The personal statement is your opportunity to define yourself among the hundreds of other applications the admission committees look at. The most-applied to veterinary schools have 800-900 applicants from which they admit less than 200. The personal statement is your opportunity to tell them who you are and why you will be an exceptional student, a valuable colleague, and asset to the profession. In other words, you get to tell them why they should choose you to be a part of their entering class.
Some schools use the personal statement as a major component of the admission formula, but some only consider it a minor component, and some do not read it at all (UC Davis SVM pre-2015, but now they say they are taking it into consideration). You can always contact the admissions office to inquire about the weight of the statement in their admissions formula.
In this article, I describe the process of how I wrote my personal statement with examples (at the end of the blog post) of its progression from brainstorming to first draft to final draft. I have included my actual drafts for you to read for ideas on organization, length, what kinds of things to include, stylistic ideas, etc.
However, remember that it is illegal to plagiarize any part of my essay, and doing so reveals poor ethics, poor writing skills, lack of vet/animal experience, all of which make the plagiarist a horrible veterinarian. You can certainly benefit from reading my statement without plagiarizing it.
The Zero draft is a document started and added to long before you begin writing your personal statement. It is simply a convenient place to store your essay-related ideas as you go, since great ideas come to mind at random times (at least for me!). These include ideas like specific memorable experiences and clever phrases or word choices that you may want to use so that when you revisit the zero draft as you start your statement, you have all these bits and pieces to help you write. It's basically a brainstorming document. Starting your zero draft/brainstorm well in advance, giving you time to come up and avoid forgetting brilliant ideas as they occur to you as you go through your unique experiences. Otherwise, your brainstorming session might be a lot harder and less productive if you start when the application opens. I started my zero draft about a year before applications, but you can start it whenever you have your first thoughts about writing a personal statement. I ended up using several of the ideas, and I also left some out.
In my first draft, I attempted to pull together all my experiences and turn them into one cohesive story. Looking at it now, I was essentially repeating things that were already in my application. Don't essentially repeat everything that is already in your application. Admissions is already aware of all of your experiences/awards/achievements because they are in your application. The purpose of the personal statement is to tie those experiences together to show them how they make YOU unique and why they will make you a great vet.
Make sure you completely address the prompt. When I applied, the prompt was: "Discuss briefly the development of your interest in veterinary medicine. Discuss those activities and unique experiences that have contributed to your preparation for a professional program. Discuss your understanding of the veterinary medical profession, your career goals and objectives." When you have someone review it, ask them to confirm that you discussed all these points.
It was helpful for me to define what I wanted to express in my statement. I tried to identify:
---What are the main tones I want to convey? (compassion, passion/fascination/love for learning, determination, and global/conservation-mindedness)
---What was my thesis? (my thesis changed from the first draft to the final draft. At first, it was "what drives my interest in becoming a veterinarian is the human-animal bond and how I can help that bond flourish in the most positive way"; as my essay evolved it became "My outdoor experiences have driven my interest in veterinary medicine and have afforded me practice with many traits vital to success in veterinary medicine". Being aware of a thesis as you write will help make your essay a more cohesive piece.
---What specific experiences did I want to delve into? There are many specific stories I could have talked about. I ended up choosing to use the splenectomy story because it was the most vivid, recent, and exciting, and was the most medical compared to my other story options. It definitely set the tones I wanted of fascination and determination, and allowed me to connect my individuality (being an outdoor adventure woman) and segway very nicely into a paragraph about who I am outside academia.
My tones, thesis, and stories are likely different from yours. That is a beautiful thing. We are all amazing individuals with different talents, and by using our different talents and thought processes we will move veterinary medicine in a positive forward direction. If we were all the same kind of person, there would be no creative diversity and the field would stagnate. So don't be afraid to relate who you are as a person and your personal nonacademic experiences to why they will make you a great player in the field of veterinary medicine. What do you bring to the table that makes you unique from the next applicant in the stack? For example, I am an outdoor adventure person, and I was able to tie in my rock climbing, scuba diving, and backpacking experiences to veterinary medicine (see how I did this in my seventh draft below). Think about the soft skills you have developed outside of academia and relate them to veterinary medicine. Have you worked in customer service? Are you a barista at Starbucks? Then you have 10 times the customer service and interpersonal business communication experience that I do, and that is a fabulous element for a veterinarian to have!
Another tip for the first draft is to just write WITHOUT worrying about character/word count. Don't worry about grammar or spelling either, or even transitions between paragraphs. Just get your ideas, basic essay flow together. If you can't think of a word try something like this: "After that experience I felt [need word?? electrified, driven?]". You can cut, move, add, and so on in later drafts.
After you feel like you have fully answered the prompt, you need to start considering the character count. Stay within the character count or else your essay will be truncated. My first draft was 6,906 characters with spaces and my final draft was 4,488 (the maximum as of the 2015-2016 cycle is 4500 characters). It helps if you get someone to edit and help you cut out unnecessary words, sentences, tangents, and so forth. In my case, I realized that the time I spent talking about Sam's surgery was reducing the amount of words I had available to talk about my other experiences. So I had to find a way to integrate the story without letting it take over the essay. Instead of being the focus of the essay, it became a major compliment to my essay by making it more active (showing not telling) and interesting. Having a specific grabbing story is good, but don't let it take over your statement; let it set the tone and draw the reader in.
One of the people I had look over my essay was a veterinarian. She gave me really excellent feedback. She liked the narrative. However, she also thought that it was perhaps too focused on storytelling and not enough on myself or on what I could be capable of as a veterinarian. She reminded me that it is important to distinguish your interest in medicine from a simple love for animals. It's a given that everyone applying to vet school loves animals, so you have to express that love by telling them how you have demonstrated your love for animals and medicine, how it impacted you, and why it contributes to who you are (AKA the kind of vet you'll be).
Other than the veterinarian, I had my drafts reviewed by two writing professors, the pre-health advisor at my university, a couple of friends, my parents and siblings, my boyfriend, and random classmates in my writing class. Getting a variety of different kinds of people to give feedback on your essay is important because admission committees are made up of different kinds of people. Some are faculty, some may be veterinary students, some may be veterinarians in clinical practice, and some may be community members. While you should listen to everyone's comments, you don't have to take all of them. It is important to maintain your own voice in the essay.
I hope this blog post helps you in your statement writing process. I hope you enjoy reading my statement, especially in seeing how it evolved from the first to the final draft. My seventh draft below is the one I submitted to VMCAS! I'd love to hear your comments, so leave one below!
Articles in this blog are oriented to readers interested in going to veterinary school.