Starting a PA school personal statement can seem overwhelming. After months or years of hard work, the CASPA application tasks you with summing up your story in just 5000 characters (around 700-800 words).
Most applicants wait until they are ready to sit down and knock out the entire essay to start writing. However, this approach usually leads to weeks of procrastination until the “right” time (or a looming application deadline) comes along.
There is a better, less pressure-filled way to set about the personal statement. It is an approach that has some built-in procrastination in the plan. By design, it allows you to start working on your essay without writing a single sentence.
In this post, we will outline the two steps that will help prepare you to write your essay. These steps are pressure-free. They allow you to take the time you need to design your most effective PA school essay.
Follow these 2 steps, and much of the hard work of your essay will be done before you ever start writing.
1. Make a list of what you want to include in your PA school essay, then stop there
One week before you start writing your essay, make a list of the key points that you want to cover in your statement. These do not need to be in a logical order, a simple list will do for now.
Your list should include around 3-5 experiences that demonstrate your work towards becoming a PA. These might include direct patient contact or healthcare experience roles, volunteering, academic experience, and shadowing. Check out the Experience Idea List if you need help with this.
If you have a story from one of these experiences that you want to cover in your essay, like a particular patient interaction from your PCE role, include it on the list as well.
Once you have decided on what experiences you will include, consider how you will open your essay. You may want to use a specific story from one of your experiences, or tell about how you first became interested in a career as a PA.
Your opening story will be used to build the backbone of your essay. You will definitely use it again in the conclusion, and may even weave it into the body of the essay if it is appropriate.
You do not need to nail your opening story down just yet, but add potential ideas to the top of your list as they come.
Making this list in advance will help you to decide what is most important to you to include in your essay.
Remember, the essay is short, so you have to curate your content. Be selective so you can be sure to spend enough time highlighting your strongest experiences.
After you have jotted down your list, let it sit for at least 4 days.
Mulling over your ideas for a few days without putting any pressure on yourself to write is essential if you want your essay to develop naturally.
During these few days, spend your time doing things other than completing your CASPA application. The space you give your brain will help you gain clarity on what you want for your essay.
2. Make a rough outline for your personal statement, then walk away
Two to three days before you start writing, start developing your list into a more formal outline.
Do not be tempted to dive into writing just yet. Developing the structure before you start writing will help you to create an essay that flows rather than one that seems disconnected or forced.
The outline should begin with your narrative opening story and transition through your experiences, with the goal of demonstrating your commitment and desire to be a PA.
The most natural way to do this for the majority of applicants is chronological. Some experiences may overlap, but in general you can arrange the flow of your essay based on the sequence of your experiences.
One way to structure the flow is outlined here. If you would like to structure your own experiences into a similar flow, download the personal essay outline worksheet to help you get started.
Your outline does not have to be perfect, especially on the first try. The idea is to start ordering things in your mind so you can see how the flow of your essay can develop naturally.
Once you have your preliminary outline, let it sit for a couple of days. Give your mind the space again to work on this while not under immediate pressure to write your essay.
Preparing for your PA school personal statement a week before you actually start writing can give you significant clarity with what you want to include.
Spend less than an hour on two occasions during that week, and you will set up your brain to work on and improve your essay structure in the background of your day.
By following these two simple exercises, you can be prepared to write your PA school essay without the pressure or guilt that procrastination can bring.
Know what else can take the pressure off of writing your PA school essay? Having your essay reviewed and edited by someone who has been in your position.
Whether you are starting from scratch or already have a first draft, a personal statement review can help you create an essay that PA programs will notice.