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Personal Statements 101

Today on my YouTube channel, Katie Lee CGC Talks Genetic Counseling, I discuss tips to write an excellent personal statement for genetic counseling graduate school.



For many applicants, writing a personal statement is one of the most challenging steps of the application process. These three tips will help you get started with that pesky personal statement (or 10).


TIP #1: BRAINSTORMING

The first and most important step to writing an impactful personal statement is identifying poignant examples to include. You should plan to spend at least a couple of hours brainstorming personal experiences that will illustrate how or why you will be an excellent genetic counselor. You should think about experiences that have taken place through working, volunteering, shadowing and in your personal life as well. You may identify experiences where something about genetic counseling really clicked for you or where you demonstrated a characteristic that will make you an excellent student of genetics or counselor, or perhaps an experience that you learned from that ties back into genetic counseling.


If you are preparing to apply for this cycle, set a timer for an hour and journal out some of the experiences that come to mind in detail. Repeat for another hour after taking a short break. Don’t skimp on your reflections of these experiences.


If you are applying in a future cycle, I recommend that you start a google doc or journal where you record relevant experiences that could be used in your personal statements. You will thank yourself later for having detailed experiences to use in your PS and interviews.


Check out my YouTube video for an example that I pulled from my experiences that I think would make for an impactful personal statement. The experience does not need to be groundbreaking, but you should demonstrate your self-reflection and what was learned or can be taken from the experience.


A very common mistake first time applicants make is that they simply summarize their CV in the personal statement. The personal statement should contain detailed and specific examples of experiences that may be included on your CV, but the details should be completely novel.


TIP #2: RESPOND TO THE PROMPT

When writing your personal statement it is very important that you answer the specific prompt provided. Each GC program will provide a prompt which will include questions they want you to cover. Most programs will also list length and formatting requirements on their program website. For bonus fun some programs don’t list any requirements, which may mean a length is not specified. Check with the program if you have checked for this information at least three times and you cannot locate the details on their website.


Take a look below at three prompts from three GC programs for the 2022 application cycle. Notice that while the prompts certainly overlap, different programs have requested that you touch on slightly different topics. Stanford’s prompt asks that you describe future career plans; this is not mentioned in the Sarah Lawrence or Augustana prompts. Augustana’s prompt specifically asks about your exposure to genetic counseling and how the exposure has prepared you for a career in genetic counseling. SLC’s prompt is more general and requests that you describe any experiences that have shaped your interest in genetic counseling. So while the prompts all sound very similar on the first read through, many do guide you to write about specific examples and topics. Read carefully! You should not write one generic prompt and use it for all programs. However, you can write a generic prompt and modify the length, specific examples, and number of examples and make it work for most programs.


Stanford’s Prompt:

The Statement of Purpose should succinctly describe your reasons for applying to the genetic counseling program, your preparation for this field, research interests, future career plans, and other aspects of your background and interests which may aid the review committee in evaluating your aptitude and motivation for genetic counseling. Please limit your personal statement to 2 pages. We prefer double spaced submissions.


Sarah Lawrence’s Prompt

Please submit a personal statement describing how your academic, extracurricular, and life experiences have shaped your interest in genetic counseling and prepared you to be successful both in graduate school and the profession.


Augustana’s Prompt

You must upload a personal statement--1250 words or less--highlighting your motivation to become a genetic counselor and emphasizing your prior and current experiences and exposure to genetic counseling, and how both have prepared you to enter and will benefit you in the profession.


TIP #3: PICK EXPERIENCES THAT HELP YOU STAND OUT

Once you have your experiences listed and understand exactly what the prompts from your programs of interest are asking for, pick the experiences that set you apart the most from the average applicant while answering the prompt. Make sure you select experiences that help you stand out and display characteristics that make up a strong applicant.


HOW TO GET STARTED


I recommend pasting all of the prompts for your schools of interest in a google doc and outlining what you plan to touch on for each personal statement. If you can identify multiple prompts that are very similar in length and topics, group them together as one and refine after you get a draft down.


Once you have outlines for each prompt, start with whichever prompt feels the easiest. Copy and paste the most relevant experiences from the brainstorming/journaling session in step 1 and either expand or cut down the length and level of details depending on the prompt and the length requirements. Begin to think about how to make your personal statement a cohesive story with an introduction and conclusion as you edit the meat.


The hardest part of the personal statement is just


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