How to write your medical school personal statement

AMCAS medical school admissions personal statements

Applying to medical school is a difficult process to say the least. Not only does an applicant need to do well in all of their premed courses and have a strong undergraduate GPA, but they also have to have hours of research and volunteer work, as well as have a good MCAT score. However, despite all of these significant hurdles, the most difficult task for many students is writing the medical school personal statement. The personal statement is an essay explaining the applicant’s reason for wanting to pursue a career in medicine. While this may seem like a straightforward prompt, many students generally struggle to articulate their motivations in a clear, concise, and compelling way within the allotted word count.

Here are three important tips to consider when preparing and writing the medical school personal statement so that you can write your perfect application essay!

Start Early

While the medical school application process is generally very holistic, looking at various aspects of an applicant’s candidacy to determine the fit for their program, a substantial weight is nonetheless given to the personal statement. The personal essay is after all the main way that admissions committees get to know who you are beyond the numbers and activities on your resume. More likely than not, you will go through several different iterations of your personal statement before you find an essay that works. Because of this, it’s crucial that you start early to give yourself enough time to go through different drafts. You don’t necessarily need to start writing six months in advance and have complete essays ready by then, but during the year that you are applying, start to think about how you would write the personal statement. Carry a note pad or take notes on your phone whenever a good idea strikes you that you want to get across in your essay. Additionally, as preparation for writing the essay and starting early, take time to reflect on the experiences you’ve had that led you to the path of medicine. It’s a great idea to talk to family and friends about this as they may remember key moments on your decision to choose medicine that you may have forgotten. If you are still in college, and are years away from applying to medical school, a helpful idea is to keep a journal where you write down your thoughts from your clinical and shadowing experiences.

Ignore the Trap of Trying to Write a “Unique” or “Original” Personal Statement

One of the reasons why students struggle to start the personal statement and procrastinate until the last minute to do so is because they are hoping for the perfect, completely original essay idea to suddenly materialize. This is an impossible wish! Every year, medical schools receive tens of thousands of personal statements from prospective students so the likelihood that you will write about a topic no one else has is just unrealistic. It is not about having a unique experience to talk about that makes a personal statement special, but instead your interpretation of that experience. Many successful applicants write about clinical shadowing in their personal statement, an activity which is very common for all premed students. However, what makes some of these essays better than others is that good applicants are able to articulate why their experience was meaningful to them and describe significant takeaways from the experience that adds new context to their application. 

Ask for Help but Be Careful When Incorporating Feedback

It’s important to have several people review your personal statement to make sure that the essay is communicating all the important points you want, as well as to check for grammatical errors. However, be careful when editing your personal statement that you don’t lose your own individual voice in the piece through various rounds of revisions. Listen to feedback from others, but be very judicious on what changes you are making. Always ask yourself whether the change is absolutely necessary. Remember this is your personal statement and no one else’s. When it comes to asking for help, talk to trusted family and friends, but also reach out to people who have successfully applied. Often times, the best reviewers are current medical students that have recently gone through the application process successfully.

Conclusion

This is by no means a complete guide to writing the medical school personal statement, but I hope the tips I have highlighted help to get you started and avoid major pitfalls in the process. Good luck in the application process and if we can help in any way, please reach out!

Winston is an MD Candidate at Harvard Medical School. Previously, he pursued an undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology at Princeton University, where he graduated magna cum laude.

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