Once, I read a letter of intent from an applicant which was filled with personal, but relevant, stories. It created a compelling narrative which I believe made them a great applicant.
That, right there, is a narrative story. It relates an event on a personal level, rather than just relating the facts. Another way to start this post may have been: Stories are important because mankind has used storytelling for as long as we have had language and they create powerful engagement with a listener/reader. Each opener works fine, but I believe the storytelling one is slightly better. You can use this same strategy in your letter of intent.
One of the most common recommendations I give to applicants as well as interviewees is: tell a story. Relate it to your own personal experience. Behavioral interviewing regularly uses this strategy, such as: “Tell me about a time when you had to make a difficult ethical decision.” Given this recommendation, I thought it may be helpful to provide some examples of particularly good stories. These have been made anonymous and unidentifiable.
“During my time at <shop>, I worked to expand our product lines, reach out to our alumni, partner with Unseen University’s SCAVMA for mutual benefit, and move to a new location. Between the growth in available merchandise, development of a user-friendly website, increase in foot traffic, and more optimal hours – <the shop> has been able to generate revenue and continue giving back to the college.”
“When I moved to the States from Another Country, I knew very little English. Many have told me ‘it’s impossible, you can’t do it’; but this only motivated me to push myself, and work incredibly hard to overcome these barriers and strive to pursue my goals with excellence. Today, many are not even able to pick up on my accent and I hope to bring this ‘can-do’ attitude to your institution.”
“Working in a surgery referral practice* I had the opportunity to see firsthand the immense value added to an owner’s life when their pet’s life is saved or its quality of life is improved, and that is when I finally realized that I wanted to become a veterinarian.”
* – There should be a comma here.
“Through my unique experience pursuing an MPH, my eyes have been opened to the human influence present in veterinary medicine. This, in turn, has made me more aware of the importance in recognizing the human-animal bond and cultural influences when it comes to animal health and welfare. Teaching classes to children and adults has shaped my development as an effective communicator during my clinical year at Unseen University. It is my hope to continuing exploring this perspective at your institution.”
“I can remember the feeling of profound amazement the first time I was able to watch the motion of a beating heart during a partial lung lobectomy procedure, the frustration of a meticulously placed cortical screw giving way, the disappointment of being unable to help a critical patient, and the confusion of an atypical presentation. It seems that Murphy’s Law has a special place for veterinary medicine in its heart. These experiences provided me the opportunity to witness creative thinking when things did not go as planned, taught me that dedication to our patients, clients, and colleagues helps to ensure a smooth running machine, and demonstrated the importance of perseverance when progress seems impossible.”
“As the daughter of two veterinarians, I was exposed to both the professional and personal aspects of veterinary medicine from a young age. Working at my parents’ small animal general practice for many years showed me the emotional and mental fulfillment that comes from caring for people and their animals as well as solving medical challenges on a daily basis.”
“Recently, I externed at a large multi-specialty center and met diplomates in various disciplines as well as the current interns. This gave me a chance to get familiar with the expectations of an intern. I saw the long working hours, financial restraints and sleepless nights during internship. I see these hardships as seeds of dedication and passion that will help me bloom into a well-informed, more confident and skillful clinician. I was inspired seeing the diplomates, residents and interns working on very challenging cases. I aspire to be like them one day and hope one day to inspire others.”
What I hope you will see with all of these examples is not just a recitation of facts, but an interpretation of the experience. “I had this happen, this is what I learned.” This is the core of storytelling- the Hero’s Journey. You have a challenge, and you learn from it. It’s a simple narrative but, if you can apply it to your letters, I believe they will be more compelling.