Shadowing a Doctor

October 17, 2014

A pre-dentistry student on her dentistry work experience placement in Tanzania When you apply for admission into dental schools, one of the documents that you will have to submit along with your cover letter and transcripts is your personal statement. This is an essay that is written with the aim of giving dental schools a clear picture of who you are and most importantly, why you want to pursue a career in dentistry.

While you may be able to write reams about who you are and why you want to become a dentist, it is really important that you do not ramble on when writing your essay. Every admission cycle, admissions personnel end up having to go through thousands of applications and giving them long-winded essays to read is not going to earn you any brownie points. The most compelling personal statement is one that manages to get the message across without straying from the main points. A typical personal statement should ideally not exceed 4,500 characters, which includes letters, numbers and spaces.

Although most dental schools have no fixed set of rules mandating what applicants’ personal statements should include, here are a few tips that will help you determine what you should write about and what you shouldn’t when composing this crucial document.

  • Tell your story. What motivated you to pursue a career in dentistry? Was there a defining moment that triggered your decision? If so, consider using that as the focal point of your essay. When telling your story, make sure it is your story, not someone else’s. Chances are you may be asked to elaborate on your decision during your interview so it is best to keep it genuine. 
  • Be convincing. Be thoughtful. Discuss how you would contribute to the profession and patient care, all of which will help you stand out from other applicants. Be sure to convey your passion for dentistry.
  • Be unique but most importantly, be yourself. Be sincere. Don’t try and impress the reader with clichés, slang or fancy phrases that you would not use in daily conversation. Remember, dental schools want to know the real you.
  • Start early so you have ample time to make points, organise your thoughts and put your thoughts down on paper in a way that is interesting, compelling and flows well. More importantly, it gives you enough time to proofread and edit as necessary.
  • Get your essay proofread by someone who will look over it objectively and offer constructive criticism. Request a friend or faculty advisor to read through it. In addition to checking for spelling and grammar mistakes, ask them whether they think the essay is a good representation of your character, your ideals and aspirations and what areas need improvement.


Here are a few don’ts to keep in mind when composing your personal statement:

  • Don’t wait until the last minute to get started.
  • Don’t use a gimmicky style or format.
  • Don’t just write what you think the admissions committee wants to hear.
  • Don’t emphasise the negative.
  • Don’t just summarise your resume or repeat information directly from your transcripts or recommendation letters.