceless AAMC ID, say the same things to the admissions committee, odds are they will be thoroughly unimpressed. You claim to be hard-working and selfless? Prove it! This is why the essence of a well-written PS is the demonstration of your wonderful attributes through your past experiences, and not the simple, out-of-context listing of them.

Who can be this second set of objective eyes that read your residency personal statement with no preconceived notions?

You can send your personal statement out into the throes of the internet, finding a willing reviewer on SDN or reddit medschool threads. Perhaps you can arrange a quid pro quo, offering to review another applicant’s essay in exchange for them reviewing yours. You can approach a dean in the academic affairs department to give your personal statement a once-over. Chances are, there is at least one member of the department who doesn’t know you intimately enough to pre-judge you or sugar-coat their feedback. Academic affairs deans often have a long track record in aiding students with residency admissions, so they are highly qualified to make sure your statement is accomplishing exactly what you want it to.

The final option worth considering: your friends here at MST.

Our consulting division specializes in residency admissions and personal statement reviews. Our sole mission is to help you compile the finest, most complete and forthright application possible, and to help secure you a slot at your residency program of choice. Our consultants will give you honest feedback and work with you to craft a personal statement that will unequivocally convey what makes you special as a candidate, ensuring your message is crystal clear.

No matter which option you choose, even if it’s just mom gushing with pride and telling you how perfect you are, it is absolutely essential to get personal statement feedback from at least one reviewer. They will confirm (or deny) your notion that your message is clear and understandable, and might even lend you some ideas that you wouldn’t have thought of yourself. Better yet, a second reader can work with you to help tease your past experiences out of you in a way that asserts your capabilities, and lands you that spot on top of the rank list. Don’t go it alone.