If you're applying to study veterinary science, a personal statement will be just one part of your application. Chances are you will also have to fill out a work experience questionnaire, do a test and possibly go to an interview as well.
"The work experience questionnaire is there to check that the student meets our minimum work experience requirements," says Vikki Cannon, head of admissions and recruitment at the Royal Veterinary College.
Some courses don't even look at the personal statement. Dr Kieron Salmon, director of admissions at the University of Liverpool, says: "In our experience, very few personal statements are 'personal'. They read very similarly and have hints of having being written under the guidance of a teacher or parent. So we focus more on face-to-face interviews."
But for the courses that do ask for one, the personal statement can play a really important role.
"If you get it wrong, then it can be the difference between you getting an interview and not getting an interview," says Cannon.
So here are some tips to help you when it comes to writing yours.
What to include
Why do you want to be a vet?
"What we're looking for from a personal statement is to get a feel for why they want to be a vet and an understanding of what they've done about it," says Cannon.
It's also worth thinking about your long-term career aims and what kind of vet you want to be.
Sam Hillage, assistant faculty registrar at the University of Surrey, says: "Showing your motivation and talking about some of your career aspirations would be good. Also acknowledging the diversity of roles in the field."
"Sometimes people forget to actually mention the four weeks of work experience they've done," says Hillage. "As that's a mandatory requirement, it's important they get that in."
It might be that a particular moment from your work experience has stuck with you, and if you link that to why you want to be a vet and what you've learned, it can impress tutors.
Claire Phillips, director of admissions at Edinburgh University's Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies says: "Sometimes it can be something quite minor that they have seen on work experience that has made an impression and shown them what it is all about."
Use your statement to show your wider interests as well as your interest in veterinary medicine. Phillips says: "We're looking for a holistic, rounded student. It's not just about academic ability, we want to see people who have other things outside work and academics."
Try to link your hobbies back to your interest in veterinary medicine, but don't worry if not everything is relevant.
"It could be sport, music, voluntary work – it doesn't have to be animal-related," says Phillips.
"Being academically very good is not everything. They need an outlet to cope with the veterinary profession when they qualify. It's a tough job, especially if they go into a practice, so the fact they have something outside of academia is important."
Don't forget to mention people
A vet should understand that a big part of their job is dealing with people, say tutors.
"Some people just explain conditions or talk about animals, but it is important to talk about the sensitivity of the profession," says Phillips.
"You need to be aware that it's not just theory but about the overall sensitivity to people."
You could get this across by talking about some of the human interactions you encountered on your work experience, perhaps how you observed a vet dealing with a client.
Things to avoid
You might not be applying to study English, but good spelling is still important.
Phillips says: "It's a professional degree and communication skills are very important."
And if you're going to refer to particular medical terms, it's really important that you spell them correctly.
"The number of people who write that they've witnessed caesareans in their personal statement but can't spell caesarean is amazing," says Cannon.
"One bad spelling isn't going to lose you a place, but you are marked on the quality of your writing, so if it was littered with spelling mistakes then it might be a problem."
"I've wanted to be a vet since I was..."
"We're not interested in the fact that you've wanted to be a vet for the last 16 years," says Cannon.
"You could have been interested in being a vet for the last 16 months, it's what you do about it that is the interesting thing."
That's not to say you should avoid the phrase altogether. Just make sure you link it back to why you would be good on the course.
Cannon says: "Lots of them will start their personal statement with: 'I've known I wanted to be a vet since I was 3, 4, 5, 6'. But then a lot of them do go on and say why. That's what we're looking for."
Too much technical detail
You might want to include some reference to a strand of veterinary medicine or a type of technology that interests you, but don't go overboard.
Sam Hillage, assistant faculty registrar at the University of Surrey, says: "I'd avoid getting bogged down in a lot of technical detail.
"While it's good to show you have some technical knowledge, it's not necessarily what we look for in a personal statement."
Mentioning the most up-to-date technology won't always win brownie points. "It's the more grounded things that make an impression," says Phillips.
Don't forget to mention animals
It might sound really obvious that a personal statement for veterinary science should include animals. But not everyone remembers. "Sometimes we get people who focus very much on the science side of things, without ever really mentioning animals," Cannon says.
Equally, make sure not to go too far in the other direction.
Cannon says: "Saying 'I want to be a vet because I like cats' doesn't really tell us anything."
• If you're looking for more help in getting to vet school, why not apply for a place on a summer school? This year, the Royal Veterinary College is offering 50 places on a summer course with the Sutton Trust that will teach you what it's like to be a vet and give you tips on applying to study veterinary medicine at uni.
The scheme, sponsored by Barclays, is free to students from low and middle income backgrounds. If you're interested in applying for a place, take a look at the Sutton Trust's website.
Admission committees look for applicants who capture the compassion as well as the passion for the field to which they wish to apply. The personal statement is your primary opportunity to distinguish yourself from the thousands of other applicants. Make a lasting impression by showing the admission committee who you are as a person and making the case that you possess the personality traits and characteristics to become a successful health care provider.
The Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS) prompt is:
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, and discuss your career goals and objectives.
Here are some tips specific to veterinary school personal statement:
- Do not regurgitate experiences and other data already existing on other parts of the application.
- Write about your knowledge of the veterinary profession.
- Include information about who you are as a person and what diveristy you might bring to the institution.
- Include information about why you'd be a good candidate.
Questions to ask yourself before you write
- Who are the most influential people in your life? What did they do for you?
- What have been the pivotal moments in your life?
- What accomplishments are you most proud of?
- What obstacles have you overcome?
- What makes you different?
- How will your skills and personality traits add diversity to the class?
- Do you feel a passion for medicine? What is the source of that passion?
- What do you want medical schools to know about you that hasn't been disclosed in other sections of the application?
- How would your family and friends describe you?
- What are your goals and dreams?
Compile an inventory of all the activities, experiences, and relationships/influences that have helped to define the person you are today. Looking back, what can you recall having changed you? How were you affected? What lessons did you learn? What personality traits do they reflect in you? These notes will help you identify the topics or themes on which to focus your statement. As you are brainstorming, you may identify experiences that stir strong emotions. These experiences are likely to be meaningful to you and therefore may be good material for your personal statement. Speak from your heart.
2. Start Writing
Identify Your Word Limit
Word/character limits for personal statements vary across professions so it is important that you identify your word or character limit before you start writing. The limit for the veterinary school application (VMCAS) is 5000 characters. Generally speaking, this is roughly one page single-spaced.
Character limits for common health professions' application services (all include spaces):
Allopathic medicine (AMCAS): 5300 characters. For Texas schools (TMDSAS): 5000 characters
Osteopathic medicine (AACOMAS): 4500 characters
Dentistry (AADSAS): 4500 characters
Veterinary (VMCAS): 5000 characters
Physician Assistant (CASPA): 5000 characters
Accelerated Nursing programs: varies by school; for schools using NursingCAS, the limit is 5000 characters
Physical Therapy (PTCAS): 4500 characters Public Health (SOPHAS): 1500 words
Get It on the Page
For your first draft, don't get hung up on your beginning or ending. Instead, just start writing. You may feel the urge to write a lot about your personal journey; if so, run with it. This may provide you with good material and you can edit it later.
- Identify the most significant aspects from your notes that will enable you to address one or more of the following standard topics:
- Your motivation for this career
- Influence of your family and early experiences on your life
- Influence of your extracurriculars, volunteer activities, and/or jobs on your life (what have you learned, how have you demonstrated leadership, and how have you matured?)
- Your qualifications (unique attributes, personal qualities, and/or skills that set you apart)
- Long term goals
Use your experiences to provide personal insight into your personal attributes. Weave a story that helps the reader understand who you are as a person rather than simply listing your achievements. Avoid repeating information that is included elsewhere on your application unless you are elaborating on how an experience has shaped you and your motivation for a career as a health professional.
Address Academic Irregularities If Necessary
You may wish to use a section of your personal statement to address academic irregularities such as withdrawals, incompletes, repeated courses, or significant fluctuations in your academic record. If applicable, you may mention special hardships, challenges, or obstacles that may have influenced your academic performance. Instead of making excuses, acknowledge and explain the situation, and if applicable, what you are doing differently and what you have learned.
Take Your Time and Take Breaks
- Take breaks from writing instead of trying to write everything in one sitting. Picking up your draft later can test whether your writing flows.
- Read your writing aloud and listen to what you hear to check for grammatical errors, flow, and clarity.
3. Organize Your Writing
Overall Shape of the Essay
There is no one correct format for a personal statement. Strong personal statements often begin with a brief background that will serve as the foundation for the message you wish to convey. The bulk of the essay will illustrate the impression you wish to make on the reader, and will flow into a succinct conclusion. Always keep in mind that your essay must be interesting enough to immediately grab the reader's attention and compelling enough to hold it whether your essay is the first or fiftieth one the reader has seen that day.
Though you are not limited to these examples, some people find it helpful to use one of the following approaches:
- I've always wanted to be a doctor/dentist/veterinarian
- My parents are health care providers
- Being a patient/having a sick family member made me want to become a health care provider
- My experiences in a clinical environment piqued/confirmed my interest in the health professions
- Through my [non-health care] experiences, I have developed the skills and personal qualities to be an effective health care provider.
You may find it helpful to use one of the following types of organizational strategies with your outline:
Standard structure: This type of organization is one you are probably very familiar with from your academic writing. In your first paragraph, you introduce the main points of your essay. In the following paragraphs, you provide evidence to support each of your main points (usually defending one point per paragraph). In your final paragraph, you reiterate your main points in the context of the evidence you presented, possibly leaving the reader with some "big idea" that takes your message one step further.
Comparison: This organizational structure attempts to draw a comparison or analogy between two seemingly unrelated things. In the case of medical school applicants, these essays usually compare a non-medical life experience/talent/interest/famous quote with the field of medicine or the applicant's desire to pursue medicine. It is common for applicants to begin with a story, personal anecdote, quote as a lead and then spend the rest of the essay describing how the lead relates to or sheds light on medicine or their goal of becoming a physician.
If you use this structure, make sure that you provide adequate reflection on how your two disparate ideas connect (or don't connect) to each other. Make your arguments explicit; don't leave it up to the audience to figure out your points. Also, don't get too abstract or philosophical in your comparisons. You don't need to say something profound; rather, just be yourself. Remember, your discussion should always lead back to you and your motivations to enter your health profession of choice.
Chronology: In this type of outline, the writer takes the reader through the various steps in his/her life that led him/her to medicine. The introduction is usually the initial event that started the writer on his/her journey toward becoming a doctor. The writer then generally recounts the subsequent events in which he/she further explored and/or was further drawn into the medical profession before concluding with how all these events brought him/her to where he/she is today.
The advantage of this approach is that it allows for a more personal approach and helps the admissions committee to know you by turning the focus of the essay to you throughout the various stages of your life. The drawback is that the points you are trying to make can get lost in the narration of your life. To avoid this potential danger, make sure you clearly state how each of these events shaped you and your decision to pursue a health profession as well as the important lessons you learned along the way.
Your opening sentence can simultaneously set the theme of your essay and engage the reader. Here are some different types of leads you may wish to try out:
Standard: State what you will be talking about in the paper. This can take on the form of a "thesis" in many ways (i.e. "My interest in medicine began with my trip to Honduras"). This lead sets up the reader for a focused, well-structured essay and helps you to get the point quickly (infinitely useful in a short essay like the personal statement).
Creative: Add interest by making the reader wonder what will come next (i.e. "I was awoken by the beating of African drums that filled the air").
Action: Take the reader into the middle of the action. This is useful if you're trying to conserve space or if your essay begins with a story (i.e. "Our car breaks screeched as the truck came hurtling toward us").
Personal: Reveal something about you (i.e. "My grandmother's words touched my soul like nothing else").
Quotation: Begin with a direct quotation or paraphrase whose meaning pertains to the main points you are trying to convey in your essay (i.e. "FDR once proclaimed that 'the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,' and I have frequently tried to follow his advice"). Avoid using clichés.
Dialogue: Put the reader into the middle of a conversation, whether it be an actual talk between two people or your own internal thoughts (i.e. "'I don't want to die,' cried the little girl").
Informative: State a fact that is relevant to the topic of your essay (i.e. "Every doctor remembers her first patient").
Ask yourself if your essay can stand without an introduction. It may be appropriate to simply begin with the action of the story (in media res as they say) and then move on to discussing how that story ties into the points you will be making throughout the rest of the essay.
Tie together the most important points you've made in your essay to bring the reader full-circle. The final sentence or two of your essay can be enough for a conclusion, especially if you're running low on space. The important thing is to make sure you bring your thoughts to their logical end and create a positive, memorable image in the reader's mind. Endings are the last experience the admissions committee will have with your essay, so your goal should be to leave them thinking that it was a satisfying read and wishing that there was more.
4. Get Feedback
Find someone to give you critical feedback who isn't afraid to hurt your feelings. Give your draft to multiple sources to get different perspectives. Ideally you should ask someone who is a good writer to help you with your writing, someone who knows you well enough to verify if your writing sounds like you, and someone who doesn't know you as well who can provide perspective on the impression you are making. Clarity in your writing will reflect good communication skills. By the end of the statement, the reader should be able to see the world through your eyes.
5. Refine Your Writing
The most important part of the personal statement is the impression of yourself that you are creating. After reading your personal statement, readers may ask themselves if you would be interesting to interview.
Quality of Writing
It is expected that your personal statement be error-free. Grammatical errors may reflect carelessness.
For further advice on writing personal statements in general, visit the Writing Center Resources page. Click here for a revision guide.