Writing your personal essay is perhaps the most stressful single aspect of PA school prep. Everything else is a process - your PCE/HCE is accumulated over many months and your GPA takes years to get earn. Once requested, letters of recommendation are out of your hands.
During the application process, the one remaining area over which you have control is the personal statement. A great personal statement can boost even a below average application, and, outside of an interview, it is your only opportunity to let an admissions committee know what is not in your application.
This can create a lot of pressure to produce a stellar essay. I have seen more emotional breakdowns related to the personal essay than any other step of PA school prep. But fear not, the essay that you hope for is within reach.
I recommend starting every essay with an introductory story. This helps facilitate the flow of your experiences throughout the essay and will function as a foothold to balance out your conclusion. Feeling confident in your introductory topic, or even coming up with one, can be a struggle, but it is not impossible.
Your story does not need to be profound or heart wrenching. A simple story can produce a great essay. You also may have a great story that you want to include, but maybe it makes more sense to use later in the essay. You still need an opening.
As CASPA instructs, your essay should “describe your motivation or desire” to be a PA. If you have a compelling story that you can use to open your essay, great. If you don’t, do not worry. There are plenty of potential options for you.
You have a background interest in science/medicine
Describing an interest in science may sound pretty vague, but only you have had your particular experience. Plus, you are going to pick out a specific story about your interest in science or medicine, so it will not be overly ambiguous. This is how you might start it:
- When I was 10, my older brother broke his hand playing backyard football. He passed out when the ER doctor described how the bones would be reset. I asked to see the x-ray. I do not come from a family interested in science or medicine, but that streak ended with me.
- I declared my major in Biological Sciences as soon as I entered college. Biology came easy to me, and I developed a deep appreciation for science while in high school. I did not consider any alternative majors. However, I did also did not really consider how I would use my degree.
After finishing your opening story, pivot to how you started working towards PA school. Be sure to do this quickly, particularly if your opening story happened years before your pre-PA work.
You had a change in plans
There is no need to shy away from having a different path before deciding to be a PA. In fact, it can make for a really great topic. If you changed majors or are planning on changing careers, discuss that in your essay. It shows that you intentionally chose to pursue being a PA. This is how you might start it:
- I was on track to graduate a year early as a business major until the second semester of my sophomore year. My roommate had enrolled in an entry-level chemistry class and convinced me to do the same. I agreed because it fit well with the rest of my schedule and provided the credits to keep me on track for early graduation. What I thought was a trivial decision about course credits changed my direction, and my plans for a career in business ended that spring.
- For the past three years, I have wondered what my life would be like if I had pursued a career in medicine rather than engineering. I have been a mechanical engineer for 5 years, and it has been a great fit for me. It was a decision I made within the first few semesters of college, one between a major in biology or engineering. I was doing better in my engineering classes, so I let that make my choice for me.
These are examples of how to start your opening story. You should continue to build more into your opening story to complete your introduction. Following your introduction, continue your essay by discussing the work you have done to prepare for PA school.
You had an experience with a patient/PA/volunteering
A specific encounter or relationship that started your path to become a PA is a great topic. It does not need to be medically related. It should, however, demonstrate how it motivated you towards being a PA. This is how you might start it:
- I had been volunteering at the Women’s Home for 4 months when I met Sam. Sam was 9-years-old and the protector of his younger sister. He was a shy, quiet boy who taught me that it takes time and patience to build a trusting relationship.
- My first encounter with a PA was when I landed in an emergency room for my fourth episode of strep throat in 2 months. I woke up in the middle of the night with that familiar sensation of throat pain and was drenched in sweat. I was miserable. Holly was not only sympathetic, she also treated me, explained the reasons for recurrent infections, and discussed the indications for surgery.
Be very careful not be overly dramatic if you are using an experience with an individual for your opening story. Someone can inspire you without changing your entire world, so added drama is not necessary.
Your topic ideas may, at first, seem unrelated to why you started pursuing a career as a PA. However, think of your introduction as a jumping off point for the rest of your essay. If your opening story is totally unrelated to your PA school prep, keep it short and use it for its ability to lead you into the substance of your pre-PA journey.
Use your introductory story to open the door, allowing the rest of your essay to demonstrate the work you have done to become a PA.
Looking for additional help? It is here! The ebook 5 Keys to an Effective PA School Essay includes before and after example essays from real applicants plus bonus download materials to help you write your best essay.
Learn exactly what to include and what to leave out of your essay, how to sound confident without boasting, and how to demonstrate to an admissions committee that you have what it takes to be a PA.