Expert Insight on 7 Features the Best Medical School Personal Statements Have
You have every reason to be confident as you begin applying to Doctor of Medicine (MD) programs, but remember to be thoughtful while completing each component. Your medical school personal statement is a particularly critical element that should convey what motivates you to become a doctor while showing you can clearly communicate in writing.
“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,” explains Kirsten Moon, a counselor who specializes in medical school admissions and founder of Moon Prep. She has plenty of insight on what makes a strong medical school personal statement.
7 Features of a stand-out medical school personal statement
Note that including each of the below elements is important for the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) personal statement, the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS) personal statement, and the Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service(TMDSAS) personal statement.
1. They’re truly personal
Before you start writing, take some time to reflect on why you are interested in becoming a doctor. Having a clear understanding of your motivations can help you determine how to frame your essay.
“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,” Moon says.
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 unique path.
2. They tell a story
Your story isn’t solely about attending school and getting good grades in your medical school prerequisite courses. 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 feels 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.”
“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. Ideally, your essay should speak to how you exhibit many of the 15 competencies the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) emphasizes.
“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.”
You may also want to speak to an area of specializationthat piques your interest or a new topic you want to research during medical school. You might choose to show your analytical side by sharing an interesting perspective on a medical topic.
4. They get to the point
If you’ve ever researched medical school personal statement examples, you’ve likely noticed the essays that stand out to admissions teams clearly introduce the topic and tell a cohesive narrative. To achieve the same success, start brainstorming themes before you sit down to write. Try to align that topic with your personal story when writing, and be sure to end on a strong note.
“The closing paragraph is the second most important piece of your essay, right behind the opening paragraph,” Moon notes. “It must tie everything together.”
5. They have substance
“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 medical school personal statement, so there isn’t room for language that doesn’t add to the overall 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. Strive for clarity with an introduction, three to five supporting points, and a definitive conclusion. This personal statement format has become a go-to choice because it’s usually quite effective.
6. They grab the reader’s attention
Writing a compelling essay is about presenting relevant ideas in an interesting way. Word choice certainly matters, but the way you tell the story is far more important.
“Be sure to use action words and descriptor words,” Moon says. “Verbs and adjectives bring your story to life.”
Make sure the quality of thought is what drives your essay. Medical school 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 medical school 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 be sure to have multiple people check your work, and try to connect with an editor who can give you constructive feedback.
It’s never too early to start your research
While drafting your medical school personal statement, make sure you’re critically evaluating each of the programs you’re considering. Focusing on schools that meet your needs is just as important as putting together a strong application. Learn more about how to compare programs by reading our article “How to Choose a Medical School: 9 Things to Evaluate Before Accepting.”
This article was originally published in October 2018. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2021.