Medical School Personal Statement – 2023 Guide
June 12, 2023
One of the most important parts of your medical school application is undoubtedly the personal statement. Just like writing the Common App essay when applying to college, your medical school personal statement provides the opportunity to show admissions your skills, your goals, and your relevant experiences. You may also have had to submit a similar style essay when applying to BS/MD programs or early assurance medical programs. However, there are some key differences and specific strategies in writing your personal statement. We’ve laid out the answers to the most common questions about the medical school personal statement below.
How Long is a Medical School Personal Statement?
The medical school personal statement length varies slightly among the three application portals. Specifically, you have 5,300 characters for personal statements submitted through the American College Application Service (AMCAS) and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS). That’s about 1.5 pages single-spaced using a 12-point font. For reference, the Common App essay – which is 650 words max – would translate to about 1.3 pages single-spaced using a 12-point font. Similarly, you can use up to 5,000 characters for a personal statement submitted through Texas Medical & Dental Schools Application Services (TMDSAS).
You may be thinking one of two opposite thoughts: “Do I need to use the entire character count?” or “What if I have too much to say?” It may even feel like déjà vu with the Common App essay. Remember, writing is also revising! You should go through multiple drafts of adding and cutting before you’re satisfied with the content and length of your personal statement. You physically can’t submit a statement that’s over the character count, so you’ll eventually figure out how to be more concise with your ideas. If you’re worried about not having enough ideas, it can be helpful to read some sample statements online before you begin brainstorming from your own experiences.
What Should You Write About in a Medical School Personal Statement?
Before you start brainstorming our medical school personal statement, you must first read the prompt you’ll be responding to. Each application portal has its own unique prompt that corresponds to the character length available.
- AMCAS: “Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school.”
- AACOMAS: There is no specific prompt beyond submitting a personal statement, but it is advised that you address why you want to be an osteopathic doctor.
- TMDSAS: “Explain your motivation to seek a career in medicine. Be sure to include the value of your experiences that prepare you to be a physician.”
While the three application portals have differently worded prompts, they’re all broadly asking the same two questions: Why are you applying to medical school and why are you qualified to be admitted? You have 1.5 pages single-spaced to showcase your passions, intellectual curiosity, and qualifications to ultimately answer these questions. The key, though, is leaning into your past experiences and using your best storytelling skills to show those diverse experiences.
Examples of relevant experiences may include internships, community service, lab instruction, and mentorship. However, you don’t want your personal statement to turn into an elaboration of your resume (which you’ll also be submitting in your medical school application). Instead, you should be emphasizing what strengths you’ve gained and what lessons you’ve learned from these experiences.
For instance, if could talk about your perseverance in the face of adversity, or the dedication you’ve exhibited in pursuing medical education. You could also focus on your passion for working with patients or your intellectual curiosity for medical research. In every experience you highlight in your medical school personal statement, you should be connecting it to a particular personal quality.
How Do You Start Writing a Medical School Personal Statement?
After you start reflecting on relevant experiences, organize your thoughts into a coherent essay structure. Remember the five-paragraph essay you learned to write in elementary school? Well, that’s going to come in handy now! Although your final statement may not be five paragraphs, it’s a good starting point. Putting your entire medical passion into a page-and-a-half single-spaced is no easy task. Simplifying the process will help immensely. Here’s a guide for each of your paragraphs:
You’re definitely allowed to get a little creative with narrative storytelling in the intro! An engaging hook statement will draw the admissions officer in right away. Think about tools like scene-setting through imagery, dialogue, shocking assertions, etc. We should get a brief sense of who you are or what your goals are before diving into the body. A central theme may also be established in this paragraph.
Three Body Paragraphs
Each of your body paragraphs should highlight one experience that has impacted your desire to pursue medical school. For example, your three topics could be volunteering in a senior care home, an internship with a biomedical startup, and visiting a country with high medical needs. Beyond just describing what occurred through each experience, explain how they individually shaped you. How did you grow as a person? What did you learn? How did your perspective on medicine change? Why was this experience so impactful? What personal qualities did you develop?
Additionally, you should continue using narrative-style writing. Avoid just telling the admissions officer about each experience. Instead, show them! Put them in your shoes when you learned an important medical skill or helped make a research discovery. They’ll better understand your point of view through effective storytelling techniques.
This paragraph is your chance to reinforce everything you tried to convey throughout the personal statement. Try to tie your final thoughts back to your introduction in some way. A circular ending will help make your essay more memorable. Moreover, make sure to directly restate why you want to be a physician and what your future goals are. It’s your chance to convince the admissions officer why you’d be the best for medical school.
What Should You Avoid When Writing a Medical School Personal Statement?
In the process of writing your personal statement, it’s hard not to make the most common mistakes. When else have you written anything similar to a medical school personal statement? The closest thing would be the Common App essay, but it’s still pretty different from a creative narrative essay. So, you might not even know you’re making a mistake when you’re making it. Before you start writing, take a look at these pitfalls to avoid in your medical school personal statement.
Content to Avoid in Your Medical School Personal Statement
- Focusing on your early childhood or irrelevant experiences. It’s okay to reference something briefly from many years ago if it contributed to your passion for medicine, but your entire essay shouldn’t be based on a story about how you liked to play doctor when you were five. The more the experience, the better!
- Excusing low grades or a poor MCAT score. You only have about 1.5 pages single-spaced to put your best foot forward if other parts of your application aren’t up to the standard you’d hoped. Don’t waste the time or space trying to explain why they’re lacking. And remember, it’s impossible to have a perfect application.
- Elaborating on just one anecdote from your experiences. If you’re passionate about medicine, chances are you’ve gained worked in a variety of environments and/or communities to gain valuable experience. There may have been one internship, mentorship, etc. that was most impactful, but it’s advantageous to show a diversity in your experiences to demonstrate initiative.
Styles and Tones to Avoid in Your Medical School Personal Statement
- Bragging too much or underselling your achievements. If you’re applying seriously for medical school, chances are you have a resume full of accomplishments. Since you submit that resume in your application alongside your essay, there’s no reason to spend 5,300 characters repeating everything on that resume. On the other hand, you shouldn’t skip over meaningful experiences if they’ve actually shaped your desire to be a doctor.
- Loading up on complex medical terminology. While you may be an expert on a really niche research topic, there’s no need go overboard on vocabulary that the admissions officer may not understand without enough context. You also don’t want to come off as using terms you may not understand fully, or describe something the admission officer already knows.
- Being too conversational or informal. Although this personal statement isn’t on the same level as a dissertation in terms of formality, you shouldn’t treat it as an essay that you just throw together and submit. Phrases that you’d use when talking with a friend may not be appropriate for addressing why you’re qualified to be admitted to medical school.
When Should You Start Writing the Medical School Personal Statement?
The medical school application timeline can feel long-winded, so it’s crucial that you start earlier rather than later. You must juggle studying for the MCAT, filling out actual applications, requesting recommendation letters, preparing for interviews, and writing your personal statement in addition to school-specific supplementary essays. We know it’s a lot! To avoid getting overwhelmed and experiencing writer’s block, we recommend breaking down the writing process into more manageable steps.
Brainstorming and Drafting
In early May, you begin brainstorming your initial ideas for your medical school personal statement. Think back to the experiences in college that have meant the most to your passion for medicine. They could’ve been incredibly rewarding, taught you life-changing lessons, or even caused you to fail. Jot down key ideas about each experience and narrow down your ideas to three you’ll use in your essay. By the end of the month, try to knock out your first solid draft. Remember, it doesn’t need to be perfect! It can be a total “brain dump” or free-write that extends way beyond the character limit. It’s much easier to work with something than with nothing.
In June, you should be churning out at least 2-3 more drafts of your personal statement. Even if you were pretty happy with your first draft, there’s always room for improvement. Ask a trusted peer or advisor to read over your draft and give you pointers. Is your hook engaging enough? Are your experiences relevant enough? Did you effectively portray your passion for medicine? Where does your essay lose focus? What sentences could be more concise and punchier?
The more feedback you can get on your statement, the easier it will be to revise. There’s a famous saying in the literary world: “You must kill your darlings.” Getting outside feedback can help you review your essay more objectively. One paragraph that you think is outstanding may fall flat for everyone else that’s read it. Receiving their feedback can help you reevaluate the purpose and effectiveness of that paragraph.
Once you’re satisfied with the structure, content, and flow of your personal statement for medical school, it’s time to finalize and polish it. Look for lengthy sentences, incorrect grammar, informal style, etc. Essentially, keep an eye out for anything that would make an admissions officer pause as they’re reading your essay. If you’re not the strongest of writers, it might be a good idea to let a professional writer or editor read over your statement one last time. They can catch the misuse of a semi-colon from a mile away! Optimally, aim to submit your personal statement by July, so you can begin working on supplemental essays for secondary applications.
Finishing the Medical School Personal Statement – What’s Next?
Get your supplementary essays started! After you submit your primary application through one of the three portals, schools that are interested will begin sending you secondary applications to fill out. Part of these applications are school-specific essays. They may ask why you want to attend a particular medical school or what professional specialty you’re interested in. These essays all range in length from a few hundred words to another full-length personal statement. Try not to procrastinate on these essays, as you’ll probably be receiving more than one secondary application. Plus, you won’t be invited for interviews until you submit those applications!
You may also find the following College Transitions med school-related blogs to be of interest: