Personal statements are a blessing and a curse for admission committees: on the one hand, they give them a better glimpse of who the applicant is than simple scores. On the other, they are long and time-consuming to read. And often, they sound exactly alike. On occasion, however, a personal statement really makes an applicant shine. Here's how to turn any average medical school personal statement into an instant interview invitation magnet:
Pro Tip#1. Tell a good story.
Admissions committees don’t want your resumé in narrative form. The most boring essays are those of applicants listing their accomplishments. Remember, all that stuff is already in the “activities” section of application. Rather, this is where you should discuss interesting or important life events that shaped you and your interest in medicine (a service trip to rural Guatemala, a death in the family, a personal experience as a patient). One suggestion is to have an overarching theme to your essay to tie everything together, starting with an anecdote. Alternatively, you can use one big metaphor or analogy through the essay.
Pro Tip #2. Inject a little wit.
Most people will advise you to stay away from humor. Indeed, it is a bold move—high risk and high reward. I don’t suggest you make a full-on joke in the middle of the essay. Yet, the admissions material is usually so dry that when an essay has the slightest wit, it goes a long way! Making an admissions committee member simply smirk at something you wrote helps them remember you after going through several applications. But be cautious here: a witty comment cannot cross professional boundaries, so be tactful!
Pro Tip #3. Don’t answer the question literally.
Personal statements are all answering the same question: Why do you want to be a doctor? Thus, get out of the box a bit. An essay that starts with: “There is no clear moment when I wanted to be a doctor...” often elicits a sigh. (Here's how to write a compelling introduction and opening sentence.) Yes, they want to see your passion for medicine, but there are infinite ways of answering that question… otherwise you are writing the same essay as everyone else! (Especially all those students that frequent premed forums - here's why we recommend that you avoid premed forums completely!) Also, you can use this space to contextualize your experiences, and explain how one thing in life led to another. For example, perhaps you started volunteering at that nursing home shortly after your grandparent died.
Pro Tip #4. Be true to your own experience.
Don’t presume you know what it’s like to be a doctor. Truly, you don’t know anything. And that’s okay. Instead, spend the space discussing what you do know—even if it’s about astronomy or fly-fishing (and you somehow tie it back to medicine…). It’s great to discuss insight from patient interactions, but avoid drawing lofty conclusions about patient care.
Pro Tip #5. Watch that tone!
You may be extremely accomplished, but don’t be conceited when describing your feats. It almost undermines all that is impressive in your application. (see tip #7)
Pro Tip #6. Don’t be afraid to talk about a struggle.
I used to think med schools wanted candidates who had done everything right. I was wrong. Med schools want resilient individuals. They know we’ve all screwed up at some point. So if you’ve struggled with a difficult situation, don’t be afraid to discuss it. As long as it made you grow, they want your insight on both successes and failures.
Pro Tip #7 - Show. DON'T TELL!
A lot of students make the mistake of verbalizing their personal attributes with a bunch of adjectives, such as "This experience taught me to be a self-reliant leader, with excellent communications skills, and empathy for others..." This does nothing to convey your qualities and in fact some admission committee members may think that you are being very arrogant (see tip #5 above). Instead of listing adjectives, tell your personal story and allow the admissions committee to paint the picture for themselves. This last one is very challenging for most students but it's probably one of the most important strategies that's going to make your statement stand out from the rest.
To see all this in action, check out this medical school personal statement example that got SIX acceptances!
Here are some more tips from a former medical school admissions committee member, with an AMCAS personal statement example!
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Part 3: How to make your personal statement stand out + specific examples.
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About the author:
Helena Frischtak is currently a graduating med student at University of Virginia’s School of Medicine and an admissions expert here at BeMo. Helena was a member of the admissions committee at University of Virginia’s School of Medicine and has acted as an interview evaluator.
To your success,
Your friends at BeMo