Effective medical school personal statements don’t happen by accident. They are carefully planned and adhere to the following seven tenets:
1. Tailor your statement for each specific school.
A strong personal statement will indicate that you have researched the program and are applying to it because it has very particular qualities you find appealing. Are there any specific classes or student groups that appeal to your interests? Is there someone on the faculty whose work has inspired you? Are you interested in the prospects for cross-disciplinary work with other schools in the same university? Is the school located in a city or region that makes sense for your research or career interests? Then say it! Make sure the readers know you are a match made in heaven with their medical school.
2. Be concise.
Length is a tricky aspect of personal statements. When word or page limits are stated, adhere to them at all costs. Going over the limit will give the impression that you don’t respect the medical school admissions committee enough to follow their instructions. Worse yet, many admissions officers will interpret your actions as a selfish way to try to grab an advantage over other applicants whose adherence meant they didn’t get as much content into their personal statements.
Your first rule is to observe whatever limits are specified in the application. If no limits are given, keep your statement to about 1,000 words at the absolute maximum. A good rule of thumb is that 250 words will fit on a double spaced page with reasonable margins and font size. Remember, your statement is one of hundreds that the admissions committee will read. A long, rambling statement will be remembered – but for all of the wrong reasons.
3. Be focused.
The length restriction on personal statements may mean that you don’t have room to include everything that you would like to. Decide what points are most important to your application and let the rest go. It’s better to explain three points clearly and in sufficient detail than to shoot off a bulleted list of fifteen unrelated points. Besides, when you look at your application holistically, you may see opportunities to insert a few additional points into your interviews. This can give the school the impression that they’ve only seen the ‘tip of your iceberg’ regarding your many feats and accomplishments.
4. Don’t bring up high school.
Unless there is something genuinely outstanding about your high school achievements don’t refer to anything earlier than college. The application evaluation process is very much a game of “What have you done for me lately?” and you don’t want to look like someone who is living in the past and perhaps clinging to a time when you were more popular or well adjusted.
5. Don’t just tell ‘what’ – tell ‘so what.’
Too many applicants make the mistake of simply rehashing their resume, without saying why or how that experience influenced their thinking or life choices.
Simply saying “I was a member of the pre-med honor society” doesn’t do anything to distinguish you from the rest of the very competitive pool. However, a statement like “My active participation in the pre-med honor society made me realize what an extraordinary and gifted group of people are committed to medical careers and reinforced my desire to become part of that community” will do wonders at improving one’s admission chances.
6. Don’t go overboard in describing your future plans.
Obviously, you need to convince the admissions committee that you understand what the medical degree will allow you to do and persuade them that you are fully committed to a medical career. You don’t, however, want to give such a detailed road map that your career path comes across as unrealistic.
7. Don’t gloss over obvious shortcomings in your record.
There’s a piece of advice out there that says you should never acknowledge any weaknesses in your application because it will only draw attention to something the admissions committee might otherwise not have noticed. If you take nothing else away from this article, please let it be this: that is very bad advice. Admissions committees will notice the weakness and they will assume the worst if you don’t effectively mitigate it.
Instead, you should acknowledge the problem and explain why it should not be seen as a predictor of your performance in medical school. Sometimes the addenda doesn’t work and this must be done in your personal statement. So, if your only choices are either to address a glaring weakness in your personal statement or to say nothing about it at all, then by all means use your personal statement. Keep your explanation short and the overall tone of your statement confident and upbeat, but don’t leave your readers with any reason to assume the worst about the shortcoming in your record.