Personal Statement Tips

February 26, 2015

Writing a personal statement for professional school can be a daunting experience. This article will offer key tips on drafting a personal statement that displays your strengths and uniqueness.

How to Start?

Just start! The writing process will require multiple drafts. Begin by writing whatever comes to mind as it pertains to your application process. As you continue to write, your ideas will become more focused and you will be able to add and delete what you do and do not want to use.

Get to the point. Admissions will read thousands of personal statements. Do not bore them with flowery language and nonessential details or stories. You can always start with explaining why you are pursuing this area of study or a pivotal experience that pushed you in the career you are pursuing.

What are admissions committees looking for?

Most schools use your personal statement to understand who you are as a person and who you will be as a future professional. Schools especially look for examples of leadership, overcoming obstacles, areas of interest, and commitment to society. Think carefully about your experiences and only discuss those experiences that portray you positively. It may help to review your resume and next to each experience categorize it was “leadership”, “community service”, etc. Then use your resume as an outline to help you draft your statement.

What should I put in my personal statement?

Your personal statement should highlight your unique qualities and your ambitions for the future in your career. Use your resume/CV to guide your writing. Think about experiences that changed you as a person, solidified your decision to pursue this career, or particular areas of interests. Remember to always answer the ‘Why’. Why do you want to be a doctor? Why did a particular experience make you a better person? Why is helping others important to you? Include research experiences, poster presentations, involvement in organizations/clubs. Do not simply state that you were involved in various experiences be sure to explain how the experiences have shaped you as a person.

Lastly, always, always have someone read your statement and offer feedback.


Natalie Blake, B.A. English, M.A. English Education, offers consultation on writing and editing personal statements and essays. She has assisted clients who have been accepted to Nursing, Medical, Dental and Law Schools. For more information on services, email:

Jessica Malcolm – Alumni Interview

February 22, 2015

Over the past 2 weeks, we’ve discussed the pros of the gap year and outlined some of the things students can do in the time between completing their undergraduate studies and starting professional school. Today, we have a real life gap year story 🙂  Jessica Malcolm MS1 talks candidly about her experiences with applying to professional school and what she did during her gap year. Hope you find the information valuable.  Also check out previous posts regarding the gap year.


Biography Photo


HealthOU: What year did you graduate from Oakwood?

JM: I graduated from Oakwood in 2013.

HealthOU: What were your academic goals / aspirations  (career plans) upon starting college?

JM: Prior to starting at Oakwood, I was not exactly sure what I wanted to do.  I knew that I wanted to pursue a career that involved building long-term relationships with many people. Looking back, I also remember feeling like God was leading me towards some kind of career in the medical field. I knew that Oakwood had a great pre-med program and that became one of the main reasons why I decided to attend.

HealthOU: Did those goals change at all?  How so?  What were some of the factors that led to those changes?

JM: They did not exactly change but instead, became more solidified. While I was at Oakwood I looked in to a number of different careers but soon decided that I wanted to become a doctor. I looked into nursing, bio-medical research, accounting, physical therapy, and engineering to name a few. At first, I looked into these fields because of my own curiosity. Later on in college, I started to look into other fields because I did not do well on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT.)

The first time I took the MCAT, I did not commit to studying as long and intensely as I should have. As a result, I did not do well. To make matters worse, after getting a poor score, I applied to 2 schools very late in their application cycles. (I mean “the day that their application closed” type of late.) Needless to say, I did not get in that year. That failure was very difficult for me to deal with. I took that failure as a sign that God no longer wanted me to become a physician and I started looking into other careers.

The more I looked into other fields, the more I realized that I wanted to become a physician. So I prayed and fasted about it, and God sent the right people in my life to propel me towards medicine. After my senior year, I decided I would work as hard as I could to get into medical school. I then decided that if it did not work out, I knew that was not the career door that God wanted me to go through.

HealthOU:What was your academic / professional path after Oakwood?

JM: When I left Oakwood, the first thing I did was to pray and spend time reading the Bible. I did this to draw nearer to God and see the direction He had for my life. After that, I did my best to get into medical school. For about two and a half months I did nothing but study in the library with a few MCAT resources and a good friend.

After I took my exam, I started working to help pay for my application and living expenses.  I also volunteered in a research lab at a medical school (about 10 – 20hrs a week) to help keep myself connected to science. (I also knew that medical schools love to see research on your application!) On weekends I would volunteer at  my church and in the community.

HealthOU: What are you doing currently (professionally)?

JM: I am currently in my first year of medical school at the University of Connecticut (UCONN.)

(By the way — UCONN really likes Oakwood graduates. I strongly encourage all science majors to apply for their Medical, Dental, and Graduate programs!)

HealthOU:What are you future professional aspirations?

JM: I am very interested in pursuing a career in Primary Care. I am currently looking into Internal Medicine and Pediatrics.

HealthOU: Were there any resources or websites that you found helpful as you explored different options for your career?

JM: Yes! The following resources I used were incredibly helpful:

  1. The Bible. – It helps connect you with God, who will direct you towards the career He has planned for you. It is also full of encouragement!
  1. The teachers at Oakwood. – They are so willing to help! They also have many contacts in different careers that you can speak with and even shadow.
  1. Student Doctor Network – – Which is full of medical resources.
  1. This blog. I really enjoyed reading it. It is also full of resources and encouragement from your peers.
  1. Missionary Orthopod in the making. – – A blog of an Oakwood grad thoughout his entire journey from applying to medical school to his residency.

Career Advice – – Specifically this article. I strongly recommend it to everyone who is struggling with what they want to do in life.

HealthOU: Can you give a timeline from the time you first took the MCAT to when you actually started medical school.

  1. Here is the timeline of everything I did:

August, 2012 – I took my first MCAT in the summer following my Junior year.

Nov/Dec 2012:  Applied to medical school.  Did not get accepted**

May, 2013 – I graduated from Oakwood.

July, 2013 – I took the MCAT for the second time.

August, 2013 – I submitted my AMCAS application.

August/ early September, 2013 – I started volunteering in a research lab.

August, 2014 – I started medical school

HealthOU:What advice would you give to a student who is currently where you, facing a gap year before starting medical school?

JM: At the beginning of my gap year, I can I vividly remember feeling like a failure. Most of my classmates were headed to graduate school or to medical school and I was not. I had to make a decision as to which direction I wanted to go in – graduate school or medical school. So I prayed, spoke with a lot of people, did some shadowing, and decided to pursue medicine. I put together a plan about how I would tackle my gap year. Even though I had a plan in place, it definitely was not an easy year. I can remember cringing at the anticipated question… “So what are you doing now that you’ve graduated from Oakwood.” But looking back, I am so happy that God allowed me to go through that experience! It was a period of growth both spiritually and mentally.

I would definitely advise other students to put together plans A, B, and C before they graduate! Do some reflection about the career they want to enter and find a way to set themselves up toward that path. If their goal is medicine and their grades are low, I suggest they find a post-bacc program to enroll in. If their grades are high, try to do some research or engage of some kind of clinical experience. But they MUST do something, it is vital to stay active!

Also, I would like to tell students to not let go of their dreams out of fear. The fear of failure is often worse than actually failing. If you humble yourself and do your best, God will take you to heights you’ve never imagined. I can often remember wondering what I would do if things did not go according to plan. However, during those rough points I would pray and cling to the promises in God’s word. If you give your all in pursuit of your dreams, trust that God will open the doors you are supposed to go through. He did it for me and He will do it for you too!


**Added by HealthOU for clarity


Jessica Malcolm is a 2013 graduate of Oakwood University. She was born on the beautiful island of Jamaica but grew up in Massachusetts. Jessica is currently a first year medical student at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. Her favorite bible texts are: Proverbs 3:5-6 and Philippians 4:19. In her spare time she enjoys traveling, cooking, swimming, and spending time with friends and family.

What to do during your gap year – Part 2

February 18, 2015

Earlier this week, we talked about the gap year and the fact that in most cases it’s not really a year at all.  Sometimes taking the necessary steps to cover deficiencies in an application may mean starting professional school 2 years later than a student had anticipated.  Like we’ve stated earlier this month; the gap year/s is not the worst thing ever.  If making the changes to take you from being an applicant to a matriculant takes 2 or 3 years it was time well spent.

The things that follow are all things you can do to augment your application. You are basically seeking to fill the deficiencies that may have played in a role in you not being accepted or in making the decision to delay your application.


  1. Post Bacclaureate (post-bacc) Programs

These are programs specifically designed to improve applications for professional school.  These programs cater to those with a less than stellar academic  ( science) record or to those who were not science majors).


Some of the things to keep in mind with post baccalaureate programs are:

– Post-bacc programs cost money

– Some programs offer guaranteed interview at the host medical / dental school

– Post-bacc programs offer academic support to boost academic record

– Some focus on test prep

The key is to know what your program is tailored to. A post bacc program can be rigorous, making time for adequate MCAT / DAT test prep difficult. So you may find yourself needing to sit out two years. I know, I know, that sounds like a scary thought, but trust me its not that long in the grand scheme of the many academic years you have ahead of you J

AAMC Post-bacc Database. Searchable database by location or type of program


  1. Shadow

Set up consistent and regular shadowing opportunity. Ask health professionals at your church or in your family. Check local hospitals and see if they have a shadowing program. This won’t necessarily be easy to do but you have to be persistent and you will eventually find someone willing to let you shadow them.


  1. Mission Work

Remember to consider when you are planning to start medical school before you go overseas. Interviews for medical school usually occur during October/Nov/December/ of the year BEFORE you plan to enter. So, if you are hoping to start professional school in August 2017, you would be doing interviews in October – December of 2016 and January/February of 2017; and so being abroad during that time may make interviewing a challenge.


  1. Work in a health related field

Job options include a scribe, unit clerk/ secretary, phlebotomist


  1. Pursue research

Research is not just limited to the summer. There are opportunities to work in a research lab for an entire year or longer.


Feel free to email me at to discuss your individual options. Planning for a gap year can be stressful, but HealthOU is here to help!

Stay tuned for our alumni profile for the month, a gap year success story 🙂



AAMC: What to do during my gap year

International Internship and Gap Year Opportunities (Calvin College)

Benefits of taking a medical gap year

What to do in your year off

Premed Gap Year

What Princeton Premeds did during their Gap Year







What to do during your gap year – Part One

February 15, 2015




Six Pros of the “Gap Year”

February 8, 2015

Six Pros of the gap year

Students tend to feel that having to take a gap year is the worst thing ever. They see it as a sign of failure. The gap year is far from being a sign of failure. The truth of the matter is more applicants are rejected each year, than those who are accepted to professional school. Don’t believe me, check this out.

In 2014 for example, there were a total of 49,474 applicants to medical school. Of that number, only 21,355 were accepted. That’s only 43%. That means a gap year for a lot of people. So, just know that if you find yourself needing to take a gap year next year, you are not alone. You are not a failure. This is not the worst thing ever. The gap year might actually be a great thing!  Below are six pros of the gap year.

  1. Time to get more shadowing experience

One of the most important parts of deciding to apply to professional school is an awareness of what you’re about to get yourself into. It is imperative that any student who hopes to become a doctor, dentist, optometrist etc, spends time talking with and observing someone in that profession.   During your gap year, you can arrange a regular and consistent shadowing opportunity.   This will help you to see if the profession is right for you and if it is, will motivate you to keep going. Specific experiences gained during shadowing also can be great anecdotes to use in your personal statement.

  1. Time to pay off undergraduate debt

Professional school is expensive and funding in the form of scholarships and grants are few. During your gap year / years, you can focus on tackling personal debt and undergraduate student loans.

  1. Time to decide if your desired field is truly right for you

Things happen for a reason; and sometimes, apparent failures are just life’s way of trying to move you into another direction. During you gap year, you really have the time to evaluate what your goals are. You may find that a career in healthcare, in the way you had initially planned isn’t for you. Better to use this time now and sort that out rather than doing that once you are a professional student.

  1. Time to take a little breather

Life as a pre-health student can be rigorous. You’ve just done four years of hard-core studying. Maybe you just need to relax. Too often, healthcare professionals don’t take the time to explore their other interests.   Maybe you’ve always wanted to travel. Maybe you want to do mission work but were too focused on passing Organic Chemistry to look up mission opportunities. Now is a great time! Maybe you enjoy things that aren’t science / healthcare related. Now is a great time to explore them.

  1. Time to take courses and improve your GPA

If your GPA wasn’t at the average for acceptees * to medical school because you had to take Organic, and Physics, and Survey of Calculus during the same semester; your gap year is a great time to retake a course that you performed poorly in to improve your GPA. (*Note that this is the applicant and matriculant data for all applicants and matriculants. Don’t pay attention to the average GPA for applicants. You don’t want to just be an applicant. You want to be a matriculant. So pay attention to the average GPA for accepted student. This is the average for all students. It is not broken down by race. That data was deliberately not presented. Your goal should be based on all applicants, not on your race. OK, spiel over 🙂 )

  1. Time for adequate test prep

If your MCAT score wasn’t at the average for acceptees to medical school because you had to take Organic, and Physics, and Survey of Calculus during the same semester and so didn’t have time to study for the test during the school year, your gap year is a great time to devote the time necessary to prepare for the exam.

Hopefully by now, you won’t feel badly about needing to take a gap year/years. It’s not the worst thing ever. It’s not a sign of failure. Look at it as an opportunity to become a better applicant; and that can never be a negative thing 🙂


Junior Year Spring Timeline

February 1, 2015

Junior Year Spring Timeline

–        Develop your game-plan and timeline for preparation for the next administration of the admission exam for your field of interest.  For those planning to take the MCAT in preparation to be a part of the 2016 entering class, you should have a detailed schedule / study plan for the next few months.

–        Make final adjustments and edits to your personal statement. (The initial draft should have already been completed). If you haven’t already, start working on your personal statement!!  Don’t put this off.  It will take you longer to write than you think and you will need time to get it reviewed by multiple people, edited and revised, and reviewed again; all in time for an on time application.

–        Start finalizing your list of schools you are interested in applying.  I say finalize because the initial list should have been started sometime last semester.  If not, start working on it NOW.  Applications are costly, so you want to put careful thought and consideration into the schools you plan to apply to.   Check out an old post to give you some guidance on how to proceed.

–        Gently remind faculty members about your letters of recommendation!  I say, remind, because again, this should have already been done.  If not, request them today.  Your faculty members are inundated with requests for LOR, make sure that yours is one of the first one’s they will write.