Applying to study Medicine, Dentistry or Veterinary Science at University can be incredibly competitive. Chemistry tutor Carl sets out how best to showcase your relevant skills and experiences in your Personal Statement, and how to justify exactly why you want to study that particular course and why you should be offered a place.
“Why did you pick this subject?” will be one of the foremost questions in the admissions tutor’s mind, so ensure you have a credible answer. Use a lively tone that communicates your passion and enthusiasm, but keep it professional.
If you have a personal story that has inspired you to follow a certain path, tell it matter-of-factly, avoiding dramatic statements and clichés.
Don’t go overboard either. If you’re applying for the ultra-competitive veterinary medicine, opening with “I just ADORE kittens!” isn’t going to go down well, but equally you don’t need to have founded three tiger sanctuaries whilst trekking across Bangladesh…
Demonstrate that you have researched and are engaged with your subject, and that you understand what is involved with studying it at university level and working in the profession. Your work experience will have given you insights on the essential skills you’ll need, and the intellectual and emotional challenges you’ll face. Writing about these from experience will demonstrate commitment and that you are realistically informed.
Show that you’re also aware of any current issues facing your profession and don’t be afraid to voice an opinion on them – the reader will already know about the issue, what they care about is what you think about it.
Remember that your personal statement is going to a university – a centre for learning and innovation. Demonstrating your academic qualities is therefore paramount. Write about your passion for science and love of learning, giving examples that are specific but not too technical. Consider the following:
University study can be demanding. It’s also a very different style of learning with more emphasis on self-motivation. Think about what you’ve done that demonstrates you have the necessary ‘smarts’ and the ability to stick with a course that, in the case of medicine, could be up to seven years long. Your GCSEs and predicted grades will say a lot about your academic ability, but also mention any awards or commendations you’ve received.
As you’re applying for a research-based field, demonstrating you have research skills will add value to your application. Key research skills to mention include:
Any of these that you developed from an EPQ, IB coursework, or other relevant projects should certainly be included.
When writing about your skills, you must evidence them through credible examples. Also, remember that what you learned is more important than what you did. A common mistake is to describe a situation but leave the reader wondering exactly what you contributed and gained from the experience. The STAR method (commonly used for CVs and interview preparation) enables you to contextualise your skills and ensures the emphasis is on your personal qualities:
You should showcase your transferable skills because often, it will be these that set you apart from another applicant. Here are some of the most-valued transferable skills:
|Skill||What it means|
|Reliability||Good time management, excellent attendance record, punctuality, meeting deadlines, going the extra mile.|
|Professionalism||High standards of work, high expectations of self and others, calmness under pressure, building constructive relationships.|
|Problem-solving||Use analytical and planning skills to develop a solution to a problem.|
|Communication Skills||Using written and verbal skills to persuade, influence, educate, present information, build relationships, write reports etc.|
|Responsibility||Showing discretion when dealing with sensitive or confidential information, working in a position of trust, working ethically and with good conduct.|
|Adaptability||Taking the initiative, coping with change, willingness to learn, taking on different roles.|
|Team skills||Working in a team, managing and motivating others, listening to others|
Pick the 2-3 skills that are most relevant to your chosen subject and describe them using the STAR method.
What do you expect to get from your degree and where is it going to take you? Do you want to specialise in a certain branch of medicine? Do you want to do a higher degree and go into research or even academia? Are you wanting to pursue this career because you want to make a difference? If so, write about how.
Extra-curricular activities (music, sports, hobbies, clubs etc.) show that there is more to you than your studying prowess, which is more important than ever now that there are so many students with top grades competing for the same place. They also show that you have healthy work-life balance and are therefore more likely to fit in to university life.
Musical ability is well-regarded because it demonstrates discipline, perseverance, confidence, focus, cultural-awareness and self-expression, as are sports, which add qualities like leadership, organisation and teamwork to that list.
In terms of balancing your personal statement, aim for about 75% academic and 25% extra-curricular (remember, you’re applying to university, not for a summer job!)
I recommend you get at least three people that you trust to give you frank and honest feedback on your personal statement. Ideally, these would include somebody suitably experienced (such as your school’s career adviser), a teacher or tutor that knows you well, and if you can, somebody with intimate knowledge of the course you’re applying for. This could be a professional you formed a relationship with during work experience, or a family friend. They will be able to help you ensure you’ve demonstrated understanding and suitability for the course and profession.
Your personal statement is a marketing document with one purpose: to secure you an interview. Competition is steeper than ever for places and admissions tutors will have to read through many personal statements from high-achieving applicants with excellent work experience.
Make sure every word counts by giving your personal statement the “so what?” test. Put yourself in the admissions tutor’s shoes and read through it critically. If you encounter sentences that leave you thinking “so what?”, you’re either missing the necessary detail that gives it impact and sells you, or it’s just an empty sentence that you can remove.