One of the hardest parts of the DICAS application – okay, THE hardest part – is the personal statement. I wasn’t exactly sure what to write at first, and it felt like my story was way too complicated and long to fit into 1000 words. Depending on your writing style, you may have trouble even getting close to 1000 words. Either way, I’m going to help you out with some specific tips on how to write your personal statement! I also included my own statement at the end of the post, because there are so few examples online of a personal statement specific to the dietetics program.
Okay, honesty time – I did not start my personal statement early. This is because I know myself pretty well as a writer and I’m not afraid to say that I’m confident in my skills! I’ve been writing for over 20 years. However, I realize that most people are not writing on a regular basis, and they certainly aren’t writing about themselves.
So all that to say, if you’re nervous about your personal statement, start writing it now. I don’t care if you have six months – start now. Carry a tiny notebook with you so you can write things down when inspiration hits. Keep a notebook next to your bed and a notebook next to your shower – I would often have ideas first thing in the morning or while I was shampooing my hair! Write every single idea down, and let things roll around in your head for a while. Then, about three months out from your deadline, really buckle down and begin your brain dumps.
This is how I begin any writing process – no restrictions, no thinking, just WRITE. I strongly recommend hand writing this portion, but do what feels most natural to you. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by the blank page or screen – if you don’t know what to write, write “I don’t know what to write”, or “I’m afraid I won’t have anything to say”, or “How do I even start?” and go from there. Guess what, no one will EVER see what you write! So go crazy, be honest, and get everything out of you head and onto paper.
Tear or print out your brain dump and have it close at hand. On a new sheet of paper, begin by writing out general headlines. I found it helpful to use my program’s topics that they wanted me to cover as my headlines, which were:
- Why do you want to enter the dietetics profession?
- What are some experiences that have helped to prepare you for your career?
- What are your short-term and long-term goals?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses or areas needing improvement?
Most programs will have questions very similar to this, but check your program’s website for specifics. Once I have my headlines written down (you can do one headline per side of paper to give yourself enough room), go through your brain dumps and and notes you took early on and place them where you think they should go. If something can apply to more than one headline, put it in both spots for now.
This will be your master page of notes and ideas you’ve had so far, as well as what you know you need to talk about (your headlines). You can highlight things you think are really important, move stuff around, and come up with an outline that makes sense to you at this stage. Everyone likes to do their outline differently – you can use full sentences, bullet points, whatever. Just create a guide that you’ll use going forward, and remember that IT WILL CHANGE and that’s okay.
Time for a break! Once you have your first outline, put everything away and leave it for a few days. Honestly, I gave myself at least a week between each early stage – the brain dump, outline, and first several drafts. It helps to clear your head and gives you time to remember things you may want to include. Every time you come back to it you’ll have fresh eyes and a new perspective.
You will have many, many drafts of your personal statement. I recommend saving each one as a separate file – there were times when I wanted to go back and use something I had erased only to find out I hadn’t saved it separately. Oops!
I chose to write a first rough draft, then write an entirely new second draft. This allowed me to combine parts that I liked from each of them to come up with a pretty solid third draft. Techniques I used to help everything flow together:
- I was telling a story, rather than writing an essay. What’s your story? Why are you here, and what are you passionate about?
- What’s your personal timeline? When did the important parts of your life happen, and how did it influence where you are today? This will help you structure your personal statement in an organized way. If you look at mine below, I started with a present-day intro, then chronologically went through important parts of my life starting from childhood. I think this is a useful technique to help you stay on track and make it sound more like a story.
- What are some experiences you’ve been a part of that make you an asset to dietetics? You may really need to think outside of the box on this one if you haven’t worked in the medical/nutrition field, or if you don’t have a lot of volunteer experience. Were you a receptionist who had to deal with difficult clients? Do you have a child with food allergies that you had to learn to manage? I’d bet you’ve had plenty of experiences that directly relate to dietetics, even if it isn’t obvious at first.
- What is your passion? Get down to the root of why you’re in this program. You want to be an RD. Why? Because you want to help people? Why? Let them see what drives you at your core – for me, it’s empowering people who feel unfixable to be their own biggest advocate and expert. That was not obvious to me at first – it took a lot of “why’s” to get to that realization.
Once you have a rough draft that you feel pretty good about (if you don’t feel pretty good about it, that’s okay too!), find as many people as you can to read and edit it for you. Ask people who are in the field – students, RDs, teachers – as well as people outside of the field like family members and colleagues.
Let me tell you, I am good at taking critiques but these critiques were still challenging for me. This is probably the most personal thing you have ever, and will ever, write. If you get a critique that gets to you, immediately step back and call it a day. I owe much of my final draft to a critique from a family member that I was (initially) pretty affected by. Because this is such a personal subject matter, that might happen. Just step back and come back to it once you’re able to be more objective.
It’s also important to remember that people who have not written a personal statement for a dietetic internship might not know what’s important to have in there. I got a few critiques recommending to remove the section I had written answering “What are your weaknesses or areas needing improvement” because they didn’t think I should be focusing on that stuff. Guess what, it’s required! But what that told me is that there was something about that section that wasn’t working. Instead of removing it, I reworked it and got a much better response.
For many people, the 1000 word limitation is a big challenge – some people go way over, and some are way under. My first full rough draft was almost 2000 words and I didn’t think there was any way I would ever get it down. I felt like every part of my statement was vitally important! Here are some helpful ways to cut words when you’re way over:
- Look for repeats. I had some sentences that weren’t exactly the same, but communicated the same idea. For instance, a running theme in my statement is personalized nutrition. Much of my initial draft talked a LOT about this, and even though it all felt very important, I had to make the decision to distill it down to one or two sentences.
- If there is anything that feels even slightly negative, cut it out or reword it. Even your weakness should not feel negative or bring the reader down. If it’s negative and not necessary to the paper, cut it out.
- Look for extraneous words that aren’t vital to the flow of your sentence. Often times people (me!) use words like “that” and “had” unnecessarily, and it can add up. For instance, “I knew that this was the program for me” sounds nice, but “I knew this was the program for me” means the same thing and eliminates one word.
- Look for ideas you can combine. I struggled adding my big weakness, anxiety, into my paper organically. I had a section where I discussed intuitive eating, and I realized that practicing intuitive eating helps me alleviate anxiety. This allowed me to work in my few sentences about how I handle my anxiety in a way that flows better, PLUS it allowed me to eliminate a few words by combining ideas!
- Know where to use words, and where to spare them. Look for the things that are most impactful and memorable in your statement. For me I decided this was my podcast, and my personal experiences with dieting and health problems. I allowed myself to use more words with these topics, and I made the conscious decision to cut back on everything else. Things got left out that I really liked, but my main focuses – podcast and personal health story – got priority.
- Again … you WILL have to leave things out. At first it might feel impossible, but what I ended up doing was copying my 2000 word personal statement into a new document and cutting it up mercilessly. I knew my longer version was still available if I needed it, and this allowed me to be ruthless with my cuts. I ended up really liking my shorter paper!
My tips for fleshing out a shorter paper:
- Keep asking “why”. Do you want to help children learn how to form good eating habits early on? Why? Go through every single sentence in your paper and ask why. If there is more to the story, write it down!
- Be more descriptive. This is a piece of academic writing, but it should be pleasant to read and memorable. Being short on words means you can add some descriptors to make your writing come alive. Change “I was nervous to apply but knew it was what I had to do” to “My hands shook as I slipped the envelope into the slot, but I knew this was the first step on the path to realizing my purpose”. That’s 12 extra words, plus it puts the reader in your shoes and adds emotion to your essay.
- Don’t hate me for this piece of advice, but start from scratch. Open a blank document and write an entirely new rough draft. It’s okay if it strongly resembles your existing paper – the idea here is to get you to say things differently. As you’re trying to remember what you wrote before, further details about the story or situation may pop into your head that you’ve forgotten. Once you have your fresh rough draft, pull it up side-by-side with your old one and see what you can add!
Multiple Applications, Multiple Statements
If you’re applying to multiple internships, you’ll need to tailor a personal statement to fit each one of them. Go to the open house and take notes on what you like. Read the website and guidebook if provided. Talk to current and past interns. You really need to figure out why you want to go to that program and let them know – and if you want to go there because it’s convenient or cheap, you’re gonna have to find a new reason =D
I’ll be honest, a big part of why I initially wanted to apply to my program was because of convenience. It’s the school I completed my undergrad with, it’s down the street from my house, and I’m comfortable there. However, I knew I needed better reasons than that, so I went to the open house and spoke with the people involved in the internship. I fell in love with the opportunities provided through the program and said so in my essay. Don’t pander, but make sure they feel like you didn’t throw darts at a board.
The Final Draft
Alright, here we are. This is it. You’re about to be done with the hardest part of this whole DICAS process. The first thing to know is that uploading your personal statement to DICAS is not an irreversible action. If you decide you want to change something, you can delete and re-upload anytime you like before you hit submit. That being said, don’t drive yourself crazy making edits.
Once you have your final draft, ask your generous editors if they would mind reading through your statement one last time. Here’s the caveat though – ask only for critiques relating to grammar, spelling, and flow. At this stage, you don’t need any input on the actual content of your paper. You’ve probably been reworking and rewriting this thing for weeks if not months, and you need to be confident in your story. All we need to know now is if there are any glaringly obvious errors.
Once you get your edits back, review them, incorporate them, and upload it. Guess what? YOU’RE DONE.
I’d recommend reading through your uploaded personal statement one final time before you hit the “submit” button, but not before. You need to be done and move on so you can finish the rest of your application and, I don’t know, take a shower? You’ve put in a lot of work on this statement, so let yourself be done.
Below is my own personal statement. Clearly this will only help you so much, as all of our stories are so different. However, I remember desperately looking for examples when I was writing my own, and there are none. If you have any further questions or tips for other RD2Be’s, leave a comment below! Good luck and be confident =)
My Words to Life University – Example Personal Statement for DICAS
Taped to the wall above my desk is a scrap of paper from a fortune cookie – “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi. When I am struggling, I read those familiar words and remember what brought me here.
As a little girl, I suffered from a slew of health problems that became my version of normal. Migraines, depression, abdominal pain, fatigue, and asthma brought me to several doctors, and when I didn’t get better, I began hiding my health problems. These issues followed me like a sneaking shadow through my school years and, eventually, led me to drop out of the Art Institute of Atlanta in my second quarter. I desperately needed help, but I did not know where to go. I felt unfixable.
I stumbled upon the Paleo diet in my quest for answers. I consumed countless books on nutrition and tried every diet I could find to alleviate the pain. Eventually, a stint of the Whole 30 diet triggered a major episode of binge eating disorder that would take years to overcome. A desire to be pain-free quickly spiraled into an obsession with being thin.
While these challenges were difficult to overcome, they left me with a resilience and level of compassion that I would not otherwise have. My frenzied journey through dieting taught me that people will do seemingly illogical things when they are desperate. They may have the best of intentions, but the messaging they are bombarded with via advertisements and self-proclaimed experts sets them up for failure. Eventually, people stop trying because they assume not that the diet is broken, but that they are. I knew that I had to help people who felt unfixable like I had, and I thought I could do it through food.
With this fire inside of me, I started school to become a Registered Dietitian and began finding ways to develop my skills and knowledge outside of the classroom. I began writing articles for a website called Healthroot to spread evidence-based nutrition and hone my writing skills. I developed and taught classes on how to stay healthy after a natural disaster to overcome my fear of public speaking. I educated myself on intuitive eating so that I could help my future clients, and myself, alleviate anxiety around food. Anxiety is something that I put daily effort into managing, but I do not see it as a weakness – it is simply another hill to climb. And I honestly cannot be entirely ungrateful for anxiety. It has forced me to build lifelong habits that will persist even as the worry fades, like practicing daily self-care, exercising, and being kind to myself.
In January of 2018, I started The Nutrition Nerds Podcast with a fellow student that now has over 1,000 weekly downloads. Our goal is to dispel nutrition myths, discuss new research, and promote the field of dietetics. Running this weekly podcast has taught me skills that I can carry into my career. Perhaps one of my biggest lessons has been learning how to distill complicated nutrition science into something understandable and applicable to real life. Covering over 150 different topics in the past 56 episodes has required reading and interpreting scholarly research, applying knowledge I have learned in class, and discerning fact from fiction. Health professionals, students, and the general public all listen together, and that is exactly how we wanted it to be – accessible and interesting to everyone.
Long before starting this podcast and going back to school, I worked as a veterinary technician for five years. Working in that field taught me many things I can carry into dietetics, from medical terminology to writing assessments. However, my most valued skill from that time was learning how to leave difficult, sometimes heartbreaking situations at work. I struggled for many years with how to go home and enjoy my evening after spending hours assisting with a surgery that did not have a happy ending, or how to leave a room after euthanizing someone’s pet without breaking down. Over time, I learned how to protect my heart while remaining compassionate and caring.
I found my work as a veterinary technician extremely rewarding but felt pulled to work directly with people. Food kept coming into the picture as a tool that could have a massive impact, both negatively and positively. When I decided on dietetics, Life University was an institution that resonated with my belief that it is our job to support our bodies, not sabotage them. I found a family of fellow dietetic students and a faculty that I truly respect and admire, and I am excited to further my journey with an internship with Life University. I am particularly interested in the partnership with Walden that pursues the connection between nutrition and mental health. Another exciting prospect is to work with Be Well Nutrition. Valarie Evanoff ‘s career is one that I greatly admire, and her mentorship would be an important stepping stone towards my goal to open my own practice.
After passing the RD exam, I plan to gain two years of experience in clinical while building my private practice part-time. Long term, I will work as a functional and integrative dietitian specializing in mental health and mind-body wellness. Because I have experienced a wide variety of health issues, and have been on countless diets, I feel that I can be of service to people who feel that they have nothing left to try. I also plan to continue writing and podcasting in order to provide accurate, free nutrition information to the public. Later down the road, I would love to lead a Ted Talk!
In a gentle way, dietitians can shake the world. When we empower people to be their own fiercest advocate and learn what works for them as an individual, we can make big changes. That is why I am here, and that is why I hope to continue my education through Life University’s internship.