The CASPA personal statement allows a 5,000-character count (about 625 words).
Therefore, a full-length statement would take an average of 2.5 minutes to read.
If a PA program received 1,000 applications meeting or exceeding minimum screening qualifications, reading all of these personal statements would consume 41.67 hours per reviewer.
Or, to put it simply, a full week of eight hour days doing nothing but reading personal statements.
What do you think?
Does your personal statement stand a chance?
What should you write about?
When researchers from the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) did a retrospective analysis of 100's of PA personal statements, they identified eight major themes (from most common to least common)
- altruism and the desire to help people
- role models
- challenges and hardships
- personal characteristics
- positive perception of PA career attributes
- key accomplishments
- a religious or spiritual quest
They then tried to see if there was a link between the PA school essay theme and one's chances of matriculation (i.e., getting into PA school).
And what was most surprising?The only major personal statement theme increasing the odds of matriculation was role models, especially exposure to a PA role model.Click To Tweet
In other words, having a PA mentor and addressing this in your personal statement, resulted in a somewhat better chance of you getting into PA school.
Not surprisingly, grade-point average far exceeded all other variables (including the personal essay) influencing the odds of matriculation.
Despite these findings, after completion of the study, the researchers concluded that "the personal statement is an unreliable tool for predicting successful PA program matriculation."
But, don't confuse the word unreliable for "unimportant" because the personal statement is a VERY important tool for PA school administrators.
Let me tell you why.
Why the Personal Statement is Important
Most PA programs (93%) use the personal statement in the applicant review process, and almost two-thirds indicate that the statement is useful or very useful. Three-fourths (76%) use the personal essay for the selection of candidates for interviews.
So, yes, your PA school essay IS important.
Years ago, I compared applying to PA school to Olympic ice skating: Lots of preparation time for what is often a huge, life-changing, over-in-a-second event.
The short program of figure skating is the first of two segments of competitions, skated before the free skating (long) program. It lasts exactly 2 minutes and 40 seconds.
It must be meticulously crafted to meet seven required elements.
Every Lutz, loop, flip, turn, etc. must be carefully considered to maximize one's score in the provided time. The skaters are then scored on both technical merit and artistic interpretation.
Does this sound familiar?
And just like your PA school application, the data shows that strong technical merit (i.e., overall and science GPA) matters more than artistic performance but put the two together, and you have a guaranteed recipe for success.
Choose Your Words Wisely
Just like an Olympic figure skater must carefully consider each element of their 2.5-minute short program, you must be sure that every word, paragraph, adjective, aspect of grammar (like how to correctly write physician assistant), and choice of punctuation is meticulously measured and perfectly crafted so that you can achieve the highest score in your allotted 2.5 minutes.
The most overused words in PA school personal statements
Analysis of over 600+ PA school applicant essays showed these were the most common words included in PA school personal statement:
The most overused songs in Olympic figure skating
- Carmen (instrumental medley), Georges Bizet: used by more than 50 different skaters over the years
- Swan Lake, Pyotr Tchaikovsky
- Romeo and Juliet, Pyotr Tchaikovsky
- Moonlight Sonata, Beethoven
- Scheherazade, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
- The Phantom of the Opera, Andrew Lloyd Webber
- Tosca (instrumental medley), Giacomo Puccini
It may seem that the best approach is to choose a theme that is time tested and admissions committed approved. Carmen, by Georges Bizet, has been used by more than 50 different skaters over the years, so it must be a hero, right?
Rejoice in You Being You
Unless you have a particularly compelling perspective on an increasingly overused topic, it's best to express your originality by drawing from experiences that are unique to you.
Avoid overly familiar themes (and words) while satisfying the required technical elements. In other words, even though you are obligated to include a triple Axel, and we have all seen 100's of triple Axel's, make sure you A. don't fall (point to you for technical merit), and B. make it your own.
Consider using our essay editing service to polish your essay. While we think family and friends are fabulous, they tend not to be objective enough to provide the right type of feedback on your personal statement. If you miss a jump, they may still give you an eight because "mom knows how hard you tried."
You need a team of judges willing to throw down a score of two when you deserve one even if it hurts.
Read more about our service here. We offer free and straightforward critiques in the comments section, as well as a variety of services to meet all budgets.
Thanks for reading!
- Stephen Pasquini PA-C
View all posts in this series
- How to Write the Perfect Physician Assistant School Application Essay
- The Physician Assistant Essay and Personal Statement Collaborative
- Do You Recognize These 7 Common Mistakes in Your Personal Statement?
- 7 Essays in 7 Days: PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 1, “A PA Changed My Life”
- PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 2, “I Want to Move Towards the Forefront of Patient Care”
- PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 3, “She Smiled, Said “Gracias!” and Gave me a Big Hug”
- PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 4, “I Have Gained so Much Experience by Working With Patients”
- PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 5, “Then Reach, my Son, and Lift Your People up With You”
- PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 6, “That First Day in Surgery was the First Day of the Rest of my Life”
- PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 7, “I Want to Take People From Dying to Living, I Want to Get Them Down From the Cliff.”
- Physician Assistant Personal Statement Workshop: “To say I was an accident-prone child is an understatement”
- 9 Simple Steps to Avoid Silly Spelling and Grammar Goofs in Your PA School Personel Statement
- 5 Tips to Get you Started on Your Personal Essay (and why you should do it now)
- How to Write Your Physician Assistant Personal Statement The Book!
- How to Write “Physician Assistant” The Definitive PA Grammar Guide
- 101 PA School Admissions Essays: The Book!
- 5 Things I’ve Learned Going Into My Fourth Physician Assistant Application Cycle
- 7 Tips for Addressing Shortcomings in Your PA School Personal Statement
- The #1 Mistake PRE-PAs Make on Their Personal Statement
- The Ultimate PA School Personal Statement Starter Kit
- The Ultimate Guide to CASPA Character and Space Limits
- 10 Questions Every PA School Personal Statement Must Answer
- 5 PA School Essays That Got These Pre-PAs Accepted Into PA School
- 7 Questions to Ask Yourself While Writing Your PA School Personal Statement
- 101 PA School Applicants Answer: What’s Your Greatest Strength?
- 12 Secrets to Writing an Irresistible PA School Personal Statement
- 7 Rules You Must Follow While Writing Your PA School Essay
- You Have 625 Words and 2.5 Minutes to Get Into PA School: Use Them Wisely
- What’s Your #1 Personal Statement Struggle?
- 31 (NEW) CASPA PA School Personal Statement Examples