The sun is shining (occasionally), the weather is sweet (yeah), makes me want to move my writing hand…. and produce an awesome application in September.
Perhaps not the lyrics to an epic summer anthem but surely summer is indeed a great time to be thinking of and preparing for the application obstacle course that is soon approaching. It is truly amazing how rapidly deadlines can loom – I only have to think of the ones I impose on myself for writing the newsletter (and have, to my shame, occasionally missed spectacularly) – and the one for your vet school applications will be no exception. In fact, as far as deadlines go it probably represents one of THE most important ones you will have at this stage in your young lives.
So, when is the deadline? Well, when it comes to applications submitted through UCAS to Cambridge, Oxford and professional courses, including Veterinary, the final deadline for application submission is 15th OCTOBER. Go ahead and write that somewhere prominent in BIG, BOLD lettering as it is very very important to keep that date firmly in mind.
Although many deadlines are there to be actually reached, this is one that you should really aim to come well under. In other words, you would be wise to aim to get your application finalised and submitted in advance of the deadline, with the best time to do so actually being when applications start to be accepted, which is September. “Why so early?” you might ask. The fact is that most applicants will leave theirs until the very last minute and as such the admissions tutors at the vet schools literally receive huge tsunamis of applications close to the deadline. They only have a finite amount of time in which to carefully read and appraise each and so naturally the time available to really appreciate your carefully crafted masterpiece is limited compared to much earlier in the process.
If you had a million and one (thankfully not literally) applications to read through you would be very keen to skim read and quickly assign submissions to either the “yep, lets interview them” pile or the “nah, not feeling it” pile. You have a much higher chance of being in the former the earlier you submit, in my opinion, purely due to fact that tutors will be able to spend a little more time actually reading your statement properly, thus enabling all of the wonderful things there are about you and your prospects as a future vet to be fully appreciated, much like taking the time to really savour a fine wine as opposed to quickly glugging it down.
Planning to Succeed
Okay, so you know that you should aim to get your application in early. What next? Well, planning and writing is the key step here and this time of year is the perfect time to start doing both. How do you write a masterpiece? Funnily enough authors tend not to just sit down and have a bestseller flow effortlessly from their fingertips in the first sitting. They ponder, plan, jot, scribble, cross out, proof read and generally go through several drafts before they are finally happy with the finished product. That, as it turns out, is also the key to a great personal statement. I won’t go into too much detail here about what should be your statement as that is a whole blog post, and actually chapter, in and of itself. Instead, the key take home message here is to prepare yourself adequately for success by starting early and preparing well. The old saying “to fail to prepare is to prepare to fail” is so true but the good news is we can do something positive to avoid it applying to us.
Key Steps to Preparing to Write an Awesome Personal Statement:
1. Be aware of the character and line limit – as much as you want to tell the vet schools everything about everything, there is only a finite amount of space for you to effectively state your case for why that vet school place should be yours. Being aware of the limit will help you get used to being succinct and to the point.
2. Summarise your work experience to date & identify lessons learned – vet schools want to see evidence of reflection following work experience and not just a meaningless list of placements completed. They want to know that you actually paid attention and identified what important traits go towards making a great vet and why you have shown evidence of such traits. I would advocate taking a large sheet of paper, making a big table and writing down what placements you have done so far, when they were, what key experiences stood out from them and what important lessons or skills you took from them. For example, working with the nursing team to prepare a patient for orthopaedic surgery at your small animal placement may well have highlighted to you the importance of effective teamwork and communication. By tabulating your experiences in this way you will also be able to spot at a glance any areas of experience that might need adding to, with time over the summer to hopefully do so. The other advantage is that you have a very simple to refer to summary of all of your work experience placements for when it comes to completing any additional supplementary work experience questionnaires, which some of the vet schools do ask you to complete.
3. Identify skills and attributes that you demonstrate through school and extra-curricular activities – the vet schools are keen to see that you bring more to the table than just an impressive ability to ace exams. What else do you do, both at school and outside of it and what do these activities tell the vet schools about the kind of person you are, and the sort of vet you might make? Again, summarising with the use of a large sheet of paper and a table can really help to pick out the key points when it comes to writing your initial drafts.
4. By all means be inspired by what others before you have written – the key word there was to be INSPIRED, not simply plagiarise. There is nothing wrong with taking a look at what others have written, including their style of writing, the flow of their statements and the kind of information included. What is not acceptable, however, is simply copying the work of someone else and passing it off as your own. Your statement should read and feel like it is actually you speaking and if it doesn’t then it will certainly become obvious come interview time. As I say, there is nothing wrong with gaining inspiration from others and there are a number of sources of previous veterinary personal statements that you may be able to use, from friends or family who have already been through the process of applying to vet school, to the example statement included in my Vet School book, or even to other example statements that become available. We all need a little inspiration sometimes. This, however, is definitely something to do at an early stage in the writing process as you will want to be focused on your own words later down the line.
5. Write drafts, scribble notes, read and read again – it is highly unlikely that you will produce a perfect statement on your first attempt so several drafts are to be expected. Write something initially, read it and then you have the basis for tweaking. The earlier you start this process then the easier it will seem and the better the results you will see.
6. Do a little each day – the cumulative effect of spending small amounts of time each day working on a project, such as your personal statement, can be incredible and I guarantee that by applying yourself in this way, as opposed to panicking and trying to bring everything together in one last minute mammoth effort, will lead to you producing better work and feeling much happier in the process. Don’t worry if it feels as if you’re not achieving huge amounts initially – that’s the beauty of cumulative effort: it adds up over time to a big, impressive result. Why not start or end each statement preparation session with a short period of reading up on scientific and veterinary current affairs, thus applying the same cumulative principle to your interview preparation. It will barely feel like work.
A few sage bits of advice I am sure you would all agree. The hard bit, however, will be implementing them and practicing what I preach. It will be worth doing so though. Good luck and enjoy your summer – you’ve earned it!