Editors note: This article has been updated April 2017 and all the information in it is up to date
“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.”
What Does a “Losing” Personal Statement Look Like?
After this open-ended statement on the AADSAS dental school application lies a blank box for you to wow admissions committees with your courageous goals and impressive abilities. Undoubtedly, filling in the 4,500 characters of your personal statement is an intimidating task. Although you have a lot of information to cover, don’t get overwhelmed. If you follow these steps, you can write a unique, impressive dental school personal statement in no time.
To write a winning dental school personal statement you need to first avoid all of the errors that transform so many essays into unimpressive “losing” essays A “losing” personal statement is:
- Generic: Here’s the test to see if your essay is generic and unoriginal. Cover up your name at the top of the page and ask yourself: “Is there anything in this personal statement that is unique to me, or could it have been written by any pre-dent?”
- Safe: A safe essay has shares no vision of the future, gives no promises, shows no ambition and no passion. A safe essay relies on discussion of your past experiences rather than expectations of your future career.
- Restrained: All the ‘blood’ — the joy, excitement, and enthusiasm — is drained out of a restrained essay. My favorite example is an essay that says ‘being a dentist won’t suck as much as my original plan of engineering.’
Three Main Goals For Your Personal Statement
Your personal statement has three main goals:
- It tells the committee why you want to be a dentist
- Your essay proves that your experiences have prepared you for dental school
- It shows that you have the qualities that will make you a successful dentist.
Start by asking yourself a few important questions. “How will dental school help me fulfill my dreams?” “How do my academic work, my community involvement, my clinical experiences, and my future ambitions all relate to dentistry?”
Paint a Vivid Picture in Your Essay
After you have answered these questions, it’s time to show, not tell. Find stories from your past experiences that will illustrate these ideas. Ask yourself, “What stories demonstrate that I already have a head start on developing the skills of a competent and caring dentist?” You don’t want to start your essay with, “I desire to pursue a dental education because of a, b, and c.” Start with a bang— immediately pull the reader into an engaging story.
Effective statements weave together two or thre e personal anecdotes that illustrate why you want to be a dentist—and why you would make a good dentist. To find your stories, think about aspects from your background that relate to dentistry. What patient contact experiences have you had? Think about one specific patient you showed compassion to or helped. When have you been a leader? Strong leadership stories can come out of group projects, clubs, sports teams, tutoring, being a TA, work, etc. What accomplishments have you achieved? Achievements can range from research projects to job performance to advancement in club leadership. Admissions committees love diverse applicants. What are your talents? Playing the guitar or sculpting not only shows that you’re well-rounded, but also that you work well with your hands—an integral skill for a dentist.
Passion Wins — Don’t Hold Back
The best stories show your readers, rather than tell them about your experiences and qualities. Write about pivotal moments by zooming in on the action. Be descriptive and creative. If you write, “I feel that I can be truly compassionate when a patient is in pain,” you are telling your reader something. If you write, “As tears rolled down the girl’s cheeks, I found myself grabbing her hand. I wanted to keep her from squirming. I squeezed her hand tighter and looked her in the eye,” you are showing your reader how you are compassionate when a patient is in pain. Paint pictures for your reader. Anchor images in their mind with descriptions and dialogue. Detail not only makes your writing more interesting, but it also shows that you have an observant mind—and a good memory.
Tired Themes That Kill Your Essay
Although there is no formula for a winning statement, there are some tired themes to stay away from. First, don’t just say you “want to help people.” It is assumed that every potential dentist would like to help his or her patients. Although a good motive, the admissions officers will have read hundreds of these “I want to help people” essays.
How will you stand out? The second essay to avoid is the “I want to be a dentist because one or both of my parents are dentists.” Perhaps the fact that you were raised in this kind of environment swayed you to follow in the family line, but don’t make this your whole reason for pursuing dentistry. You need to have your own passions and career goals.
Finally, you don’t want to re-write your resume. Don’t begin your essay with, “Since I was three, I’ve always wanted to become a dentist,” and go on to elementary school, high school, and college accomplishments. A chronological list of events does not show your personality or highlight your most recent and relevant experiences.
Piecing it All Together
Once you find your two to three stories, it’s time to organize them into essay form with good flow and consistency. Your stories do not have to be in chronological order, but they do need to be connected. Consider your anecdotes and write about the insight you gained from each that will make you a better dentist. Next, work on transitional sentences to link the stories. Think about how the stories relate and pull them together with a few transitional sentences. Finally, write a conclusion.
Ways to draw your statement to a close are: bringing back an element of your opening story or summarizing how your experiences have prepared you for dentistry. Before writing the conclusion, read your statement through a couple times to see what overall impression you get. You might even need to walk away for an hour and read it again. Then you’ll be ready to write a strong, cohesive conclusion for your personal statement.
Your first draft should be between 5,500-6,000 characters (including spaces). This way, by the time that you finish editing and revising, your statement should be at its appropriate length of 4,500 characters or less. During the revising process, cut filler words and repetitive content. Don’t use excessive wordiness such as, “I found myself with an opportunity to be able to assist the dentist with the first patient he had in the morning.” This sentence can simply be cut to: “I assisted the dentist with his first patient of the morning.” Good writing is made up of the three c’s: clear, concise, and cohesive.
Use Your Own Natural Voice – It’s beautiful!
Finally, write as you speak instead of affecting a formal, academic tone that you would use for a college paper. Writing your personal statement is your chance to express yourself in your own words. Don’t try to impress the admissions committees by writing what you think they want to hear, or pulling out a thesaurus and using grandiose words to sound smart. You want your personal voice to shine through and the stories of your life to give admissions officers a sense of who you are. The ultimate goal of your personal statement is to interest the committee enough to interview you—and the committee wants to interview a person, not an academic essay.
A very useful shortcut is to model your essay after the winning essays of other students who were accepted to dental school. Check out the dental school personal statement sample below: It’s an essay written by a real dental school applicant, with my personal annotations to the side. See how this applicant was able to write a winning dental school personal statement.
How to get help on your essay
Brainstorming, drafting, writing, and editing your essay may seem like an overwhelming project, but there are a few ways for you to get help that
Filed Under: Dental School Posts
The personal statement is a very important aspect of the application process for dental school. It is a great opportunity to display facets of an applicant that cannot necessarily be seen in the rest of the AADSAS application. This is an opportunity that needs to be taken advantage of in order to help set oneself apart from other applicants.
There is no official prompt for the dental school personal statement, but it is widely known that the essay should primarily address the question of “Why dentistry?” While there are many ways to go about answering this question, I believe that the applicant should rely heavily their unique experiences that have inspired them to pursue a career in dentistry and their distinctive attributes that will contribute to their future success in the field of dentistry. Here are some questions you should ask yourself when starting to write your personal statement:
- What have I observed while shadowing/volunteering/as a patient that has inspired me to pursue a dental career?
- What common qualities have I seen in successful dentists?
- How will I incorporate these qualities and ideals into my future career as a dentist?
- How have my experiences prepared me for a career focused on serving others/the community?
The following is a list of some my Dos and Don’ts for personal statement writing:
- Have an attention-getting introduction.
Admissions committees/staff read HUNDREDS of personal statements over the course of the application process. It is important to be able to spark their interest from the start and hold their attention throughout the entirety of your personal statement.
- Be personal.
Don’t be afraid to show emotion in your essay. This is not a lab report. Showing your empathy, compassion, passion, or other feelings in this essay helps give the reader insight into your personality.
- Make a statement!
Make your commitment to dentistry obvious and show that you are ready to take on dental school and the challenges that dentistry presents.
- Be original.
Chipped front tooth and braces stories are very commonly used anecdotes. Use unique or original experiences so that you don’t blend in with the rest of the applicants.
- Relate your experiences to how you will practice dentistry in the future.
Take what you have seen/experienced/learned and share how you plan to incorporate it into your own dental career. This is a good way to wrap up a paragraph before moving onto the next topic.
- Use dental terminology.
Show that you are knowledgeable about the profession by using accepted dental terminology. For example, use central/lateral incisor instead of front tooth or maxillary left molar instead of upper left molar. Don’t go overboard though.
- Be organized.
Have a good structure to your essay that is easy to follow: Intro, Topic 1, Topic 2, etc., Conclusion/Summary. Use strong concluding sentences in your topic paragraphs and make smooth transitions into your new topic paragraphs. This also gives the admissions committee insight into the level of your organizational skills, which are extremely valuable in dental school.
- Have your paper edited for grammar and punctuation.
Have a professor/teacher/student evaluate your paper. Many campuses have a free writing center that offers these services.
- Have several people give you feedback on your essay.
The more feedback you get the better. You don’t have to accept every piece of feedback that you receive, but it’s a good idea to have different sets of eyes evaluate your work.
- Talk about your grades or other statistics.
All of this can be seen in your application already.
- Include irrelevant details.
Space is limited in this essay (4500 characters including spaces) so don’t waste it by including unnecessary information. Admissions committees don’t necessarily need to know what kind of mouse model you set up in your research or what food you served at your club meetings.
- Get ahead of your training.
More and more students are taking advantage of health care mission trip opportunities in order to boost their resume. Some of these students have asked me if they should reference their experiences in their essay. The answer is pretty simple, if you did something that is usually only done by a licensed dentist, do not reference it. It’s okay to talk about your experiences, observations, or assisting works on the trip, but don’t reference anything that might border on practicing without a license. It probably won’t be received well.
- Rush yourself.
Writing a personal statement takes time. Don’t expect to write one draft and submit. Start writing down ideas early and refine them as you go along. I usually recommend starting your personal statement around January of the year you plan to apply. This will give you time to make any revisions or changes based on the feedback you get. (I personally made 16 revisions before I submitted.) Having a draft of your personal statement available to give to whoever is writing your letters of recommendation is also helpful.
If you have any further questions about dental school personal statements, applying to dental school, or dental school life you can interact with me on twitter @askaDDSstudent or email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
UMN DDS ‘14
Writing a Personal Statement?
Ben Frederick M.D.
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