How to write a dental school personal statement (Part 2)

 Part 2: Starting to think about what to write about.

So you settled on a timeline that works for you and your plans. How do you start your first draft?

Before I start telling you what worked for me to just pump out that first draft, it’s important to get you thinking about what you should be writing about. And some things you shouldn’t be writing about.

Your personal statement (if NOTHING else) should answer one simple question: Why dentistry?

Sounds easy, right? Just wait till you try to actually express it. 

You will beat around the bush, go off on tangents, and either sound like an arrogant asshole, or a really insecure, indecisive person.

That’s okay.

This is why we start early and ask other people to read our drafts! (If I decide I’m self-loathing enough, I might just post my first draft and point out everything that I know now is wrong about it. Stay tuned.)

Here are some things I hope you DON’T do when you are trying to answer that important question above:

  1. Do not just list off your resume.

This is really common because it is easy. But unless you are going really in-depth about something, please don’t give us three sentences about each extracurricular. We want to read something unique about you or your journey to dentistry in detail, not a list of accomplishments or titles that you think qualify you as a good dental student.

  1. Don’t exaggerate some story that led you on your journey to dentistry.

Please, dear Jesus, do NOT be hyperbolic in something that you did or that affected you. It comes off as unbelievable, unauthentic, and arrogant. Maybe you have saved lives as a volunteer firefighter or something equally heroic, but a lot of times when I read stories from pre-dents where they try to convey some story to demonstrate their compassion for people or helping, and it reads like a scene from a Hallmark movie. Tell us a story, but keep it real. Keep it humble.

  1. Don’t be vague.

The thing that makes lies really convincing just so happens to be the same thing that makes a story stand out: details. So, gimme details, baby! 

Set the scene. Where were you? What was the context? What was the general feeling? What were your thoughts? What happened? What did it smell like? What was the lighting like?

Don’t say: “I was a kid in the dentist office when the dentist inspired me to follow in their footsteps.”

This doesn’t say anything specific. This exact statement applies to thousands of pre-dental students.

Consider: I was wearing my favorite Mickey Mouse sweater when my pediatric dentist put my front tooth back in my mouth after I fell on the playground. My mom was so concerned, but Dr. Smith smiled, “I think you will need to hang on to that a few more years!”

This one could statistically only have happened to you. Lots of pre-dents have similar inspiration stories; same general themes. But it is important that when you tell the story that inspired you, it is uniquely yours.

Also, which one do you like to read more?

It may be controversial, but I’m in the school of thought that your personal statement should read like a very professional, short story. Don’t be shy! Throw in some dialogue, some personal thoughts. This is YOU, after all!

  1. Don’t assume your reader knows what you are talking about.

The adcom reading your personal statement has never been to your hometown. They don’t know the people you might mention in your personal statement. You have got to give context, but be concise.

You are probably thinking, “Meredith, isn’t writing subjective? Why should I trust you?”

And I would say, “You’re right. Take what I say with a grain of salt. Good intentions and all that.”

I have read a LOT of personal statements (and written a lot of personal statements...not just for dental school). It’s true, I am just one opinion in a sea of thousands. I think when you read a lot, you develop a better sense about what works and what doesn’t.

And that’s the thing about good writing. There is no universal definition. It’s like what Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Potter Smith, said when he was asked to define porn: “I know it when I see it.”

The important thing is that you get started. You must write a crappy first draft in order to get to a great 5th draft.

Take a look at Part 3 to get started writing your first draft, if you are still alive after this post.