When preparing to apply to a graduate nursing program, there are many requirements and submission guidelines to remember. The component that allows you to tell your unique story — your personal statement — is one of the most important.
Writing a compelling personal statement for an MSN program, like the Nursing@Simmons online Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program, takes time and can be challenging for some applicants. Just as a poorly written essay can hinder your chances of acceptance, a great one can set you apart from other applicants. Below are three steps to writing a personal statement that will make a positive impression on any admissions committee.
1. Plan Your Story
Very few people can sit down at a keyboard and craft the perfect personal statement without preparation. It may take several weeks of thinking about how to communicate your story, so give yourself plenty of time to plan, jot down thoughts, and make an outline as ideas come to you. Use the following tips to gather the information you’ll need to create an excellent statement.
- Consider how your work experience as a registered nurse (RN) has influenced you and shaped your goals for the future. How will an advanced education promote your professional growth and help you transition into the role of an FNP?
- Think beyond your resume. What traits, strengths, and accomplishments aren’t captured there? Consider your interests, including how they will contribute to your success in the program. Provide examples of nursing goals, leadership, mentorship, or growth you have accomplished or experienced. Write these down and keep them in mind as you begin your draft.
- Choose appropriate topics for your statement. Avoid soapbox issues, and don’t preach to your reader. This kind of statement can come across as condescending and obscure the point you’re trying to make.
- Research the program. Make sure you understand the school’s values and reputation. Do they align with yours? How so?
2. Create Your Draft
- When it is time to start putting your thoughts on paper, try to avoid overthinking your work. Strive for a natural voice. Pretend you are talking to a friend and write without fear — you can edit and polish your piece to perfection in the next stage.
- Avoid cliches and nursing generalities. Generic descriptors, such as “caring,” “compassionate,” “people person,” and “unique,” have been so often overused that they no longer carry much weight with an admissions committee. They also don’t address your personal experience in the nursing sphere. Try not to start your story with phrases like “for as long as I can remember” or your audience may stop reading.
- Show, don’t tell. Strong storytelling is grounded in personal details that illustrate who you are, both as a nurse and a person. Be specific by describing how many patients you managed, how you earned promotions, or a time when your supervisor praised your professionalism and clinical abilities. Here are examples that illustrate the difference between telling and showing:
“I perform well under pressure.”
“Although my patient arrived for a different ailment, I suspected that her symptoms were consistent with a serious infection. As a result, I was able to advocate for a care plan that prevented further damage.”
- Use specific examples when talking about your experience with direct patient care and evidence-based practice. Provide details about how your clinical experiences have demonstrated patient advocacy, leadership, communication, or confidence.
- Discuss how earning a Master of Science in Nursing aligns with your career plans and why you want to become a FNP. Explain that you understand the commitment required and that you have the skills and dedication to become an FNP. Be sure to let the admissions committee know why you are choosing their program and what makes their program stand apart from the rest. Reflect on the school and program research you did during your planning stage.
3. Edit and Perfect
Even the best writers have to edit and polish their work. Reviewing and revising your personal statement ensures that the piece is clear, organized, and free of errors.
- Once you have written your first draft, take a break and distance yourself from your work. This will allow you to return to the draft with a clear head to review objectively and spot potential issues and errors.
- Read your statement aloud. Does it sound like you? Does it reflect your best qualities and the strengths you’ll bring to a nursing program?
- Take great care to submit a statement that is free of spelling and grammatical errors. Even minor mistakes can make you look careless. Multiple errors could indicate to the admissions committee that you are disorganized or not taking the application process seriously. Here are some tools and tips to help you present a perfect piece of writing:
- Always use spell check on your essay, but be careful as it won’t catch every spelling error.
- Use a grammar editing tool, such as Grammarly.
- Ask a friend, family member, or mentor to review your statement. This is a great way to catch errors or awkward phrasing that you may have missed.
Your nursing personal statement should be a window into your life. Use it to share specific experiences that have influenced your decision to advance your nursing education. Adhering to professional standards and presenting yourself in a positive, open, and honest way will help the admissions committee determine your fit and future in an FNP program.
While many NP program application deadlines are still months away, now is the perfect, stress-free time to start getting your application materials together. Filling out endless amounts of personal information, gathering transcripts and requesting letters of recommendations is easy. The application essay? Not so much.
We all hate responding to the types of questions NP program applications typically ask. "Why do you want to become a nurse practitioner?" and "Talk about a time you overcame a challenge" can be difficult questions to answer...eloquently at least. Responding by saying you want to become an NP "so you can make decent money and aren't sure what else to do with your life" isn't going to cut it.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make sure your admissions essays are top notch.
- Get Specific- Most application essay questions are generic. This doesn't mean your response should follow suit. Rather than describing how you feel about a topic, give details. Outline a specific example from your own personal experience. This makes your essay more interesting and memorable while highlighting your experience and personality.
- Keep it Simple- Admissions staff want to read an essay, not a novel. Avoid verbosity keeping your essay simple and succinct but complete. Make sure to stick to specified length guidelines. They are there for a reason.
- Understand the Role of a Nurse Practitioner-NP program faculty want to know that you understand the role of nurse practitioners. Make sure you accurately present the NP profession in your essay responses. If you aren't quite sure what an NP does, job shadow an NP or two for a day to learn more about the career before applying.
- Be Concrete-Even if you aren't 100% sure what your future holds, explain your future plans and goals as if they are set in stone. Saying you "might" do this or you "hope" to do that isn't as powerful as saying you "will".
- Keep Your Essay Appropriately Personal- Many essay topics ask you to explain a time you overcame an obstacle or hardship in life. If your life's major challenge has been extremely personal, choose something else to discuss in your essay. Don't mention your marriage woes or your teen's problems with the law to admissions staff. Instead, choose something career or volunteer related (but not trivial) even if it isn't actually your life's most insurmountable obstacle.
- Follow Directions- Yes, you learned this in kindergarden but some of us still have trouble sticking to guidelines. If a school asks for an essay written in APA format, for example, make sure you exhaustively research APA requirements and format your essay appropriately.
- Brag a Little-Application essays are your chance to shine. Highlight your career, education and experience. If you have volunteered extensively or worked in the medical field, share examples of your experiences and how they have helped shape your interest in becoming a nurse practitioner.
- Stick with Facts Over Characteristics-When describing yourself in your application essay, examples and facts speak louder than description. Anyone can say, for example, they are hardworking. If you can describe your involvement in multiple nursing organizations while raising a family and working full-time in the ICU, however, this proves your industrious character.
- Edit, Edit, Edit-Nothing ruins an application essay like typos and misspellings. Look over your essay multiple times continuing to refine your work. Then, share it with family, friends and colleagues asking for feedback. The more eyes you have read your essays before submitting your application, the better.
NP program faculty are looking at your essays as samples of your writing ability. Start your application essays early making sure you have enough time to review them thoroughly. You wouldn't want a poorly written writing sample to hurt your chances of admission.
Questions about your NP program application essay? Ask other NP's their opinions by commenting below.
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