Aspiring medical students are known for standing out among their peers — at least in the classroom. But the stakes are higher once you start applying to medical school. You are now entering a pool of candidates who are just as motivated and academically outstanding as you are. This is new, competitive territory.
You have every reason to be confident as you enter the medical school admissions process, but remember to take extra care as you apply. Don’t just assume you will get in. Now is the time to show your best self, and your medical school personal statement a critical part of that effort.
What is the medical school personal statement?
You may have known you wanted to become a doctor for years — maybe even since childhood. You might think it’s obvious and that it doesn’t require explanation, but you need a personal statement to make it clear to the medical school admissions team.
To learn more about composing a medical school personal statement, we reached out to Kristen Moon, an independent college counselor and Founder of Moon Prep. She specializes in helping college students stand out during the application process, particularly for medical school and direct medical programs. According to Moon, the personal statement is more than just a few sheets of paper.
"It showcases your personality."
“It showcases your personality,” she explains. “It is your chance to show the university how awesome you are, how you are one-of-a-kind, and how lucky they would be to have you at their school.”
Your medical school personal statement should convey what motivates you to become a doctor while showing you can clearly communicate in writing. We asked Moon to outline a few insights on what makes a strong medical school personal statement. Take a moment to review her advice before you sit down to write.
7 attributes of a stand-out medical school personal statement
Your medical school personal statement is not a place to simply rehash your transcripts or qualifications. Admissions committees are trying to understand what motivates you and what experiences have shaped your perspective on becoming a doctor. If you want your application to stand out, remember these simple guidelines for crafting a noteworthy medical school personal statement.
1. As the name indicates – they’re personal
Moon tells students, “The topic you select for your personal statement should feel easy to write about and express something truly special about who you are as a person.”
"The topic you select for your personal statement should feel easy to write about and express something truly special about who you are as a person."
Before you start writing, take some time to reflect on why you are pursuing medical school. Perhaps you had an experience as a child that spurred a love of medicine. Maybe you witnessed a doctor or nurse doing life-changing work. Or it could be you’re simply fascinated by the medical sciences. Rather than listing out your achievements or your goals for the future, think about where you have been, and why you have continued down this uniquely challenging path.
2. They tell a story
Everyone has a unique story to tell — one that doesn’t simply involve attending school and getting good grades. Think about some memorable experiences you’ve had that relate to your goals in medicine. Discuss them with a mentor or your peers to determine which feel most compelling.
“Sometimes a ‘regular’ event in your life can serve as a great essay topic,” Moon explains. “Oftentimes, students try hard to think of monumental things that have happened to them and get stuck on finding a worthwhile topic.” You don’t need to choose a monumental essay topic — just a topic that matters to you.
"Sometimes a ‘regular’ event in your life can serve as a great essay topic."
3. They reveal your best qualities
Stand-out essays highlight your personal selling points. “The essay is not a time to be modest,” Moon says. But she makes sure to caution students as well. “I am not saying to be boastful or arrogant. Use your story to highlight your good qualities.”
If you are committed to becoming a doctor, there is probably a good reason why. There may be an area of specialization that piques your interest, or a new topic you are interested in researching. You may choose to show your analytical side by sharing an interesting perspective on a medical topic. Just remember that some subjects can be controversial, so avoid being preachy or egotistical.
4. They get to the point
Undoubtedly, you have plenty to say about why you are pursuing medical school. But your personal essay shouldn’t meander through several topics. Start brainstorming themes before you sit down to write. Try to align that topic with your personal story when writing and craft a cohesive narrative with a strong conclusion.
“The closing paragraph is the second most important piece of your essay, right behind the opening paragraph,” Moon notes. “It must tie everything together.” She suggests making reference to your opening paragraph and main idea in your conclusion.
"The closing paragraph is the second most important piece of your essay."
Everything you say should drive toward a final point. This can help admissions teams understand your personal perspective.
5. They have substance, not fluff
“The essay is a time to show, not tell,” Moon says. “Many students spell things out in a blunt way in their essays. Instead, use your story to communicate the message you want the admissions staff to hear.”
There’s a character limit for your personal statement, so there isn’t room for statements that don’t add to your essay’s narrative. A strong editor should be able to help you point out the words or phrases that do not efficiently communicate the point you are trying to make, but you may also want to consider outlining before you begin writing.
Simply following the basic outline format for essays works well for a personal statement. You don’t need to get creative or inventive with style. Instead, strive for clarity with an introduction, three to five supportive points, and a definitive conclusion.
6. They grab the reader’s attention
Writing a compelling essay is about presenting relevant ideas in an interesting way. “Dust off the thesaurus if you need to,” Moon suggests. But don’t confuse using fancy language with effective storytelling. “Be sure to use action words and descriptor words,” Moon says. “Verbs and adjectives bring your story to life.”
"Be sure to use action words and descriptor words."
In the end, make sure the quality of thought is what drives your essay. Admissions teams are reading many applications, and they want to be able to quickly understand what you are trying to say. Keep sentences simple and direct, and use words that say what you mean while engaging the reader.
7. They’re clean and professional
Even the most compelling personal statement can fall flat if it is full of grammatical errors, sloppy paragraph structure, or punctuation mistakes. There’s no excuse for basic writing mishaps, so make sure you have multiple people check your work, and try to connect with an editor who can give you constructive feedback. It’s a simple, but important, step to presenting your best self.
It’s never too early to start your research
The process of drafting a compelling medical school personal statement should involve multiple drafts. Don’t wait until the last minute to start working. Plan to revise until you’ve drafted a personal statement that conveys who you are — not just your academic achievements.
Along the way, make sure you’re critically evaluating each of the programs you’re considering. Writing the perfect essay won’t matter much if you don’t choose a school that meets your needs. Learn more about how to compare programs by reading our article, “How to Choose a Medical School: 9 Things to Evaluate Before Accepting.”
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