Creating a well-crafted personal essay is one of the most critical steps of completing your PA school application. But honing down the vital parts of your experience into 700-800 words AND making it sound like a cohesive story can most definitely be a challenge.
Because of the limited length, personal statements often sound disjointed. In an attempt to express to admissions committees your deep desire to become a PA, you may try to squeeze together fragments of all of your experiences and, in the process, forsake the flow of your writing.
Neglecting the flow of your essay can tank it. The human mind is drawn to stories. Good stories are easy to follow and demonstrate a transformation. They have a consistent tone and pace that, because they are seamless, a reader shouldn't notice.
Here's what you can do to tell your story in a way that improves the flow of your PA school personal statement.
1. Keep the tense relevant
In my experience, personal statements that attempt to play with verb tense always fall flat. I've seen this most often as writers describing a past event in the present tense, e.g., "The sad girl looks at me with tears in her eyes."
First, this approach is jarring to the reader. The majority of your essay will be in past tense, so telling a story as if it is happening now reads strangely.
Secondly, it breaks one of my cardinal rules of personal statement writing: to avoid being dramatic. This storytelling device is almost always used for dramatic effect. While it may work for novels or short stories, the personal essay is simply too brief for this not to sound awkward as heck.
For your essay to have a natural flow, use tense from your current perspective. Things that happened in the past should be in past tense ("During my shadowing experience, I went..."), and current experiences can be in present tense ("I continue to work as an EMT...").
Using the tense from your current viewpoint will sound more logical to the reader, which will help your story flow.
2. Follow a natural chronology
The most natural way to tell your story is in the order it happened. Coincidentally, it's also the easiest way for a reader to understand it.
There are a couple of caveats to this. First, your introductory story (how you open your essay) may not start at the very beginning of your pre-PA journey. It might be an experience from shadowing or a clinical rotation, which is fine.
If you start a little further into your story to open your essay, you can then rewind a bit in the next section to start at the beginning of your PA school journey. The remainder of your essay can then follow chronologically.
Secondly, you do not have to tell about each experience linearly, as in describing to the reader all aspects of your EMT experience before ever mentioning prerequisite coursework. Your experiences are interwoven, and you should write them as such if it helps the reader follow your story.
"With this slight alteration in my plan, I was able to complete my lab and chemistry classes, support my family, and start a new role as a CNA.
[2 paragraphs later]
After that, I immersed myself in my role as a CNA."
Writing about your experiences in order will aid in creating a natural pace for your essay. It also helps to lay the foundation for our next story-flow tool, demonstrating development.
3. Demonstrate your development
A key to writing an effective personal statement is not only to show your inspiration to become a PA but also your readiness for PA school.
Telling your story in chronological order helps to set the base for this development, but pacing your writing appropriately shows your evolution.
If you need to explain away bad grades in your early college years or discuss what initially inspired you to become a PA, you should. But things should stop "happening to you" by about a third of the way through your essay.
This does two things. First, it gives you the space to talk about your (good) academic efforts and experience (shadowing, patient care activities, volunteering) that has prepared you for PA school without running out of room in the short essay.
But, more importantly, it builds both narrative and physical distance from where you started to where you are now. The person you've grown into, by the end of your essay, should be someone who is ready to dive into PA school and start a career as a PA.
Who you are now should be a more mature and experienced person than someone who was merely inspired to work in medicine or didn't do so well their sophomore year of college.
Demonstrating your development over time will allow PA programs to see that you truly understand what it will be like to work in a career as a PA and that you've done the hard work it takes to deserve a spot in their program.
The limited length of a PA school essay can result in your early drafts sounding choppy and disconnected. But, if you keep the tense consistent, lay out your story on a clear timeline, and show your development along your journey to be a PA, your essay will flow more naturally. And, it will be one that stands out for the right reasons.
For in depth one-on-one help polishing (or starting) your PA school personal statement, check out the Essay Review service that is right for you.