The CASPA Personal Statement prompt is as follows:
“In the space provided write a brief statement expressing your motivation or desire to become a physician assistant.” (5,000 words)
As simple as it sounds, this prompt is actually challenging. For starters, it is awkward to write about yourself. Then you have to consider the fact that this essay is being sent to every school that you apply to. What if you make a spelling error? What if your reasons aren’t good enough? How are you supposed to stand out in 5,000 words?
And that is one of the biggest blunders I see, is that applicants focus too much on standing out and lose sight of their content.
A follower of my blog recently asked me to review her essay and offer suggestions. She had a great essay that told some interesting stories and was a fun read. However, my biggest piece of advice to her was to go through her essay and highlight all of the reasons she gave as to why she wants to be a Physician Assistant. Doing so gave her a list like this:
1) I want to provide care and compassion to others.
2) I want to be the one to make the diagnoses.
3) I love working in a team environment.
4) PAs can easily transition between specialties.
5) The role of a PA is similar to the role of a teacher.
I told her that while they were all great reasons, she did not expand upon any of them. For instance, she mentioned that she liked that PAs can transition between specialties, but she did not say why that appealed to her. Similarly she did not say why she thinks she is fitting to be the one making diagnoses on patients. She simply stated that she wanted to do it.
In other words, while her essay stood out with its storytelling, I think she forgot the pulp of her argument.
If you have not read my blog post entitled “Why do you want to become a Physician Assistant?” I would encourage you to do so, since this is essentially the question the essay is prompting you to answer. I believe this post does a good job explaining exactly the kind of “pulp” that should be in your essay (like it or not, strained-OJ lovers).
Let me be clear that I am not saying to leave out the attention-grabbing openers and the heart-wrenching stories. On the contrary, that is what these personal statements are made of. But at some point you need to establish some concrete reasons why you are choosing the PA profession and why you are fit for that role. Make them highlighter friendly. The admissions committee should be able to easily make a list like the one above and have a clear outline of your reasons.
And be sure to provide evidence for almost everything on your list. In other words, it is not enough to say that you want to be the one making diagnoses. Tell them why. What appeals to you about diagnostics? And why are you suited to do it?
THAT is my advice for writing the personal statement.
To be a good sport, I am going to publish my personal statement in a separate post and link it here. At the bottom of my essay, I will include my highlighter list, so you can see what I’m talking about.
It is not my best piece of writing, but it got the job done: I was offered interviews at five very competitive programs and was accepted to three (the other two interviews I turned down). I hope it can serve as a template for you and help you craft your own interview-winning essay. Best of luck!