Medical school applications contain many components. With applicants so focused on MCAT scores, clinical experiences, and GPAs, one of these components is often overlooked or rushed: the medical school personal statement.
Although it may seem less significant than these other factors, your personal statement is important.
- It can help you get into the medical school of your dreams.
And if it’s done poorly, it can cause admissions counselors to wonder if you’re really the right person for their school.
- The average medical school acceptance rate is 7%. That means you don’t want to neglect any portion of your medical school application.
- And if you’re worried that you’re not the greatest writer, don’t be. Your personal statement is about far more than just writing skills.
In this ultimate guide, we’ll explain why medical school personal statements matter and how they’re evaluated by admissions counselors, plus share helpful tips and our list of top Do’s and Don’ts.
Let’s get started!
About Medical School Personal Statements
Most medical schools use the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), which is essentially a common application for medical schools.
- That means you’ll only have to write your personal statement once, then use it to apply to multiple medical schools.
Schools not using the AMCAS include CUNY School of Medicine-The Sophie Davis Biomedical Education Program and medical schools in the state of Texas, which use the Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS).
The personal statement prompt for the AMCAS is:
“Use the space provided to explain exactly why you want to go to medical school.”
You have 5,300 characters in which to tell your story. In your personal statement, you will convey why you’ve chosen a career in medicine—and why medical schools should choose you.
The AMCAS application alone does not determine whether you get into any given medical school.
- This is only the first of three rounds. If a school likes your initial application, you’ll be invited to complete a second application. If all goes well with your second application, you will also be asked to interview.
Second round applications are different for each school and may involve answering several essay questions.
For many of those questions, you can apply the same principles and tips we’ll share here.
Why a personal statement is important
Just like the essays on an undergraduate college application, the medical school personal statement is your chance to show who you are beyond the numbers.
Your unique personality traits, experiences, and personal qualities can set you apart from similarly qualified applicants.
- With the medical school personal statement, you have the opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to the medical profession.
You can also highlight the character traits and personal qualities that make you an excellent fit for a medical career.
Of course, it’s important to note that medical schools are extremely competitive. Even the best personal statement will not overcome a low GPA and poor test scores.
- Equally important, however, is the fact that a stellar personal statement can make a borderline application more competitive. And it can make a competitive application a true standout.
With such intense competition for medical school seats, you want to maximize every opportunity to shine, and that includes your personal statement.
How medical school admissions counselors evaluate personal statements
Medical schools do a holistic evaluation of your application, meaning they look at the full picture.
This includes MCAT scores, GPA, experiences, awards, honors, extracurricular activities, and so on.
- They’re also looking for qualities like integrity, compassion, communication skills, a commitment to service, initiative, and motivation.
Your personal statement helps form a complete picture for admissions counselors. As they review your application and personal statement, admissions counselors want to know:
- How proficient you are academically
- Whether you’re likely to thrive in the culture of their school
- If your goals, qualities, and experiences align with the school’s goals and mission
When it comes to the personal statement, admissions counselors say it needs to be truthful and authentic.
- Raquel D. Arias, the associate dean of admissions at Keck School of Medicine, explains, “Applicants who speak in their own voice, without ‘spin,’ are especially valued.”
- Irene Tise, an admissions officer at Wake Forest’s School of Medicine, cautions, “And proofread carefully. There are no excuses for punctuation and grammatical errors.”
So, there’s no exact formula that admissions counselors will use to evaluate your personal statement.
It will help form a complete picture of who you are as an individual and who you may become as a physician.
Admissions counselors will look for evidence of positive personal qualities, consider your communication abilities and professionality, and try to gain an understanding of your genuine voice and personality.
Tips on writing a great personal statement
Use these tips to help you write the best essay. Let us know if you have any questions.
TIP #1: Understand the goal(s) of your personal statement
Your personal statement must clearly and convincingly convey:
- Specific qualities that will make you an excellent doctor
- Your passion for the medical field
- Your journey to medicine/why you want to be a doctor
Although a personal statement isn’t the same as a formal essay, it’s important to stay on topic.
Keep these goals in mind to ensure you don’t wander too far from the true purpose of your essay.
TIP #2: Brainstorm
Brainstorming before you start writing can also help you stay on topic and focused on your purpose. We recommend creating two lists:
1) A list of excellent and relevant personal qualities such as:
- An interest in service
- Curiosity/passion for knowledge
- Persistence and dedication
- Listening and communication skills
- Motivation and work ethic
2) A list of experiences, events, or opportunities that inspired your passion for medicine and your career choice
It’s okay if some of your examples aren’t directly related to research or clinical experience.
In fact, finding other ways to highlight your qualities and interest in medicine can help you stand out.
- And medical school admissions counselors are tired of reading the same stories over and over.
Once you have these lists, choose 2-3 major events or experiences that led to your career choice and demonstrate some of the excellent personal qualities you listed.
TIP #3: Show why you’ll be a great doctor
Instead of simply stating that you’ll make an excellent doctor or that you’re ready to pursue medicine, show why these statements are true through describing major events that inspired you and made you want to become a physician.
After all, most medical school applicants will say that they’ll be great doctors.
- It’s more convincing to show that you’re a good fit for medicine through anecdotes and examples, rather than expecting admissions counselors to take your word for it.
Start your essay with a “hook” that engages the reader’s attention by drawing them into a story.
Begin right in the middle of a narrative about one of the events you’ve decided to write about (that led to your career choice and demonstrates relevant personal qualities).
TIP #4: Use specific details
As you write about these events and experiences, be sure to use specific details.
- Most future physicians have been drawn to the medical field through similar experiences, and many share similar qualities.
- Highly specific details are what make your essay one that no one else could have written.
This brings us back to the golden rule of writing: Show, don’t tell.
You’ve probably heard the writing advice “Show, don’t tell” many times, but you may not understand exactly what it means.
Here’s an example of how to “tell” that you are compassionate alongside an example of how to “show” this quality.
Throughout college, I have mentored young people in the community. Many come from disadvantaged backgrounds and homes where violence, drug abuse, or neglect were the norm. Although I couldn’t fix the problems of my mentees, I learned that offering support, compassion, and a listening ear was not insignificant. The same is true in medicine. While volunteering at the local hospital, I’ve had the opportunity to observe many brilliant doctors. The doctors who take extra time to listen, understand, and be empathetic to their patients are the doctors I most admire and hope to emulate.
Jeremy sobbed quietly, taking deep, shuddering breaths. He wiped his eyes on his favorite Spiderman T-shirt, the one he had been wearing hours earlier when he’d heard the news: His mother had been arrested again, and he may not see her for a very long time. What do you say to a ten-year-old child in that situation? I didn’t know, but I held Jeremy’s hand in mine for as long as he needed. I couldn’t solve Jeremy’s problem, or the problems of any of the children I mentored throughout college, but I learned that my presence, a listening ear, and kind words were not insignificant. (The essay could then use the segue, “The same is true in medicine” as in the above example.)
Both paragraphs are well-written, but the second stands out for its use of specific details, such as the favorite Spiderman T-shirt and the shuddering breaths.
- The second example draws the reader into the writer’s experience, which is much more powerful and memorable.
For medical school admissions counselors, being able to visualize a situation in which you offered compassion, rather than reading the words, “I offered support and compassion,” will make a far more lasting impression.
TIP #5: Reflect
Now, this is not to say that your essay should be all description and no direct explanation.
Although you’re encouraged to be creative, it’s a medical school personal statement, not a short story.
We recommend focusing on storytelling in your introductory paragraph. Then, weave specific details throughout the rest of your essay, but also make direct, reflective statements about:
- Why you chose to pursue certain experiences
- How the experiences made you feel
- What you learned and accomplished from various experiences
- How these experiences influenced your desire to work in medicine
Avoid specifically “telling” your positive qualities until the concluding paragraph.
After showing these qualities throughout the essay, you can directly state them in your conclusion.
Now, because you’ve already shown the reader that you truly possess these qualities, your statement will be convincing.
Your conclusion should highlight the qualities that will make you a great doctor, reiterate your passion for medicine, and briefly recap your “road to medicine.”
DO’s and DON’TS
These are critical do’s and don’ts that are pivotal to writing a strong medical school personal statement.
Follow these rules, and only break them if you are confident in your strategies.
Your medical school application and personal statement will have a major impact on your future. Don’t procrastinate and give yourself just a week or so to write the essay.
- Start brainstorming early so you have time to let each part of the writing process percolate.
When you think you’re done, leave your essay for a few days, come back to it, and see if any additional inspiration strikes or if more changes are needed.
The more time you give yourself to work, the better quality you’ll be able to produce.
Write in chronological order if possible.
It provides your essay with some structure, and writing about events in the order that they occurred is generally easier for your reader to follow.
Provide a breath of fresh air.
Remember that the person reading your essay has probably been reading essays all day.
Many of the essays are likely very similar and somewhat dull.
If you can provide a pleasant interruption to a long day of poring over redundant personal statements, you’ll make an excellent impression on the admissions counselor.
Focus on depth over breadth.
Take a deep dive into a few meaningful experiences that have shaped your career path, rather than trying to tell your life story.
If you try to cram too much into your essay, you won’t be able to provide specific details or thoughtful reflection, and your essay will lose its power.
Stick to the rules.
Follow your word count!
Doing otherwise demonstrates that you think you’re above the rules or don’t know how to pay attention to detail—both bad signs for a future physician.
Have someone proofread.
Be sure to proofread your essay multiple times. It’s also best to have at least one person—but preferably multiple people—read over it.
- Someone with excellent writing skills should read your essay, along with someone who has medical knowledge.
Ask your proofreaders what impression they would get from your essay if they didn’t know you, if the essay was engaging for them, and if everything in your essay was clear.
Do they think there’s anything you could do to make it better?
Provide a laundry list of your extracurricular activities and accomplishments.
The admissions counselors are already familiar with your activities and accomplishments from the rest of your application.
- Your personal statement is not a resume and should not rehash information the counselors already know.
Bring something new to the table.
And if you do talk about experiences mentioned elsewhere, provide additional information or a new perspective.
Try too hard to impress.
Admissions counselors want to be able to “hear” your voice when they read your essay.
- If you try to pack your essay with four-syllable vocabulary words you would never use in real life, this won’t be possible.
- Also, the admissions team can tell when you aren’t being yourself.
A few impressive vocabulary words won’t hurt, but don’t come across as stuffy or pompous.
Write about a controversial topic.
You don’t know if the person reading your essay will share your views on hot button issues, so it’s best to avoid them.
Of course, you want to highlight your good qualities and demonstrate confidence in your abilities, but don’t overdo it.
- Sounding too self-congratulatory or engaging in over the top bragging can be a turn-off.
If you make it to the interview round, the interviewers are likely to use your personal statement (and potentially other essays) to inspire their questions.
If you exaggerate or make up information, your interview may reveal some inconsistencies. You may also freeze up or have difficulty answering questions based on untrue experiences.
Be honest and write about meaningful experiences, and answering related interview questions will be a breeze.
Medical school admissions counselors say they read many, many personal statements that begin, “I have wanted to be a doctor since…” “My dream of being a doctor began as a child playing…”, or, “I have always wanted to make a difference.”
- They frequently see stories about a time a doctor treated applicants well as a child, inspiring a career in medicine.
Other common ideas include sports injuries, wanting to make a relative proud, and wanting to serve others/improve lives.
Worry too much about being unique.
At the same time, don’t worry too much about being unique. It’s more about how you present your experiences than about what experiences you choose to share.
Simply use specific details, show instead of telling, and try to avoid overly cliché statements.
Final Thoughts: How to Write a Medical School Personal Statement
If you want to make your medical school application as competitive as possible (and we’re pretty sure you do), be sure to follow these tips when writing your personal statement.
- Clearly highlight your best relevant qualities and the experiences that have inspired you to become a doctor.
- Tell a story and include specific details that make your essay memorable and a pleasure to read.
- Show your personality, genuine voice, and ability to reflect on your experiences.
When you’re done, don’t forget to proofread—and have others proofread too!
You won’t get to interview until the third round. So for now, this is your one chance to make a favorable impression, show who you are, and stand out from the crowd.
An authentic, carefully crafted personal statement can help you do just that.