How to write a dental school personal statement (Part 1)

 Part 1: Why it’s so important, timeline and finding help.

I’m not going to sugarcoat this: this part of your application is probably one of the most difficult parts, and the most important. Honestly, it’s so overwhelming, it’s even hard for me now to know where to start in explaining how to do this, and do it well!

Your GPA and DAT will hopefully raise an eyebrow and get you in the adcom’s “good stack,” but your personal statement is what gets you the interview and that lovely little foot of yours in the door at Your Dream School™.

Adcoms look at your number stats, your list of volunteering, extracurricular activities, but they don’t hear your voice or get to know you through that. Your personal statement is your biggest chance to say, “This is who I am, don’t you want to hear more? Perhaps in an interview?”

Anyone can get the grades, the DAT, a nice tidy little list of things that look good, but not everyone can “wow” when they write. It’s a long, time-consuming process.

The hardest part? You really shouldn’t talk about your resume in your personal statement. (Whaaaa???) Yes, I said it. But I will write more on the actual content of your personal statement in another Personal Statement post.

A lot of science people like many of us applying to dental school didn’t have to take a lot of writing-heavy courses in college, or write many papers for that matter. So you may be rusty too if you haven't written a paper since English 101 Freshman year.

So let’s start with the timeline first. From my experience mentoring pre-dental students, the personal statement is the part they tend to A) start wayyyy too late, and B) underestimate in terms of difficulty and importance.

I feel like a broken record because I’m pretty sure I mention this in all my posts, but even before writing your personal statement, you have got to figure out when you will submit your completed application on AADSAS. I will always, always, ALWAYS, recommend pre-dents submit their application within the first week the AADSAS accepts hard submissions which is usually the first week of June. (The soft open is usually mid-May.)

So, if you are following my suggested timeline (and I really encourage you to do so!), you should plan to write a rough draft of your personal statement 6 months prior. So get a draft in December or January. Don’t be disheartened though if you are reading this and it is 3 months before you want to submit! Just remember the less time you give yourself, the less time you are giving yourself to get good feedback from trusted reviewers, and the more stress you are adding to your life since you might still be in school or preparing for the DAT, or whatever.

Meredith, why 6 months? Well, if you are like me. The first draft is not going to be good enough. And neither is the 2nd, or 4th, or 11th. (Yep, I went through 12 drafts.) You should plan a couple weeks to write that initial draft, then give it to someone you trust to read it and give you feedback (preferably a pre-health career advisor at your school, or even a pre-dental advisor if you are lucky enough to have one of those, or me--use the contact form to the right!). Plan for them to take some time to read and give feedback, then you will need to modify it, return it to another mentor/friend/trusted source for another round of feedback. Rinse and repeat until it's all smooth and shiny.

That all takes TIME. And whoever you decide to ask for help also has their own life, and you should respect their time and availability too. I just can’t forget, someone who asked for my mentorship asked me the night before AADSAS submissions opened to review their personal statement. I think my head spun around. Don’t be that guy who waits until the night before to ask for help. It’s really not a good look.

So that is why I say give yourself 6 months and find at least one trusted (and reliable) person to give you feedback so you can tackle your personal statement in the best, least stressful way.

Are you still awake? Go read Part 2 then.