The personal statement is a very important aspect of the application process for dental school. It is a great opportunity to display facets of an applicant that cannot necessarily be seen in the rest of the AADSAS application. This is an opportunity that needs to be taken advantage of in order to help set oneself apart from other applicants.
There is no official prompt for the dental school personal statement, but it is widely known that the essay should primarily address the question of “Why dentistry?” While there are many ways to go about answering this question, I believe that the applicant should rely heavily their unique experiences that have inspired them to pursue a career in dentistry and their distinctive attributes that will contribute to their future success in the field of dentistry. Here are some questions you should ask yourself when starting to write your personal statement:
- What have I observed while shadowing/volunteering/as a patient that has inspired me to pursue a dental career?
- What common qualities have I seen in successful dentists?
- How will I incorporate these qualities and ideals into my future career as a dentist?
- How have my experiences prepared me for a career focused on serving others/the community?
The following is a list of some my Dos and Don’ts for personal statement writing:
- Have an attention-getting introduction.
Admissions committees/staff read HUNDREDS of personal statements over the course of the application process. It is important to be able to spark their interest from the start and hold their attention throughout the entirety of your personal statement.
- Be personal.
Don’t be afraid to show emotion in your essay. This is not a lab report. Showing your empathy, compassion, passion, or other feelings in this essay helps give the reader insight into your personality.
- Make a statement!
Make your commitment to dentistry obvious and show that you are ready to take on dental school and the challenges that dentistry presents.
- Be original.
Chipped front tooth and braces stories are very commonly used anecdotes. Use unique or original experiences so that you don’t blend in with the rest of the applicants.
- Relate your experiences to how you will practice dentistry in the future.
Take what you have seen/experienced/learned and share how you plan to incorporate it into your own dental career. This is a good way to wrap up a paragraph before moving onto the next topic.
- Use dental terminology.
Show that you are knowledgeable about the profession by using accepted dental terminology. For example, use central/lateral incisor instead of front tooth or maxillary left molar instead of upper left molar. Don’t go overboard though.
- Be organized.
Have a good structure to your essay that is easy to follow: Intro, Topic 1, Topic 2, etc., Conclusion/Summary. Use strong concluding sentences in your topic paragraphs and make smooth transitions into your new topic paragraphs. This also gives the admissions committee insight into the level of your organizational skills, which are extremely valuable in dental school.
- Have your paper edited for grammar and punctuation.
Have a professor/teacher/student evaluate your paper. Many campuses have a free writing center that offers these services.
- Have several people give you feedback on your essay.
The more feedback you get the better. You don’t have to accept every piece of feedback that you receive, but it’s a good idea to have different sets of eyes evaluate your work.
- Talk about your grades or other statistics.
All of this can be seen in your application already.
- Include irrelevant details.
Space is limited in this essay (4500 characters including spaces) so don’t waste it by including unnecessary information. Admissions committees don’t necessarily need to know what kind of mouse model you set up in your research or what food you served at your club meetings.
- Get ahead of your training.
More and more students are taking advantage of health care mission trip opportunities in order to boost their resume. Some of these students have asked me if they should reference their experiences in their essay. The answer is pretty simple, if you did something that is usually only done by a licensed dentist, do not reference it. It’s okay to talk about your experiences, observations, or assisting works on the trip, but don’t reference anything that might border on practicing without a license. It probably won’t be received well.
- Rush yourself.
Writing a personal statement takes time. Don’t expect to write one draft and submit. Start writing down ideas early and refine them as you go along. I usually recommend starting your personal statement around January of the year you plan to apply. This will give you time to make any revisions or changes based on the feedback you get. (I personally made 16 revisions before I submitted.) Having a draft of your personal statement available to give to whoever is writing your letters of recommendation is also helpful.
If you have any further questions about dental school personal statements, applying to dental school, or dental school life you can interact with me on twitter @askaDDSstudent or email me email@example.com.
UMN DDS ‘14
Writing a Personal Statement?
Ben Frederick M.D.
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In response to popular demand we are including a sample dental school essay. Note how the author reveals a lot about herself without overtly saying "I am this and I am that." She is obviously hard working and disciplined, probably compassionate and kind. Interested in dentistry for a long time, she has clearly considered other options. And she tells a good story.
I could hardly keep myself from staring at the girl: the right side of her face was misshapen and bigger than the left. Only later did I notice that Cheryl, about nine at the time, had light brown hair, lively brown eyes, and a captivating smile. When she walked into the candy shop where I worked six years ago, Cheryl told me she was a student of my former fourth grade teacher with whom I had kept in contact. We talked then and spent time talking each time she visited. She became a very special friend of mine, one whom I admire greatly. At the time we met, I was taking honors and AP classes, working about twenty hours a week, and feeling sorry for myself. Cheryl's outgoing confidence and good cheer put my situation in perspective. Cheryl was strong, kind, and surprisingly hopeful. She never focused on her facial deformities, but always on the anticipated improvement in her appearance. Her ability to find strength within herself inspired me to become a stronger person. It motivated me to pursue a career where I could help those like Cheryl attain the strength that she possesses.
At the time, my initial interest turned toward psychology. Impressed with Cheryl's outlook, I overlooked the source of her strength: she knew that treatment will improve her appearance. Focusing on the emotional aspects of her illness, I volunteered at the Neuropsychiatric Institute. There, I supervised the daily activities of pre-adolescents, played with them, and assisted them in getting dressed. I worked with crack babies, autistic children, and children who had severe behavioral problems. I enjoyed interacting with the children, but I often became frustrated that I was not able to help them. For instance, a young autistic boy frequently hit himself. No one was permitted to stop this child. We had to turn away and allow him to continually strike and hurt himself until he tired.
I was increasingly disappointed with the lack of progress I saw in my volunteer work at NPI, but my job again pushed me in the right direction. During the fall quarter of my junior year in college, I left the candy shop where I had worked for nearly five and a half years, and I began working as a senior clerk in the Anesthesiology Residency Program. Ironically work, which frequently made study difficult, helped me find the right path. There I learned about the oral and maxillo-facial specialty, which will allow me to help people like Cheryl.
To explore my interest in dentistry, I volunteered as a dental assistant in Dr. Miller's dental office. Dr. Miller introduced me to various dental techniques. Although I was mainly an observer, I had the opportunity to interact with the patients. I came in contact with a diverse patient population with different problems and dental needs. I observed as Dr. Miller dealt with each patient individually and treated each one to the best of his ability. He familiarized me with strategies for oral health promotion and disease prevention. I learned a great deal from him, and as a result, my interest in dentistry grew.
I choose to pursue a career in dentistry after following a circuitous path. My friendship with Cheryl motivated me to enter a field where I can help the severely disfigured cope with their condition. Although I initially turned to psychology, I found my work at the Neuropsychiatric Institute to be frustrating and was searching for a different way to achieve my goal. Ironically, Cheryl had told me all along the source of her strength: the knowledge that her condition was treatable and improving. Through maxillo-facial dentistry I will help others with serious facial deformities have the same knowledge and source of strength.
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