You are applying to dental school and putting together your application. You have maintained good grades and have obtained a competitive DAT score, but so have the other hundreds of applicants applying for dental school this year. What makes you different? Why should a professional dental program choose you? Your personal statement is your chance to show prospective dental programs who you really are. It is your chance to be more than a face in the crowd and to make your story jump off the page.
Where to start?
Start by brainstorming and asking yourself these essential questions. Why do I want to become a dentist? What qualities do I possess that will make me a good dentist? What experiences can I share that changed the way I see dentistry and confirmed my desire to be a part of the profession? Why is dentistry the only choice for me?
Setting the tone
Your personal statement should mirror your personality and your voice. It is important for you to be as honest and transparent as possible. You don’t need to put on airs or try to adapt the sentiments of someone else because you think that’s what dental schools want. The person they read about is the person they want to meet. This is the only piece of your application that enables you to really show your passion, drive and love for dentistry — so be yourself.
It is imperative that you capture your reader’s attention from the very start. When you are beginning your opening paragraph, it is important to tell a story and, more importantly, your story. You need to be as descriptive as you can and creative in delivering it. You must also remember to tie your opening and closing paragraphs together to bring your reader full-circle. Make sure the main points of your personal statement echo throughout its entirety. You want to be at the top of the interview list, right? Give your reader something they cannot wait to learn more about on interview day.
Make it personal
This is the time to “sell yourself” and who you are. So what makes you you? Talk about any special talents, skills or accomplishments that you may have. You may want to mention a moment or experience that personally connects you to the dental profession. There was a pivotal moment for me, personally, that sparked the passion and drive that I still have for dentistry today. If you have one too, make it the shining star of your personal statement. Lastly, ask yourself, “How did I make it to where I am today?” What hardships or challenges have you overcome in order to get to this point? As the saying goes, “it is hard to know where you are going unless you know where you have been.”
The finishing touches
Don’t forget to proofread your personal statement. Your statement should be clear and concise and, of course, grammatically correct. Have a friend, family member, professor or someone else read your personal statement. For that matter, have several people review it for you. Did they understand your message? Was your story clear to them? Your reader’s opinion could help steer you in the right direction for making critical improvements or additions to your masterpiece.
The AADSAS Dental School application prompt seems fairly straightforward at first, but can be difficult to answer in less than 4,500 characters (including spaces), roughly a page. The prompt for the past few years has been:
Your Personal Statement should address why you desire to pursue a dental education and how a dental degree contributes to your personal and professional goals.”
Writing a personal statement for dental school can be one of the most challenging tasks in preparation for the application process. It is highly advised to start early and have many revisions over a long period of time. Strategy is also a big part of having a strong personal statement that compliments an application. Many schools will request the completion of a secondary application which often includes a few short essays. It is important to have a variety of experiences brainstormed in advance so you have a better idea on how all your writing accent one another and add on to to your application’s uniqueness. For this reason, I recommend using the following categories to plan out your personal statement and brainstorm your secondary application topics.
- Community Service
- Manual Dexterity
- Personal Interest (e.g. technology, music)
Create separate documents for each category and start listing all of your key experiences related to each group. After doing so, select several experiences from each category to further develop as possible experiences to use in a personal statement. Begin plotting out a basic outline and structure for your message. The goal of the personal statement is to emphasize your strengths without giving everything away. You don’t want secondary applications to seem dry and do not advance you as an applicant and future dental student. Address 2 or 3 of the following groups:
- Talents and leadership
- Commitment to something you care about
Using these groups ensures that your personal statement samples a variety of your characteristics that you feel make you a strong candidate for dental school. The personal statement should show what is important to you, why you want to be a dentist, and why you are a valuable addition to a dental class. Throughout your personal statement, discuss how and why your experiences have affected your decision to pursue dentistry.
Writing your first draft of a personal statement can be challenging. One of your priorities should be to have a strong opening paragraph that catches the readers interest. Members on the admissions council have thousands of statements to read and are not required to read each one in its entirety. The first paragraph decides if they will continue to review or put your application off to the side.
Often I get asked where to find examples of dental school personal statements, and while I have found various resources, I highly advise against reading any other dental personal statements until later in your writing process. I say this because reading other statements tends to make an applicant want to follow a similar structure to the statements reviewed. This is a problem because many of the freely available examples are used as templates by many pre-dental students and as a result are the most common structures. This can annoy admissions very quickly as there is no creativity to the personal statement when reading through hundreds of these in a few days. For this reason, I will not be supplying examples to read, including my own. However, I will discuss the content of my personal statement to some degree.
One of my first articles on this website, Why Dentistry?, had a writing exercise with an example of my answer to the question “Why Dentistry?”. While none of this writing exercise was used in my personal statement, it helped me first put my answer into words that others could understand. In the article I say,
This write up does not need to be perfect. The exercise is designed to “outline” what is important to your story and to help you stay on focus when telling your story to others. It is not meant to be memorized and regurgitated. Here are some key points of my story that together show my interest in dentistry:
- I mentioned my interest working with my hands.
- I looked into career choices and saw what appealed to me in dentistry
- Experienced dentistry by shadowing
- Took the initiative and started working as a dental assistant
- Memorable experience that explains the joy dentistry gives me”
Don O. over at Inquarta did an excellent job writing strategy guides for a dental personal statement. I recommend his article “How to Write a Winning Dental School Personal Statement” prior to starting to write a draft of your statement. You can check out the rest of his dental school personal statement posts here. I used his post to better understand what the personal statement means to dental schools and what to focus on in writing a well developed paper.
While working on your personal statement, be sure to have others read it. People with a background in dentistry tend to give the best advice since they could relate to the content of your personal statement. Keep in mind to keep all large edits in your own words. With plenty of writing in your secondary applications, admissions will be able to easily tell if your personal statement is actually written by you. If they differ, this may affect your applications integrity and possibly hinder an admissions decision.
Check out the Pre-Dental Student Doctor Network forums for FREE Personal Statement critiquing. Using this service will give you a good idea of how different people will react to your personal statement and to learn of your essay’s strengths and weaknesses and what changes to make accordingly. I would like to remind you to be courteous to these individuals and ask if they would like to review your personal statement before providing a copy. The thread for the last cycle was titled “Personal Statement Reviewing Service (2013-2014 Cycle)“, but is largely inactive now since the application cycle is coming to a close. Future reviewing services will be similarly titled and likely stickied at the top of the pre-dental forums.
If you have any questions during the process or would like to me review your personal statement, feel free to use the Ask Elias page! Good luck writing!