Do’s and Don’ts for Writing a Strong CASPA Personal Statement
It’s your ticket to the interview
May 15, 2019
By Erin Myhre
The CASPA personal statement is your chance to get an admissions committee to think, “I want to meet this applicant in person.” It’s your ticket to a PA school interview! Be prepared to spend many hours writing, rewriting, rearranging, editing, cutting, and polishing your essay. Give yourself at least a month to write and edit before you plan on submitting CASPA, and – this is key – have several proofreaders. Allow ample time for them to make suggestions, and for you to consider and incorporate their advice. Don’t ask more than three or four people to look over your essay, because multiple editors can quickly become overwhelming. Choose writers you trust and people in the medical field – a PA is great if you know one!
I highly recommend keeping journals about all your medical experiences, both shadowing and working. Writing things down not only helps you process what you’re learning, it provides you with an invaluable resource to return to when you need to write application essays. Instead of trying to remember how you felt three years ago doing some job or exactly how a particular patient encounter impacted you, you can go to your journal and read it. This makes essay-writing much easier because the journey that brought you to this point is already documented, and you aren’t starting from scratch.
Here are my main tips to help make your future personal statement fantastic.
Writing the statement – do’s and don’ts
Do demonstrate your knowledge of the PA profession. Your essay should make it clear why you are pursuing medicine, and why you have chosen to become a PA specifically.
Don’t say why you don’t want to be a different kind of healthcare provider, write about how you want to be a PA! This is a great place to demonstrate your knowledge of the unique profession. Be careful not to cast any healthcare workers in a negative light.
Don’t say you’ve chosen to become a PA because of a better lifestyle or shorter/easier schooling. Even if this is part of the reason, it is not only somewhat misinformed, it gives the impression that you believe PA school is easy, or that you don’t want to work hard. Yes, PA school encompasses fewer months than some other graduate-level healthcare programs, but it is extremely challenging. PAs often have a good work/life balance, but not necessarily, especially in certain specialties.
Don’t be vague. Don’t leave anything for the admissions committee to assume–use lots of examples, stories, personal experiences, and lessons you’ve learned. If you use any abbreviations (and there are lots of abbreviations in the healthcare world!), write them out the first time and include the abbreviation in parentheses.
Do show, don’t tell. Instead of listing adjectives like compassionate, flexible, or determined, tell brief anecdotes that show how you embody these qualities. Everyone applying to PA school says they are passionate about the profession and care about people. Let the admissions committee see evidence of that in your life.
Do make every word count. Not only do you need to be under 5,000 characters, you don’t want to distract or bore your reader by including extraneous details, long-winded explanations, and redundancies. Avoid long paragraphs, but be sure to have strong transitions when you break them up. Go through the essay and ask yourself critically: Does this word/sentence fragment make a strong contribution to my paragraph and overall essay? Do I really need it?
Don’t use informal language or contractions. Absolutely let your personality and writing style shine through, but your essay needs to be polished and inspire confidence in your strong communication skills. Avoid cliches like the plague. This is also not the time to show off your knowledge of medical terminology. If some technical talk is necessary to explain a particular patient scenario, use the minimum to get the point across.
Do consider incorporating a theme. A theme brings the whole essay together and makes it flow, and if you choose the right theme, it also makes it easier to write when you’re relating everything back to a central point. The theme should not be “medicine” or “why I want to be a PA”—these are already the core concepts of the essay. Make it creative, applicable, and personal. If it feels like you’re trying too hard to make a theme fit, try a different one.
Don’t make this a resume with more words. The admissions committee has seen your application; they know your GPA and healthcare experience. If you have a low GPA or poor grade that you want to address, that is fine. But your essay is the place for you to talk about what sets you apart! How have your healthcare experiences strengthened your desire to go into medicine? How have your patient encounters impacted or changed you? How have you grown or been stretched as you’ve pursued PA school? How have you overcome significant challenges in your life? Be succinct, and don’t let your reader get bogged down by unnecessary details.
Do make it unforgettable! Start with a hook that will immediately interest your reader. This could be a unique quote (I used song lyrics), or a story, really anything that will draw your audience into your world and make them wonder what the rest of the essay will say. Don’t choose something arbitrarily just so you have a story–write about something meaningful to you. It doesn’t have to be about medicine as long as you show how it contributed to your decision to be a PA, and/or relates to your theme. It’s okay if you don’t come up with your hook right away; just start writing and it will come to you.
Even more important than a good hook is a solid conclusion. Bring it back to your introduction, summarize or paraphrase the points you’ve made throughout the essay, and finish with a memorable one-liner that clinches your desire to be a PA. Don’t be afraid to spend a lot of time on this last paragraph, especially the last sentence!
One more thing: If (when) you find yourself getting frustrated or hitting a wall, take a break! Come back in a few hours or, better, in a couple days when your mind is fresh.
This essay may seem daunting, but remember this is the part of your application where you have the most control. Be yourself, and be authentic. Show the admissions committee how excited you are to be a PA, and convince them that they want to meet you as much as you want to meet them.
Erin Myhre, MS, PA-C, is a cardiology and critical care PA at Piedmont Healthcare. She wrote this article in May 2019 while still a PA student at Pacific University. She is always happy to answer questions about CASPA or PA school in general, and you can reach her at [email protected] or Instagram @ealto499.