March 15, 2024

3 Hacks for Answering “Why ___ Career?”

“So, why do you want to be a lawyer?”

“What made you decide on business school?”

“Tell me more about why you’re choosing to be a doctor.”

At some point, you’ve gotten a question like this: maybe at the family dinner table, maybe in a professor’s office hours, maybe even just over a cup of coffee with a friend.

Odds are, you weren’t satisfied with your answer–perhaps because you hadn’t thought it out well enough, or because it feels like such a complex, multifaceted question, or because you simply feel an affinity for the career that’s hard to describe in words.

If you have graduate school aspirations, there will come a time when you need to articulate your answer to this question in a compelling, convincing way. Certainly during interviews, but even before that, it will be the question that your personal statement is tethered to.

This “Why” declaration is sometimes the hardest part of the personal statement - how do you convincingly and succinctly explain WHY you want to be a dentist? A speech language pathologist? A lawyer? A financial analyst?

Yes, it’s tough, but it MUST be done. If you dance around this question, you might end up in the proverbial “slush pile” on an admissions officer’s desk.

We invite you to use one of our three “hacks” for tackling this WHY question:

Don’t waste your time trying to come up with a profound reason admissions committees have never heard. Instead, put your own spin on old ideas and say them in a new (or at least personalized) way.

Our examples will focus around “Why medicine?” but they can easily be applied to any discipline or aspiration.

Personal Statement Hack #1. The Selfless + Selfish Dichotomy

Most “Why” reasons we see are selfless:

I want to use medicine to protect the underserved and help them restore control over their health.

Not bad, but it ignores a crucial component: how your dream career will fulfill and stimulate you. In this case, very few doctors spend their entire careers being selfless, so this “why” seems unrealistic unless it’s complemented by your own self-interest.

Medicine will allow me to protect the underserved and help them restore control over their health, which I see as the most fascinating and fulfilling way to pay back the lifesaving efforts of physicians in my immigrant community.

Just by adding the “fascinating and fulfilling,” we see what you get from the career. Those aren’t particularly selfish, but there’s more personal relevance behind the motivations.

So add a little selfishness to your “Why” to see if it makes it more convincing.

Personal Statement Hack #2. The “Why” Stew

The idea behind this hack is to show your aspiration as the ideal combination of several things you cherish. Let’s say you want these ingredients in your stew: a) intellectual stimulation, b) helping others, and c) leadership.

From my clinical exposure, I’ve realized that medicine is the only career that would fuse my love for physiology with my love for building relationships and solving problems, all while giving me the chance to be a mentor and lead teams towards successful outcomes.

This collage has a comprehensive feeling to it, giving the reader fewer holes to pick apart. If you’re pursuing medicine, you wouldn’t want the reader to see your reasons and think, “Okay then, just become a social worker, teacher, nurse, etc.” This strategy helps prevent this type of skepticism from happening.

The precise ingredients of the stew will vary from applicant to applicant, but this flexibility is exactly why this hack is so successful.

Personal Statement Hack #3. Confirm by Contrast

This works especially well for candidates with experience in an outside field other than their dream career. If that career is medicine, this outside field could be business, software, or public health, but it would also work for anyone with research, teaching, or counseling experience (which in our experience is most pre-meds).

With this technique, you’re comparing your dream career with other roles you’ve pursued:

As rewarding as it is to run experiments and develop life saving drugs, my clinical interactions with patients have highlighted the human connection that’s missing from my work at the research bench. Rather than having an indirect impact behind-the-scenes, I want to use my knowledge and problem-solving on the frontlines to make a tangible difference in patients’ everyday lives.

NOTE: this does not mean you belittle the other field. Instead, you show how your dream career offers your favorite aspects of the other field while also giving you something you currently lack.

Which hack seems best for you?

Whichever hack you utilize, here is a checklist of questions to ask yourself when developing your “why” statement. Generally if you fulfill all of these criteria, then you’ll be in good shape.

  • Is your “why” statement showing a combination of intellectual stimulation, emotional fulfillment, and a conduciveness to your personality/strengths?
  • Is your “why” statement specifically referencing or building off the earlier experiences/events you mentioned in the essay?
  • Are the criteria of your “why” statement numerous and specific enough to distinguish your chosen path from other careers?
  • Does your “why” statement have a good mix of altruism AND self-interest?
  • Have you spoken your “why” statement out loud to yourself and others? And has it gotten the reception or feedback you want?

Try experimenting with our writing hacks until you develop something you’re confident in, then continue vetting it and putting it through the wringer until it truly passes the interrogation.

- Ryan and Rob

We do more than just personal statements

Rob Humbracht is founder and CEO of Passport Admissions and lead author of The Savvy PreMed. He is also CEO at ReelDx and Co-founder of HEAL Clinical Education Network. FOLLOW HIM ON LINKEDIN. Book a free intro meeting with him here.

For over 11 years, Ryan Kelly has guided hundreds of students towards acceptance into top colleges and graduate schools, with an emphasis on standing out while also staying true to themselves. Read more about Ryan
here. Or book a free intro meeting with him here.

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