Most nurse practitioner (NP) schools require their prospective students to compose a personal statement. Often, these elusive essays cause applicants to panic, but with just cause: personal statements are one of the most important components of NP school applications.
Having applied to a BSN, MSN, and DNP program in my past, I have written more personal statements than I can count. In this article, I offer general advice for preparing, writing, and editing your essay.
To help temper your anxiety, this post elaborates on the importance of:
First and foremost, follow directions. Each school has different guidelines for their personal statements, and you do not want your application thrown out just because you fell under their required word count. Some schools provide explicit information on the length, format, and content of the personal statement while others leave the task more open-ended.
For example, Vanderbilt University provides an open-ended prompt for the admissions essay: “The Statement of Purpose should reflect your understanding of the role of the advanced practice nurse and your interest in either a particular patient population, in healthcare leadership or in nursing informatics. Before writing your statement of purpose, please carefully review information about the specialty on our website so that you clearly indicate to the faculty that your career goals are a fit with the specialty.”
Drexel University also offers specific guidelines for their personal statement requirement: “Personal statement (under 1,000 words) that will give the admissions committee a better understanding of: (1) Why you are choosing this particular program of study; (2) Your plans upon completion of the graduate degree; and, (3) How your current work experience will enhance your experience in this MSN program.”
On the other hand, NP schools like Duke University and University of California San Francisco merely ask for a “personal statement” or “goal statement” with no further direction. Be aware that not every school calls your essay a personal statement. Allen College, for example, calls it a “biographical sketch,” and Johns Hopkins University calls it a “written expression of goals.”
Every application will be slightly different, so it is important to stay organized. Table 1 is an example of how I stayed organized during my NP school applications.
|Table 1: How to Organize Personal Statement Information*|
|Name of school with link||Application due date||Word or character count||How should it be submitted (e.g. PDF, Word document, email, online application)||Copy and paste the guidelines directly from the school’s website|
|Vanderbilt University||11/1/2016||None specified||PDF via online application||(1) Your understanding of the role of the advanced practice nurse and your interest in either a particular patient population
(2) Clearly indicate to the faculty that your career goals are a fit with the specialty.
|Drexel University||5/1/2016||Less than 1,000 words||Via Online application||(1) Why you are choosing this particular program of study
(2) Your plans upon completion of the graduate degree
(3) How your current work experience will enhance your experience in this MSN program
|*Information in this table is just an example. Please check each school’s website for the most up to date information.|
Make sure your answers line up with your resume or curriculum vitae. Do not exaggerate your skills or accomplishments. Instead, be proud of what you have achieved and speak enthusiastically about your desire to become an NP.
Never let someone else write your essay for you, and never plagiarize content from books, blogs, or journal articles. The admissions committee may scan your personal statement for plagiarism using an online program. Be sure to check your essay before you submit it using a website like PlagTracker, Turn It In, or Grammarly.
One of my favorite quotes is from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” If being an NP is your goal, pursue it with courage, determination, and passion. Become enthusiastic about all things nurse practitioning.
Writing professionally does not mean writing a bland, scientific paper. Be concise, be consistent, use clear examples, and make it sound like you. Make sure your personal statement succinctly and lucidly portrays your passion for becoming an NP. Do not use this essay as a means to criticize past professors or other NP programs.
Think of your personal statement as your chance to convince the admissions committee to accept you. Why should they admit you? What makes you unique? Why will you succeed in graduate school? Why will you be an excellent nurse practitioner? Use your essay to make your case.
Make sure you tailor your answers to your chosen medical specialty. For example, if you are applying to become an emergency nurse practitioner, what characteristics do you have that will ensure your success? Are you quick on your feet, calm under pressure, and compassionate to all? Are you enthusiastic about this specialty? What have you done or what do you do that demonstrates your passion?
Sometimes the hardest part is figuring out where to begin. A mind map can help you start brainstorming. A mind map is a spidergram that offers a structured method for developing ideas. Here is an example of one I made when I was brainstorming my research interests.
When you are ready, use your mind map to create a topical outline. Typically, you will want to have an introduction and conclusion paragraph that sandwich a handful of body paragraphs. Your introduction and conclusion should include your thesis and summary of your subtopics. Each body paragraph should elaborate upon one subtopic. I use the following outline when beginning my articles.
Body Paragraphs (one for each subtopic)
You want the admissions team to remember you. You want to stand out. Try to incorporate a personal story that will make you memorable. The stories can usually be about anything you like: anything from a conversation with a mentor to a volunteer experience. Make the story interesting and use it to illustrate and emphasize your key points.
Choose a story that describes how you decided to become an NP or one that illustrates your personal values. You might also write about a particular challenge or experience that changed your perspective. Try to choose a story that gives the reader a clear impression of who you are and why you will be successful in NP school.
Consider beginning the story in your introduction, telling small pieces in each body paragraph, and ending the story in your conclusion paragraph. If you decide to tel a story in your personal statement, I suggest using the outline below.
Body Paragraphs (one for each subtopic)
In your personal statement, speak the nursing language. This will give you credibility. For those new to the NP field, learn the language by reading as many books as you can. A good place to start is Stewart and DeNisco’s Role Development for the Nurse Practitioner. This text offers a broad overview of health policy, healthcare reform, mentoring, prescriptive authority, and the history of NPs. A newer book that I love is Carolyn Buppert’s Nurse Practitioner’s Business Practice and Legal Guide. This book will give you more detailed information about the scope of practice laws in each state.
It never hurts to touch on these seminal publications from the Institute of Medicine:
You might also consider citing these position papers published by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners:
If you have a red flag in your application, explain it in your personal statement. Do you have a bad grade or low Graduate Record Exam score? Maybe you lack a full year of nursing experience. Rather than shying away from the topic, offer a clear, accurate explanation. Demonstrate humility, and write about how you have compensated for this mistake, challenge, setback, or flaw.
Do not procrastinate! Start your personal statement weeks in advance. Give yourself adequate time to brainstorm, write an outline, compose each paragraph, revise, and edit. A rushed essay might land your entire application in the rejected pile.
Proofread, proofread, and proofread again! A clean, well-composed essay exemplifies your ability to succeed in a graduate program. My favorite website for checking grammar is Grammarly. They offer a free and premium service. They advertise that their software catches 250 errors that Microsoft Word does not detect. I also find their free Grammar Handbook helpful.
Throughout my DNP program, I started a list of general writing tips. Here are some of the most important:
In general, avoid adverbs. Instead, use stronger verbs that imply the adverb. Here is a list of strong verbs to consider:
There are a variety of websites that can help you with APA formatting, grammar, syntax, and checking for plagiarism. Some good resources include:
After you have finished writing your essay, read it out loud. Most people have more experience listening and speaking than writing and editing. By reading your personal statement out loud, your brain will hear the information and new way and notice flaws you did not see before.
It helps to print a copy of your paper so that you can take notes as you read. Read at a slow to moderate pace. Try to be systematic about your reading: check for grammar the first time through, syntax the second time, and tone the third time.
As you listen to your paper, pay attention to the order of your ideas. Note any gaps in your explanations. Make sure you transition clearly from one main idea to the next. Do not be afraid to reorder sentences, paragraphs, or entire sections. Also, listen for grammatical and syntax errors. You will probably notice sentences that are awkward, too convoluted, and repetitive.
Finally, hearing your paper out loud will give you a sense of its tone. Does your paper sound too casual, too chatty, or too formal? This essay is the admission committee's first impress of you. Consider reading your paper to a friend and asking them what impression they obtain from your answers.