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How Long Should a Med School Personal Statement Be?

The part of applying to medical school that can be the most intimidating isn’t the prep classes or even the MCAT itself. For many students, it’s the personal statement segment of the application that can be the most daunting.

The personal statement asks applicants to answer the very open-ended question “Why do you want to go to medical school?” You’ll use this short essay for all of your initial applications. You’ll have the opportunity later on to write follow-up essays tailored to individual programs. For now, let’s talk about the personal statement.

Beyond the question of “How long should a med school personal statement be?” there’s also “What are the requirements?” and “What should be included?” In short, there can be quite a bit of confusion and consternation around crafting the personal statement. Here’s what every medical school applicant should know about their personal statement.

Length Requirement

While the AAMC doesn’t provide much in the way of guidance for this essay, they at least don’t want us to spend too long talking about it. The maximum length for the statement is 5,300 characters, or around a page and a half. But depending on your statement, it doesn’t even have to be that long.

It can be easy to feel like you have to put as much information about yourself into your statement as possible, but being brief is better. A strong personal statement tells a cohesive story and makes a clear statement about who you are, without simply recounting your resume. If creating a clear medical school personal statement means making it a bit shorter, that’s okay! What’s important is picking the right topic and telling it well. 

How to Pick a Topic

Personal statements are a chance to show medical school admissions committees why you should be a part of their programs and to give them an idea of who you are beyond your resume and MCAT scores. Your personal statement should be exactly that, personal, and explain why you’re choosing a medical profession. Here are a few topic ideas to consider:  

An Experience That Changed Your Perspective on Medicine

Telling this story is a chance to show your personal connection to the medical field. Demonstrating your passion and your connection to your field can show that you are serious about pursuing a career and putting in the long hours that medical programs expect.

Your Relationship With a Mentor or Someone Who Inspired You To Go into Medicine

This is another topic that will highlight your connection to the field and also give you the chance to showcase your early work experience, influences, and display the potential influence your work will have. 

A Challenging Personal Experience

This is a common choice for personal statements, and there’s a reason for that. By discussing personal challenges and hardships, you can give the people reading your statement a vulnerable view of an important moment in your life, one that presumably helped to form who you are. It’s also a great way to show the admission board how you face and overcome those challenges, which can be significant in the medical profession. 

Your Motivation To Seek a Career in Medicine

While the previous topics all provide a look at what has made you who you are today, this topic looks forward. If you’re discussing your motivation for going into medicine, look forward at what you want to accomplish with your career, the type of impact that you want to have, and make them want to support the type of career you want to create. 

All of these topics can be crafted into a personal statement that is both personal and impactful. If you make sure to focus on yourself in these stories, you won’t have to worry about fading into the background. To create a really well-polished and strong personal statement we’ve provided a few more tips to help craft yours to stand out. 

Tips for Crafting Your Statement

While everyone’s statement will be different, here are a few tips on crafting a clear, focused essay.

Be Specific

The statement will be used for all of your initial applications, and you’ll get a chance to craft specialized essays for follow-up applications. So while you don’t need to create a specific statement for each program you’re interested in, make sure that you’re specific about why you want to be a physician. Make it clear that your interests have brought you to this point, where being a doctor is your path forward in life. 

Show. Don’t Tell

This is common advice for writers, and it applies just as well to your personal statement as anywhere else. Don’t just tell your reader that you want to improve resources for people experiencing long-term illnesses; show them what that change looks like. Rather than saying that a particular professor or research was important to you, show them how it impacted you and changed your perception of medicine. Rather than talking about your personal qualities, explain how you can be an asset to a school or team.

Find Your Unique Angle

It may feel like everyone is talking about the same things: overcoming adversity, how they want to change the world through medicine, why this is their true calling, etc. But you have something very important that other people don’t have: your perspective. That may sound cliche but it’s true. Focus on your personal viewpoint, and why your experience with the topic is different from everyone else’s. 

Remember the Five-point Essay

Keep in mind the basic structure of the simplest essay from your early schooling. Five paragraphs, with an introduction, an argument, and a conclusion. Depending on your specific topic, your conclusion could be something along the lines of why your personal experience with hardship has inspired you to work in medicine, or why your passion and curiosity will make you a good fit for the program. Keeping the structure and writing simple will help the readers focus on your story, and your fit with the program.

Give Yourself Time to Rewrite

Nothing is written perfectly in the first draft, not even this blog post. And that’s okay! Rewriting your statement will ensure that your grammar is crisp, your topic and argument is clear, and that you’re confident in everything that you’re putting forward. But you shouldn’t be rewriting it alone. 

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Editing Your Statement

It’s important to spend time writing, editing, and rewriting your personal statement. You want to make sure that you are telling a clear, cohesive story, that you are focused on your chosen topic, and that you make a clear argument for being a good fit for a medical program. It’s also important that you don’t do this alone. 

After your second or third pass at editing your writing, you’ll cease to be effective in improving your writing. Handing the essay to someone else will bring in a fresh set of eyes and provide you some much needed feedback. This shouldn’t be just anyone though, and it may not even be one person. Here are some things you should look for when you’re asking for help editing your statement. 

Someone Who Knows Grammar

If someone is helping you edit your statement, especially if they are the last set of eyes on it before it’s submitted, make sure that they’re someone who knows how to craft a crisp sentence. You’ll want someone who knows how to cut unnecessary words or sentences, can put all of your commas and em dashes in the right places, and who knows what a good argument looks like. 

Someone Who Is Familiar With the Medical Field

This doesn’t mean that you need a doctor to read your personal statement—although if that’s a possibility for you, it couldn’t hurt. It just means that you want someone who is familiar with the application process and has an idea of what admissions boards will be looking for. This might be someone who has gone through the process themselves or who works in a related field. You may also consider asking a trusted professor or mentor to read it for this very reason. 

Someone Who Knows You

You don’t want your essay to sound like everyone else’s. The whole point of a personal statement is that it is personal and specific to you. So when you start looking for help revising it, make sure that you have someone helping you that knows who you are as a person. We often downplay our successes, or forget to highlight things about ourselves that make us special. Having someone who knows you well look over your essay can help you bring out the personal nature of the essay, and hone that unique viewpoint. 

The personal statement is an intimidating, yet significant, part of the medical school application process. It’s very vague, and it can be overwhelming. But by narrowing down your topic to something that is personal and specific, you can build a short, clear essay that tells admissions your story, why you’re passionate, and why you want to be a doctor. When you begin to revise, get some outside perspectives, especially from someone (or someones) who are familiar with the medical industry, can craft a snappy sentence, and most importantly, who knows you. 

Medical School Prep

Whether you’re getting ready to write your personal statement or to take your MCAT exam, preparing your medical school application to the best of your ability might seem like the most challenging part.

That’s why Blueprint Prep offers MCAT prep courses as well as med school admissions consulting to help you prepare and impress the medical school admissions committee. Blueprint doesn’t just stop once you’ve been accepted into medical school — we have resources to help you through the big exams and challenges of med school all the way through to being a practicing doctor. Learn more today!

MCAT is a registered trademark of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), which is not affiliated with Blueprint.