3 Steps to Writing a Strong Medical School Personal Statement
- Feb 26, 2019
- MCAT Blog, Med School Admissions
As any admissions officer will tell you, there is no single determining factor in medical school admissions. A perfect MCAT score won’t guarantee you’ll get accepted, though that doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t try your best to get the highest MCAT score you can.
The beauty of holistic review is that all parts of your application are important, including your med school personal statement. In fact, many students fail to get accepted because, despite their otherwise flawless application and intriguing story, they couldn’t write a compelling personal essay. It’s not an easy task, and students often ask for help writing a personal statement.
We’ve broken down the writing process into three steps to make it less overwhelming.
Step One to Writing a Med School Personal Statement: Prepping
Understand the Requirements
The AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service), TMDSAS (Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service), and AACOMAS (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine) all have open-ended prompts that ask you to explain your interest and motivation for pursuing medicine. The section should be used as an opportunity to distinguish yourself from other applicants.
Free-Write to Jot Down Your Thoughts
Although you’re not answering a specific question, there are certain things you want to get across in your essay: the reason(s) you decided to pursue medicine, your motivations, and any hardships or unique situations you’ve faced. Take 30 minutes to simply write everything that would even remotely address these questions. Don’t think; just write. There are no right or wrong answers in this stage. Your thoughts don’t necessarily need to connect to each other, but they should relate back to the prompt. Freewriting allows you to start putting ideas to paper without the pressure of writing a perfect first draft. Then choose the best topic out of the bunch to flesh out, or select a network of related ideas.
Focus and Reflect
Look at the experiences and activities you chose to focus on. What did you learn from those experiences? What point do you want to leave your reader with? Why do you REALLY want to become a doctor and how do your experiences and writing convey that? Adcoms don’t just want a list that regurgitates your resume/accomplishments/awards; they want to know you’ve thought hard about your decision to become a doctor.
Analyze Other Personal Statements
Chances are you haven’t written a personal statement since you applied to undergrad. Analyzing other personal statements can be very beneficial to not only get your creativity flowing but also to understand what framework works better. A successful personal statement will demonstrate what admission committees look for. On the other hand, a personal statement from a student that didn’t get into his top schools can show you what not to do. You can apply the same critical eye to your own drafts afterward. Dr. Ryan Gray has compiled 30 personal statements with feedback for you to analyze and draw inspiration from.
Step Two to Writing a Med School Personal Statements: Writing Your First Draft
Set the Stage in the Introduction
Once you have picked your topic, it’s time to start writing. Your goal in the introduction is to engage the reader. Without giving too much away, make sure you’re conveying the qualities you chose to write about and leave them wanting more.
Don’t Tailor It to One Specific School
The AMCAS and TMDSAS applications are universal, which is why you shouldn’t tailor the essays to a specific school, especially if you’re applying to multiple schools. Save the personal touch for each school’s secondary application.
Find a Unique Angle
Unfortunately, it’s very likely many med school applicants will talk about the same topic. Almost all applicants will have volunteered at a hospital or clinic, so your task is to showcase what made your experience unique. It might be a specific patient or doctor you worked with, a disaster that changed the way you looked at medicine, or how you managed to flourish despite when you fainted the first time you drew someone’s blood.
Write a Story, Not Just An Essay
Essays, at least in the collegiate sense, can be boring. The normal structure of Intro-Thesis- Supporting Paragraphs-Conclusion may not work in the medical school admissions process. Think about it: admissions officers likely read hundreds of applications every day. Their eyes might just gloss over a thesis sentence that reads, “In this essay, I will explain why I want to become a doctor.” Give them a break from the cookie-cutter essays. This is your moment to prove you’re something more than just MCAT scores and GPA. Write your story, the one that got you to point where you are and that will continue in medical school. Be descriptive and utilize your personal flair, but don’t be informal. This is still a professional setting. There’s also need to exaggerate; the committee wants to hear about YOU! Your reasons for becoming a doctor as legitimate as the next person’s.
Stay Within the Character Limit and Format
This speaks for itself, but it’s very important to not go over the allotted character limit (5300 on the AMCAS and 5000 for the TMDSAS, including spaces). The AMCAS platform also doesn’t read formatting, so it’s best to write your essay in a word document first, then paste it in a text application before submitting.
Wrap It up in Your Conclusion
Use your conclusion to bring everything full circle and reemphasize your passions and commitment to medicine.
Step Three to Writing a Med School Personal Statement: Editing and Rewriting
Go Through Multiple Rounds of Editing
You will rewrite your personal statement more than once. Each draft can go through different phases of editing. Go through your first draft and pay attention to the content and what you can say to make it better. Then set it aside. When you’re ready to pick it up again, check for other issues, such as spelling/grammar, clarity, structure, content, flow/transitions, thematics, and tone. Rewrite your statement at least twice.
Get an Outside Opinion
Often when we create something, we are too close to the project to be completely objective. It’s always best to have other people edit a draft. However, your neighbor or best friend may not be the best choices to look over your essay. Find people who have strong backgrounds in writing or even medicine who can make your statement stronger.
Condense If Necessary (and It Probably Will Be)
You’re already aware of the character limits for the essays. Hopefully, your first draft stayed within those parameters, but if it didn’t, now is the time to decide what information is necessary and what can be cut. It’s always a good idea to use all the space provided if you need to, but less is often more. A shorter, but strong, personal statement is more effective than one that drones on and on without hitting its mark.
The personal statement is where your personality and story can really shine. Show the admissions committee what makes you unique and a strong doctor-in-the making. Schedule a free consultation with our Senior Advisors to learn how to take your application from good to great!
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