Almost all health professional schools require that applicants
write one or more essays. This handout is intended to provide
guidance as you work on your essay.
Committees Look for in Your Essay
Some Questions You Should Try to Answer in Your Essay
How to Structure Your Essay
Other Required Essays
A very important part of the application is a page where you are
asked to give some personal comments. Most people find this personal
statement to be the most difficult part of the application. It can
take a great deal of time to write a good statement -- don't wait
until the last minute to begin work on it. The SDSU Preprofessional
Health Office requests that you submit a draft essay after the Peer
Review in the fall of the year prior to submission of your
application. Use all the resources that are available to you.
Remember that in many cases, the application essay will be the
only statement the preprofessional health school will have from you.
In all cases, it will be one of the first things reviewed and will
remain in your application file for a year. Remember, you may be
asked to comment at length on any activity or interest you mention in
your personal statement during your interviews.
The essay is the part of your application where you have a chance
to let an admissions committee know something about you as a person
and why you, rather than someone else, should be admitted into their
school. Therefore, don't use it merely to list things which appear in
other parts of the application such as grades, extracurricular
activities, honors, etc. Rather you should use the essay to provide a
more personal perspective.
Think of the essay as an opportunity to distinguish yourself from
all other applicants. What is it that you would like the medical
schools to know about you that they may not have been able to get
from the rest of your application----work experience, volunteer
positions, and any number of significant experiences such as travel
or work abroad, a year out, etc. Certainly, you will want to mention
your motivation for your career choice. Be as specific as you can,
avoiding general statements such as "I want to be a
doctor/dentist/veterinarian/etc. because I enjoy working with people
and I like biology". How do you know you like working with people --
what have you done to test this interest? What is it about medicine
that appeals to you? How could you be an asset to the health
Characteristics Admissions Committees Look for in Your
If an application committee is looking at your essay, they have probably already decided that you can handle the academic load in a Health Profession School. Therefore, they are probably reading the essay to see whether or not they think you will be a good physician, dentist, veterinarian, or other health practitioners. What they generally look for are:
... a positive self-concept
... the ability to realistically assess yourself
... the ability to deal with racism (or sexism)
... long-range goals (rather than short-range ones)
... whether or not you have someone on whom you can depend if trouble arises
... leadership ability
... a desire to work with people (rather than test tubes)
... demonstrated interest in your field
Some Questions You Should Try to Answer in Your Essay:
In addition to trying to demonstrate the above abilities, you
should also try to write your essay so it answers the following
When did you decide you wanted to become a doctor/dentist/veterinarian/etc.?
Did you have any exposure to role models who influenced your decision.? Which of their attributes inspired you?
How have you demonstrated your interest and commitment to your decision?
How have you demonstrated the personality qualities and character that are ideally
necessary and sought for in a health professional?
How do you go about structuring your essay? The following steps
indicate the priority of tasks and the order in which they should be
1. Select no more than eight topics you wish the Admissions
Committee to know about you. What you leave out is just as important
as what you put in, so you are making value judgments about these
2. Put the topics in an outline form so that one topic flows into
another and the sequence of ideas makes sense to you.
3. Now that you have an outline, develop each idea into a rich
paragraph (or even two).
4. Take each sentence and focus on making each word count. Many
students have difficulty writing clear, concise, direct sentences.
Don't be redundant. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself whether
each sentence could have been written by someone other than yourself.
If so, or if you are telling the reader what you believe a health
practitioner should do or be, then this has no place in a personal
statement. Craft each sentence with care and ask others to tell you
what they think about ideas in your essay. A common problem is that
you, the writer, who has the greatest knowledge of yourself may skip
pertinent background information. You assume that the reader knows
what you know, and that may not be the case.
5. Now that you have a first draft essay, go back to correct all
technical parts of its structure such as grammar, usage, spelling and
punctuation. Get an expert's opinion (an English faculty member may
be a good choice).
6. This next step may be the most difficult of all - discerning
the tone and attitude of your essay. Although it is crucial that your
essay be personal, if every sentence begins with "I did ...." or "My
interest is .....," the Admissions Committee may perceive that you
are not terribly interested in the welfare of others. Now you need to
edit your essay to provide the tone that reflects your personal
philosophy and add "sparkle" to it.
7. Your very last consideration should be length of the essay.
Generally, early drafts should be longer, and these can be edited to
shorten the essay to the correct length.
Before you begin to write, let's consider the outline of an essay
which provides an informative profile of the applicant.
a) It is helpful to begin with a paragraph that introduces aspects
of your background that are unique to you. This may be information
about your family structure, jobs you have done, extracurricular
interests or hobbies, difficulties you may have overcome or some
important accomplishment in your life. There are many starting points
- select the one that best epitomizes your uniqueness. Not only will
this provide important information to the reader, but it will
encourage the reader to read your entire essay with interest.
b) You need to tell the story of your path to the health profession you are hoping to enter. Depending on your age and background, your story may be one to three, or even four paragraphs long. Be certain to explain what specific people and event(s) caught your interest in the profession, why you wish to be a health professional, and what activities you have accomplished to test your motivation, e.g. working in a medical or dental clinic, becoming a certified phlebotomist, etc.
c) It is important that you describe specifically what you
feel you have gotten out of these activities, what changes have
occurred in your attitudes, what decisions you may have made and what
you have learned about yourself from having participated in these
activities. Just listing, "I did a, b and c" is insufficient.
d) Tell vignettes about your experiences. Your goal is to bring
into vivid color these experiences and your feelings about them for
the reader without turning the essay into a creative writing
assignment. Tell them about specific instances which made a deep
impression on you and why. Health professions schools are looking for
people who are interesting and committed.
e) You should discuss parts of your life outside of your interest
in a health profession. For example, if you play sports, are involved
in theater, music or have been a leader of organizations, initiated
programs, carried off a successful event, etc., tell the reader what
you did, why you did it, and what were the outcomes or impact
f) Many students must also work significant number of hours per
week. If this is your case, explain in very specific terms how you
spend your time outside college and how it may have affected your
academic achievement. If there are any irregularities in your
academic record, or below-average grades, give a succinct
explanation. Do not make excuses or "whine" about bad luck. Show how
you have met and overcome these challenges. This information belongs
about two-thirds through your essay, after the reader has gotten to
know you a bit.
e) End on an explanation of where you see yourself in the
profession five years (or even 10 years) from now. In 1995 medicine
is moving toward the primary care Generalist Physician model and
dentistry, veterinary medicine and podiatry are becoming increasingly
specialized. There is also a great need for health care professionals
to practice in rural settings. Be clear about your future focus,
which may be working in an inner city neighborhood or the barrio
where you grew up. Or, you may wish to specialize in a discipline or
combine research with a clinical practice, or .......? Tell the
reader what you are thinking now. This does not mean that upon
application to residency programs in three years, you cannot change
your mind. You should also be aware that there are now several loan
and scholarship programs which require a primary care path in
1. Always be positive. There are many ways to tell why, for
example, you took a year away from college to support a family
member. If you have weathered adversity tell how you have overcome
the disadvantage, but don't dwell on the disadvantage.
2. Give the readers enough information to come to the conclusions
you wish them to make. It is better if you don't just say "I have
3. Your goal with this essay is to entice the reader to want to
know more about you.
Other Required Essays
In addition to the major essay required in your initial application, many (most?) schools also require one or more essays when you submit secondary materials. These essays often ask specific questions which you can answer by elaborating on points in your original essay. If they do not ask specific questions, try to focus your essay so that it tells why you want to go to that particular school. Since the school already has your application, you should write the secondary essay so it is related to, but differs from, your application essay. That is, try to avoid the look of duplication by saying the same things in different words. Whenever you focus an essay toward a particular school, check and recheck that a reference to a school you previously addressed is not still in the essay.