It took me five months to write a personal statement I enjoyed reading. The Application process might seem intimidating at first with everything you have to do. Letters of recommendation, your personal statement, extracurricular activities, filling out the application, and don’t forget the secondary applications! I just felt a load of stress right there just mentioning this list and the flashbacks came running. I cannot stress this enough, always remind yourself, that everything will fall into place and it will get done.
Give Yourself Enough Time.
If there is one thing I learned during the process of filling out the application, as well as my time during dental school, is that I am allowed to be selfish with my time. In fact, you should be too. Time is the most expensive currency and whatever you give you will not get back. Use that time to complete a task, for example, your personal statement! Something like a personal statement will not be done in a day or a week, maybe a month if you are a superstar writer. For me, it took me five months to get to a final draft I enjoyed reading and was excited for others to read. I didn't do it on my own, I reached out to friends, and family, and utilized a service for personal statement reviews via a pre-dental mentor. Each person was able to provide me with unique feedback which helped me see something new in my statement that I may not have noticed while writing it.
Throw whatever you know on that blank page in front of you, it does not need to be correct or make any sense. Write a story about why you think you are going into dentistry, maybe it is a person, an event, or a pet. Once you have words on a page, try to create that first draft of what you think your personal statement should look like and what you would like to talk about. Once you finish your rough draft, have someone read it and see what they think so far, and allow them to be as honest as possible. Remember, if they are honest with their feedback it means they care and they want you to succeed. Try to be as receptive as possible. After this draft, I suggest searching for successful dental school personal statements and reading through them while paying close attention to the flow of the statements and how they told their stories.
I could not read my first draft after finishing it. I sent it to my friends to read and I received the feedback I knew I was going to get; “refrain from negativity”. I am an immigrant who lived in war-torn Syria and so I talked about my upbringing and the struggles I went through, which is fine, however, I did not talk about how I overcame some of those struggles and what I came to be as a result. The best advice I received was from Dr. Steven Lu who asked me to rewrite it from a different perspective. He told me a story about a man who lost his wife and felt so much pain and then was asked by his therapist about how his wife would have felt if the roles were reversed. The man answered that she would be so devastated. His therapist told him that “by living in this moment, you are sparing her the feelings of loss and torment”. Similarly, it was time I accepted my journey and looked at how it impacted me into becoming a healthcare advocate and a compassionate leader. This process took me over a month to reach the point where I was able to put those emotions into words. The work was not done.
Take the Time to Reflect
Starting with this new perspective and after reading many statements of successful applicants I knew I needed to reflect on my reasons for wanting to become a dentist. I started having conversations with my mom about why she went into medicine and why we care about helping people and kept diving into our why; why do we care so much about the betterment of our community? I even meditated and journaled to dive into my childhood memories of watching my parents provide healthcare in Syria.
It Finally Comes Together
I finally reached my opening statement, “to help the oppressed, the weak, and the poor”. And the rest just flowed about how this value was instilled in me at a young age and how I follow through with it with every action I take in my daily life, including my career. I was able to take my traumatic experience of living in a warzone and turn it into how it shaped me into a selfless, appreciative leader in my community. I continued to talk about my transition to the United States education system in high school and college by turning to my values to make a new home for me in this foreign world.
I guess the message I would like to leave you with is to be authentic and patient. Your statement will not come to you overnight, and that should not mean that you give up on it. Let it brew. I want to challenge you to reflect on your experiences and dive deeper into the changes you encountered as a result of them. BE POSITIVE! And I hope you write something you want to look back on a rainy day during dental school to remind you of your why.
What did you learn about personal statments from Sam Al? What is your strategy for writing your personal statement? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!