Writing a personal statement for dental schools

dental admissions personal statements writing
By Hoda

Is what I’m writing too personal or not personal enough? Should I be writing more about teeth?  How do I shorten my personal statement without omitting important details? Am I even answering the prompt!?

Writing a personal statement can be an intimidating step in the application process for dental school. I remember reading dozens of example essays online trying to find the “perfect one” that would inspire me and guide my writing so that I would end up with a personal statement that could sum up my entire personality and life goals in just 4,500 characters. The reality is that trying to display who you are and the experiences that make you who you are in one page can be daunting and challenging. But is not impossible! Passion is something that can be detected through writing, so make sure to write about something that you are passionate about and it will be evident to the reader. A common misconception is that your dental school personal statement should be a list of dental experiences or how much you know about dentistry. Although you should be answering the question “why dentistry," the main objective is to paint a picture of who you are and what led you to pursue this career. So, where do  you start? 

Here are 3 tips on writing a personal statement that will make you stand out:

1. Always keep the prompt in mind

The personal statement prompt for dental admission usually doesn’t change and is posted on the ADEA website as the following:

“Your personal statement is a one-page essay (not to exceed 4,500 characters, including spaces, carriages, numbers, letters, etc.) that gives dental schools a clear picture of who you are and, most importantly, why you want to pursue a career in dentistry.”

Make sure that every sentence- every word- you write serves the purpose of answering the question above. If you find yourself writing about something that you feel doesn’t answer the prompt in one way or another, then it doesn’t belong in your PS. The allotted characters are concise and don’t allow for fluff or fillers. Once you have understood the prompt and the message you want to get across to admissions, then picking your words and what you want to share is made easier. 

2. It is okay to be vulnerable

If there is a life changing moment that you believe ties in to why you are pursuing dentistry, then don’t feel shy to write about it. We all have vulnerable moments, and you might be on the fence on whether to include those moments or not. My advice is to go for it! These moments give the reader a chance to get to know you outside of an academic context. In a pile of 1,000s of essays, you want the reader to connect with you, stories of vulnerability help make that connection.

3. If you talk about an adverse event, make sure to write an ending 

Many applicants do a great job at setting the scene to their stories but forget to write the ending! Let’s say, for example, that I write about the time I worked at a bakery (I wish!) and had many complex orders that needed to be done by the end of the day. I write about how difficult the task was and how impossible it first seemed. Then, I write that I was able to finish everything up and felt good about it. There are many things missing that highlight the significance of why I am writing this story. If you write about a certain experience in a story format, it should answer some of these questions:

  • What have I learned from this experience and how can I implement it to answering the prompt?
  • What skills (leadership) traits did I gain from this experience?
  • In adverse times, what/ who do I find myself turning to? And why?
  • What did I learn about myself through this experience?

By adding dimension and reflection to your stories, the reader will have a better understanding of who you are and how you react to difficult situations. Remember, this point circles back to tip #1: always keep the prompt in mind. By showing growth through your experiences, you demonstrate the resilience that you have that is needed to get through dental school!

Hoda is a dental student at Harvard School of Dental Medicine. She previously earned a BS in Biological Sciences with minors in Chemistry and Psychology at the University of Illinois in Chicago, graduating summa cum laude.

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