The personal statement is a critical component of your medical school application for two reasons. First, it provides you with an opportunity to differentiate yourself from other applicants. Most medical school applicants are extremely similar: they have high GPAs, performed well on their MCATs, and have done some research or volunteer work. The personal statement is your chance to highlight your application as a cut above the rest. Second, it will help serve as a basis for discussion during your interview. Once you are selected for an interview, your performance during the interview will be crucial in deciding your acceptance. Interviewers will often look to the personal statement to help them engage you in conversation. A strong personal statement will help foster a natural and mutually rewarding conversation with your interviewer. There are many important aspects when it comes to writing personal statements in general. These include correct spelling, grammar, sentence structure, etc. The following five tips are the ones that we feel are the most important for medical school application personal statements in particular.
Engage the Reader from the Start. When it comes to your application, all the information you submit is already set in stone– except the personal statement. This is your chance to get your program’s attention, especially if you feel that your MCAT scores or GPA may be lacking. You want your reader to be interested from the very start of the essay. Admission committee members are often short on time and may be more likely to gloss over your essay if it has a generic, flat, or boring beginning. One way to begin an essay is with a personal vignette– a quick snapshot of a moment in your life that relates to your decision to apply to medical school . Consider the following two opening statements: a) I’ve always known that I want to be a doctor. Since my first encounter with death, I’ve recognized that it is my responsibility to help people. b) The lights flashed, and the sirens wailed as I watched the ambulances cart my next-door neighbor to the hospital. I was ten years old, and it was my first encounter with death. Do you see how the second example engages the reader’s attention right away? It is a snapshot rather than a factual statement, which immediately catches the reader’s interest. Personal vignettes are not the only way to start your essay , but they are easy to shape into engaging opening statements.
Stay Focused on your Theme. Before you begin your personal statement, decide what point or theme you want to get across. Make sure the entire essay revolves around that point by editing out any sentences that may lead the reader astray. Though you may be tempted to share a lot of different information about yourself in order to give the admissions committee a complete picture, it is more effective to highlight one revealing, important aspect. Pick something about yourself that you feel makes you stand out from the crowd and is related to your decision to become a physician.
Avoid Cliches. There are a few standard reasons why people become doctors, and so it is very easy to fall into cliched expressions and ideas. Though it’s fine to express a commonly-held notion, try to find a personal way to express it. For example, rather than write “I want to be a doctor because I want to help people,” discuss the ways that you have shown your generosity and kindheartedness in the past; bring specific examples–such as your volunteer experiences–so as to avoid a direct (and possibly cliched) declaration of your point. Sometimes cliches are unavoidable; just make sure your essay isn’t full of them.
Show, Don’t Tell. This is one of the most difficult (but also one of the most important) skills to incorporate into your essay. “Showing and not telling” means that you ground your essay in specific details. Rather than simply asserting a big idea, you describe the experience surrounding it. Consider the following two examples: a) Because I was often sick, I learned one of my most important values in life: to make the most of my time and create a meaningful existence. b) When I was little, I was often sick. I would spend days in bed, and as an active kid, I hated the enforced stillness. I used to complain ceaselessly to my parents–but rather than let me succumb to self-pity, my parents would force me to make the most of my time. And as I painted, built Lego castles, and wrote crazy madlibs (quite badly!), I learned something important about myself: that I could be happy so long as I was productive. Do you see the difference? The first example offers a statement of personal belief– but because it is just a factual declaration, it sounds as though it could have been written by anyone. The second example offers the same idea, but shows us rather than tells us about it. As a result, it is personal and unique, and makes the writer stand out as an applicant.
Address Your Weaknesses (If Necessary). The personal statement presents an opportunity to address weaknesses in your applications and offer explanations as to why things went wrong. Drawing attention to the low points in your application is a risky business, and pulling this off correctly can be tricky. If you feel it necessary to justify or explain something, first ask yourself the following two questions: a) Is this issue worth mentioning? b) Does your explanation legitimize the deficiency? For example, there is no need to address the fact that you received a B in physics. On the other hand, a failing grade in physics is something that is probably worth addressing. If you failed physics because you found it too hard or simply got lazy, it is better to leave the issue unmentioned. A deficiency resulting from circumstances beyond your control, such as an illness or death of a loved one, is something that the admissions committee and your interviewer should know about. When addressing a weakness or deficiency, strive to incorporate that section into your essay so that the essay maintains its flow and focus. Suddenly presenting an idea without connecting it to the rest of your essay will seem jarring and out-of-place to the reader. If the issue is important enough, you may in fact want to build your entire essay’s theme around that point.