You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. ~Jack London
It can be difficult to whittle down your approach to the CASPA personal statement. Where do you start writing? How do you provide a snapshot of the values you’ll have as a provider as well as an overview of the unique experiences that have lead you to the PA profession? And all while sounding both humble and accomplished?
It’s a tall order.
Today we’re going to offer two more prewriting activities you can do to discover your message and create a compelling representation of you.
Freewriting — Try it for a Week
Freewriting, or the act of writing about whatever for a given amount of time, can be a great way to get some movement into your writing. This is especially helpful if you feel stymied and unsure about what to write. Purists would probably tell you to use a pen and paper for this activity, but do whatever works for you. (They’d also tell you this should be done in the morning, but we’re gonna let that go too. As long as you’re doing the writing, you get a gold star from us!) If your computer takes some time to wake up, maybe go the paper route.
Set a timer for 15 minutes. Sit down and write until the timer goes off.
During freewriting You Do Not Stop.
Even if that means you write the words “I don’t know what to write” that’s okay.
Keep writing until your previously agreed upon time is done. You don’t get to change how much time you write, because you already set the timer and the timer is the boss.
The act of writing without stopping helps loosen the grip of not knowing what to write about, and allows ideas to bubble up to the surface.
A twist on this activity is to consistently set that timer and do your freewriting more than just once. These are sometimes called “morning pages”.
This concept comes from a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She encourages people to do morning page each day for many reasons, but one reason is that morning pages are a way of creating a habit. By routinely exercising our writing muscles they get stronger and writing gets easier. Some people do morning pages everyday.
For our purposes, commit to one week. Commit to five consecutive days of writing each morning for 15 minutes. Each day before you begin to write, take a moment to look over your pages from previous days and highlight or circle any ideas that jump out at you. Keep these ideas in your mind, along with your journey to becoming a PA, and then write.
You’re sure to see common themes and recurring moments emerge in your freewriting. Pay attention to these — you are uncovering the things you should include in your personal statement.
At the end of the week, take a new sheet of paper (or a new page of your document) and compile all the terms, ideas, or stories you’ve mentioned more than once in your freewriting. This might take some time, and you can feel free to compile them any way that works for you. When you’re done, you’ll have at least a couple items that have repeated themselves. These are, most likely, events, moments or values that are important to who you are or they underscore why you want to become a PA. Develop these and you’ll be on your way to a strong personal statement essay.
Life Map to the School
This prewriting activity helps catalog your journey into the world of medicine. It involves drawing (you don’t have to be good at it) an imaginary town. You’ll travel through time and growth and catalog some of your most significant moments.
Begin by drawing something to represent home. This doesn’t have to be your childhood home, but it can be. If you’ve had the goal of getting into PA school since childhood, start there. But if your interest in medicine didn’t begin until later, feel free to start at that point.
Next, on the far end of the paper, draw something to represent a fantastic PA school program. It might be wise to keep this a generic PA program, even though it is a well-respected program. We need to keep personal statements general enough to be read by ALL the programs you apply to, so you don’t want to name any names even if you have a favorite program.
Now, draw a map to get you from your starting point all the way to that PA school. Include:
- Twists and turns — it’s unlikely your path was a straight shot from the starting point and into school.
- Think of the different aspects of a town, the recreation, the schools, the community centers, the businesses. Go past these in your map exercise (you can draw something to represent them if you like) and see if this brings up anything you want to include in your personal statement.
- Significant milestones — draw a place-marker of some kind for those moments that solidified your belief system or commitment to an ideal of the PA profession.
- Important experiences (job or volunteer) in your life that helped further your advancement.
Finally, imagine yourself standing at the doors, about to gain entrance to a great PA program. Why is this career important to you? What will you do with your education? How will you impact the PA community?
Once you’re done, review what you’ve created. You have in your hands a rough outline for your personal statement. It will need to be cleaned up, but it gives you a strong place to start from, and you will have considered many areas you might have not thought to include without the map.
Prewriting is worth it
We’ve offered you four different prewriting activities — Mind Mapping, Word Storms, Freewriting, and Life Maps — and you may want to experiment with more than one. Consider trying one that incorporates your right brain hemisphere, even if that’s not usually your thing.
Even though it’s an added step and you’re not writing your actual essay, we hope you can see how you can benefit from prewriting. You’ll have many more ideas to use and more thorough areas to draw from when you’ve taken the time to explore topics in advance. By using these strategies, you’ll be able to know with confidence that you considered all the angles to your personal statement and chose the strongest themes to explore in your essay. Writing a strong personal statement can be the difference that gets you into PA school.
We have one final prewriting strategy for you to try, so we hope you’ll check back here soon. Also, you may want to sign up for our newsletter so you don’t miss out on important happenings around here.
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