Creating an Outline
Compare and Contrast
Now that you know what you want your personal statement to say, it is time to start writing. First, set a time limit of no more than a couple of days. The longer your time frame, the more difficult it will be to write your first draft. The point is to not allow yourself to sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. As one admissions officer put it, "Some of the worst writing ever crafted has been done under the guise of inspiration."
Relieve some of the pressure of writing by reminding yourself that this is just a draft. Rid yourself of the notion that your essay can be perfect on the first try. Dont agonize over a particular word choice, or the phrasing of an idea - you will have plenty of time to perfect the essay later. For now, the most important thing is to get some words on the paper.
Creating an Outline
You are probably familiar by now with the structure of the traditional outline that you were probably taught in grade-school:
Paragraph #1 (Introduction which contains the central idea)
Paragraph #5 (Conclusion which reiterates the central idea and takes it one step further)
This tried and true method is still your best bet. The problem is that is that it may not allow for the complexities created by the multiple themes that need to be incorporated into a personal statement. Your outline will probably end up looking more complicated than this one, but that is no excuse for not having one. In fact, the more complex the essay, the more in need of outline it will be. Without it, your essay will lack structure. Without structure, your essay will be rambling and ineffective.
Take some time to play with the material you have, putting it into different structures, always with the goal of offering the best support for your main points. To get ideas for some different outlines that could be applied to your statement, look at some of the examples below:
The standard structure is the most common and is recommended for use in almost any circumstance. Applying it is as close as you can get at this level to the simple structure outlined above. The general application of the standard structure is to introduce the themes and main points in the introduction, use the body of the text to supply one supporting point in each paragraph, and then reiterate your main points in the conclusion in light of the evidence that was presented. The following is an example of a pure standard structure used by an applicant who wanted to make the points that she was both interested in and qualified for the medical field on two levels: intellectually and from a standpoint of wanting to help people:
Paragraph #1: (Introduction)
Leading sentence: "Since my childhood, my fathers inspirational recounts as a cardiologist have captured my heart and my interest."
Summary of main points: introduces "two fundamental tenets" of "working to care and working to cure," noting her interest in both the academic and the caring sides of medicine.
Transition sentence: "During my high school and college years, I have explored different areas of community service."
First Supporting Point: interest in caring is shown through her community involvement.
Evidence: tutoring geometry to high-school students and English to recent immigrants.
Transition sentence: "I have also participated in the caring element of the medical profession, providing companionship to patients in the hospital setting."
Second Supporting Point: interest in caring demonstrated by her hospital experience.
Evidence: volunteer at several hospitals including the Coronary Care Unit and the Cardiac Rehabilitation Center.
Transition sentence: "It would be simplistic for me to say that I have chosen to devote my life to the medical profession only because I have a strong desire to help people."
Second Supporting Point: also motivated by intellectual exploration
Evidence: She details her passion for "[making] an intellectual leap and [managing] to land feet first upon a convincing conclusion" and describes the thrill which leaves her "thirsting for the next challenge."
Transition sentence: "The excitement of intellectual discovery has encouraged me to explore a number of fields."
Second Supporting Point: has a well-rounded academic background.
Evidence: "While my major is biochemistry, my academic interests also encompass Asian studies, languages, music, computer science, health care, and environmental policy "
Transition sentence: "My rewarding experiences in growing intellectually have not only fueled my own passion for exploration and discovery, but have inspired me to share my enthusiasm for learning with others, particularly in the field of science."
Second Supporting Point: Ties academic interests back into original theme of caring for people.
Evidence: "To help high school students embark on their own exciting voyages to understand the world around us, I wrote a study guide describing how to approach scientific research and titled it Frontier to emphasize exploration and intellectual discovery."
Paragraph #7 (conclusion)
Transition sentence: "To me, there is only one profession which satisfies both my curiosity and my desire to help those in need."
Reiteration of main points & closing sentence: "Incorporating both the caring, personal, physician-patient relationship and the dynamism of continuous learning, the medical profession is the profession I eagerly embrace, and I believe it is also the best way I can harness my own talents and abilities for the benefit of others."
Compare and Contrast
Not everyone chooses the traditional standard structure for their personal statement. The writer of the following chose to a structured his essay, for example, around a comparison between music and medicine:
Paragraph #1 (Introduction)
Leading sentence: "The beating of an African healing drum resonates throughout all corners of the Catholic church during the weekly five oclock student mass."
Gives a description of the congregation responding to the music he provides at Mass.
Transition sentence: "While a drumming performance in church may appear a little unorthodox, the concept of rhythm has never seemed very offbeat to me."
Introduces himself and his love of music.
Evidence: Many years of drum lessons, the development of his personal style, the success of his rock band and the production of a CD.
Transition sentence: "Concurrently, my passion for science began to crystallize."
Introduces his love for science and medicine.
Evidence: won a science-fair award, volunteered in an emergency room, tutored science and math, worked in a cancer research laboratory.
Paragraph #4 (Conclusion)
Transition sentence: "It has become clear that the most attractive features to me in the diverse fields of science and music are one and the same."
Concludes with a comparison between his two themes
Evidence: both are an exercise in expression and communication, etc
Closing sentence: "I know that my concept of the rhythm of life will help keep me grounded in the fundamentals as I strive to convey and apply my knowledge and gifts to others."
Another way to create an outline your essay is by retelling the events of your life chronologically. The advantage of this approach is that its allows for a more personal approach and helps the committee to know you by turning the focus to you throughout various stages of your life. The drawback is that the points you are trying to make can get lost in the narration of your life.
The following writer uses a chronological structure beginning with the clip of an article describing him as a young boy:
Paragraph #1 (Leading quote)
Leading sentence: "One time, a family cat captured... a moth."
Provides a quote from an article describing him as a boy in 1978.
Paragraph #2 (Introduction)
Transition sentence: "This article, about me as a ten-year-old boy trying to turn a nearby drainage pond into a park, had a misprint - it was a mouse, not a moth."
Explains quote and makes main point that he was cut out to be a doctor from a young age.
Transition sentence: "We didn't exactly live on a farm, but were in farming country."
Describes himself and his life as a boy.
Transition sentence: "During this period, we did manage to find time for other things."
Focuses on his multiple activities throughout high-school years.
Transition sentence: "After two semesters at Boise State, I volunteered to serve for two years as a missionary with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, going tot he California, Ventura Mission."
Continues to college-age years spent as a missionary.
Transition sentence: "Returning to school, my classes included math and sciences (subjects I had shied away from before) - out of curiosity, at first; then, to keep my options open."
Progresses to his return to college and his activities and accomplishments from that period.
Transition sentence: "In high school, I had had some health problems and seen a number of doctors."
Steps back to high school experiences to introduce theme of medicine.
Transition sentence: "This experience soured me on the medical profession."
Interprets experiences described in last paragraph to explain late interest in medicine.
Transition sentence: "I pursued psychology and the humanities, while growing more fascinated by health, nutrition, and what people I knew had found in "alternative" approaches to health, including preventive and Eastern medicine."
Talks about his subsequent interest in fields peripheral to medicine.
Transition sentence: "Upon transferring to USC, I found that my view of the medical establishment wasn't really accurate - there ARE those who care more about helping people than about the money or their intellectual pride."
Describes how his interest in medicine solidified while at USC.
Paragraph #11 (Conclusion)
Transition sentence: "Throughout my college career, I have had to support myself financially."
Uses the transition to discuss the many jobs he has held throughout the stages in his life.
Beginning your essay with a story is a common and effective method for catching and keeping the readers interest. This is also a good way to structure your essay if you want to focus on a single event in your life. In its purest form a narrative essay does nothing but tell the story. It begins and ends with the action. This is not recommended for a personal statement, simply because at some point the connection needs to be drawn from the story to your motivation and qualifications for attending medical school.
The following are some examples of writers that have incorporated narrative into their essays. Notice how each writer provides a clear transition to the rest of their essay:
Essay 1: Paints a picture of herself as a child climbing into her fathers dentist chair for treatment. Uses the story to transition into her desire to start a practice in pediatric dental care.
Essay 2: Begins with story of working as a deckhand for the Sea Education Association (SEA). Uses story to demonstrate teamwork skills and importance of community . Transitions from story with: "Both at sea and on land, I have found great pleasure in the rewards of upholding and enriching the worlds of which I am a part."
Essay 3: Tells story of her high-school teachers battle with AIDS. Transitions with: "I entered college, believing that biology could explain to me why life's processes went awry."
Essay 4: Tells story of unraveling the past of a prehistoric woman by analyzing her bones. Transitions in the last paragraph with: "To a large extent, my choice to become a physician is rooted in my desire to continue to work with the human body. But I want to work with the living."
Essay 5: Incorporates story of his attempt to save a life aboard a train in Italy into the middle of his essay rather than at the beginning. Uses it to illustrate the lessons he learned of self-forgetful devotion and the importance of attention to detail.
Notice the variety of circumstances this type of essay can be applied to when comparing these essays. A narrative can span a lifetime or a moment. It does not have to be filled with Hollywood style action to hold interest. The briefest and simplest of events can take on meaning when told effectively. What makes all of these essays effective is their use of detail, description, and direction.
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