When applying to PA school, getting over the hurdle of writing the personal statement is a huge victory.
With all of the stress of not writing fast enough and struggling to squeeze everything into 5000 characters or less behind you, you can finally relax.
Until the application cycle passes without being accepted to PA school, then, it all starts again.
It's around this time that second-time applicants start to ask if they really need to write a new personal statement.
And I'm here to deliver the response that no one wants to hear: yes, you do.
For two big reasons.
First, your essay will sound more familiar than you think to the PA school faculty members reading it. If they read the same phrases, paragraphs, and stories as in a previous cycle, they will notice.
Rather than reusing your prior essay in its entirety, crafting something a bit different will show that you were willing to put forth more effort to be considered for their program.
Second, you want to eliminate all factors that might be holding your application back. Even if you think your essay was perfect (and in my experience of working with hundreds of repeat applicants, this has yet to happen), you have to write a new essay.
Most future PAs have no problem tacking on shadowing experiences, loading up patient care experience hours, fitting in new volunteer opportunities, or finding the time to take a prerequisite course or retake the GRE for a better score between their first and subsequent application cycles.
The connection between these areas of weakness and the potential success of an application are generally accepted.
But rewriting the CASPA essay seems to be a sticking point for many repeat applicants. And I get it. It's a daunting task. After telling your story the first time around, how could you possibly create a new version of your history?
However, compared to everything else you do to improve your application year to year, it's minor.
Writing a new essay doesn't have to be painful. And it doesn't have to be an overhaul either.
To start, let's take a look at how to assess your prior essay and judge what might be useable for the new one. From there, we'll cover how to tweak things so that your new personal statement is polished and ready for submission.
Assessing your prior essay
Whether you're a first-timer or a repeat applicant, PA school personal statements tend to share a few common mistakes.
So, before you dive into revamping your essay for the next application round, it's helpful to survey your prior work for these missteps.
When creating a first PA school essay, it's easy to get carried away with trying to "catch the reader's eye." Much of the angst over creating the personal statement comes from trying to accomplish this goal.
However, your account of why you want to be a PA doesn't need to lure someone in like an internet quiz on which Harry Potter character you are.
Someone is intentionally reading your essay to get to know you. They very purposefully sat down to look over your application and read about your motivation for becoming a PA. You don't need to trick them into it.
With this in mind, look through your prior essay. Is the drama palpable or are you overinflating experiences? Did you talk about the most extreme patient cases you saw?
Did you contrive a "magic moment" when you decided to become a PA that maybe isn't 100% authentic?
It's okay if you did because now you have a second shot not to make the same mistakes. But take note of any place you might have walked the line on this because you might have a better use for those precious characters as you create your revised essay.
A second area where essays frequently fall short is in not explaining the "why" behind wanting to be a PA. Writers often do a great job of describing why science or medicine or healthcare, but many essays don't get close enough to explaining why being a PA is the right fit for an applicant.
If you're planning on reapplying, take a look at your prior essay to see if you make this distinction. If you see that you missed this on your first attempt, make a note of what "why" you might want to bring out a bit more in the next version.
The last prior-essay check to perform as a repeat applicant is to look for areas of disconnection. Are there parts of the essay where you seem to take a step back? Do you incorporate your motivations along the way? Or are there passages that only told the "what" without the "why" of your experiences?
This disconnection is common in essays, but linking the "what" and the "why" will make the essay more personal, thereby allowing the reader to get to know you better.
What to adjust
Once accepting that a new essay might be required as a reapplicant, you'll probably deliberate over how to go about recreating it.
In the short year that's passed since writing your previous essay, your life story hasn't changed. The things that influenced your decision to become a PA haven't changed.
So how can you possibly change your essay?
One approach is to tack on any additional experience at the end of your previously created essay.
While you want to cover any new experience that has contributed to your motivation to become a PA since your prior application, it needs to be done with a bit more finesse than the writing equivalent of hitching a trailer to a pickup.
First, the ratios of your experience can be shifted. If you want to include more recent, pertinent activities, work to condense your earlier experiences or eliminate parts that may no longer be as relevant.
Everything in your essay should be adding value to who you are as an applicant. As you gain additional experience, some prior work may not hold as much significance as it once did, and you can work to cut this back in your essay.
Second, take a look at the specific stories you tell in your prior essay. You don't have to tell these same stories in the next version.
"But it's pivotal to my PA journey!"
I know, I know. But you don't have to tell the full story for your essay to make sense. You can share the main point and weave it into your overall experience without giving a beginning, middle, and end of a specific incident.
Instead of telling the full blow by blow of your first encounter with a PA, as you might have done in your first essay, you can say, "When I was facing an ACL repair from a skiing accident, I was introduced to the role of a PA, which began my exploration of the field." And then move on to what came next.
If a story you told previously is integral to your experience, tighten it up to just a line or two and fit it in your timeline where it belongs rather than describing it as a fully fleshed out tale.
Then, if you want to include anecdotes of your experiences, use new ones. Your reasons for wanting to be a PA can stay the same, but the stories you use to highlight these reasons can be fresh.
Lastly, take a critical ear to the tone of your prior essay. Does it sound like someone with a less developed perspective wrote it? I bet it does, at least a little.
The year you spent gaining additional experience, becoming more comfortable interacting with patients, and growing your confidence in your ability will come out in your writing.
It's a subtle shift, but it's noticeable. And it's something that PA school selection committees can pick up on.
A mature perspective is a huge advantage when applying to PA school. So take a look at not just what you said in your prior essay, but also how you said it. Would you phrase it differently now? Or not include it at all?
Avoid the temptation to copy and paste sections because it's an old experience that hasn't changed. Really read each sentence and pay attention to how your ideas are organized.
Since your prior application, your perspective on an experience and the way you describe it might have shifted a bit, and that's something you want to capture in your next personal statement.
Writing a new essay for PA school is undoubtedly an exercise that many reapplicants hope to avoid.
While it can seem like work on top of work when you're faced with the prospect, taking the time to critically assess your prior essay is worth the effort.
Not everyone needs to start from scratch, but all reapplicants can make changes to reflect the stronger candidate they've become since their prior application and increase the chances of this CASPA essay being their last.