I'm so excited to bring you guys an awesome guest post by Meghan from the PA blog, Meghan in Medicine! Enjoy!
Ah, the dreaded personal statement talk. Personal statements can be uncomfortable, strange, and odd to write. Writing or talking about myself has never been my strong suit, and always makes me feel awkward. There is a thin line between coming off confident, well balanced, and self-aware opposed to cocky, conceited, and arrogant in person, and this line is even thinner on paper.
I was a second time applicant to PA school when I got acceptance offers. I altered my personal statement in between application cycles to really encompass who I am, what I've been through that would make me stand out as an applicant, and who I want to be as a Physician Assistant. These are such vague ideas but they helped steer me in the right direction. I was not 100% happy with my first personal statement and am glad that I reached out to get opinions on revising it.
I was fortunate enough to visit with a PA-C who was formally on an admissions committee board for a PA school about my application during my off time. She told me some harsh words about my first personal statement. She told me to nix the dramatic introduction - something I've been told to include since undergraduate workshops, and really focus on 1. what makes me stand out as an applicant 2. what I can bring to a PA class in terms of diversity, and 3. what I will bring to the table as a Physician Assistant.
To help those that are needing some direction I am going to share some major points I made in my personal statement that corresponds with the advice I was given.
- What I think helped me stand out as an applicant is that I am an African American woman in a health care field that is 3% African American. I touched on that in my introduction and I gave background on why I wanted to be in the healthcare field.
- I bring diversity first in my ethnicity and second in my experiences. I have taken two Medical Service Trips that I am so proud of and am thankful for. The second one made the most impact to me due to an interaction with a citizen who said he'd "rather die" than receive help from the public hospitals around him. This trip was a moment where I realized I wanted to dedicate myself to serving the underserved in medicine and in my community one day.
- This section was at the end and it included my goals as an aspiring Physician Assistant. Touch on the patient care you want to provide, the kind of provider you want to be recognized as, patient advocacy, health education, etc.
I really do hope this will help someone reading this because I know how awkward it is to write an essay about yourself. Try to be as honest and forthcoming as possible. Do not include things that aren't genuine because they will notice and will take note. Remember, these admissions committees read upwards of 2,000 personal statements per application cycle, and they know what they are looking for.
However, before you dive head first, you should look at your stats objectively. If you have 3000 hours accumulated, your "lack of" experience is likely not an issue. But, your type of experience may be. If you haven't had much responsibility in direct patient care, it may help your application to explore other roles.
If you are targeting PA programs with an underserved mission but don't have much community service, you might look into volunteering.
Whatever experience you might be considering, think about how it can contribute to you being a stronger, more well-rounded candidate. Spending more time in the same role is not always the road to success. Make your choice deliberately and with the big picture in mind.
Is your GPA really too low?
A low GPA is rarely the single culprit preventing applicants from getting into PA school. It may contribute to not being accepted, but rarely is someone who is stellar in every other area rejected simply due to their GPA.
There is so much that can make up for a below average GPA. PA schools almost universally prefer well-rounded candidates over those with 4.0s. Usually, the rest of your application can bolster a low GPA.
It's important to look for weaknesses in other areas of your application (which are easier to improve) before attributing your lack of success to your GPA.
If you have a GPA on the lower side and already have many college credits, it can be hard to budge. But, another academic pursuit, like taking a few higher level science courses might demonstrate your ability to handle a PA school course load.
A number of PA program also place greater weigh on the most recent 50-60 credit hours. So, if the classes bringing down your GPA are in the distant past, you might target these types of programs.
Did you focus on your experience in your personal statement?
A great personal statement can elevate an application. One that misses the mark can plummet your chances of an interview.
Reread your personal statement. Were there dramatic moments that were unnecessary? Did you do a decent job of focusing on the efforts you've made toward PA school? Or did you spend two-thirds of it talking about your childhood?
You'll be writing a new personal statement for the next cycle, so it's okay if the last one was bad. [Even if you are applying to all new programs AND you are sure your statement is fantastic, you still need to write a new one. A great essay can boost an application. So, if it didn't do the job in the first round, it's time to start fresh.]
Luckily, you have time to make your next personal statement better. Before you begin writing, make an outline focused on your most important ideas. If you gain new experience that is personal-statement-worthy in the next few months, incorporate this into your new and improved essay.
Did you have a PA school interview?
If you interviewed at a PA program but didn't get in, you are in a different boat.
If you had an interview, it wasn't your GPA or lack of experience that held you back.
Your application was good enough to warrant an interview. So, the program was aware of all of your stats and considered you a contender for their program.
Therefore, what you were doing before applying was sufficient. You should keep going with that experience, whether it's working, gaining patient care experience, or volunteering.
You may also want to expand on what you have. Think back to your interview. What would you love to talk about if given the opportunity? Is there a hobby or activity that you've wanted to try? Have you been thinking about volunteering somewhere new?
What could you spend some time doing in the next few months that you'd enjoy and would make for a great interview answer?
There's something out there that would allow you to grow as a person and, therefore, make a better PA school candidate.