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10 Great Essay Writing Tips
Knowing how to write a college essay is a useful skill for anyone who plans to go to college. Most colleges and universities ask you to submit a writing sample with your application. As a student, you’ll also write essays in your courses. Impress your professors with your knowledge and skill by using these great essay writing tips.
Prepare to Answer the Question
Most college essays ask you to answer a question or synthesize information you learned in class. Review notes you have from lectures, read the recommended texts and make sure you understand the topic. You should refer to these sources in your essay.
Plan Your Essay
Many students see planning as a waste of time, but it actually saves you time. Take a few minutes to think about the topic and what you want to say about it. You can write an outline, draw a chart or use a graphic organizer to arrange your ideas. This gives you a chance to spot problems in your ideas before you spend time writing out the paragraphs.
Choose a Writing Method That Feels Comfortable
You might have to type your essay before turning it in, but that doesn’t mean you have to write it that way. Some people find it easy to write out their ideas by hand. Others prefer typing in a word processor where they can erase and rewrite as needed. Find the one that works best for you and stick with it.
View It as a Conversation
Writing is a form of communication, so think of your essay as a conversation between you and the reader. Think about your response to the source material and the topic. Decide what you want to tell the reader about the topic. Then, stay focused on your response as you write.
Provide the Context in the Introduction
If you look at an example of an essay introduction, you’ll see that the best essays give the reader a context. Think of how you introduce two people to each other. You share the details you think they will find most interesting. Do this in your essay by stating what it’s about and then telling readers what the issue is.
Explain What Needs to be Explained
Sometimes you have to explain concepts or define words to help the reader understand your viewpoint. You also have to explain the reasoning behind your ideas. For example, it’s not enough to write that your greatest achievement is running an ultra marathon. You might need to define ultra marathon and explain why finishing the race is such an accomplishment.
Answer All the Questions
After you finish writing the first draft of your essay, make sure you’ve answered all the questions you were supposed to answer. For example, essays in compare and contrast format should show the similarities and differences between ideas, objects or events. If you’re writing about a significant achievement, describe what you did and how it affected you.
Stay Focused as You Write
Writing requires concentration. Find a place where you have few distractions and give yourself time to write without interruptions. Don’t wait until the night before the essay is due to start working on it.
Read the Essay Aloud to Proofread
When you finish writing your essay, read it aloud. You can do this by yourself or ask someone to listen to you read it. You’ll notice places where the ideas don’t make sense, and your listener can give you feedback about your ideas.
Avoid Filling the Page with Words
A great essay does more than follow an essay layout. It has something to say. Sometimes students panic and write everything they know about a topic or summarize everything in the source material. Your job as a writer is to show why this information is important.
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How To Write An Autobiography For Medical School
- Cracking Med School Admissions Team
Among all medical school secondaries, the autobiography prompt is likely one of the toughest to write. This prompt asks applicants to describe their previous background and life experiences in one cohesive essay often rivaling the length of a personal statement. Schools which ask for autobiographies in their secondaries include Vanderbilt and UC San Diego. But, you can use your autobiography response, or parts of it, for other essays as well. We’ll list our ideas down below. When faced with this prompt, many applicants feel intimidated by its scope and do not know how to begin. In this blog post, we hope to provide a framework about how to write an autobiography for medical school, using UC San Diego’s secondary prompt as an example.
In this blog post, we’ll talk about:
- UC San Diego’s autobiography prompt
- Other schools that have flavors of an autobiography essay prompt
- 5 tips about how to write an autobiography for medical school
- Secondary essay resources and examples
Case study of how to write an autobiography for medical school sample: UC San Diego
Here’s the infamous UC San Diego Autobiography Secondary Essay:
Autobiographical Sketch: This should be a true autobiographical statement. Topics to be included are family, childhood, primary and secondary school years, undergraduate years, and, if applicable, what you’ve done since completing your bachelor’s degree. You should also discuss the motivational factors which led you to a career in medicine including any disadvantages or obstacles which might put your accomplishments into context. A repeat of your AMCAS statement will not be acceptable. (6000 char)
Breaking down the prompt
First, notice that the autobiography covers a wide period of time, from your “childhood” to the present. There are no specific guidelines given about how much to write for each period of your life, so use your discretion to focus on formative experiences in writing your response. It should also be noted that your autobiography must support your motivations to pursue a career in medicine. Remember, this is an autobiography for medical school, so tailor your essay as such!
The length of the autobiography (6000 characters) exceeds even that of your personal statement. However, note that it should meaningfully differ from your “AMCAS statement” in content. Therefore, if you have already used an anecdote in your personal statement, consider choosing a different anecdote or writing about the same anecdote from another perspective. In the next section, we talk about general tips on how to write an autobiography for medical school.
Read our 5 tips on how to write an autobiography for medical school down below .
Other Autobiography Secondary Essay Prompts
Vanderbilt medical school also has a popular autobiography prompt:.
Write a brief autobiography. As completely and precisely as possible, give a picture of yourself, your family, and events you consider important to you. In doing so, identify the values that are of greatest importance to you. If you have completed your undergraduate education, please comment on what you have done or have been doing since graduation. (1200 words)
While other medical schools will not ask directly for an autobiography, they ask similar, open-ended questions about your background, interests, strengths, and life experiences. You can use these essays, including the optional secondary essays, to discuss important facets of your life.
Here are some schools with autobiography-like prompts in previous application cycles:
Boston University Medical School Secondary Application (focus on education experiences): Please provide a narrative or timeline to describe any features of your educational history that you think may be of particular interest to us. For example, have you lived in another country or experienced a culture unlike your own, or worked in a field that contributed to your understanding of people unlike yourself? Or, have you experienced advanced training in any area, including the fields of art, music, or sports? This is an opportunity to describe learning experiences that may not be covered in other areas of this application or your AMCAS application. It is not necessary to write anything in this section. (2000 Characters)
Duke University Medical School Secondary Application: There are several Duke Medical School secondary prompts that are similar to an autobiography.
- Tell us more about who you are. You may provide additional information that expands your self-identity where gender identification, racial and/or ethnic self description, geographic origin, socioeconomic, academic, and/or other characteristics that define who you are as you contemplate a career that will interface with people who are similar AND dissimilar to you. You will have the opportunity below to tell us how you wish to be addressed, recognized and treated. (500 words)
- In addition to the broad categorization of race, ethnicity, geographic origin, socioeconomic status as provided through your AMCAS application, you may use the text box below to provide additional clarifying information that may reflect the impact of any of these parameters on your development thus far as well as the impact that these may have had on your path to a career in medicine and your plans for the future. (200 words)
- Describe the community in which you were nurtured. What core values did you receive and how will these translate into the contributions you hope to make in medicine? What improvements do you think might make the community better? (500 words)
Harvard Medical School Secondary Application: If there is an important aspect of your personal background or identity, not addressed elsewhere in the application, that you would like to share with the Committee, we invite you to do so here. Many applicants will not need to answer this question. Examples might include significant challenges in access to education, unusual socioeconomic factors, identification with a minority culture, religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity. Briefly explain how such factors have influenced your motivation for a career in medicine. (4000 characters max)
Icahn at Mount Sinai Secondary Application: If there is an important aspect of your personal background or identity or a commitment to a particular community, not addressed elsewhere in the application, that you would like to share with the Committee, we invite you to do so here. Aspects might include, but are not limited to significant challenges in or circumstances associated with access to education, living with a disability, socioeconomic factors, immigration status, or identification with a culture, religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity. Briefly explain how such factors have influenced your motivation for a career in medicine. Completing this section is optional. (100 words)
Johns Hopkins Medical School Secondary Application: (Optional) The Admissions Committee values hearing about each candidate for admission, including what qualities the candidate might bring to the School of Medicine if admitted. If you feel there is information not already addressed in the application that will enable the Committee to know more about you and this has influenced your desire to be a physician, feel free to write a brief statement in the space below. You may address any subject you wish, such as being a first generation college student, or being a part of a minority group (whether because of your sexual orientation, religion, economic status, gender identity, ethnicity) or being the child of undocumented immigrants or being undocumented yourself, etc. Please note that this question is optional and that you will not be penalized should you choose not to answer it.
Stanford School of Medicine Secondary Application: The Committee on Admissions regards the diversity (broadly defined) of an entering class as an important factor in serving the educational mission of the school. The Committee on Admissions strongly encourages you to share unique, personally important, and/or challenging factors in your background, such as the quality of your early educational environment, socioeconomic status, culture, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and life or work experiences. Please discuss how such factors have influenced your goals and preparation for a career in medicine. (Please limit your answer to 2,000 characters including spaces)
University of Central Florida College of Medicine Secondary Application: Please provide a short essay to help us understand who you are. This essay should be different from your AMCAS Personal Statement. UCF COM places great value on the broad diversity of our students within the classroom. We believe the diverse characteristics of each individual in the class are important factors in serving the educational missions of this school and of our community. Please discuss any unique, personally important and/or challenging experiences in your background that have influenced your goals and preparation for a career in medicine and service to others. These may include experiences such as the quality of your early educational environment, socioeconomic status, cultural background, or other significant events or circumstances that you feel have shaped your character and defined you as an individual. We are also interested on your thoughts about what you can contribute to your class and the medical profession in general. (2 pages max)
University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine Secondary Application: ( Optional) The Admissions Committee values hearing about each candidate for admission, including what qualities the candidate might bring to the School of Medicine if admitted. If you feel there is information not already addressed in the application that will enable the Committee to know more about you and this has influenced your desire to be a physician, feel free to write a brief statement in the space below. You may address any subject you wish, such as being a first generation college student, or being a part of a minority group (whether because of your sexual orientation, religion, economic status, gender identity, ethnicity) or being the child of undocumented immigrants or being undocumented yourself, etc. Please note that this question is optional and that you will not be penalized should you choose not to answer it.
5 tips: how to write an autobiography for medical school
Autobiography for medical school application tip #1: compile a collection of anecdotes from previous secondaries.
Because an autobiography spans such a long period of time, it is important to have a collection of anecdotes that clearly showcase your background, values, and ambitions. Therefore, we recommend writing your autobiography essay after you have already compiled a list of stories to draw upon from previous secondary essays. For example, if you wrote about your family background for a diversity essay, an extracurricular for a challenge essay, and your future career goals for a third, then you already have enough starting material to begin your autobiography! We recommend compiling anecdotes chronologically.
Autobiography for Medical School Application Tip #2: Synthesize your anecdotes into a compelling narrative
A well-written medical school autobiography should not merely consist of a collection of disparate anecdotes in chronological order. Rather, it should be a cohesive narrative that conveys a common theme or pattern, much like the rest of your application. Reflect on your experiences and try to identify a common thread that runs throughout all of them. One Cracking Med Admissions student wrote about discovery, from their childhood memories discovering new collectible action figures, to their undergraduate research about new therapeutics for breast cancer.
Autobiography for Medical School Application Tip #3: Show rather than tell with your stories
Consider the following example anecdote from a Stanford Medical Student:
“Volunteering in the palliative care unit of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, I have interacted with patients distressed by unexpected paralysis to patients suffering from terminal diseases like AIDS. One afternoon while I was volunteering, I was warned that room 21 would be very demanding. After responding to three calls in ten minutes, I asked if she would like some company. Her name was Ruth and she was paralyzed from the waist down from a fall. I held her hand and listened to her as she sobbingly told me her fears of losing independence and burdening her busy surgeon son. I reassured her that she could remain independent even if she couldn’t walk and her son would not consider caring for her a burden. As I was preparing to leave the room so she could rest, she said “Thank you. You treated me like a person, not a patient.” Although I had not cured her paralysis or lessened her pain, I did make Ruth feel loved and cared for that afternoon. The satisfaction I felt knowing I had made her difficult time a little better is something I will never tire of or take for granted.”
Now consider if it were rewritten as such:
“Volunteering in the palliative care unit of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, I have interacted with patients distressed by unexpected paralysis to patients suffering from terminal diseases like AIDS. Although I could not cure the patients I interacted with, I saw how my presence alone made them for cared for whenever I was there. The satisfaction I felt knowing I had made her difficult time a little better is something I will never tire of or take for granted.”
While both examples convey the same fundamental idea about the humanistic aspects of medicine, the first example shows the reader those ideas rather than spelling it out for them explicitly, and is therefore more convincing. Moreover, the first is more specific , talking about a specific patient that the student met to support their insight regarding the role of empathy in medicine. Notice that it is the student’s unique perspective and experiences that makes for a compelling response, rather than the insight itself. While you should still reflect to provide more thoughtful insights, show rather than tell throughout the autobiography to bring your stories to life.
Autobiography for Medical School Application Tip #4: Highlight different things about yourself with each anecdote
Think about your medical school autobiography as a sampling platter at a restaurant. You want your reader to get a holistic idea of who you are as an individual, and that means highlighting different things about yourself with each “sample” or story.
Some ideas about things to highlight are:
- Your early childhood and background
- Your core values
- Your motivations for pursuing medicine
- Your leadership skills or initiative
- Your work with underserved or community service
Autobiography for Medical School Application Tip #5: Connect your autobiography to the medical school
You should try to connect the themes or patterns of your autobiography essay to the medical school itself. For example, if you were applying to UC San Diego, you might talk about their free clinics and service to the underserved in La Jolla. You can connect your previous experiences working with underserved patients, or even your connection to the region. Similarly, if you were applying to Vanderbilt, you could talk about their emphasis on research, and highlight specific faculty members you would want to do research with. Even a one paragraph “why this school” at the end of your essay can help tailor your autobiography for the school you are applying to.
Medical School Autobiography Last Thoughts
While your medical school autobiography secondary response may be your longest, it does not have to be your most difficult to write. In summary: compile anecdotes, synthesize them into a narrative, show rather than tell, highlight different things about yourself and relate the finished product to the school you are applying to!
To help you brainstorm ideas for the medical school autobiography and other secondary essay prompts, download our free medical school secondary essay brainstorm tool.
FREE Medical School Secondary Essay Examples and Brainstorm Tool
Use this workbook to write medical school secondary essays. These essays are as important as your primary application!
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More Excellent Secondary Essay Examples & Resources
While reading about how to write a secondary essay for medical school makes doing so seem easy, it is much harder to put this into practice. As such, we have compiled a list of personal statements and secondary essays. Each one of these essays were written by premeds who successfully got accepted to medical schools across the United States. We think these essays demonstrate successful models.
The best resource for example secondary essays is our Cracking Med School Admissions book! We have over 50 personal statements and secondary essay from successful medical school applicants, including essays from our authors! 🙂
Other important blog posts and resources:
- Download Secondary Essay Workbook
- Complete List: Medical School Secondary Essay Prompts 2020 – 2021
- “Why this Medical School?” Secondary Essay Example
Blog post written by Kevin Li and the Cracking Med School Admissions team
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4 Steps for Assembling UCSD's Autobiographical Secondary Essay
By TritonsRising (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By: Ryan Kelly
Pre-meds might find themselves repeating Dr. Frankenstein’s catchphrase as they work on UCSD Medical School’s secondary essay. There’s no doubt; it’s a bonafide monster.
The notorious UCSD autobiographical statement gives you 6,000 characters (yes, more than your personal statement) to answer the following prompt:
This should be a true autobiographical statement. Topics to be included are family, childhood, primary and secondary school years, undergraduate years, and, if applicable, what you’ve done since completing your bachelor’s degree. You should also discuss the motivational factors which led you to a career in medicine including any disadvantages or obstacles which might put your accomplishments into context. A repeat of your AMCAS statement will not be acceptable.
Students usually have one of two reactions: 1.) Writing this essay is going to destroy me, or 2.) There’s no point in writing such a long essay when I doubt I’ll get into UCSD anyway.
The pre-meds in group two may have a point. UCSD is competitive, with an acceptance rate of 3.4% compared to the average of 6.9% . It’s even more challenging for out-of-state students to get accepted.
But if you’re in group one, then it’s doubt that’s holding you back. Never fear! We’ll help you make your monster come to life.
STEP 1 - BUILD UP AN INVENTORY OF REUSABLE MATERIAL
The best approach for UCSD’s autobiography is to wait until you’ve finished prewriting your secondaries for a handful of other schools. The more, the better. You want as much material to pull from as possible. Schools like UCLA, UC Riverside, Miami Miller, and Duke are optimal since they ask upwards to 10 secondary questions each. USC is also a great school to pull from, since its answers are usually packed with flavor and personality.
STEP 2 - CHOOSE THE BEST PIECES FOR YOUR AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Once you have an inventory of essays, start combing through them and making your selections. Here’s what you should be looking for:
ONE STORY ABOUT YOUR FAMILY, GROWING UP, OR HIGH SCHOOL
If you’ve already written about a hardship, then you’ve got this covered. Same goes for any narratives about immigration or extensive childhood travels. But this could also be a story about your first exposure to health disparities, or any scenario that challenged your outlook and pushed you out of your comfort zone. Hopefully, this will help to establish certain themes or values that run throughout your statement.
ONE STORY THAT CAPTURES YOUR PERSONALITY AND VALUES (PREFERABLY FROM YOUR COLLEGE YEARS)
Any essays you’ve already written about hobbies, sports, extracurricular activities, creative endeavors, travels, etc. will work perfectly here. This can cover anything from kayak instructing, to improv comedy, to topiary sculptures. The more unusual, the better. Even though this information might seem tangential, it will go a long way in differentiating you from other candidates.
ONE STORY THAT HELPS ESTABLISH WHY MEDICINE
Schools like UC Davis, Albany Medical College, and many others include prompts that ask you to share experiences that motivated and prepared you for a medical career. These are ideal fodder for this part of your autobiography. It’s okay if the experiences and ideas overlap with the primary application writing, as long as you don’t repeat things verbatim.
ONE STORY THAT REVEALS YOUR LEADERSHIP OR INITIATIVE
Any former prompts that have asked you about leadership or entrepreneurship will be useful here. If you have any activity that might qualify as a “capstone experience,” this is the perfect place for it in the autobiography. Perhaps you created a useful phone app for patients, or maybe you organized a science camp for disadvantaged youth, or maybe you created a ride-along program with the local ER. Whatever it happens to be, your goal will be to exhibit your initiative, problem-solving, and preparation to serve as a community leader.
ONE STORY THAT SHOWS YOU WORKING WITH THE UNDERSERVED
Previous prompts about volunteering, community service, or diversity could all apply here. The goal is to show your exposure to people who are different than you, as well as the skills and insights you have that will allow you to advocate for disadvantaged populations in the future.
STEP 3 - PATCH THE PIECES TOGETHER
This step isn’t as hard as it seems. Look at your separate chunks of writing and find thematic connections. This could be something as specific as “cultural sensitivity” or as vague as “perseverance.” It’s convenient if you can identify one or two themes to focus on. This will help give more cohesion to what can potentially be a clunky essay.
Don’t feel as if you need to tell your story in chronological order. It’s easy to conceive an autobiography that opens with your Why Medicine story and then flashes back to your childhood to show where your qualities originated. Choose your order based on your strengths. If you experienced hardships and unusual circumstances growing up, then those details are probably the most attention-grabbing for an introduction. But if you’ve had an “average” life, then opening with your recent experiences would make more sense.
STEP 4 - ADD A “WHY OUR SCHOOL” CONCLUSION
Even though the prompt does not ask you to answer “why our school,” we believe it’s in your best interest to do so. With 6,000 characters, there is plenty of space for it. And since you’ll share about four or five different experiences in the autobiography, you’ll have several options for how you can connect yourself to UCSD.
We recommend establishing both abstract and concrete connections to the school. An abstract connection shows a bridge between your experiences and the school’s mission or values. Once you’ve aligned yourself with their academic culture and spirit, you can share concrete ways that you hope to enhance the community and pay those values forward as a medical student. If you have locational ties to San Diego or Southern California, those are definitely worth mentioning.
Remember: this paragraph shouldn’t simply communicate “Why UCSD is awesome.” It should communicate why UCSD is a personally relevant choice for you based on your experiences and future goals.
Why our school? How to knock out a dozen medical school secondaries with one essay.
We hope these steps will help you assemble your Frankenstein’s monster essay and bring it to life for the admissions committee. Good luck!
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- Sell yourself. There are hundreds, if not thousands of people applying to each medical school in North America. You need to emphasize any traits or experiences that make you a good or unique candidate.
- The autobiography, along with your reference letters constitute your "first impression" to the admissions committee. Along with your interviews, they are the only personal insights that the medical school can use to accept or reject you.
- Start writing your essay(s) early. Don't leave this to the last minute. You can start by writing a list of your experiences (volunteering, travelling, work-place, etc), awards, and personality traits. Decide which are the most relevant and powerful, and design ways to incorporate them into your essays.
- Double and triple check your work. Get friends to critique it, and suggest format changes and vocabulary choices.
- No grammatical or spelling errors! Your final copy should be immaculate. Show the admissions committee your most professional work. Anything less is selling yourself short.
- Use examples to back up your statements. Don't just write: "I like to help people." Give examples of where you've actually helped people out.
Writing your Autobiography
Tell me about yourself:
Well, I'm a single, 5' 8" Asian male. Black hair, brown eyes. With my bulging athletic frame, I have often been mistaken for Arnold Schwartzenegger, until people approach me and realize that I'm much, much, bigger. I enjoy cooking, and taking long romantic walks on the beach... Oops! Wrong bio. :)
Despite the manner of the above bio, which you should never, ever, use in your med application, the essay that you do submit should mirror the above in one simple, direct way:
Sell yourself. Because if you won't, and don't, who else do you think will? Think back to each time that you meet someone, how first impressions form within minutes. Be honest. A basic reality for most people during an initial contact, is that they start to form a stereotype to classify neatly each person they meet. That initial pre-conceived idea, no matter how inaccurate it may be, will often colour and influence the conversation for some time to follow. Since your biographical essay is the "first impression" that the med school admissions committees (and interviewers) will have of you, it's crucially important to develop a strong, concise essay that hits all of your major positive points without losing them in a sea of less important details.
Beyond that, the most important aspects of a biography are to make it engaging and interesting. Your transcripts and MCAT scores will determine your academic standing; use the autobiography to highlight your personal side. The exception here is that while you don't mention your MCAT scores and GPA, if you receive any, you should definitely note any academic or social awards you have received. If the admissions committee isn't anxious to meet you after reading your essay, then you have to look at whether it's the presentation, or the content of your submission.
With that said, it's obvious that the grammar and spelling of your essay be absolutely impeccable. Word-process the document, and have it printed in a professional manner. Don't try to fit an extra 200 words by shrinking the font size and decreasing the margins to infinitesimally small limits. It makes reading the paper incredibly irritating, and is dead-obvious after you've read a few hundred essays or so. Try not to over-use the dictionary/thesaurus in a false attempt to sound over-educated. Unless you usually write that way, in which case it will look natural, you'll look like an ass. Imagine that other people are reading your essay and grading it, because they are.
That's the breaks; when you have your one shot, you have to make it count. Make the presentation neat and professional. Enlist the help of many friends and adults to read the essay and check for possible improvements in organization, grammar, and spelling. You control the content of the esssay; your friends, as proof-readers, should decide the presentation. It should be obvious by this point that the essay is not something you should start at the last minute. I recommend leaving a minimum of two weeks to go from start to finish. Ideally, I would start two months ahead, as that gives sufficient time for you to do some really good brain-storming, to write the essay, and to solicit lots of feedback from friends.
As far as the presentation and essay format, I feel there are two major styles. Some people prefer to use a chronological style of writing, listing and describing their achievements by dates, and linking their personality to those anecdotes. This has the advantage of being an easy to follow system where the reader can easily visualize your personal development. However, it can be easy to get sidetracked using this method by focussing too much on each particular experience. It's also very easy to see any gaping holes if you have an unproductive period in your life.
Sample chronological essay
Here's a quick example of the chronological system:
"That's yours Phil... Yes! We won! We won! We won!" In 1996, our school reached a new milestone. For the first time in its 90-year history, we had won first-place in the Provincial badminton championships. I was honoured to be a member of that triumphant team. The award was a simple brass medal, but its faux-gold glitter bespoke countless hours of training, and heartache for the team members. We encouraged each other, always giving smiles and hugs after each grueling game, never allowing a team-mate to falter. It was here that I truly learned the value of team-work.
The following year, as I started university, I devoted my extra-curricular time to high school tutoring. While sports have their place in a healthy life-style, student loan debts don't disappear without hard work. However, when working with my student, I discovered there is a great deal of team-work in the student/teacher relationship. The same encouragement , smiles, and jokes are as crucial for competing in tournament-level badminton as they are for succeeding in high school mathematics. I was able to bridge the gap between our skill levels by showing my partner the importance in dedication and discipline, with the occasional break to relax. In turn, she showed me the value of humour and mutual co-operation, and I take those tools into every environment I encounter. To learn is to share, and I hope to have the opportunity to do this as a doctor.
Sample personality traits essay
Another method of presenting the content is to list 4-5 of the major personality characteristics that you feel you have, which are crucial to becoming a good doctor. Then, you describe experiences in your past where you have exhibited, or have worked, to develop those characteristics. As I feel that every good doctor is a good person first, generating this list is particularly easy. In good people, I look for honesty, reliability, dedication, and patience. There are obviously many, many, other characteristics out there.
Pick whichever you feel are most relevant. Then, look towards your curriculum vitae to find experiences that relate to each of these categories. This system forces you to spend equal weight on each characteristic, which will make you look more well-rounded. If you have had an unproductive period in your life, using this type of an essay format will help "camoflage" that time period. A disadvantage is that you may have to exclude experiences that don't fit into the personality criteria you have already selected.
Here's a sample possibility, using the characteristic of honesty:
"Excuse me young man, but where do you think you're going with that acid?"
"Oh this beaker Mr. Fisher? It's not acid, it's just water."
"Oh reeeeally? Are you sure it's water? Let's test that."
This experience in grade 12 chemistry has stayed with me to this day. I had just filled a beaker half-full of hydrochloric acid, and was walking it back to my lab bench, when I stopped to chat with a class-mate friend. My teacher had watched the entire episode and had confronted me as I stood gabbing, completely unmindful of the 10 molar HCl in my hand. As I steadfastly denied the beaker being filled with acid, he produced some sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and dropped it into the beaker. The fizzing bubbles of carbon dioxide indicating an acid solution sunk me with the force of a capsizing ship.
It took a great deal of work to regain his trust and confidence in me, and it's been an experience I will never forget.I realise now that I could have easily injured a friend, a comrade, with my bravado and false assurances. As a doctor, lying or deception could easily lead to the serious harm, or death of a patient. I learned my most important lesson in chemistry that day, and I believe that a good doctor must always be honest with his working peers, and his patients. I have endeavoured to achieve this trust with each new relationship I help create.
I believe that the above two formats are the most common ones used to write autobiographies. You can either focus on listing your experiences chronologically, or you can group them into specific personality traits.
See? An autobiographical essay isn't really that difficult. It's not as mind-bending as trying to wrap your head around the formula for calculating the volume of a vase using calculus, nor does it require the draining memorization of biochemical structures. What it does take however, is an acute and detailed examination of your personal life. Everyone always mentions that each person on this planet is unique and special.
What makes you special? What experiences have you had that make you a more desirable candidate than the next person? Have you travelled? Do you play any musical instruments, or are you involved in sports? Have you worked or volunteered in any interesting jobs? What hobbies do you pursue in your spare time?
My simple rule for writing such essays is to use honest anecdotes that high-light your personality. You'll notice in the above examples that I backed up my statements with events in my past. Just as in the reference letters section of this web-site, examples and anecdotes count. If one premed described himself as a natural teacher, and another applicant stated that after tutoring, his student increased her test scores by 25%, who would I believe more? Always give examples to back up your statements. Without examples, statements aren't much more than hot air. Your application to med school deserves better.
Next, you've got to decide what to include in your autobiography. My recommendation is to avoid the negative details, unless you mention them in the context of having changed them for the better. An example would be like the above sample paragraphs where a negative experience is used to convey the importance of honesty. I've certainly said it enough times, but be honest, because chances are good that you will be asked questions in your interview regarding your autobiographical essay. Don't write that you enjoy pithing frogs at midnight for extra-hours research unless you really mean it. Liars are usually pretty easy to spot, and they get weeded out, as they rightfully should be.
So what are the main points? Sell yourself honestly, because if you don't you'll be hard to notice. Use the essay to focus on non-academic qualities except in the case of awards. Give examples from your past history to lend weight to your statements. Once the skeleton of the essay has been built, send it out to your friends for proof-reading and improvement suggestions. On each revision, you'll probably find difficult sections that you want to edit, in the process often creating a new batch of problems that need to be edited.
After you're done the proof-reading, check it over one last time. Your essay should be engaging, visually-appealing, and grammatically perfect. Now, you should probably sit on the essay for a week or two, and then look at it again to see if you remember any additional material that you could include. Now, it's time to proceed to your reference letters, the next major hoop to jump.
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- Medical School Application
Medical School Personal Statement Examples: 30 Best in
Including one that got six acceptances.
Article Contents 29 min read
These 30 exemplary medical school personal statement examples come from our students who enrolled in one of our application review programs. Most of these examples led to multiple acceptance for our students. For instance, the first example got our student accepted into SIX medical schools. Here's what you'll find in this article: We'll first go over 30 medical school personal statement samples, then we'll provide you a step-by-step guide for composing your own outstanding statement from scratch. If you follow the strategy, you're going to have a stellar statement whether you apply to the most competitive or the easiest medical schools to get into .
Note : If you want us to help you with your applications, interviews and/or standardized tests, book a free strategy call . If you are a university, business, or student organization representative and want to partner with us, visit our partnerships page .
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30 Stellar Medical School Personal Statement Examples
I made my way to Hillary’s house after hearing about her alcoholic father’s incarceration. Seeing her tearfulness and at a loss for words, I took her hand and held it, hoping to make things more bearable. She squeezed back gently in reply, “thank you.” My silent gesture seemed to confer a soundless message of comfort, encouragement and support.
Through mentoring, I have developed meaningful relationships with individuals of all ages, including seven-year-old Hillary. Many of my mentees come from disadvantaged backgrounds; working with them has challenged me to become more understanding and compassionate. Although Hillary was not able to control her father’s alcoholism and I had no immediate solution to her problems, I felt truly fortunate to be able to comfort her with my presence. Though not always tangible, my small victories, such as the support I offered Hillary, hold great personal meaning. Similarly, medicine encompasses more than an understanding of tangible entities such as the science of disease and treatment—to be an excellent physician requires empathy, dedication, curiosity and love of problem solving. These are skills I have developed through my experiences both teaching and shadowing inspiring physicians.
Medicine encompasses more than hard science. My experience as a teaching assistant nurtured my passion for medicine; I found that helping students required more than knowledge of organic chemistry. Rather, I was only able to address their difficulties when I sought out their underlying fears and feelings. One student, Azra, struggled despite regularly attending office hours. She approached me, asking for help. As we worked together, I noticed that her frustration stemmed from how intimidated she was by problems. I helped her by listening to her as a fellow student and normalizing her struggles. “I remember doing badly on my first organic chem test, despite studying really hard,” I said to Azra while working on a problem. “Really? You’re a TA, shouldn’t you be perfect?” I looked up and explained that I had improved my grades through hard work. I could tell she instantly felt more hopeful, she said, “If you could do it, then I can too!” When she passed, receiving a B+;I felt as if I had passed too. That B+ meant so much: it was a tangible result of Azra’s hard work, but it was also symbol of our dedication to one another and the bond we forged working together.
My passion for teaching others and sharing knowledge emanates from my curiosity and love for learning. My shadowing experiences in particular have stimulated my curiosity and desire to learn more about the world around me. How does platelet rich plasma stimulate tissue growth? How does diabetes affect the proximal convoluted tubule? My questions never stopped. I wanted to know everything and it felt very satisfying to apply my knowledge to clinical problems.
Shadowing physicians further taught me that medicine not only fuels my curiosity; it also challenges my problem solving skills. I enjoy the connections found in medicine, how things learned in one area can aid in coming up with a solution in another. For instance, while shadowing Dr. Steel I was asked, “What causes varicose veins and what are the complications?” I thought to myself, what could it be? I knew that veins have valves and thought back to my shadowing experience with Dr. Smith in the operating room. She had amputated a patient’s foot due to ulcers obstructing the venous circulation. I replied, “veins have valves and valve problems could lead to ulcers.” Dr. Steel smiled, “you’re right, but it doesn’t end there!” Medicine is not disconnected; it is not about interventional cardiology or orthopedic surgery. In fact, medicine is intertwined and collaborative. The ability to gather knowledge from many specialties and put seemingly distinct concepts together to form a coherent picture truly attracts me to medicine.
It is hard to separate science from medicine; in fact, medicine is science. However, medicine is also about people—their feelings, struggles and concerns. Humans are not pre-programmed robots that all face the same problems. Humans deserve sensitive and understanding physicians. Humans deserve doctors who are infinitely curious, constantly questioning new advents in medicine. They deserve someone who loves the challenge of problem solving and coming up with innovative individualized solutions. I want to be that physician. I want to be able to approach each case as a unique entity and incorporate my strengths into providing personalized care for my patients. Until that time, I may be found Friday mornings in the operating room, peering over shoulders, dreaming about the day I get to hold the drill.
Let's take a step back to consider what this medical school personal statement example does, not just what it says. It begins with an engaging hook in the first paragraph and ends with a compelling conclusion. The introduction draws you in, making the essay almost impossible to put down, while the conclusion paints a picture of someone who is both passionate and dedicated to the profession. In between the introduction and conclusion, this student makes excellent use of personal narrative. The anecdotes chosen demonstrate this individual's response to the common question, " Why do you want to be a doctor ?" while simultaneously making them come across as compassionate, curious, and reflective. The essay articulates a number of key qualities and competencies, which go far beyond the common trope, I want to be a doctor because I want to help people.
This person is clearly a talented writer, but this was the result of several rounds of edits with one of our medical school admissions consulting team members and a lot of hard work on the student's part. If your essay is not quite there yet, or if you're just getting started, don't sweat it. Do take note that writing a good personal essay takes advanced planning and significant effort.
We are here to help you articulate your own vision, passion, and skills in a way that is equally captivating and compelling!
Would you like to learn why "show, don’t tell" is the most important rule of any personal statement? Watch this:
I was one of those kids who always wanted to be doctor. I didn’t understand the responsibilities and heartbreaks, the difficult decisions, and the years of study and training that go with the title, but I did understand that the person in the white coat stood for knowledge, professionalism, and compassion. As a child, visits to the pediatrician were important events. I’d attend to my hair and clothes, and travel to the appointment in anticipation. I loved the interaction with my doctor. I loved that whoever I was in the larger world, I could enter the safe space of the doctor’s office, and for a moment my concerns were heard and evaluated. I listened as my mother communicated with the doctor. I’d be asked questions, respectfully examined, treatments and options would be weighed, and we would be on our way. My mother had been supported in her efforts to raise a well child, and I’d had a meaningful interaction with an adult who cared for my body and development. I understood medicine as an act of service, which aligned with my values, and became a dream.
I was hospitalized for several months as a teenager and was inspired by the experience, despite the illness. In the time of diagnosis, treatment and recovery, I met truly sick children. Children who were much more ill than me. Children who wouldn’t recover. We shared a four-bed room, and we shared our medical stories. Because of the old hospital building, there was little privacy in our room, and we couldn’t help but listen-in during rounds, learning the medical details, becoming “experts” in our four distinct cases. I had more mobility than some of the patients, and when the medical team and family members were unavailable, I’d run simple errands for my roommates, liaise informally with staff, and attend to needs. To bring physical relief, a cold compress, a warmed blanket, a message to a nurse, filled me with such an intense joy and sense of purpose that I applied for a volunteer position at the hospital even before my release.
I have since been volunteering in emergency departments, out-patient clinics, and long term care facilities. While the depth of human suffering is at times shocking and the iterations of illness astounding, it is in the long-term care facility that I had the most meaningful experiences by virtue of my responsibilities and the nature of the patients’ illnesses. Charles was 55 when he died. He had early onset Parkinson’s Disease with dementia that revealed itself with a small tremor when he was in his late twenties. Charles had a wife and three daughters who visited regularly, but whom he didn’t often remember. Over four years as a volunteer, my role with the family was to fill in the spaces left by Charles’ periodic inability to project his voice as well as his growing cognitive lapses. I would tell the family of his activities between their visits, and I would remind him of their visits and their news. This was a hard experience for me. I watched as 3 daughters, around my own age, incrementally lost their father. I became angry, and then I grew even more determined.
In the summer of third year of my Health Sciences degree, I was chosen to participate in an undergraduate research fellowship in biomedical research at my university. As part of this experience, I worked alongside graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, medical students, physicians, and faculty in Alzheimer’s research into biomarkers that might predict future disease. We collaborated in teams, and by way of the principal investigator’s careful leadership, I learned wherever one falls in terms of rank, each contribution is vital to the outcome. None of the work is in isolation. For instance, I was closely mentored by Will, a graduate student who had been in my role the previous summer. He, in turn, collaborated with post docs and medical students, turning to faculty when roadblocks were met. While one person’s knowledge and skill may be deeper than another’s, individual efforts make up the whole. Working in this team, aside from developing research skills, I realized that practicing medicine is not an individual pursuit, but a collaborative commitment to excellence in scholarship and leadership, which all begins with mentorship.
Building on this experience with teamwork in the lab, I participated in a global health initiative in Nepal for four months, where I worked alongside nurses, doctors, and translators. I worked in mobile rural health camps that offered tuberculosis care, monitored the health and development of babies and children under 5, and tended to minor injuries. We worked 11-hour days helping hundreds of people in the 3 days we spent in each location. Patients would already be in line before we woke each morning. I spent each day recording basic demographic information, blood pressure, pulse, temperature, weight, height, as well as random blood sugar levels, for each patient, before they lined up to see a doctor. Each day was exhausting and satisfying. We helped so many people. But this satisfaction was quickly displaced by a developing understanding of issues in health equity.
My desire to be doctor as a young person was not misguided, but simply naïve. I’ve since learned the role of empathy and compassion through my experiences as a patient and volunteer. I’ve broadened my contextual understanding of medicine in the lab and in Nepal. My purpose hasn’t changed, but what has developed is my understanding that to be a physician is to help people live healthy, dignified lives by practicing both medicine and social justice.
28 More Medical School Personal Statement Examples
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As one of the most important medical school requirements , the personal statement tells your story of why you decided to pursue the medical profession. Keep in mind that personal statements are one of the key factors that affect medical school acceptance rates . This is why it's important to write a stellar essay!
So let's help you get started writing your own personal statement. Let's approach this step-by-step. Below you will see how we will outline the steps to creating your very best personal statement. Check out AMCAS personal statement examples, AACOMAS personal statement examples and TMDSAS personal statement examples for more excellent essays.
#1 Understanding the Qualities of a Strong Med School Personal Statement
Before discussing how to write a strong medical school personal statement, we first need to understand the qualities of a strong essay. Similar to crafting strong medical school secondary essays , writing a strong personal statement is a challenging, yet extremely important, part of your MD or MD-PhD programs applications. Your AMCAS Work and Activities section may show the reader what you have done, but the personal statement explains why. A personal statement should be deeply personal, giving the admissions committee insight into your passions and your ultimate decision to pursue a career in medicine. A compelling and introspective personal statement can make the difference between getting an interview and facing medical school rejection . Review our blogs to find out how to prepare for med school interviews and learn the most common medical school interview questions .
As you contemplate the task in front of you, you may be wondering what composing an essay has to do with entering the field of medicine. Many of our students were surprised to learn that medical school personal statements are so valued by med schools. The two things are more closely related than you think. A compelling personal statement demonstrates your written communication skills and highlights your accomplishments, passions, and aspirations. The ability to communicate a complex idea in a short space is an important skill as a physician. You should demonstrate your communication skills by writing a concise and meaningful statement that illustrates your best attributes. Leaving a lasting impression on your reader is what will lead to interview invitations.
A quick note: if you are applying to schools that do not require the formal medical school personal statement, such as medical schools in Canada , you should still learn how to write such essays. Many medical schools in Ontario , for example, ask for short essays for supplementary questionnaires. These are very similar to the personal statement. Knowing how to brainstorm, write, and format your answers is key to your success!!!
You want to give yourself as much time as possible to write your statement. Do not think you can do this in an evening or even in a week. Some statements take months. My best statement took almost a year to get right. Allow yourself time and start early to avoid added stress. Think of the ideas you want to include and brainstorm possible ways to highlight these ideas. Ask your friends for ideas or even brainstorm your ideas with people you trust. Get some feedback early to make sure you are headed in the right direction.
All personal statements for medical school, often start by explaining why medicine is awesome; the admission committee already knows that. You should explain why you want a career in medicine. What is it about the practice of medicine that resonates with who you are? Naturally, this takes a lot of reflection around who you are. Here are some additional questions you can consider as you go about brainstorming for your essay:
- What motivates you to learn more about medicine?
- What is something you want them to know about you that isn't in your application?
- Where were you born, how did you grow up, and what type of childhood did you have growing up (perhaps including interesting stories about your siblings, parents, grandparents)?
- What kinds of early exposure to the medical field left an impression on you as a child?
- Did you become familiar with and interested in the field of medicine at an early stage of your life? If so, why?
- What are your key strengths, and how have you developed these?
- What steps did you take to familiarize yourself with the medical profession?
- Did you shadow a physician? Did you volunteer or work in a clinical setting? Did you get involved in medical research?
- What challenges have you faced? Have these made an impact on what you chose to study?
- What are your favorite activities?
- What kinds of extracurriculars for medical school or volunteer work have you done, and how have these shaped who you are, your priorities, and or your perspectives on a career in medicine?
- What was your "Aha!" moment?
- When did your desire to become a doctor solidify?
- How did you make the decision to apply to medical school?
As you begin thinking about what to include in your personal essay, remember that you are writing for a specific audience with specific expectations. Your evaluator will be familiar with the key qualities desired by medical schools, as informed by the standards of the profession. They will be examining your essay through the lens of their particular school's mission, values, and priorities. You should think about your experiences with reference to the AAMC Core Competencies and to each school's mission statement so that you're working toward your narrative with the institution and broader discipline in mind.
Review AAMC Core Competencies : The AAMC Core Competencies are the key characteristics and skills sought by U.S. medical schools. These are separated into four general categories:
Science Competencies : living systems and human behavior. ","label":"Science","title":"Science"}]' code='tab1' template='BlogArticle'>
You are not expected to have mastered all of these competencies at this stage of your education. Display those that are relevant to your experiences will help demonstrate your commitment to the medical profession.
Review the school's mission statement: Educational institutions put a lot of time and care into drafting their school's vision. The mission statement will articulate the overall values and priorities of each university, giving you insight into what they might seek in candidates, and thus what you should try to display in your personal statement. Echoing the values of the university helps illustrate that you are a good fit for their intellectual culture. The mission statement may help you identify other priorities of the university, for example, whether they prioritize research-based or experiential-based education. All this research into your chosen medical schools will help you tremendously not only when you write you personal statement, but also the rest of your medical school application components, including your medical school letter of intent if you ever need to write one later.
Just like the personal statement is, in essence, a prompt without a prompt. They give you free rein to write your own prompt to tell your story. This is often difficult for students as they find it hard to get started without having a true direction. Below is a list of ideas to get your creative juices flowing. Use these prompts as a starting point for your essay. Also, they are a great way of addressing why you want to be a doctor without saying something generic.
- The moment your passion for medicine crystallized
- The events that led you toward this path
- Specific instances in which you experienced opportunities
- Challenges that helped shape your worldview
- Your compassion, resilience, or enthusiastic collaboration
- Demonstrate your commitment to others
- Your dependability
- Your leadership skills
- Your ability to problem-solve or to resolve a conflict
These are personal, impactful experiences that only you have had. Focus on the personal, and connect that to the values of your future profession. Do that and you will avoid writing the same essay as everyone else.
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 the application. 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.
Your personal statement must be well-organized, showing a clear, logical progression, as well as connections between ideas. It is generally best to use a chronological progression since this mirrors your progression into a mature adult and gives you the opportunity to illustrate how you learned from early mistakes later on. Carry the theme throughout the statement to achieve continuity and cohesion. Use the theme to links ideas from each paragraph to the next and to unite your piece.
Medical School Personal Statement Structure
When working toward the initial draft of your essay, it is important to keep the following in mind: The essay should read like a chronological narrative and have good structure and flow. Just like any academic essay, it will need an introduction, body content, and a conclusion. If you're wondering whether a medical school advisor can help you with your medical school application, check out our blog for the answer.
Check out our video to learn how to create a killer introduction to your medical school personal statement:
The introductory paragraph and, even more importantly, the introductory sentence of your essay, will most certainly make or break your overall statement. Ensure that you have a creative and captivating opening sentence that draws the reader in. This is your first and only chance to make a first impression and really capture the attention of the committee. Starting with an event or an Aha! moment that inspired your decision to pursue a medical profession is one way to grab their attention. The kinds of things that inspire or motivate you can say a lot about who you are as a person.
The broader introductory paragraph itself should serve several functions. First, it must draw your reader in with an eye-catching first line and an engaging hook or anecdote. It should point toward the qualities that most effectively demonstrate your desire and suitability for becoming a physician (you will discuss these qualities further in the body paragraphs). The thesis of the introduction is that you have certain skills, experiences, and characteristics and that these skills, experiences, and characteristics will lead you to thrive in the field of medicine. Finally, it must also serve as a roadmap to the reader, allowing them to understand where the remainder of the story is headed.
That is a lot of work for a single paragraph to do. To better help you envision what this looks like in practice, here is a sample introduction that hits these main points.
I was convinced I was going to grow up to be a professional chef. This was not just another far-fetched idealistic childhood dream that many of us had growing up. There was a sense of certainty about this dream that motivated me to devote countless hours to its practice. It was mostly the wonder that it brought to others and the way they were left in awe after they tried a dish that I recall enjoying the most creating as a young chef. But, when I was 13, my grandfather was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, and I realized that sometimes cooking is not enough, as I quickly learned about the vital role physicians play in the life of everyday people like my family and myself. Although my grandfather ended up passing away from his illness, the impact that the healthcare team had on him, my family, and I will always serve as the initial starting point of my fascination with the medical profession. Since that time, I have spent years learning more about the human sciences through my undergraduate studies and research, have developed a deeper understanding of the demands and challenges of the medical profession through my various volunteer and extra-curricular experiences, and although it has been difficult along the way, I have continued to forge a more intimate fascination with the medical field that has motivated me to apply to medical school at this juncture of my life. ","label":"Sample Introduction","title":"Sample Introduction"}]' code='tab3' template='BlogArticle'>
In the body of your essay, you essentially want to elaborate on the ideas that you have introduced in your opening paragraph by drawing on your personal experiences to provide evidence. Major points from the above sample introduction could be: dedication and resilience (practicing cooking for hours, and devoting years to undergraduate studies in human sciences), passion and emotional connection (being able to create something that inspired awe in others, and personally connecting with the work of the grandfather's healthcare team), motivation and drive (being inspired by the role physicians play in their patients' lives, participating in volunteer work and extracurriculars, and an enduring fascination with the field of medicine). Depending on the details, a selection of volunteer and extra-curricular experiences might also be discussed in more detail, in order to emphasize other traits like collaboration, teamwork, perseverance, or a sense of social responsibility – all key characteristics sought by medical schools. Just like an academic essay, you will devote one paragraph to each major point, explaining this in detail, supporting your claims with experiences from your life, and reflecting on the meaning of each plot point in your personal narrative, with reference to why you want to pursue a medical career.
Your final statement should not be a simple summary of the things you have discussed. It should be insightful, captivating, and leave the reader with a lasting impression. Although you want to re-emphasize the major ideas of your essay, you should try to be creative and captivating, much like your opening paragraph. Sometimes if you can link your opening idea to your last paragraph it will really tie the whole essay together. The conclusion is just as important as the introduction. It is your last chance to express your medical aspirations. You want to impress the reader while also leaving them wanting more. In this case, more would mean getting an interview so they can learn more about who you are! Leave them thinking I have got to meet this person.
The narrative you construct should display some of your most tightly held values, principles, or ethical positions, along with key accomplishments and activities. If you see yourself as someone who is committed to community service, and you have a track record of such service, your story should feature this and provide insight into why you care about your community and what you learned from your experiences. Saying that you value community service when you've never volunteered a day in your life is pointless. Stating that your family is one where we support each other through challenge and loss (if this is indeed true), is excellent because it lays the groundwork for telling a story while showing that you are orientated towards close relationships. You would then go on to offer a brief anecdote that supports this. You are showing how you live such principles, rather than just telling your reader that you have such principles.
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 communication skills, and empathy for others..." In reality, this does nothing to convey these qualities. It's a mistake to simply list your skills or characteristics without showing the reader an example of a time you used them to solve a problem. If you simply list your skills or characteristics (telling), without demonstrating the ways you have applied them (showing), you risk coming across as arrogant. The person reading the essay may not believe you, as you've not really given them a way to see such values in your actions. It is better to construct a narrative to show the reader that you possess the traits that medical schools are looking for, rather than explicitly stating that you are an empathetic individual or capable of deep self-reflection. Instead of listing adjectives, tell your personal story and allow the admissions committee to paint the picture for themselves. This step is very challenging for many students, but it's one of the most important strategies used in successful essays. Writing this way will absolutely make your statement stand out from the rest.
While it may be tempting to write in a high academic tone, using terminology or jargon that is often complex or discipline-specific, requiring a specialized vocabulary for comprehension. You should actually aim to write for a non-specialist audience. Remember, in the world of medicine, describing a complex, clinical condition to a patient requires using specific but clear words. This is why your personal statement should show that you can do the same thing. Using large words in unwieldy ways makes you sound like you are compensating for poor communication skills. Use words that you believe most people understand. Read your personal statement back to a 14-year-old, and then again to someone for whom English is not their first language, to see if you're on the right path.
Ultimately, fancy words do not make you a good communicator; listening and ensuring reader comprehension makes you a good communicator. Instead of using complex terminology to tell the admissions committee that you have strong communication skills, show them your communication skills through clear, accessible prose, written with non-specialists in mind. A common refrain among writing instructors is, never use a $10 word where a $2 word will suffice. If you can say it in plain, accessible language, then this is what you should do.
Professionalism may seem like a difficult quality to display when only composing a personal statement. After all, the reader can't see your mannerisms, your personal style, or any of those little qualities that allow someone to appear professional. Professionalism is about respect for the experience of others on your team or in your workplace. It is displayed when you are able to step back from your own individual position and think about what is best for your colleagues and peers, considering their needs alongside your own. If a story is relevant to why you want to be a physician and demonstrates an example of how you were professional in a workplace setting, then it is appropriate to include in your essay.
One easy way to destroy a sense of professionalism is to act in a judgmental way towards others, particularly if you perceived and ultimately resolved an error on someone else's part. Sometimes students blame another medical professional for something that went wrong with a patient.
They might say something to the effect of, "The nurse kept brushing off the patient's concerns, refusing to ask the attending to increase her pain medications. Luckily, being the empathetic individual that I am, I took the time to listen to sit with the patient, eventually bringing her concerns to the attending physician, who thanked me for letting him know."
There are a couple of things wrong with this example. It seems like this person is putting down someone else in an attempt to make themselves look better. They come across as un-empathetic and judgmental of the nurse. Maybe she was having a busy day, or maybe the attending had just seen the patient for this issue and the patient didn't really need re-assessment. Reading this kind of account in a personal statement makes the reader question the maturity of the applicant and their ability to move past blaming others and resolve problems in a meaningful way. Instead of allocating blame, identify what the problem was for the patient and then focus on what you did to resolve it and reflect on what you learned from the whole experience.
One last note on professionalism: Being professional does not mean being overly stoic, hiding your emotions, or cultivating a bland personality. A lot of students are afraid to talk about how a situation made them feel in their personal statement. They worry that discussing feelings is inappropriate and will appear unprofessional. Unfortunately for these students, emotional intelligence is hugely important to the practice of medicine. In order to be a good doctor, one must be aware of their own emotions as well as those of their patients. Good doctors are able to quickly identify their own emotions and understand how their emotional reactions may inform their actions, and the ability to deliver appropriate care, in a given situation. Someone who is incapable of identifying their emotions is also incapable of managing them effectively and will likely struggle to identify the emotions of others. So, when writing your personal statement, think about how each experience made you feel, and what you learned from those feelings and that experience.
How to Write About Discrepancies and Common Mistakes to Avoid
Part of your essay's body can include a discussion of any discrepancies or gaps in your education, or disruptions in your academic performance. If you had to take time off, or if you had a term or course with low grades, or if you had any other extenuating circumstances that impacted your education, you can take time to address these here. It is very important to address these strategically. Do not approach this section as space to plead your case. Offer a brief summary of the situation, and then emphasize what you learned from such hardships. Always focus on the positive, illustrating how such difficulties made you stronger, more resilient, or more compassionate. Connect your experiences to the qualities desired by medical schools.
Emphasize your ability to persevere through it all but do so in a positive way. Most of all, if you feel like you have to explain yourself, take accountability for the situation. State that it is unfortunate and then redirect it to what you learned and how it will make you a better doctor. Always focus on being positive and do not lament on the negative situation too much.
Additional Mistakes to Avoid in Personal Statements:
Check out this video on the top 5 errors to avoid in your personal statement!
Step 3: Writing Your First Draft
As you can see, there is a LOT of planning and consideration to be done before actually starting your first draft. Properly brainstorming, outlining, and considering the content and style of your essay prior to beginning the essay will make the writing process much smoother than it would be you to try to jump right to the draft-writing stage. Now, you're not just staring at a blank page wondering what you could possibly write to impress the admissions committee. Instead, you've researched what the school desires from its students and what the medical profession prioritizes in terms of personal characteristics, you've sketched out some key moments from your life that exemplify those traits, and you have a detailed outline that just needs filling in.
As you're getting started, focus on getting content on the page, filling in your outline and getting your ideas arranged on the page. Your essay will go through multiple drafts and re-writes, so the first step is to free write and start articulating connections between your experiences and the characteristics you're highlighting. You can worry about flow, transitions, and perfect grammar in later drafts. The first draft is always a working draft, written with the understanding that its purpose is to act as a starting point, not an ending point. Once you've completed a draft, you can begin the revising process. The next section will break down what to do once you have your first draft completed.
You can also begin looking at things like style, voice, transitions, and overall theme. The best way to do this is to read your essay aloud. This may sound strange, but it is one of the single most impactful bits of writing advice a student can receive. When we're reading in our heads (and particularly when we're reading our own words), it is easy to skip over parts that may be awkwardly worded, or where the grammar is off. As our brains process information differently, depending on whether we're taking in visual or auditory information, this can also help you understand where the connections between ideas aren't as evident as you would like. Reading the essay aloud will help you begin internalizing the narrative you've crafted, so that you can come to more easily express this both formally in writing and informally in conversation (for example, in an interview).
#1 Did You Distinguish Yourself From Others?
Does your narrative sound unique? Is it different than your peers or did you write in a generic manner? Use your narrative to provide a compelling picture of who you are as a person, as a learner, as an advocate, and as a future medical professional. What can you offer? Remember, you will be getting a lot out of your med school experience, but the school will be getting a lot out of you, as well. You will be contributing your research efforts to your department, you will be participating in the academic community, and as you go on to become a successful medical professional you will impact the perception of your school's prestige. This is a mutually beneficial relationship, so use this opportunity to highlight what you bring to the table, and what you will contribute as a student at their institution. Let them know what it is about you that is an attribute to their program. Make them see you as a stand out from the crowd.
#2 Does My Essay Flow and is it Comprehensible?
Personal statements are a blessing and a curse for admission committees. They give them a better glimpse of who the applicant is than simple scores. Also, they are long and time-consuming to read. And often, they sound exactly alike. On occasion, a personal statement really makes an applicant shine. After reading page after page of redundant, cookie-cutter essays, an essay comes along with fluid prose and a compelling narrative, the reader snaps out of that feeling of monotony and gladly extends their enthusiastic attention.
Frankly, if the statement is pleasant to read, it will get read with more attention and appreciation. Flow is easier to craft through narrative, which is why you should root the statement in a story that demonstrates characteristics desirable to medical schools. Fluidity takes time to build, though, so your statement should be etched out through many drafts and should also be based on an outline. You need to brainstorm, then outline, then draft and re-draft, and then bring in editors and listeners for feedback (Note: You need someone to proofread your work. Bestselling authors have editors. Top scholars have editors. I need an editor. You need an editor. Everyone needs an editor). Then, check and double-check and fix anything that needs fixing. Then check again. Then submit. You want this to be a statement that captures the reader's interest by creating a fluid, comprehensible piece that leads the reader to not only read each paragraph but want to continue to the next sentence.
#3 Did You Check Your Grammar?
If you give yourself more than one night to write your statement, the chances of grammatical errors will decrease considerably. If you are pressed for time, upload your file into an online grammar website. Use the grammar checker on your word processor, but know that this, in itself, isn't enough. Use the eyes and ears of other people to check and double-check your grammar, punctuation, and syntax. Read your statement out loud to yourself and you will almost certainly find an error (and likely several errors). Use fresh eyes to review the statement several times before you actually submit it, by walking away from it for a day or so and then re-reading it. Start your essay early, so that you actually have time to do this. This step can make or break your essay. Do not waste all the effort you have put into writing, to only be discarded by the committee for using incorrect grammar and syntax.
#4 Did You Gather Feedback From Other People?
The most important tip in writing a strong application essay is this getting someone else to read your work. While the tips above are all very useful for writing a strong draft, nothing will benefit you more than getting an outside appraisal of your work. For example, it's very easy to overlook your own spelling or grammatical errors. You know your own story and you may think that your narrative and it's meaning make sense to your reader. You won't know that for sure without having someone else actually read it. This may sound obvious, but it's still an absolute necessity. Have someone you trust to read the essay and ask them what they thought of it. What was their impression of you after reading it? Did it make sense? Was it confusing? Do they have any questions? What was the tone of the essay? Do they see the connections you're trying to make? What were their takeaways from your essay, and do these align with your intended takeaways for your reader? Ideally, this person should have some knowledge of the application process or the medical profession, so that they can say whether you were successful in demonstrating that you are a suitable candidate for medical school. However, any external reader is better than no external reader at all.
Avoid having people too close to you read your work. They may refrain from being too critical in an effort to spare your feelings. This is the time to get brutal, honest feedback. If you know someone who is an editor but do not feel that they can be objective, try and find someone else.
Would you like 8 medical school personal statement tips? Check out our video below:
FAQs and Final Notes
Your personal statement should tell your story and highlight specific experiences or aspects of your journey that have led you to medicine. If your first exposure or interest in the medical field was sparked from your own medical struggles, then you can certainly include this in your statement. What is most important is that you write about what factors or experiences attributed to you deciding that medicine is the right career path for you.
Sometimes students shy away from including their own personal struggles and describing how they felt during difficult times but this is a great way for admissions committees to gain perspective into who you are as a person and where your motivations lie. Remember, this is your story, not someone else's, so your statement should revolve around you. If you choose to discuss a personal hardship, what's most important is that you don't cast yourself as the victim and that you discuss what the experience taught you. Also, medical schools are not allowed to discriminate against students for discussing medical issues, so it is not looked at as a red flag unless you are talking about an issue inappropriately. For example, making yourself appear as the victim or not taking responsibility.
All US medical schools require the completion of a personal statement with your AMCAS, TMDSAS or AACOMAS applications.
Medical schools in Canada on the other hand, do not require or accept personal statements. In lieu of the personal statement, a few of these schools may require you to address a prompt in the form of an essay, or allow you to submit an explanation essay to describe any extenuating circumstances, but this is not the same as the US personal statement. For example, when applying through OMSAS , the University of Toronto medical school requires applicants to complete four short, 250 words or less, personal essays.
Many students struggle with whether or not they should address an unfavorable grade in their personal statement. What one student does isn't necessarily the right decision for you.
To help you decide, think about whether or not that bad grade might reflect on your poorly. If you think it will, then it's best to address the academic misstep head-on instead of having admissions committees dwell on possible areas of concern. If you're addressing a poor evaluation, ensure that you take responsibility for your grade, discuss what you learned and how your performance will be improved in the future - then move on. It's important that you don't play the victim and you must always reflect on what lessons you've learned moving forward.
Of course not, just because you didn't wake up one morning and notice a lightbulb flashing the words medicine, doesn't mean that your experiences and journey to medicine are inferior to those who did. Students arrive to medicine in all sorts of ways, some change career paths later in life, some always knew they wanted to pursue medicine, and others slowly became interested in medicine through their life interactions and experiences. Your personal statement should address your own unique story to how you first became interested in medicine and when and how that interest turned to a concrete desire.
While your entire statement is important, the opening sentence can often make or break your statement. This is because admission committee members are reviewing hundreds, if not thousands of personal statements. If your opening sentence is not eye-catching, interesting, and memorable, you risk your statement blending in with the large pile of other statements. Have a look at our video above for tips and strategies for creating a fantastic opening sentence.
Having your statement reviewed by family and friends can be a good place to start, but unfortunately, it's near-impossible for them to provide you with unbiased feedback. Often, friends and family members are going to support us and rave about our achievements. Even if they may truly think your statement needs work, they may feel uncomfortable giving you their honest feedback at the risk of hurting your feelings.
In addition, family and friends don't know exactly what admission committee members are looking for in a personal statement, nor do they have years of experience reviewing personal statements and helping students put the best version of themselves forward. For these reasons, many students choose to seek the help of a professional medical school advisor to make sure they have the absolute best chances of acceptance to medical school the first time around.
If you have enough time set aside to write your statement without juggling multiple other commitments, it normally takes at least four weeks to write your statement. If you are working, in school, or volunteering and have other commitments, be prepared to spend 6-8 weeks.
Your conclusion should have a summary of the main points you have made in your essay, but it should not just be a summary. You should also end with something that makes the reader want to learn more about you (i.e. call you for an interview). A good way to do this is to include a call-back to your opening anecdote: how have you grown or matured since then? How are you more prepared now to begin medical school?
The goal is to show as many of them as you can in the WHOLE application: this includes your personal statement, sketch, reference letters, secondary essays, and even your GPA and MCAT (which show critical thinking and reasoning already). So, it’s not an issue to focus on only a few select experiences and competencies in the personal statement.
Yes, you can. However, if you used an experience as a most meaningful entry, pick something else to talk about in your essay. Remember, you want to highlight as many core competencies across your whole application). Or, if you do pick the same experience: pick a different specific encounter or project with a different lesson learned.
Once your essay is in good shape, it's best to submit to ensure your application is reviewed as soon as possible. Remember, with rolling admissions, as more time passes before you submit your application, your chances of acceptance decreases. Nerves are normal and wanting to tinker is also normal, but over-analyzing and constant adjustments can actually weaken your essay.
So, if you're thinking about making more changes, it's important to really reflect and think about WHY you want to change something and if it will actually make the essay stronger. If not your changes won't actually make the essay stronger or if it's a very minor change you're thinking of making, then you should likely leave it as is.
The reality is, medical school admission is an extremely competitive process. In order to have the best chance of success, every part of your application must be stellar. Also, every year some students get in whose GPAs or MCAT scores are below the median. How? Simply because they must have stood out in other parts of the application, such as the personal statement.
The ones that honestly made the most impact on you. You'll need to reflect on your whole life and think about which experiences helped you grow and pushed you to pursue medicine. Ideally, experiences that show commitment and progression are better than one-off or short-term activities, as they usually contribute more to growth.
This Ultimate Guide has demonstrated all the work that needs to be done to compose a successful, engaging personal statement for your medical school application. While it would be wonderful if there was an easy way to write your personal statement in a day, the reality is that this kind of composition takes a lot of work. As daunting as this may seem, this guide lays out a clear path. In summary, the following 5 steps are the basis of what you should take away from this guide. These 5 steps are your guide and sort of cheat sheet to writing your best personal statement.
5 Main Takeaways For Personal Statement Writing:
- Content and Theme
- Multiple Drafts
- Revision With Attention to Grammar
While a strong personal statement alone will not guarantee admission to medical school, it could absolutely squeeze you onto a medical school waitlist , off the waitlist, and onto the offer list, or give someone on the admissions committee a reason to go to battle for your candidacy. Use this as an opportunity to highlight the incredible skills you've worked and studied to refine, the remarkable life experiences you've had, and the key qualities you possess in your own unique way. Show the admissions committee that you are someone they want to meet. Remember, in this context, wanting to meet you means wanting to bring you in for an interview!
Dr. Lauren Prufer is an admissions expert at BeMo. Dr. Prufer is also a medical resident at McMaster University. Her medical degree is from the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry. During her time in medical school, she developed a passion for sharing her knowledge with others through medical writing, research, and peer mentoring.
To your success,
Your friends at BeMo
BeMo Academic Consulting
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I have been reading posts regarding this topic and this post is one of the most interesting and informative one I have read. Thank you for this!
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Personal Statements (Versus Autobiography)
The autobiography is one item the HPRC requires in order to get to know a student and provide more context for the interview process. The personal statement is what you will write for your centralized application. The autobiography and personal statement are two different things and you should approach them differently. The former may serve as one step in your preparation for writing the latter.
The autobiography is simple, thorough and straightforward. It is typically longer than the personal statement (AMCAS 5,300 characters, so about 1 ½ pages) and proceeds chronologically. It should be easy to read but does not have to have stellar prose, a theme running through it, or be perfect. It is one way we learn about your background, upbringing, earliest interests and activities, decision to come to Tufts, and the various things and experiences you have had here over recent years. Do not spend lots of time on it. It really should not take more than an hour or so.
The personal statement will take more thought, time and preparation. You may want to begin thinking about it it in the fall or winter prior to applying even though you will not need it before June. The fall workshop for upperclassmen planning to apply in the next cycle focuses on this. Writing down ideas as they come to you about past experiences, important people in your life, accomplishments and mistakes, and values that are important to you are among the things you might jot down. The next step would be reviewing all these notes and seeing how things connect and which ones stand out as providing the most insight into who you are. There are many things that will be in your autobiography that will not make it into your personal statement.
The personal statement allows you to highlight what you feel is important about yourself and perhaps explain any discrepancies in your application. It is not strictly a “Why I want to be a doctor” essay; however, a sense of who you are and why you are motivated to a medical career should be evident.
If you apply to osteopathic schools, you also need to address your understanding of the osteopathic philosophy directly. Dental schools specifically ask about your motivation for dentistry.
Writing the personal statement requires some time on your part. Writing consultants in the Academic Resource Center will be available throughout the late spring and summer to assist you. There will be a workshop set up in April as a follow-up to the fall workshop to go over the process of writing a personal statement. Then individual applicants can work one-on-one with a consultant. It is a good idea to begin working on your personal statement early so you will have the chance to return to it for fine tuning over time.
You should plan on writing multiple drafts and having different people, including a health profession advisor, give you their reactions. Your end product should be a very well written, clear and concise essay. Don’t look for a gimmick. Just write something genuine that provides insight into you.
Your statement should let the reader learn something more about you than what the application has already told them. The reader should conclude that you would be an excellent physician and a wonderful addition to her medical school. That does not mean that you have to tell the reader that directly.
- Essay prompts for the most common central applications
- Tips for writing a personal statement
- Tufts StAAR Center Resources - including personal statements appointments
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2023 Medical School Personal Statement Ultimate Guide (25 Examples Included)
25 medical school personal statement examples, plus a step-by-step guide to writing a unique essay.
Part 1: Introduction to the medical school personal statement
Part 2: a step-by-step approach to writing an amazing medical school personal statement, part 3: in-depth analysis of a top-5 medical school personal statement, part 4: unique vs. clichéd medical school personal statements: 10 key differences, appendix: medical school personal statement examples.
You probably know someone who achieved a solid GPA and MCAT score , conducted research, shadowed physicians, engaged in meaningful volunteer work, and met all the other medical school requirements , yet still got rejected by every school they applied to.
You may have even heard of someone who was rejected by over 30 medical schools or who was shut out by every program two years in a row, despite doing “all the right things.”
It’s also common to come across people who have incredibly high stats (e.g., a 3.8 GPA and a 518 MCAT score) but didn’t get into a top-10 or top-20 medical school.
With stories like these and the scary statistic that over 60% of medical school applicants do not matriculate into medical school in any given year , it’s hard not to be anxious about the admissions process and wonder how you’ll ever get into medical school .
We bet you’ve puzzled over why so many qualified applicants are rejected beyond the fact that there are too few spots. After all, you’ve noticed how some applicants receive many interview invitations and acceptances, whereas others receive few or none.
The main reason why many qualified applicants are rejected from every med school—or significantly underperform expectations based on their admissions profile—is that they do not stand out on their application essays.
While the need to stand out holds true for every piece of written material on your applications, your personal statement is the single most important essay you will have to write during your admissions process. It’s especially important to get right because it allows you to show admissions committees how your story sets you apart among other qualified candidates (i.e., your competition). Moreover, the quality of your personal statement has a significant influence on your admissions success.
Of course, this means that writing a great medical school personal statement comes with a lot of pressure.
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Medical school personal statement challenges and opportunities
As you prepare to write, you’re probably concerned about:
Choosing the “right” topic
Making sure your essay is unique and not clichéd
Your essay clearly highlighting why you want to go into medicine
Whether it’s what admissions committees are looking for
The good news is that the AMCAS personal statement prompt—“Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school”—is intentionally vague and gives you the opportunity to write about anything you want in up to 5,300 characters (including spaces), which roughly corresponds to 500 words or 1.5 single-spaced pages.
In other words, you have complete control over how you show admissions committees the following:
Who you are beyond your numbers and your resume (i.e., why you? )
The reasons you want to go into medicine (i.e., why medicine? )
Remember that admissions committees want to accept people , not just a collection of GPAs, MCAT scores, and premed extracurricular activities. Your personal statement and other written materials must therefore clearly highlight the specific qualities and experiences that would make you an excellent physician.
If your essay does this, you’ll have a leg up on other applicants. On the other hand, a clichéd personal statement will bore admissions readers and consequently make them less interested in admitting you.
Put another way, your personal statement is your best opportunity to stand out—or to look like everyone else who reads tons of sample essays, tries to “play it safe” with boring anecdotes, and ends up in the rejection pile.
What this personal statement guide covers
As you begin drafting your essay, you might find yourself perusing countless medical school personal statement examples online, at your college’s premed counseling office, or from friends who applied to med school a year or two ago. But remember that the sample personal statements you find on Student Doctor Network, Reddit , premed blogs, or at your college’s pre-health advising center are the same ones that everyone else is looking at and attempting to imitate!
To help you avoid common pitfalls and write a memorable personal statement, we wrote a comprehensive guide to help you get one step closer to earning your white coat rather than having to reapply to med school .
At a high level, this guide covers the following:
A step-by-step approach to producing a standout personal statement (Part 2)
A paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of a top-5 personal statement (Part 3)
Key differences that separate unique vs. clichéd personal statements (Part 4)
Medical school personal statement examples (Appendix)
Upon reviewing this guide, you’ll have all the information you need to go from having no topic ideas to producing a personal, meaningful, and polished essay. Throughout the guide, you’ll also come across various “special sections” that address common questions and concerns we’ve received from applicants over the years.
And if you’re left with lingering questions about how to write a personal statement for medical school, just submit them in the comments section at the end of the guide so we can answer them, usually within 24 hours.
Without further ado, it’s time to begin the writing process.
When should I begin to write my med school personal statement?
The earliest we recommend you begin working on your personal statement is fall of your junior year. That way, even if you decide to go to med school straight through (i.e., without taking a gap year or two), you will have completed a bulk of the extracurriculars that you will cover on your application and will also have an essay that describes your current thoughts and feelings about medicine. But regardless of whether you apply straight through or apply post-undergrad, it’s a good idea to begin working on your personal statement during the fall or winter preceding your application cycle (e.g., start writing your essay between September 2021 and January 2022 if you intend to apply during the 2022–2023 application cycle) so that you have plenty of time to write a great essay and can take full advantage of rolling admissions by submitting your primary application early.
Before writing, the typical applicant does two things:
Pulls up their resume and attempts to identify the experience that is “most unique” or “most authentic”
Searches for essay sample after essay sample, hoping to be inspired by someone else’s writing
Eventually, students begin to read every sample essay they can get their hands on, hoping that consuming countless examples will give them the “aha moment” they need to produce their own personal statement.
Here’s the problem: Without understanding why an essay is strong, you risk producing a cliche essay based on some “template” you came across.
With this “template approach,” you’ll risk making your essay sound like someone else’s, which is a sure-fire way of producing a clunky or clichéd essay. This is precisely why we included the numerous sample personal statements at the end of this guide.
We also don’t believe that reviewing your CV or thinking through your personal experiences to identify the “most unique” topic ideas is a valuable approach to brainstorming your personal statement. This “resume-first” approach tends to lead to writing an introduction that may not communicate your intended message, especially because it might not flow with the remainder of your experiences.
So, what should your personal statement include? Over the years, our students have found the most success by taking our “qualities-first” approach—thinking through the impression they want to leave on adcoms and then selecting the experiences that best highlight those qualities.
How to write a great personal statement introduction (Goal: Engage the reader)
Before you begin to write, we recommend that you:
Develop a list of qualities you want to demonstrate; and
Think of events or situations that highlight these qualities.
Then , you should write about one of these events or situations in a way that demonstrates these qualities and captures the reader’s attention.
The myth of the "perfect topic"
Every topic can lead to a standout or average personal statement, depending on how compellingly you write it. In other words, there's no such thing as a "good" or "bad" essay topic, only strong or weak execution. Many students delay working on their personal statement until they discover the “perfect topic,” but no such topic exists. We’ve read incredible essays and weak essays on pretty much every topic. What mattered was how the writer linked the topic with their personal path to medicine. We should reinforce a point mentioned in passing in the previous paragraph: pretty much every medical school personal statement topic has been used at this point. You can stand out by sharing your personal stories, unique insights, and eye-opening experiences, not by writing about a brand-new topic, as so few exist.
Step 1: List your greatest qualities.
To answer the personal statement prompt more easily, focus again on the question of what you want admissions committees to know about you beyond your numbers and achievements.
We’re not talking about your hobbies (e.g., “I followed Taylor Swift to every concert she performed in the U.S. during this past year”), although you could certainly point to aspects of your lifestyle in your essay to make your point.
Instead, we’re talking about which of your qualities –character, personality traits, attitudes–you want to demonstrate. Examples include:
Willingness to learn
Great listening skills
And so on. If you have difficulty thinking of your great qualities (many students do), ask family members or close friends what you’re good at and why they like you. It might be awkward, but this exercise really helps because others tend to view us very differently from how we view ourselves.
Finally, choose the two or three qualities that you want to focus on in your personal statement. Let’s use compassion and knowledge-seeking as the foundational qualities of an original example for this guide.
We cannot overstate how important it is to think of the qualities you want to demonstrate in your personal statement before choosing a situation or event to write about. Students who decide on an event or situation first usually struggle to fit in their qualities within the confines of their story. This is one of the biggest medical school personal statement mistakes we see students make.
On the other hand, students who choose the qualities they want to convey first are easily able to demonstrate them because the event or situation they settle on naturally highlights these qualities.
I listed several qualities I can demonstrate, but I'm not sure which to choose. Can you say more?
Your personal statement represents just one part of your much larger application. You'll have opportunities to demonstrate several of your great qualities through your AMCAS Work and Activities section, your secondary essays, and even your interviews. Therefore, any two or three qualities you want to convey through your personal statement will work; don't stress about figuring out the "perfect" ones, as no such thing exists. And when in doubt, ask family members and friends.
Step 2: When or where have you demonstrated these qualities?
Now that we’re off our soapbox and you’ve chosen qualities to highlight, it’s time to list any event(s) or setting(s) where you’ve demonstrated them.
We should explicitly mention that this event or setting doesn't need to come from a clinical experience (e.g., shadowing a physician , interacting with a young adult patient at a cancer center, working with children in an international clinic) or a research experience (e.g., making a major finding in cancer research during your gap year ), although it’s okay if it involves an extracurricular activity directly related to medicine.
In fact, since most students start their essays by describing clinical or research experiences, starting off with something else–travel (e.g., a camping trip in Yellowstone), volunteering (e.g., building homes in New Orleans), family (e.g., spending time with and learning from your elderly and ill grandmother back home in New Hampshire), work (e.g., helping out at your parents’ donut shop)–can help you immediately stand out.
Let’s start with the example of building homes in New Orleans. Why? Because we could easily demonstrate compassion and knowledge-seeking through this experience. Notice how the qualities we select can choose the story for us?
Step 3: Describe your event as a story.
Here’s where the art of writing a great personal statement really comes in.
Admissions officers read thousands of essays, most of which are very clichéd or dry. Therefore, it’s critical that you stand out by engaging the reader from the very beginning. The best way by far to capture admissions officers early is by developing a story about the event or situation you chose in Step 2 at the start of your essay.
Keep in mind, however, that the same event can be written about in a boring or engaging way. Therefore, the story or topic you choose is less important than how you pull it off.
Let’s look at an actual example of how the same event can be described in a routine vs. compelling manner:
One of my most eye-opening experiences came when I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans during the summer months of 2014. Up to that point, I had only heard about the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina nine years earlier. Although pictures and stories of the aftermath compelled me to volunteer, it was not until I observed the emotional pounding the people of New Orleans had experienced that I developed a greater sense of compassion for their plight.
New Orleans was hot and humid during the summer months of 2014–no surprise there. However, for a native Oregonian like me, waking up to 90-degree and 85%-humidity days initially seemed like too much to bear. That was until I reflected on the fact that my temporary discomfort was minute in contrast to the destruction of communities and emotional pounding experienced by the people of New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina nine years earlier. Although pictures and stories of the aftermath compelled me to understand its effects on the community and volunteer, actually building homes and interacting with the locals, like nine-year-old Jermaine, who cried as I held his hand while we unveiled his rebuilt home, taught me that caring for people was as much about lifting spirits as making physical improvements.
Many people may feel the routine example is pretty good. Upon closer look, however, it seems that:
The focus is as much on New Orleanians as the applicant
The story is not particularly relatable (unless the reader had also volunteered there)
There isn’t much support for the writer actually being touched by the people there
On the other hand, the compelling example:
Keeps the spotlight on the applicant throughout (e.g., references being from Oregon, discusses her reflections, interacting with Jermaine)
Has a relatable plot (e.g., temporary discomfort, changing perspectives)
Is authentic (e.g., provides an example of how she lifted spirits)
Does my essay need to have an “aha moment,” that is, the moment when I decided to become a doctor? I’ve noticed that so many medical school personal statement examples include one.
Your essay does not need to include an “aha moment.” In fact, many of the best med school personal statements we’ve read do not include such a moment. Students who believe they need to mention an “aha moment” in their personal statement are typically falling into the trap of writing what they believe the reader wants. But frankly, the reader simply wants to learn about your personal and professional path to medicine. We’ve polled many students over the years about whether they had an experience that immediately switched them on to medicine. Our findings indicate that only 10 percent of students have experienced a moment where they knew they wanted to become a doctor and never looked back. The other 90 percent either knew they wanted to become a physician since childhood, had a growing interest in medicine over years, or came to the realization during or after college.
Step 4: Demonstrate your qualities.
(Note: This section applies to all aspects of your essay.)
“Show, don’t tell” is one of the most common pieces of advice given for writing personal statements, but further guidance or examples are rarely provided to demonstrate what it looks like when done well.
This is unfortunate because the best way to understand how standout personal statements demonstrate qualities through an engaging story is by reading two examples of the same situation: one that “tells” about a quality, and another that “shows” a quality.
Let’s revisit the last sentence of each story example we provided in the previous section to better understand this distinction.
Telling (from the routine story):
…it was not until I observed the emotional pounding the people of New Orleans had experienced that I developed a greater sense of compassion for their plight.
Showing (from the compelling story):
…actually building homes and interacting with the locals, like 9 year-old Jermaine, who cried as I held his hand while we unveiled his rebuilt home, taught me that caring for people…
Notice how the second example demonstrates compassion without ever mentioning the word “compassion” (hence no bolded words)? Moreover, the same sentence demonstrates knowledge-seeking:
Although pictures and stories of the aftermath compelled me to understand its effects on the community and volunteer, actually building homes and interacting with the locals ...
That’s what you’re going for.
Think about it. Whom do you consider to be more kind:
A person who says, “I’m really nice!”; or
A person who you've observed doing nice things for others?
Clearly, the second person will be viewed as more kind, even if there's no real-world difference between their levels of kindness. Therefore, by demonstrating your qualities, you will come across as more impressive and authentic to admissions committees.
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How to write strong personal statement body paragraphs (Goal: Describe your path to medicine)
After writing your opening paragraph to engage the reader, it’s time to write the meat and potatoes of your personal statement. Specifically, it’s time to discuss experiences that helped you grow and led to you to pursue medicine.
What personal statement topics should I avoid?
Put differently, "What should I not write about in my personal statement?" There are no specific topics that you should definitely avoid in your essay. Unfortunately, you will hear many people tell you not to bring up certain things—a parent who is a physician, a physical health or mental health condition, sports participation, volunteering abroad, etc. However, all of these anecdotes or topics can be the foundation for strong personal statements, but also weak ones; what matters is your writing approach.
Step 5: Discuss your most formative experiences that led you to medicine.
Return to your list from Step 2 (When or where have you demonstrated these qualities?) and choose one to three more experiences/areas (e.g., research, clinical work) that led you to medicine.
Why choose no more than four experiences total?
Because you should be aiming for depth over breadth (remember, you’re working with a 5,300-character limit for both AMCAS (MD application) and AACOMAS (DO application). Rather than discuss everything you’ve done, apply the following five-step formula to expand on key experiences in the body paragraphs of your personal statement:
Discuss why you pursued the experience
Mention how you felt during the experience
Describe what you accomplished and learned
Discuss how your experience affected you and the world around you
Describe how the experience influenced your decision to pursue medicine
Does the guidance in this resource apply to DO personal statements as well?
Yes, for the most part. We cover similarities and differences between AMCAS and AACOMAS personal statements in detail in our MD vs. DO guide .
Below are two examples–one routine and one compelling–to demonstrate how to achieve this:
Shadowing the neurosurgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital and witnessing their unwavering dedication to their patients and patients’ families helped me realize that I wanted to make a similar impact on people's lives.
This sentence doesn't answer the “Why medicine?” question (for example, you could greatly impact people's lives through law or teaching), nor does it demonstrate your qualities (although it makes the neurosurgeons look really good).
I was initially frustrated while shadowing neurosurgeons and caring for patients (e.g., conversing with them during downtime and providing anything in my power to make them comfortable, such as extra pillows, water, or snacks) at Massachusetts General Hospital because many patients recovered very slowly–and sometimes not at all. I wondered whether these experiences would deter me from pursuing medicine. Therefore, I was surprised when the opposite occurred. The physicians’ unwavering dedication to their patients and families' expressed gratitude–even in their saddest days–provided more than enough confirmation that medicine was the path I should pursue to make a similar physical and emotional impact on people's lives.
By going deeper about an experience, this example allowed the student to convey:
How they felt (“I was initially frustrated while shadowing…”)
How they were affected (“…the opposite [of determent] occurred”)
How they were influenced to pursue medicine specifically
Collectively, the student demonstrated their compassion, personal growth, and desire to pursue medicine.
(Note: Discuss your formative experiences in the body paragraphs in chronological order, as long as it doesn’t disrupt your essay’s flow. For example, if you choose to write about one experience in 2014 and another in 2013, write about your 2013 experience first, even if you wrote about the 2014 experience in your introductory paragraph. Having a clear timeline makes it easier for the reader to follow along.)
How many experiences should I cover in my personal statement?
If you’re like most students, you should cover somewhere between three and four personal or professional experiences in your personal statement. Beyond four, and you risk covering too much and not achieving sufficient depth; your essay might read like a narrative. Fewer than three, and your experience descriptions might get too wordy. That said, every essay is different, so you might be able to write a fantastic personal statement with fewer than three experiences or more than four. In fact, one of the best personal statements we’ve ever helped a student produce focused on a single 24-hour time period that spanned two separate experiences.
How to write a memorable personal statement conclusion (Goal: Tie it all together)
It’s (almost) time to end your personal statement and move on!
The concluding paragraph should highlight three things:
Your positive qualities (you can mention them explicitly here rather than “show” them)
Perspectives gained from your formative experiences
Your passion for medicine
Additionally, the best essays somehow refer to their introductory paragraph’s story to “close the loop.”
Step 6: Reemphasize your qualities, perspectives, and passions.
Focusing on experiences in your introduction and body paragraphs that convey your greatest qualities helps you develop a consistent theme throughout your essay. It also makes closing your essay much easier.
To demonstrate this, we’ll show you how New Orleans volunteering and neurosurgery shadowing can be tied together to reemphasize compassion and knowledge-seeking, highlight perspectives gained, and communicate a strong desire to pursue medicine.
The consistent theme throughout my extracurricular work is that, whereas I initially pursue experiences–clinical, volunteer, or otherwise–to learn, what sticks with me even more than newfound knowledge is the compassion I develop for the people I serve. Furthermore, I have realized that there is a multitude of ways to serve, such as treating people’s physical ailments, offering empathy for anxious family members, or leaving my comfort zone to help a struggling community. These perspectives, coupled with my lifelong fascination with the human body’s complexities, leave no doubt that medicine is the path through which I want to use my abilities to make a positive holistic impact on people’s lives. I hope 9-year-old Jermaine knows that I was equally touched by his gratitude for a rebuilt home, and how his reaction was partly responsible for me devoting my career to help others feel the way he did on that hot and muggy summer day.
Let’s see whether this concluding paragraph checks all three boxes:
Positive qualities (“knowledge-seeking” and “compassion,”): check
Perspectives gained from formative experiences (“…realized that there is a multitude of ways to serve”): check
Passion for medicine (“medicine is the path through which I want to use my abilities to make a positive holistic impact on people’s lives”): check
This paragraph also gets bonus points for looping Jermaine in one final time.
Does the guidance in this resource apply to TMDSAS personal statements as well?
Yes, though the TMDSAS personal statement offers a 5000-character limit vs. 5300 characters for AMCAS and AACOMAS. You can learn more about the Texas medical school application by reading our TMDSAS guide , which includes examples of a successful personal statement, personal characteristics essay, and optional essay.
Your medical school personal statement offers a unique opportunity to share your story and describe your path to medicine–however you want to.
Rather than dive right in and list the extracurricular experiences that you think will most impress admissions committees, consider what impression you want to leave them with. In other words, which of your qualities do you want to be remembered for?
Once you've identified your defining qualities, the task of communicating why you are specifically fit for medicine becomes much easier. Through engaging stories, you can leave no doubt in readers' minds that you're not only qualified for this field, but also the right person for the job.
If you've ever read an article or forum post offering “tips” on how to write a great medical school personal statement, you've probably been given clichéd advice with very little supporting information, like:
“Offer a unique angle”
“Show, don’t tell”
“Don’t use clichés”
“Check for grammar and spelling errors”
And so on. Here’s what usually happens when you read tips like these: You understand the information, but you’re still stuck in the same place you were before reading the article. You continue to stare at the blank document on your computer, hoping you’ll have an “aha moment.”
Unfortunately, “aha moments” rarely, if ever, come. Much more typically, students procrastinate and/or end up writing about extracurricular and personal experiences that they think admissions committees (adcoms) will be impressed by.
The problem is that if you don’t get your personal statement right, you can compromise your entire application.
If you’re a high-achieving applicant with a strong GPA, MCAT score , and rich extracurricular activities , you may get into less desirable schools than you’d hoped. If you’re an applicant on the borderline, you may not get in at all.
On the other hand, writing a powerful medical school personal statement provides adcoms insights into who you are as a person and as a budding physician. More importantly, it helps maximize your odds of admission in an increasingly competitive process.
We want you to be part of this latter group so that you can get into the best schools possible. Therefore, we figured it would be valuable to share a paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of a medical school personal statement that helped one of our students get into their dream school, which also happens to be ranked in the top 5 of the U.S. News & World Report Best Medical Schools rankings.
Throughout the analysis, we apply our internal essay evaluation framework, QPUD , which stands for the following:
You can apply the QPUD framework to analyze your own writing. You’ll soon learn that the best personal statements aren’t produced by accident, but rather through multiple thoughtful iterations.
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Full-length medical school personal statement with analysis
Before we get into the weeds with our analysis, we encourage you to read the personal statement example in its entirety. As you go through it, you should keep the following questions in mind:
Does the applicant demonstrate qualities that are desirable in a physician? If so, which ones?
Is the personal statement mostly about the applicant, or other people?
Could anyone else have written this personal statement, or is it unique to the applicant?
Does the personal statement cover too much, or is there real depth ?
Here’s the personal statement sample:
Sure, it was a little more crowded, cluttered, and low-tech, but Mr. Jackson’s biology classroom at David Starr Jordan High School in South Los Angeles seemed a lot like the one in which I first learned about intermolecular forces and equilibrium constants. Subconsciously, I just assumed teaching the 11th graders about the workings of the cardiovascular system would go smoothly. Therefore, I was shocked when in my four-student group, I could only get Nate’s attention; Cameron kept texting, Mercedes wouldn’t end her FaceTime call, and Juanita was repeatedly distracted by her friends. After unsuccessfully pleading for the group’s attention a few times, I realized the students weren’t wholly responsible for the disconnect. Perhaps the problem was one of engagement rather than a lack of interest since their focus waned when I started using terminology—like vena cava—that was probably gibberish to them. So, I drew a basic square diagram broken into quarters for the heart and a smiley face for the body’s cells that needed oxygen and nutrients. I left out structure names to focus on how four distinct chambers kept the oxygenated and deoxygenated blood separate, prompting my students with questions like, “What happens after the smiley face takes the oxygen?” This approach enabled my students to draw conclusions themselves. We spent much of class time going through the figure-8 loop, but their leaning over the table to see the diagram more clearly and blurting out answers demonstrated their engagement and fundamental understanding of the heart as a machine. My elation was obvious when they remembered it the following week.
Ever since my middle school robotics days when a surgeon invited us to LAC+USC Medical Center to unwrap Tootsie rolls with the da Vinci surgical system, I’ve felt that a physician’s role goes beyond serving patients and families. I feel an additional responsibility to serve as a role model to younger students—especially teenagers—who may be intrigued by STEM fields and medicine. Furthermore, my experience in Mr. Jackson’s classroom demonstrated the substantial benefits of assessing specific individuals’ needs even when it requires diverging slightly from the structured plan. Being flexible to discover how to best engage my students, in some ways, parallels the problem-solving aspect I love about medicine.
Clinical experiences go even further by beautifully merging this curiosity-satisfying side of medicine with what I feel is most fulfilling: the human side of care provision. My experience with a tiny three-year-old boy and his mother in genetics clinic confirmed the importance of the latter. Not only was I excited to meet him because he presented with a rare condition, but also because he and his chromosomal deletion had been the focus of my recent clinical case report, published in Genetics in Medicine. While researching his dysmorphic features and disabilities, other patients with similar deletions, and the possible genes contributing to his symptoms, I stayed up until 4 AM for several weeks, too engrossed to sleep. What was more exciting than learning about the underlying science, however, was learning about the opportunity to meet the boy and his mother in person and share my findings with them.
As soon as I walked into the examination room, I noticed the mother avoiding eye contact with the genetic counselor while clutching her son to her chest. I sensed her anxiety and disinterest in hearing about my research conclusions. The impact of her son’s condition on their daily lives probably transcended the scientific details in my report. So despite my desire to get into the science, I restrained myself from overwhelming her. Instead, I asked her to share details about the wonderful interventions she had procured for her son—speech and physical therapy, sign language lessons, special feeds, etc. Through our conversations, I realized that she was really looking for reassurance—for doing a great job caring for her son. I validated her efforts and offered relief that there were other families navigating similar difficulties. As the appointment progressed, I observed her gradually relaxing. Rather than feel weighed down by the research findings I was eager to get off my chest, I felt light as well.
At the end of the appointment, the mom offered to let me hold her son, who gazed back at me with his bright blue eyes. While cradling the little boy humanized the medical details, the mother’s gesture displayed profound trust. Above all, this experience allowed me to recognize that interactions between a patient plus family and their doctor are more than intermediary vehicles to treatment; they are critical and beneficial in their own right. Learning this affirmed my longstanding desire and eagerness to become a physician. While research is essential and will surely always trigger my curiosity, I want my work to transcend the lab bench. Specifically, I want to continue engaging with patients and helping them through life’s difficult moments—with physical treatment and genuine support. And since working with each patient constitutes an entirely different experience, I know my medical career will never cease to be fulfilling.
(Word count: 835; Character count: 5,223)
What if some of the experiences I choose to write about in my essay aren't directly related to medicine?
No worries. Medical school admissions committees look to admit individuals with qualities befitting good doctors. These qualities can be demonstrated through experiences directly related to medicine, as well as through experiences that seemingly have little to do with medicine but cast a very positive light on you. That said, your personal statement should include at least one experience directly related to medicine. In your essay, you'll want to briefly describe how your interest in medicine developed, followed by how you consistently pursued that interest.
Now, let’s analyze the entire personal statement paragraph by paragraph and answer the questions posed above.
The applicant does a great job of engaging the reader. While reading the paragraph, it’s easy to get transported to the classroom setting they describe due to the level of detail provided. (e.g., “crowded, cluttered, and low-tech,” “Cameron kept texting, Mercedes wouldn’t end her FaceTime call…,” “leaning over the table”) The applicant also highlights their service work in the community, and hints that the school may be in an underserved part of town.
The applicant contrasts the chaotic, distracted classroom with the attention and enthusiasm students exhibit after their educational intervention. This “transformation” reflects positively on the applicant because it demonstrates that they can get creative in addressing a difficult situation.
At this point, we don’t yet know about the applicant’s passion for medicine, but we learn about their interest in biology, teaching, serving, and working directly with people. All of these activities can be pursued through medicine, so the transition to medicine later in their personal statement can be seamless.
Q: Does the applicant demonstrate qualities that are desirable in a physician? If so, which ones?
Patient, assumes responsibility, flexible (e.g., “I realized the students weren’t wholly responsible for the disconnect. Perhaps the problem was one of engagement rather than a lack of interest since their focus waned when I started using terminology—like vena cava—that was probably gibberish to them. So, I drew a basic square diagram…”)
Commitment to helping students/people learn and understand (e.g., “prompting my students with questions…,” “My elation was obvious when they remembered it the following week.”)
P: Is the paragraph mostly about the applicant, or other people?
While the applicant discusses others in the introduction (e.g., the 11th graders, Nate, Juanita), there’s no question that they are the primary and most interesting character in the paragraph.
U: Could anyone else have written this paragraph, or is it unique to the applicant?
Although all competitive applicants participate in service work—many within schools—the writer makes this paragraph their own by doing the following:
Including highly specific details about the setting, environment, and students
Describing their thoughts, insights, and emotions whenever possible
D: Does the paragraph cover too much, or is there real depth?
This paragraph is a model of depth. The applicant describes how they taught a single biology lesson during a single class period at a single school. It doesn’t get much more focused than that.
Does my personal statement's introduction paragraph story have to be about an experience during college or beyond?
Not necessarily. That said, if you write your introduction about an earlier-than-college experience, you'll want to quickly transition to your college and post-college years. While medical schools want to learn about your most formative experiences, they really want to know about who you are today.
The applicant effectively uses the second paragraph to provide context, about their early interest in medicine and in mentoring youth. It becomes clear, therefore, why the applicant started off their essay writing about a teaching experience in an 11th-grade classroom.
In addition, the applicant quickly transitions from a non-medical service experience to introduce reasons behind their interest in medicine. For example, the applicant describes how they intend to serve patients and families through the field, as well as scratch their own problem-solving itch to help people.
Another important piece to highlight is how the applicant uses showing vs. telling differently across the first two paragraphs. Whereas the introductory paragraph primarily shows qualities (e.g., “So, I drew a basic square diagram…”), the second paragraph primarily tells (e.g., “Being flexible to discover how to best engage my students…”).
Because the applicant proved their flexibility in the introduction (i.e., by showing it), they can claim to be flexible here (i.e., by telling it). On the other hand, if the applicant called themselves flexible from the outset without providing evidence, they may have come across as arrogant or unobservant.
Beyond describing their early interest in medicine (i.e., “Ever since my middle school robotics days when a surgeon invited us to LAC+USC Medical Center…” there is little demonstration of qualities here. Nevertheless, the goals for this paragraph—transition to medicine, describe at a high level what draws them to medicine, set up later stories about problem solving—are clearly achieved.
The second paragraph highlights hypothetical individuals (e.g., patients and families, specific individuals) to describe the applicant’s medical interests.
Between the early experience observing the da Vinci surgical system and continuing the discussion of Mr. Jackson’s classroom, it would be very difficult for another applicant to convincingly replicate this paragraph.
The applicant certainly covers more experiences here than in the intro, but they do so to bridge the service discussion with the upcoming discussion of medical experiences. Notice also how this paragraph is intentionally kept short. The goal isn’t to get too deep into their middle school experiences, or to do more telling than necessary. Make the transition and move on so you can achieve more depth later.
Does my med school personal statement need to discuss a challenge I experienced?
It’s a common misconception to think that you have to highlight some major adversity to sound impressive. It’s true that some students have experienced greater challenges than others and their process of overcoming those challenges has led them to develop qualities befitting a great doctor. But what matters is your ability to discuss your commitment to becoming a physician and the insights you developed about your place in the medical field via personal and extracurricular experiences.
The third paragraph immediately builds off of the preceding one by letting the reader know that even more fulfilling than satisfying their own curiosity (and problem solving) is providing care to real people. This is a very important disclosure because the reader may be wondering what the applicant’s primary motivation is. As a medical school applicant, you must convey a “people first” attitude.
The applicant then dives right into what sounds like a fascinating research experience that not only results in a publication (to be discussed further in their AMCAS Work and Activities section ), but also leads to actually meeting the patient with the rare genetic condition. The applicant’s approach clearly integrates their passion for research and clinical work.
The paragraph also ends with a strong “hook.” The admissions reader is left wondering how the meeting with the boy and his mother went, so they will continue to read attentively.
Curious and hard-working (e.g., “While researching his dysmorphic features and disabilities, other patients with similar deletions, and the possible genes contributing to his symptoms, I stayed up until 4 AM for several weeks, too engrossed to sleep”)
Accomplished (e.g., “my recent clinical case report, published in Genetics in Medicine .”)
Once again, the applicant does a masterful job of incorporating storytelling and other characters (i.e., the boy and his mother) to convey the qualities that will make them a great doctor. In other words, this paragraph isn’t really about the boy and his mother, but rather how the applicant prepped for their meeting with them.
Between the upcoming meeting with the three-year-old boy and his mother, researching the boy’s genetic condition, and getting published in a specific journal, it’s basically impossible to replicate this paragraph.
The applicant maintains focus on how their interest in service and research can be applied to help real people. They take it one step further by highlighting a specific time when they did just that. There is no additional fluff, tangential information, or competing storylines.
Does my personal statement need to have a "hook"?
The short answer: Yes. But as with most things related to medical school admissions, the answer is more complicated. A "hook" is a sentence or story, typically presented in the opening paragraph, intended to grab the reader's attention. Because adcoms read tons of applications each year, it's important that they're engaged from the start. Otherwise, it's very likely that they will discount the remainder of your personal statement and your odds of getting into their school will drop precipitously. Unfortunately, many medical school applicants go overboard and force a dramatic story in hopes of presenting a hook—a trauma they observed in the ER, an emotional moment with a patient, and so on. The story might be marginally associated with the rest of their essay but will largely be viewed as a cheap way to capture attention. To be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with discussing a difficult medical counter, personal difficulty, or any other particular type of story. However, your selection must be associated with the qualities you want to demonstrate across your entire essay and serve as its foundation. In addition, your hook need not be your opening sentence. It could be the entire first paragraph, a cliffhanger at the end of your opening paragraph, or even a second paragraph that was set up by the first. The goal is simply to ensure that you're engaging your reader early and setting the tone for the remainder of your essay.
As soon as I walked into the examination room, I noticed the mother avoiding eye contact with the genetic counselor while clutching her son to her chest. I sensed her anxiety and disinterest in hearing about my research conclusions. The impact of her son’s condition on their daily lives probably transcended the scientific details in my report. So, despite my desire to get into the science, I restrained myself from overwhelming her. Instead, I asked her to share details about the wonderful interventions she had procured for her son—speech and physical therapy, sign language lessons, special feeds, etc. Through our conversations, I realized that she was really looking for reassurance—for doing a great job caring for her son. I validated her efforts and offered relief that there were other families navigating similar difficulties. As the appointment progressed, I observed her gradually relaxing. Rather than feel weighed down by the research findings I was eager to get off my chest, I felt light as well.
The applicant right away begins to describe their meeting with the boy and his mother. We understand that while the applicant was ready to share their research with the family, the mother appears anxious and is more interested in understanding how she can help her son.
It should also be noted that the applicant does not judge the mother in any way and offers supporting evidence for their conclusions about what the mother must’ve been thinking and feeling. For example, rather than just call the mother “anxious,” the applicant first describes how she avoided eye contact and clutched her son tightly.
The applicant once again demonstrates their flexibility by showing how they modified their talking points to fit the family’s needs rather than satisfy their own curiosity and self-interest. Moreover, they highlight not only the approach they took with this family, but also the impact on their care. For example, after discussing how they validated the mother’s care efforts, the applicant mentions how the mother relaxed.
Socially aware (e.g., “I noticed the mother avoiding eye contact with the genetic counselor while clutching her son to her chest. I sensed her anxiety and disinterest in hearing about my research conclusions. The impact of her son’s condition on their daily lives probably transcended the scientific details in my report.”)
Flexible (e.g., “So despite my desire to get into the science, I restrained myself from overwhelming her. Instead, I asked her to share details about the wonderful interventions she had procured for her son—speech and physical therapy, sign language lessons, special feeds, etc.”)
Socially skilled and validating (e.g., “Through our conversations, I realized that she was really looking for reassurance—for doing a great job caring for her son. I validated her efforts and offered relief that there were other families navigating similar difficulties.”)
At first glance, it may appear that this paragraph is as much about the mother as it is about the applicant. After all, the mother procured various services for her son and has done a marvelous job of caring for him.
Nevertheless, the applicant is not competing in any way with the mother. By demonstrating their flexibility and social skills, the applicant reinforces great qualities they’ve demonstrated elsewhere and remains at the top of our minds.
In isolation, perhaps. However, at this point in the personal statement, along with the loads of insights, thoughts, and feelings, there’s no question that this story is unique to the applicant.
This paragraph is another model of depth. The applicant goes into highly specific details about a memorable experience with a specific family. There’s significant showing vs. telling, which continues to maintain the reader’s engagement.
How many people should i ask to review my personal statement.
Typically, we recommend that no matter than two people—people who have experience evaluating med school personal statements—review your essay. Everyone you show your essay to will have an opinion and suggest changes, but trying to appease everyone usually leads to diluting your own voice. And even if your personal statement is great, someone will eventually identify something they perceive to be an issue, which will only exacerbate your anxiety. Two people is a good number because you can receive more than one opinion but avoid the problem of having too many cooks in the kitchen.
The final paragraph accomplishes three key goals:
Concluding the story about meeting the boy and his mother;
Bringing the applicant’s insights full circle; and
Restating their interest in medicine while offering a preview of what type of physician they intend to be.
By describing how they built a trusting relationship with the patient and his mother, the applicant deliberately continues the theme of patient-centered care ultimately being more important to them—and to medicine—than underlying pathologies and interestingness of various medical scenarios.
Although the applicant does not circle back to the classroom story in the introduction, they close the loop with the personal statement’s central and most important story. In addition, they end on a high note by mentioning how enthusiastic they are about their medical career.
Trustworthy (e.g., “At the end of the appointment, the mom offered to let me hold her son, who gazed back at me with his bright blue eyes.”)
Insightful (e.g., “Above all, this experience allowed me to recognize that interactions between a patient plus family and their doctor are more than intermediary vehicles to treatment; they are critical and beneficial in their own right.”)
Patient-centered and caring (e.g., “While research is essential and will surely always trigger my curiosity, I want my work to transcend the lab bench. Specifically, I want to continue engaging with patients and helping them through life’s difficult moments—with physical treatment and genuine support.”)
This paragraph is all about the applicant. Even the detail about cradling the boy highlights their earlier efforts in building trust with the family. After this brief conclusion to the story, the applicant explores their own developing insights about the field and how they intend to practice medicine in the future.
In combination with the insights shared in this paragraph, the story and details up to this point round out the personal statement uniquely.
Conclusion paragraphs should summarize insights and information presented earlier in the personal statement. The applicant does a fine job of solidifying their longstanding interest in medicine without adding significant new details, knowing they can cover additional stories throughout their secondary applications and during interviews .
Can you say a little more about how I can write my essay so that it's clear I want to go into medicine and not another health care field?
- A long-term commitment to medically-relevant experiences
- A clear understanding of what medicine entails that other fields don't
At various points while writing your personal statement, you may wonder whether your essay is “good enough.”
The goal of this guide isn’t to allow you to compare your personal statement to the sample we’ve provided. Rather, we want you to have a framework for evaluating your work to ensure that it conveys your outstanding qualities, engages the reader, and describes your authentic journey to medicine.
If you’re like most applicants, you’re worried about choosing a clichéd medical school personal statement topic . You fear that your application may be thrown into the rejection pile if you fail to present yourself in a unique way.
To help you avoid common pitfalls and write a memorable personal statement, we’ve highlighted eight different ways that unique personal statements differ from clichéd ones.
We’ll first describe the clichéd approach and describe why it’s problematic. Then we’ll provide specific writing techniques you can use to make your essay truly stand out.
Clichéd Approach 1: Only discussing experiences that you think make you seem the most impressive.
Most applicants begin writing their essays by choosing the experience(s) that they think will help them stand out to admissions committees. By focusing on specific experiences that applicants think will impress the admissions committee (e.g. clinical shadowing, research, and volunteering), students often forget to demonstrate their unique qualities.
Let’s see how this becomes a problem.
In your AMCAS Work and Activities section, you may have included your experience conducting chemistry research for three years, shadowing in a clinic for two years, volunteering as an English tutor for underserved youth in Chicago for six years, volunteering with a medical mission trip to Haiti for two summers, and serving as president of a premed organization for one year.
Given these choices, most students would choose to write about clinical volunteering in Chicago or their medical mission trip to Haiti because they think these experiences were most impressive. If you take one of these two approaches, you would probably start the essay by describing an interaction with a very ill patient or one with whom you experienced a language barrier.
An essay about clinical shadowing could start something like this:
I used to eat lunch with Felipa on Wednesdays. She was always very nervous when she came in to get her blood drawn, and she liked to speak with me beforehand. Although she was suffering from breast cancer, she had a positive attitude that made the doctors and the nurses feel like one big family. Her positive attitude helped lift the spirits of other patients in the room. Throughout my lunches with Felipa, she would tell me how she still cooked dinner every day for her husband and two young kids. She brought that same compassion to the hospital, always with a contagious smile. I endeavored to give her the best care by offering her water and chatting with her on her chemo days. However, I was always bothered that I could not treat Felipa’s cancer myself. This powerlessness I felt inspired me to pursue medicine to help future patients battle this horrible illness by discovering new treatments.
While we gain some information about the applicant’s motivations to study medicine (e.g., to help future patients…by discovering new treatments ), it explores a common topic (i.e., a realization that came during clinical shadowing) with a typical delivery (i.e., written broadly about interactions with a specific patient).
The paragraph does not do a good job of painting a picture of the applicant, as we don’t learn about her standout qualities or other aspects of her identity.
Moreover, if we replace “Felipa” with another name, it becomes clear that any applicant who engaged in a similar shadowing experience could have written this paragraph. This is not to say that an essay that includes shadowing will always be clichéd. After all, the topic is only one aspect of your personal statement.
Remember, there are no good or bad topics. Rather, there are strong ways—and poor ways—to write about these topics.
Instead of asking if your topic is “good” or “bad,” you should be asking yourself whether your essay has a “typical” or “standout” delivery.
You want your personal statement to be written so engagingly that it serves as a pleasant interruption to the admissions committee member’s routine. Surprise them when they rarely expect to be surprised.
Unique Alternative 1: Demonstrating the qualities that make you distinct by choosing experiences that highlight your best characteristics.
The best personal statement writers decide which qualities they want to emphasize to admissions committees before choosing a certain experience. Then, they focus on a specific event or situation that captures the admissions committees’ attention by telling a detailed story—oftentimes a story that does not overtly involve medicine.
By deciding on your qualities beforehand, you will choose a story that authentically delivers your intended message.
Don’t be afraid to select an experience or story that strays from the typical, “impressive” premed extracurricular activity. After all, med schools want to accept applicants because of their wonderful qualities and unique attributes, not because of a specific experience or extracurricular activity.
Let’s imagine that the same applicant from the previous example chose to write about her community involvement outside of medicine.
From her list of extracurricular activities, she could choose to write about volunteering as an English tutor or being the lead saxophone player in a campus jazz ensemble. By picking one of these options, this student could write an entirely unique personal statement introduction.
Let’s see how an effective essay might begin with her volunteer work as an English tutor:
I could feel the sweat rolling down my back as twenty first graders stared at me. It was July in Chicago, and the building where I volunteered as an English teacher twice a week did not have air conditioning. I had volunteered as a one-on-one tutor for the past six years, but this was my first time teaching a large group. The students, largely from working-class, Spanish-speaking households, reminded me of myself, as I grew up as the daughter of two Mexican emigrants. I personally understood the challenges the students faced, and I wanted to use my own experience and knowledge to help set them on the path to academic success.
This introduction would likely stand out to an admissions committee member not only because it discusses something other than clinical shadowing but also because it demonstrates the writer’s commitment to her community, and it reveals something about the applicant’s personal background.
Should I mention bad grades in my personal statement?
In most cases, no. With limited characters, your primary goal for your personal statement should be to tell medical school admissions committees why you will be an excellent doctor. Admissions committees will already see your grades. If you use too much space discussing your poor grades during freshman year or some other time, you'll draw even more attention to the red flags on your application and lose a golden opportunity to demonstrate your impressive qualities. One exception is if you received poor grades due to some extraordinary circumstance, such as recovering from a significant accident or illness. Even then, you might want to discuss your poor grades in another section of your application, such as a secondary essay.
Clichéd Approach 2: Listing your qualities and accomplishments like you are explaining your resume.
When many students begin writing their personal statements, they “tell” and don’t “show”.
Even though the advice to “show, don’t tell” is commonly given, students rarely know what it actually means to demonstrate or “show” their qualities rather than simply listing them.
We’ll provide an overly simple example to highlight why “telling” your qualities is such a problem:
Ever since I was a kid, I have received excellent grades and have excelled at all things related to science. My success in conducting chemistry research and my numerous presentations at biochemistry conferences is testament to my ability to succeed as a doctor. In fact, my family and friends have encouraged me to pursue this route because of my academic success.
While we learn that the applicant thinks that he is a great student who is excellent at science, and we learn that his family believes that he should pursue medicine because of his academic success, we do not actually see any evidence of these qualities. Sure, he tells us that his family thinks that he is brilliant, but we do not know why they think he is brilliant.
Unique Alternative 2: Showing, and not telling, the applicant’s qualities.
When you demonstrate your best qualities through examples, you provide a more authentic glimpse about the type of person you really are.
For instance, if you read the following sentences from two different applicants, who would you think was more caring?
Applicant 1: I am very empathic.
Applicant 2: Volunteering with elderly Japanese women has taught me how aging immigrants face cultural barriers while also navigating health problems, from diabetes to cancer.
Even though Applicant 1 says that they are empathic, you probably picked Applicant 2, even though she never uses the word “empathic” (or a synonym) in her sentence. As the reader, you were able to extrapolate how empathic that applicant is by seeing what they do.
Returning to the introductory paragraph with Felipa from example 1, we can see that the typical introduction “tells” about the applicant’s qualities, whereas the standout paragraph “shows” the applicant’s qualities. Let’s look at some examples to clarify:
I endeavored to give her the best care… (giving)
This powerlessness I felt inspired me to pursue medicine to help future patients… (inspired)
I had volunteered as one-on-one tutor for the past six years, but this was my first time teaching a large group. (dedicated, risk-taking)
I personally understood the challenges the students faced, and I wanted to use my own experience and knowledge to help set them on the path to academic success (giving, empowering, empathetic)
Is it OK to discuss a mental health condition in my med school personal statement?
You might have heard that, given the stigma surrounding many mental health conditions, that you should avoid discussing them in your personal statement, no matter what. However, as with many things related to med school essays, the answer depends on the specific condition, severity, and reason behind sharing it. Certain conditions have more stigma associated with them than others and are therefore more difficult to sensitively incorporate in your personal statement. But regardless of your specific mental health condition or its severity, it’s important to ask yourself why you would share it. For instance, if the primary reason for sharing your mental health condition is to show adcoms how much adversity you have overcome, then you should probably leave out your condition or reconsider why you would share it. However, if your reason is to describe the insights you developed about people and about medicine, or how your condition served as a springboard for you to pursue certain activities, then it might be worthwhile to share. Writing about mental health conditions in your personal statement should be approached delicately, so make sure to work with someone who has experience doing so.
Clichéd Approach 3: Stating that you want to be a physician to help people or talking about how being a doctor is such an honor.
When you ask medical school applicants why they want to be a doctor, they usually say that they want to help people. While you should include this fact in your personal statement, it can be difficult to articulate why you want to help people or how you will help them in a way that is not clichéd.
Most applicants will probably write some version of the following in their personal statement:
I want to be a physician because I want to help people who are sick. It would be an honor to serve people in need.
The problem with these statements is that any applicant could have written them. Every doctor wants to help patients who are sick or in need.
Failing to offer a specific reason for your motivation to become a doctor or a specific way in which you plan to help your patients will make it hard for the admissions committee to see what unique approaches and insights you will bring to medicine.
Unique Alternative 3: Explaining specific ways that you intend to help patients or specific reasons why you want to help patients.
To make your statement more convincing, you could add a specific method that you will use to help patients. Consider the following example:
I want to become a physician to provide reassurance to a patient awaiting their lab results, and laughter to a patient who needs an uplift after a week of chemotherapy.
Whereas any medical school applicant could have written the statement in the clichéd example, the statement in the unique example demonstrates specific qualities about the applicant. By explaining that certain patients might need reassurance while others might want laughter, the applicant shows us that they are empathic and sensitive to the needs of individual patients.
To make your statement more authentic, you can also explain why you are drawn to a specific aspect of medicine or a certain demographic of patients. Let’s look at another example:
As a woman with PCOS, I want to improve the field of women’s health so that I can provide other young women comfort and reassurance as they come to terms with their bodies.
This applicant shows that she is passionate about women’s health by connecting her desire to enter medicine to her own health condition. This statement suggests that she will use her own experience to empathize with patients when she becomes a physician.
Should I mention my desired specialty in my med school personal statement?
Probably not. Admissions committees want to recruit students who are incredibly curious and open to different training opportunities. Highlighting a desire to enter a specific specialty might make you seem closed off. That said, it's perfectly fine to express a commitment to serving certain communities or a desire to address specific issues so long as you don't inadvertently box yourself in.
Clichéd Approach 4: Focusing too much on characters who are not you.
The previous two approaches focus on how your personal statement introduction should tell a story. And what do we need for a great story? A character!
Applicants often make another character (e.g. a family member, patient, a physician they shadowed or worked under) the most compelling and interesting character. But when you give or share the limelight with another character, you make it easy for the admissions committee to forget the most important person in the story: YOU. You should be the star of your own personal statement.
We are not saying that you should avoid including another character in your personal statement. In fact, including other characters in your statement reminds the admission committee that you have had a positive impact on other people.
However, these other characters must be used to demonstrate your qualities. These qualities can come from an insight you had while interacting or observing them.
We see how this becomes a problem in the clichéd paragraph from example 1. Felipa and the applicant are both main characters. Indeed, we don’t even read about the applicant or their insights until the seventh sentence. Who knows? Admissions committees might even offer Felipa an interview instead of you.
Unique Alternative 4: Maintaining the focus on the main character—you!
In contrast, the unique paragraph from example 1 about the English tutor in Chicago tells us about the applicant’s passions, commitments, and initiative. Let’s revisit the example:
I personally understood the challenges the students faced, and I wanted to use my own experience and knowledge to help set them on the path to academic success.
Even though she writes about tutoring first-grade students in Chicago, their role in the story is to highlight how she is dedicated to helping her community and empowering students from backgrounds like hers. The students never get in the way of us learning about the applicant.
Now, you may be worried that focusing on you and your qualities will make you come off as arrogant or cocky to the admissions committee. By letting the stories do the talking for you, your personal statement will avoid making you appear egoistical. On the other hand, saying that you are a “good person” or “brilliant” without telling a story can make you seem arrogant.
With only 5,300 characters, you should aim to keep the emphasis almost entirely on you.
Clichéd Approach 5: Focusing too much on describing the activity itself.
Many applicants will write about clinical shadowing, volunteering, or research at some point in their personal statements. Sometimes, however, applicants are so excited by the activity that they forget to include themselves in the experience.
For instance, an applicant looking to highlight their work in a prestigious lab might write:
Working in Dr. Carpenter’s lab, an endowed professor at Harvard Medical School, was exhilarating. The main research project was an experiment that explored how rats responded to various stimulant medications. Our results demonstrated that one of the drugs we tested on the rats may have significant promise for treating Alzheimer’s disease.
While this paragraph demonstrates the student’s familiarity with and excitement about original research, it does not tell us much about the applicant’s specific characteristics or contributions. We learn about the research project in Dr. Carpenter’s lab, but we don’t know what qualities or insights the applicant has gained from conducting the research.
Unique Alternative 5: Unique statements explain how you made an impact through an activity and how the activity impacted you.
While you may think that highlighting a research experience with a famous doctor or in a prestigious lab will bolster your application, writing about it in your personal statement may actually harm you if you do not highlight your own accomplishments and traits.
Focus on activities where you had an impact, even if the activity itself does not seem impressive. Consider the following examples:
Applicant 1: While working in Dr. Smith’s lab, I managed five interns. To make the lab a more congenial environment, I started a weekly lunch hour where we could all discuss our different research projects. This opportunity gave the interns more confidence to talk about their individual lab work, which made it easier for the entire research staff to collaborate on different experiments.
Applicant 2: Working in Dr. Martin’s lab with five other interns taught me the importance of serving on a team. When one of our experiments failed, I made sure that the group met to discuss the results. I offered advice to my lab mates on how they could obtain better results on the next trial. This experience taught me the importance of learning new research methods from my peers to achieve the best results possible.
We do not know whether Applicant 1 or Applicant 2 are working in prestigious labs or with prestigious PIs. However, we do learn that Applicant 1 has shown leadership skills and initiative by working to make the lab a more collaborative space.
Similarly, even though Applicant 2 highlights her lab’s failures, we nevertheless discover that she is a team player, eager to learn from her fellow researchers, and does not let failure stop her. She sounds like someone you might want to have in your medical school study group.
I feel like I don’t have enough space to write everything I want. What should I do?
You shouldn't try to fit everything into your personal statement. In fact, if you try to cover everything within the 5,300-character limit, you'll end up covering nothing well. Remember that your complete application includes multiple written sections: your personal statement, Work and Activities section, and secondary application essays. You should aim to provide admissions committees with a holistic view of who you are across your entire application, not solely through your personal statement. Your personal statement should be used to offer a bird's eye view of who you are and your path to medicine, whereas your AMCAS Work and Activities section and secondary essays should cover the finer details.
Clichéd Approach 6: Articulating an idea without explaining how it relates to your qualities or insights.
Even when some applicants pick unusual topics, they forget to relate those experiences to why they want to be a doctor. Consider the following applicant who has a passion for running.
Applicant 1: I am passionate about running and encouraging others to run because it is good for everyone’s health. That is why I have spent years running marathons and coaching cross country in my free time.
While the applicant says that he is excited about running because it is “good for everyone’s health,” we do not exactly see what the applicant means. Most people believe that exercise is good for your health already, so this applicant would need to explain why he believes running is important, and how his passion for running relates to medicine.
Unique Alternative 6: Explaining your thought process, critical thinking, and decision-making abilities.
When you make an obvious claim (e.g., exercise is good for your health), you should explain why you personally believe this. By drawing on specific evidence and observations, you can show the admissions committee what unique and specific insights you have about a so-called obvious idea.
Applicant 2: After my sister started to run, she began to lose weight. I also noticed that her depression waned and that she regained energy, which manifested in her eagerness to socialize with family and friends. While I always knew that exercise was important, I never believed that it could entirely change a person. This experience led me to believe that exercising can serve as a form of medicine.
Whereas Applicant 1 makes a general claim about running, Applicant 2 draws on a specific, personal example by connecting his sister’s running habit to her holistic health. He mentions her weight loss, improvements in mental health, and increase in energy. In other words, we see why the applicant believes that running provides a health benefit.
Clichéd Approach 7: Writing an overly dramatic first sentence.
Recalling writing courses from high school and college, applicants often try to “hook” the reader’s attention by beginning with a dramatic first sentence. Because of this, applicants sometimes begin their essays with a dramatic moment that fails to offer insight into the applicant’s motivations for studying medicine.
Let’s look at the following first sentence by an applicant who worked in the ER.
It felt as if the world was going to end on that faithful day in the ER when I first witnessed someone die.
This introduction is typical of students writing about clinical shadowing. Rather than showing how he is unique, this statement simply demonstrates that the applicant has had a challenging experience during clinical shadowing.
Unique Alternative 7: Introducing your personal statement with a unique observation or idea that you will further develop in subsequent paragraphs.
Instead of dramatizing or hyperbolizing an experience, you can make your introduction truly unique by making a claim about an idea, insight, or observation that tells the admissions committee why you are excited by medicine. Let’s see how the applicant who wrote about running in example 6 might begin their statement in this way:
For my sister and me, running is a form of medicine.
Even though this example is not as dramatic as the previous one, it catches the reader’s attention by making a unique claim that the reader will want to know more about. The reader will see that the applicant is thinking critically and creatively about what medicine means to him.
Clichéd Approach 8: Writing about various experiences without showing how they are connected.
Even when applicants have thoughtfully selected a few experiences that demonstrate their personal qualities, they sometimes fail to create a “bigger picture” in their personal statement and, consequently, in their entire medical school application. In other words, the experiences described in their essay do not connect or cohere around a central theme.
A personal statement without a theme will come across as unfocused and, most likely, unmemorable. Even if each section of your essay is well-written, if they don’t together add up to highlight something larger, admissions officers will be left without a clear takeaway of who you are and what your goals and motivations are for entering medicine.
Unique Alternative 8: Connecting the experiences in your essay through a common theme.
A theme will serve as the connective tissue that holds everything in your personal statement together. What’s more, it provides a lens through which adcoms will remember you.
For example, if your personal statement discusses playing jazz saxophone, volunteering with children at a community garden, and scribing in an emergency room, you might begin by writing about how studying jazz taught you the value of improvisation, a quality you then brought to the fore while volunteering with children and working as an ER scribe. With a central theme of improvisation, your essay will provide a clear takeaway of you as flexible, adaptable, and creative (i.e., the qualities you decided to highlight).
Alternatively, some applicants choose more concrete themes that focus their essays around a central interest. For instance, perhaps your personal statement describes growing up in a rural community without access to adequate primary care, which led you to eventually volunteer with a mobile clinic for agricultural workers and intern in the public health department of your state. You’ll likely be remembered as “the applicant who’s passionate about improving rural health.”
Just as your personal statement is the foundation of your medical school application, your theme is the foundation of your personal statement. Therefore, it’s important that your personal statement’s theme is reflected throughout your medical school application, including in your Work and Activities section and secondary essays.
Clichéd Approach 9: Moving abruptly from one section of your personal statement to the next.
A theme isn’t the only tool that’s important for connecting the different components of your personal statement; you also want to ensure that you’re using effective transition sentences when moving from one idea to the next.
You can think of theme as the macro glue and transitions as the micro glue that make your personal statement cohere. Without smooth transitions, your personal statement will come across as choppy and your ideas may appear unlinked, making your theme seem illogical or unclear.
Unique Alternative 9: Using effective transitions to smoothly link different experiences and ideas.
There are a number of ways to transition from one experience or idea to the next. Here are a few, along with examples of transitional phrases that can help you build bridges between different parts of your personal statement:
You can show logical consequence or how one event led to another (e.g., “As a result,” “For this reason,” “Therefore”)
You can describe experiences in chronological order (e.g., “Next,” “Since then,” “After”)
You can point out the similarity between two things (e.g., “Similarly,” “Additionally,” “Furthermore”)
You can highlight the contrast between two things (e.g., “Even though,” “Despite,” “However”)
You can give an example (“For instance,” “By doing X,” “When I embarked on Y”)
However (no pun intended!), it isn’t strictly necessary to use transitional phrases or sentences between every section of your personal statement. Sometimes, the logic between ideas will be obvious through simple description, and excessive transitions may get in the way of smoothness and flow.
To learn more, we recommend this resource on transitions from the University of Wisconsin.
When should I aim to have my personal statement finalized by?
We recommend having a final version of your personal statement completed by May 15 of your application year so you can take full advantage of the rolling admissions process. To learn more about writing and submission deadlines, you’re encouraged you to review the ideal medical school application timeline .
Clichéd Approach 10: Writing in a way that can be replicated by other applicants.
Admissions committees are eager to learn about what makes you distinct from your peers, why you want to pursue a career as a physician, and what you will contribute to their school and the larger medical community.
If your personal statement reads like a completely different applicant could have written it, admissions committees will struggle to differentiate you from your competition.
Our earlier example of the applicant who describes her shadowing experience with Felipa does not offer any information specific to her. We do not learn about her physical appearance, town of origin, culture, country of origin, hometown, etc. There simply are not enough details or unique insights that paint a portrait of the applicant.
Unique Alternative 10: Writing a personal statement that could have only been written by you.
At any point while writing the draft of your personal statement, asks yourself whether another applicant could have written it. If the answer is “yes,” you have two options:
You can return to the first few paragraphs of your essay and add distinct details about yourself, such as your town of origin, physical appearance, etc., to help the reader visualize who you are better.
Start over. If you find that it is too difficult to add details about your life story and standout qualities in your original essay, then you may need to start over by including different stories and experiences that show how you are unique.
Let’s look at how you might revise a clichéd sentence to come across as more unique:
Applicant 1: I developed a passion for helping people by volunteering at the local soup kitchen.
Applicant 2: Growing up in rural Idaho, I had no idea how many people in my community lived in poverty until I started to volunteer at the local soup kitchen.
Whereas any applicant who has volunteered at a soup kitchen could have written the first sentence, only someone who grew up in rural Idaho could have written the second sentence.
As a bonus, the second statement also shows us a realization that the applicant has about her hometown, which suggests that she is thinking critically about her environment.
In your essay, you can include several unique details, including state of origin, country of origin, religion, hobbies, studies and research outside of medicine, creative pursuits, family’s culture, physical appearance, health history, special talents, language abilities, etc. Admissions committees look for candidates that can bring unique insights and different perspectives to their programs.
While certain details can help paint a meaningful portrait of you, it is important to remember that the personal statement is not a work of creative writing.
For example, including details about the color of your shirt and the type of shoe you were wearing may help make the story in your personal statement more vivid, but these details fail to offer insights about your unique qualities or your life experiences. Admissions committees will be interested by your unique traits, not the look of your clothes.
How can I know when my personal statement is ready to submit?
- It highlights your great qualities;
- It clearly describes your path to medicine—or discusses experiences that led you to develop key insights about the field;
- It tells the actually story of your desire to become a physician and not what you believe someone wants to hear;
- It is highly personal and could have only been written by you; and
- It is devoid of spelling or grammatical errors.
By following these instructions on how to avoid clichés, you can write a memorable personal statement that stands out to admissions committees.
Whereas writing a clichéd personal statement will likely cause your application to end up in the rejection pile, crafting an authentic, unique personal statement will help lead you to your white coat ceremony.
About the Author
Dr. Shirag Shemmassian is the Founder of Shemmassian Academic Consulting and one of the world's foremost experts on medical school admissions. For nearly 20 years, he and his team have helped thousands of students get into medical school using his exclusive approach.
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I partly grew up in Bangkok, a city in which there are more shopping malls than there are psychiatrists. I did this math as soon as I found out that my older sister had attempted suicide outside of a shopping mall. The stigmatization of mental illness is still widespread in Thailand and as a result, the hospital and my family treated her case as anything but an attempt on her own life. At the time, I was reading “The Yellow Wall Paper” in school, a story about inadequately treated postpartum depression in the 1890s. I saw parallels, as my sister had begun to look gray after the birth of her daughter. I repeatedly voiced my concerns, but no one listened to me. No one was addressing her health from a broader perspective, and as a result, she was left to fend for her own mental health. She was powerless, and I felt powerless too.
This blindness for mental wellbeing in my society confounded me, so I chose to study it further at UT Austin. When I began working at the Dell Seton Medical Center, however, my idealism about patient-centered care was quickly put to the test when I was regarded with cynicism due to my own identity. One afternoon, a diabetic patient approached me for assistance in applying for food stamps. Although he was visibly in discomfort, he refused the chair I pulled out for him. While we gathered information, he gruffly asked me where I was from. “America,” I answered. Unsatisfied with my answer, he repeated his question eight more times until I caved and answered with my ethnicity. Following this, he grew impatient and kept insisting he could complete the process with another shift. But I knew arranging transport would be difficult and costly. Determined to turn the interaction around, I soldiered on with the application process. I discovered that he had a daughter, and I asked about her interests. He grew animated as he talked lovingly about her, and I completed my work. Commuting home in the dark, I beamed; I was able to build rapport and assist someone who did not initially believe in me.
I strove to supplement my education with parallel experiences in research and volunteer work. In a course about stigma and prejudice, I discovered that minority status was a marker for increased IL-6 inflammation, and that individuals primed with stereotypes about race, sex, or disease suffer greatly, but often invisibly. Walking out of lecture, I planned out how I could implement these findings in my own work. During data collection for a community sleep study, I applied my renewed perspective on the phone with a participant. I sensed exasperation in her voice, so I sincerely thanked her for her time. Suddenly, she began to wail into the phone. As her personal story unraveled, I found out that experiences of racial discrimination had breached every area of her life, including her healthcare—as a result, she felt alienated and left with inadequate treatment. When she expressed thoughts of suicide, I began to panic. But I kept my voice composed, reinforced her resilience, and gained a verbal confirmation that we would speak the next day. The disempowering marginalization she felt mirrored my sister’s situation years ago. But this time, I was equipped with my education.
The more I learned about the social determinants of health, the clearer it became that healthcare was inherently social. This solidified my interest in medicine and motivated me to pursue research in social psychology. As I trained on how to code facial expressions for my honors thesis, I shadowed Dr. Sekhon, a geriatric psychiatrist, at an assisted living facility. One of his patients was an injured former athlete who was having trouble standing. His wife held back tears as he grimaced and repeatedly referred to “passing on.” Dr. Sekhon studied his patients’ face intently, and then, instead of altering medications or suggesting tests, he encouraged his patient to stand for 10 seconds longer each day. There was a shift in the room, and I could measure it by the expressions on their faces. The man’s eyes wrinkled in a genuine smile and his wife’s enthusiastic agreement reflected Dr. Sekhon’s success. The way a physician could read facial expressions to address what the patient did not verbalize was incredibly powerful—I was awestruck.
Inspired by this observation, I wrote my honors thesis on the relationship between power and health outcomes. Experiences of disempowerment and of illness magnify one another, but a doctor can empower someone in their most vulnerable moments by connecting with them. Much like my sister, many patients need clinicians that address both physical and invisible hardships. I am eager to be part of a new generation of healthcare providers with sensitivity to the diverse ways that people communicate distress and wellbeing. One patient at a time, we can shift archaic mindsets deeply rooted in our communities, and ensure that every life we touch receives socially and culturally competent care. For me, studying medicine means being part of something bigger by empowering others—and myself—along the way.
Paragraph 1 Analysis
The applicant begins their essay by immediately (and effectively) putting their unique upbringing in conversation with their family-inspired interest in medicine. Even though they do not say anything directly about an interest in medicine in this paragraph, we can see that the applicant is clearly passionate about doing the right thing, and about helping people in general. We can also see that they are aware of a gap that needs filling and a stigma that needs addressing.
Thoughtful/empathetic/high moral principles - Despite cultural resistance to mental healthcare, the applicant understands the value of protecting one’s mental wellbeing, and that it is an essential aspect of a healthy life. They take the initiative to listen to their sister, to carefully watch for signs of illness, and to advocate for her even in the face of a society pushing against them.
The paragraph is about how much the applicant cares for their sister, and that makes it personal. Even though the sister is a huge part of this paragraph, and even though Bangkok itself almost reads like a character on its own, the applicant’s careful reflections connect all of these outside sources to who they are and what they value.
The geographical, cultural, and familial details make this paragraph unique. Also notice how the applicant is able to discuss their sister’s suicide attempt without it feeling appropriative or self-serving, since they connect the trauma to a larger cultural issue that the applicant wants to address.
Even in the first paragraph, there is depth that will be fleshed out in the rest of the essay: The applicant sees something wrong in their culture, and is determined to fix it. The applicant is also showing an awareness of just how complicated and imperfect the healthcare system can be, demonstrating a perspective that is nuanced, mature, and compelling.
Paragraph 2 Analysis
Notice how the applicant takes the essay in a different direction than we expected after reading the first paragraph. We move from an anecdote about their sister nearly committing suicide to a seemingly unrelated anecdote about a prejudiced patient. The connecting thread between these two stories, of course, is the applicant. Their reflections on and reactions to both situations highlight their character, which is what the personal statement is all about. We also see another take on how it feels to encounter someone’s resistance to your own voice and perspective, just as the applicant encountered resistance in the face of their efforts to advocate for their sister.
Gumptious/perseverant - Most people would have a hard time helping the patient described in the above paragraph. Prejudiced, unkind, and ungrateful, he seems like a nightmare to work with. And yet the applicant shows us that, despite his rude, racist behavior, they remained strong, patient, and helpful, turning the situation into something more positive for both of them. This ability to face adversity and overcome it is a very desirable quality for any physician to possess. It also shows that the applicant knows how to adapt and problem solve in a high stress situation, putting the needs of the patient before their own, albeit justified, frustration.
As always, although the paragraph tells us the story of a particular patient, it is truly about the applicant’s interaction with that patient.
The specificity of this story makes it utterly unique to the applicant. Also, the applicant is demonstrating a nuanced and unique ability to transition between seemingly disparate experiences in paragraph one versus two.
The depth of this paragraph is rooted in the qualities it highlights in the applicant, as outlined above. As such, the strategy here is doubly effective: Not only are we reading an engaging moment of narrative, we’re also gaining some insight into why this was particularly meaningful for the patient.
Paragraph 3 Analysis
The process of personal growth. This essay does a fantastic job of highlighting the applicant’s personal growth through potent anecdotes and life experiences. This allows the applicant to show how they've changed and brings the personal statement to life. Notice how they set this up in the first paragraph when writing about their sister’s mental health. “She was powerless, and I felt powerless, too.” Later, when the applicant speaks to a patient over the phone and realizes the “disempowering marginalization” she felt, they remark, “But this time, I was equipped with my education.” Adcoms realize that the path to an MD doesn’t start and end at clearly defined points. The process of “becoming” a doctor is a road you will travel even after you’ve earned your white coat. Learning will continue as you grow in your career. You may not have a story of discrimination to tell, but we’ve all experienced moments of personal growth. Positively highlighting your growth is a great way to show your resilience and determination to succeed in medicine.
After detouring from the first paragraph’s anecdote to share with us the prejudice they’ve experienced directly, the applicant returns to the story of their sister’s attempted suicide, but this time the story has a comparative function. By juxtaposing the helplessness they felt in regards to their sister with the empowering experience on the phone, we can see that the applicant has not only grown, they’ve also shown real initiative in taking on a societal problem head on.
Determined/collected/resilient - Despite the emotional impact of being reminded of their sister’s near-death, the applicant pushes forward, collecting themselves and utilizing their education to make a real impact.
Empathetic - The applicant is able to stay calm in a high stakes situation because they are unconditionally empathetic towards the caller.
The paragraph is about the applicant’s genuine desire to help other people. We see a real passion in their desire to make an impact in regards to high-stakes issues, which allows us to get to know who they are not only as a potential physician, but as an advocate as well.
The connection to the first paragraph makes this paragraph unique both narratively and structurally.
The depth of this paragraph can be seen in its comparison to the first paragraph. Where the applicant initially felt powerless in the face of suicide, now they have matured and become better equipped to tackle such a high-stakes situation.
Paragraph 4 Analysis
The applicant provides us with three important details in this paragraph: First, that they trained to code facial expressions, second, that they shadowed Dr. Sekhon, and third, that they were inspired by the shadowing experience. Notice how their education immediately comes into play in discussing the expressions on the patients, and how the interest in the depth of facial complexity speaks both to their interest in mental health and their empathy.
Observant - Although an important aspect of your pre-med career, shadowing is sometimes a difficult experience to write about, for obvious reasons. What about the experience is interesting, if you were merely a shadow? How do you personalize work that nearly every applicant is going to have done? This applicant makes themselves stand out by telling the story of Dr. Sekhon and the retired athlete in such detail that they are indirectly showing us how careful and observant they are.
Although the narrative in this paragraph is entirely focused on other people, the thematic core belongs to the applicant, because the paragraph is about their observation of and reaction to this incident, more so than the incident itself.
The details of this office visit, combined with the hard skills the applicant is displaying and the awareness of a physician whose values they will want to embrace in their own way, make this paragraph unique.
This paragraph has depth in an indirect sense—the way the applicant was inspired is the most important point that the writing gets across.
Paragraph 5 Analysis
To conclude their essay, the applicant employs a tried and true formula: connecting the introduction to the conclusion. By reintroducing their sister into the narrative, we as readers come full circle. We remember where the applicant began, what influenced them, and how they have evolved over the course of their life, an evolution mirrored in the way the essay itself has developed.
Ambitious - This applicant has big dreams. They want to make an authentic change in the healthcare system, and since we’ve seen them mature throughout the essay, we believe that they’re capable of enacting such changes. Since they outlined this desire to make change from the very beginning, we also get a sense of how enduring and consistent it truly is, furthering our respect for the applicant’s goals.
Humble/social - Despite their ambition, the applicant is clearly aware that in order to make a real change, they will have to team up with others.
This concluding paragraph is quite clearly all about the applicant—their goals, ambitions, and values.
Although some of the sentences are broad, the paragraph remains unique due to the references to the sister, as well as the details about the applicant’s honors thesis. Connecting broad goals with specific details helps this conclusion feel more concrete, and less generalized and abstract.
The depth here is in what the applicant tells us directly, speaking to their desire as reiterated throughout the essay: “We can shift archaic mindsets deeply rooted in our communities, and ensure that every life we touch receives socially and culturally competent care.”
ABS and BPE – Creating a Compelling Narrative
As you begin to pull together your application materials for this current admissions cycle, you may have some questions about how to best organize your responses for our new Autobiographical Sketch (ABS) and Brief Personal Essay (BPE) format. Here are a few tips from the UME ES team that you may find helpful.
The ABS gives you an opportunity to curate/feature activities and achievements that provide the MD Admissions Committee with a good snapshot of your passions and the time you have dedicated to pursuing these interests.
There are two components of the ABS – the lists and Statement. The ABS lists allow you to catalogue impactful experiences which may include your (1) formal education, (2) employment, (3) volunteer activities, (4) extracurricular involvement, (5) awards and accomplishments, and/or (6) research/publications. Note that you are not required to complete specific activities nor fulfill a specific number of hours toward a particular activity (e.g., research, volunteering in a hospital setting, etc.) for our admissions process. Instead, complete activities that you personally view as the best representation of who you are and discuss these via the ABS lists with the MD Admissions Committee.
The second component of your ABS is the Statement. Here is the prompt for this year’s ABS Statement: “Write about an impactful experience from your Autobiographical Sketch that demonstrates your personal growth, character, and values. How did this experience prepare you for medical school?”
Through this Statement, share a compelling narrative about who you are. This may be difficult to do, as you are tasked to do this by writing about one activity or accomplishment from the ABS lists. Spend some time to reflect on your experiences and select an activity or accomplishment that has helped you develop personally and professionally. If possible, select a more recent activity or achievement. Remember that the above prompt is not asking about your reason for pursuing a career in medicine, but rather to discuss how this one activity or achievement has really catalyzed your growth. Don’t forget that you’ll have just one ABS Statement to write this year, and the response should be under 500 words.
Next is the BPE. Each year, a team of faculty, students, and staff write brand new BPE questions with the hope that you’ll find our questions and writing process enjoyable and educational (as much as we have). When putting together a response, ensure that you are answering the question and all within 250 words per BPE. This is not always possible, but you may wish to use personal experiences within the response(s) to support your conclusions. At the same time, share just enough for the context as you do have a word cap. Make sure that you discuss the topic from multiple angles as you build up your position (instead of considering/pushing only one viewpoint). You want to impress upon the Committee that you are aware of diverse ideas/opinions one can have for any given topic while appealing your position. Finally, keep in mind of the four attribute clusters as you pull together these two essay responses. Although it is not expected that each essay will feature all four attribute clusters, the two BPEs as a whole must demonstrate/address the four attribute clusters.
As a bonus tip – remember that there is no winning formula in putting together your ABS and BPEs as our admissions review process is based on the multiple independent sampling methodology. So your best bet is to have as many friends and family members read through your essays and provide feedback on how easy/difficult they were to follow. If time permits, your university’s writing centre is a fabulous resource as well.
We hope that this posting was helpful. Tell us if you would like to know more about any other aspects of our admissions process by writing blog content requests to [email protected]
Wishing you all the very best!
Hana & Twanna
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