So, what to write in your personal statement? That’s a tough one, because there are many different things that universities look for in your personal statement and each university uses the personal statement differently when deciding who to make offers to.
Different universities want to hear slightly different things in your personal statement. To some universities, the personal statement is your chance to talk about any and all extracurriculars you like to do. Other universities, however, like for you to take a more academic approach to your personal statement; explain why you’re so passionate about studying medicine and eventually becoming a doctor. The all-important thing that pretty much all universities want you to talk about is what you’ve learnt during your work experience. As I mentioned in my work experience article, talking about what you’ve learnt can help show to the university that you understand the challenges of being a doctor. Making sure that you have a realistic idea about what medicine is like is very important to universities. So those are the three key themes that you should definitely cover in your personal statement.
The balance of how much you should write about each theme is what really varies from university to university. Some universities, like Oxbridge, are more interested in the academic side with about 80% academia and 20% extracurricular. Now it’s up to you how you interpret that, in my eyes that 80% probably includes the work experience talk too. Other universities are really into their extracurriculars, for example I was told when I was applying that the University of Edinburgh specifically liked to know about extracurriculars. So what I’m saying is the balance really varies, however an important thing to remember is that you are applying to a maximum of 4 different medical schools with the same personal statement. That means that even if your first choice uni specifically likes more emphasis on one theme, you should still be considering what your other 3 universities like to see in personal statements too. Your safest bet would probably be to do a sort of 40-40-20 split between academia, work experience and extracurricular in your personal statement… but that’s just a suggestion! There is no set formula for the perfect personal statement, each person has different strengths and different things to talk about. Write a personal statement that works for you, and don’t be too rigid about your balance between the three themes. And hey, if you think there are more themes that you’d like to focus on then go for it! The personal statement is personal, remember that and make it your own. No admissions officer wants to read 1000+ personal statements which are exactly the same!
Speaking of the illustrious admissions team, it is a good idea for you to find out how exactly the universities you are applying to use your personal statement. Some universities use the personal statement as a box-checking exercise, where they’re specifically looking for certain aspects within your personal statement that must be satisfied in order for you to get an interview or an offer. Other universities might use your personal statement to determine whether or not you receive an interview/offer only if you are borderline in their preliminary point-scoring system using the BMAT or UKCAT. Some universities like to base some of your interview questions on what you’ve written in your personal statement. Some universities score you on your personal statement, some do not. Do you see where I’m going with this? There’s a multitude of different ways a universities can use (or not use) a personal statement when making a decision about giving you an offer. Some universities will tell applicants “your personal statement score is worth 20% of the overall score resulting in decision-making”. Most universities can’t tell you quantitively how important the personal statement is to your overall application.
Notice how I’m saying ‘some’ far too many times? That’s just because I want to hammer home that very few universities will treat the personal statement in the same way. What that means is that your personal statement could make you, but probably won’t break you. By that, I mean that if you have an exceptional personal statement, great! That will, of course, help your application and if one of the universities you apply to values the personal statement very highly when making offers then maybe that could be your in! Welcome to the world of medicine! But if you’re not 100% happy with your personal statement, don’t make yourself ill worrying about it. Because the chances are, of the 4 universities you apply to at least two of them will not use your personal statement to weigh in heavily on their decision. Which means you still have a shot! Of course you should still work as hard as you can to make your personal statement the best it can be, but if you feel like it’s not good enough because the other medicine applicant in your class has an amazing Hollywood-movie-like backstory to explain why they want to do medicine, and they’ve spent two years digging wells in Africa and one of those wells happened to find the cure for Ebola then try not to freak out! Okay, I know I went a bit far with that but you get what I mean. Some people have great stories to tell. Others, like me, are kind of boring and just really love medicine. But at the end of the day, your personal statement will not be the be all and end all of your application and having a bestselling autobiography is not necessary to get into medicine. Just don’t lie! If you do, I promise you it’ll come back to bite you in the behind.