5 Mistakes You Shouldn’t Make When Writing Your Personal Statement
The five most common mistakes nutrition student make on their dietetic internship personal statement. Read this before pressing submit!
UPDATE: This article was originally posted in August 2018 and was updated for clarity and with new information in January 2021.
If you’ve done any research on the dietetic internship application process, you know that having a strong personal statement is an absolute must. In fact, it is one of the most important — if not THE MOST important — part of your DICAS application.
However, if you’re anything like I was when I applied, you have no idea where to start.
I spent weeks writing my dietetic internship personal statement and went through at least ten revisions before pressing submit. Where would I start? How would I catch their attention? What did I want to convey? Why is this so hard?!?
If this is where you are in the process right now, don’t worry. I’m here to tell you that it can and will come together, you can and will do this.
To help you along this journey, I’ve gathered five of the most common mistakes students make when writing their dietetic internship personal statements in hopes that they will help you to write your most rockstar statement possible!
1️⃣ Mistake 1: You don’t do your research
Before you even sit down to start writing your statement, you MUST do some serious homework about each program you’re applying to.
Consider it your job to know as much as you can before you even do the work of applying. I reached out to everyone I could about the programs I applied to because I needed to know as much as possible to put my best application forward.
You know you want this program, so why would you not want to know every. single. detail. about it before you apply? I’m continually shocked by students who claim they want an internship and then ask questions like, “So when is the application due?”.
It’s super important to know the ins and out of what the program is all about so you can show the director how you are a perfect fit. Knowing the program’s mission and goals will help you to define your purpose for applying.
Here is how to do your homework on potential programs:
- Go through every single page of the internship’s website. Know the program objectives and application process in and out.
- Google everything you can on the program. Do a thorough search on the program to see if there is any other information out there that will be useful to know before applying (interviews with the director, blogs or social media from past interns, information about which hospitals or other sites the internship works with, etc.).
- Reach each out to current and past interns. Search for past or current interns and email them to ask about their experience.
- Attend internship open houses. If the program has informational sessions, do your best to attend to get a feel for the program.
- Contact the director. Please, if there’s only one thing you do, contact the director (unless they specifically ask that you do not on their website). Ask questions, inquire about open houses, and see if you can get some face time (but please, don’t ask obvious questions that are on the website).
Having as much information as possible can only be a good thing, and here’s the perfect example from my personal experience of why:
I searched everything I could find about my number one choice program. I asked my professors, contacted current and past interns, attended the open house, and met with the director in person.
The day after I pushed submit on the application I went into the restaurant I was working at during undergrad and the director was there eating dinner with her husband!
I was shocked and nervous — and definitely didn’t want to interrupt her dinner — but as she was leaving I reintroduced myself and said hello and she said she saw my face and remembered I had come to see her. I told her I had just applied and hoped to speak with her soon.
Three weeks later I was invited for an interview, and on match day I opened up DICAS and saw I was matched to the program. You just never know!
2️⃣ Mistake 2: You bounce around with no theme or direction
Like any other piece of writing, your personal statement should have a clear theme and direction.
Deciding upon your direction or end goal before beginning will allow you to make writing decisions that will reflect your theme, making each word and sentence cohesive. Your theme should convey who you are and what you will bring to the internship in one sentence.
Deciding upon your direction or end goal before beginning will allow you to make writing decisions that will reflect your theme, making each word and sentence cohesive.
Let’s say that you are a hardworking, slightly older student with a lot of volunteer experience and lots of passion for food, travel, and global health (hmmm, wonder who that could be?).
Your theme may be, “I am an accomplished, well-rounded applicant that will bring energy, enthusiasm, and maturity to the program.”
Boom. You have a theme.
The sentence doesn’t even need to make an appearance in your statement, it’s just a tool to guide you when writing. Every paragraph you write should consist of examples of why this statement is true.
Don’t just tell directors what you’ve done, tell them who you are and use what you’ve done to back it up.
For me, I knew I was coming into the application process with a lot of experience so it was hard to nail down exactly what I wanted to focus on. Clinical volunteering? Serving meals at a food bank? Being a part of the student dietetic association? My love of travel and foods from around the world?
These are all great potential themes, but how to narrow it down?
I decided I didn’t need to. My theme would be flexibility and maturity. I was a returning student who had been in the workforce for a few years before going back to school; this showed maturity. I had an array of volunteer and work experiences to draw upon; this showed flexibility.
I decided to choose these two descriptive words and some of my strengths (communication, etc.) to begin my paragraphs and then backed up each statement with examples from my past experiences.
Don’t just tell directors what you’ve done by restating the what’s already on your resume, tell them who you are and use what you’ve done to back it up.
Which leads us to…
3️⃣ Mistake 3: You only focus on what you’ve done and not what you will do
Your personal statement is exactly that, a statement. You are stating who you are, what you’ve done, and — most importantly — what you will do.
Most so-so personal statements that I’ve read (and even written!) have focused solely on why the writer wants to get into the program and what they’ve done to show for it.
These are essential parts of a good statement, but internship directors can get a full description of what you’ve done easily by looking at your resume and activities section on DICAS (the application portal).
What these mediocre statements are missing is a fully realized description of your goals and how this particular program will help you achieve them.
Now I know that as a student you may not know exactly what you want to do. Hell, some days I don’t know what I want to do now and I’m five years into being a RD!
But internship directors want to know that you have clear goals and why being an intern in their program is going to place you closer to reaching them.
What is it about the program that caught your eye and how does it align with your particular interests? For me, I knew my top choice was the internship I wanted because it would allow me to work with patients with mental illness and at the time I had an interest (and goal!) of working with under served populations.
In my essay I stated my interest in working in mental health, used examples of past experiences with psychiatric patients, and explained how the program would allow me to further explore my interest and prepare me to reach my goals.
Try this with every paragraph:
- Open with a statement about an interest or characteristic about yourself.
- Use 2-3 sentences explaining what you’ve done using specific past experiences like volunteering, a special project, or an event.
- Then close with a sentence stating how the program will help you build upon these things to further yourself and/or your goal in this area.
4️⃣ Mistake 4: You don’t get feedback.
I’m an ok writer, I know it. In fact — I’ll be confident — at times I’m pretty damn good.
But that doesn’t mean that I’m too good for a proofreader.
In fact, there is no one that couldn’t benefit from a second (or third, or fourth) set of eyes on the personal statement that may help them get matched to the program the really want.
When you’ve been staring at your own writing for hours, days, and weeks you’re bound to miss something. I’ve read this article three times and I’m sure there are still typos. It’s inevitable.
Pro tip: Take a break, walk away, and then come back and read your statement out loud. You will see-and say-your writing with a fresh pair of eyes.
My advice: have both people familiar to dietetic internships and people who are not read your dietetic internship personal statement.
The people who are familiar with the process will give you pointers about how to structure your statement to make sure you address the questions being asked, while the people who are not familiar with them will be able to catch grammatical and structural errors.
I would highly suggest getting using your university’s writing center or using the help of All Access Internships to make sure your writing is perfect (use the code FORKINTHEROAD to get 20% their Get Matched Course!).
Don’t be shy about your statement, you worked hard to get to this point and you should be proud of the work you’re putting forward. If you don’t feel this way, maybe you’re not being 100% yourself in your writing.
Which brings me to the fifth and final mistake I see often…
5️⃣ Mistake 5: You’re not genuine
Internship directors read a lot of statements. Some programs get well over 100 applications, all from students who badly want to be matched to their program.
So what makes you so special to think you will stand out, huh? No, it’s a serious question. What makes you special? Why are you doing this?
Part of doing your homework is knowing what a director is looking for in applicants, but don’t write only what you think the director wants. What do you really want?
Write 100% from the heart…and you’ll know you did everything you could.
If you’re not genuine in your writing, it will show. You will not be inspired and will end up with a half ass statement, plain and simple.
If you only write hoping you say the perfect things that the director wants to hear and then don’t match, you will always wonder if there was something more you could have done or said.
However, if you define your theme, know your purpose and goals for applying, and write 100% from the heart and then don’t match, you’ll know you did everything you could. You will be bummed, but will know you did your best.
Your personal statement should reflect who you are, that is why it’s called “personal.” You did the work, you’ve gotten this far, and now it’s time show it. You can do this, you will get it done. Do the work and then sit back, relax, and know you gave it your all.
👉 More dietetic internship application advice
Check out the posts below for more advice, tips, and tricks to make sure you get matched this year!
- Exactly what you need to know about the DICAS application
- How to Become a Registered Dietitian
- Your Pep Talk for the RD exam (you got this!)
- Everything you need to do before applying to DICAS as a dietetic student
- How to Totally Ace Your Dietetic Internship Interview
🌟 Need help with your personal statement?
If you’re ready to start taking your personal statement to the next level but aren’t sure where to start, I recommend using All Access Dietetics! I used All Access coaching as a student and after matching I became a coach myself, so I know firsthand how valuable hiring a coach can be. And you can save 20% off with the code FORKINTHEROAD.
Here are the ways that All Access Dietetics can help you:
- Get Matched Course: this self-guided course has 17 modules to walk you through each step of the internship application. This is perfect for those who want to work independently but know that they’re covering all of the dietetic internship bases.
- Get Matched Coaching: 1-to-1 coaching is for students who want a coach to help them every step of the way. I chose this service as a student and it was 100% the best decision I made to ensure I got matched!
Just for Fork in the Road readers! Use the code FORKINTHEROAD to get 20% off the All Access Get Matched Course. If you have any questions about my experience with All Access Dietetics, contact me.
Your post was very informational and has inspired me to rewrite my personal statement with your tips. Would it be possible for you to send me your personal statement to read?
Hi there! You can email me at [email protected] and I can send you some resources. Thanks!
Do you know if directors read your supplemental essays along with your DICAS essay? Is it ok to reuse lines and sentences from your DICAS essay on your supplemental essays?
Hi Shanna – yes, if a program asks you to submit a supplemental essay that means they want both the standard personal statement and additional information in the supplemental essay. I would not recommend reusing lines or phrases; if your answers to the supplemental essay use the same things you’ve talked about in your regular statement, just reword or rephrase what you’ve said. Or, and this would be preferred, take a different angle on the same topic. This is your chance to give directors more reason to rank you higher, so take advantage!
Hi Kristina- Great personal statement advice! Thank you for sharing!
1. In the personal statement, do you recommend including the dietetic internship’s rotations and how you would be a good intern at those sites? I want to show that I have researched them thoroughly and am a good candidate for the internship.
2. Any advice or tips for discussing your strengths and weaknesses?
3. Also, how “personal” should the personal statement be when discussing why you became interested in dietetics?
Hi there! Thanks for reaching out, here are my answers:
1. I do recommend to be as specific as possible about the program(s) you’re applying to. You want directors to know that you’ve done your homework. The important thing is to tell them why you’re a good fit and HOW this program will help you to meet your future goals.
2. For the strengths and weaknesses paragraph, I always suggest the “weakness sandwich.” Start out by restating your strengths, then say there are areas you have to grow. Then state your weakness. Then follow up and say how the program will help you to overcome it.
3. I think it can be as personal as you’d like. I know of people who wrote that they decided to become a RD because of family members that passed due to nutrition-related diseases, etc. It’s really up to you, but I wouldn’t spend more than a paragraph about your background/story. You want to make sure to leave room for the “statement” piece, which is telling the director why you’re a good fit.
I am glad I stumbled upon your post! This has been so helpful for me, I am rewriting my personal statement as we speak.
I’m so glad! Just take your time and show directors how good of a fit you are for the program. Good luck!
I just wanted to let you know that this post was extremely helpful. Thank you for taking the time to put this together. I will be writing my personal statement this week.
Thank, Rachell! I’m glad it was helpful, I know how stressful it can be when you’re putting your application together. Good luck!
I’m in the process of writing my personal statement and am trying to showcase several skills instead of simply listing off what I’ve done as experiences. It is okay if I start out a paragraph by introducing a skill that I’ve developed, and then using examples of experiences to back up why I’ve developed that skill? Or is that too forward of a way to describe my experiences? As an example, I’ve said that I have communication and counseling skills. Then I explained it by my experience in a school project using the Nutrition Care Process, my customer service work experience, and my counseling of residents at my diet aide job.
I really appreciate your post you’ve written here, and any feedback you have on the style of writing I’m attempting! Thanks so much!
Hi Miranda – yes, that is how I recommend stating your skills and telling your story. You could start your paragraph by saying “My varied volunteer work in clinical, community, and food service settings taught me the importance of flexibility and the ability to communicate with many different people” and then go into more detailed examples of how flexible you are with your communications. There’s no perfect way to write it, but this is what I suggest to students I coach. Good luck!
How crucial is the 1000 word limit? I’m at 1027 and cannot reasonably cut down any more without losing my tone.
I would suggest sticking with the 1000 word limit. I’m not sure how DICAS has changed their application, but it is possible that they have a word counter and don’t allow you to upload more. Plus, if your internship tells you 1000 words and you go over, then they could think that you don’t know how to follow directions. Of the hundreds of statements I’ve reviewed, I’ve found there is ALWAYS a way to say the same thing in less words. Good luck!