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Tips for writing your medical school personal statement


Summary

Your medical school personal statement (PS) explains why you want to be a physician.

An average PS says “I want to be a physician because of X, Y, and Z”.

A better PS shares a fascinating life story that leaves the reader with one conclusion - your inevitable career in medicine.

Writing a PS is difficult because it demands introspection and brevity. Most people are neither introspective nor brief, but you can improve these traits with practice. Here are some tips.


Contents:

  1. Brainstorming
  2. Writing
  3. Revising
  4. Do’s
  5. Dont’s

Brainstorming

Explore many concepts and use a blank sheet of paper or post-it notes to reminisce. Write down every person, place, thing, event, or concept that felt important and memorable. Be broad and do not erase anything even if you want to.

To help you get started, think about these questions:

  • Who are your role models and why?
  • What made you curious about science, biology, math, physics, etc.?
  • What were your proudest or scariest moments in life?
  • Describe an experience with sickness or injury.
  • What excites you?
  • What are you GREAT at?

Next, organize your raw material into groups based on theme or time. Each group should have a one-sentence summary. For example, one group could be “my summer experience building water storage infrastructure in Guatemala”.

Next, gather 3-5 related groups into a family. Each family is a potential essay with one thesis sentence that links the summaries of the groups. A thesis might be “a lifelong passion to improve society through technology”. Groups within this family could include volunteer experiences, or aspects of service and leadership in your research or clinical experiences.

Explore several essay ideas and see what tells your story best. Go with your gut. Write a story that is authentically “you”. This makes a more interesting story than guessing what admissions committees want to read.


Writing

  • Select one family from your brainstorm, then flesh it out with full sentences.
  • Just tell your story. It is acceptable to write “stream of consciousness” because you’ll revise later.
  • Set aside time to write, then double that time.
  • Google Docs will let you collaborate in real-time with mentors.
  • Try Hemingway editor to aid brevity.

Revising

  • Print your essay and attack it with a red pen.
  • Get feedback from different mentors and peers.
  • Track changes is nice but not required. Sometimes it is easier to read a revised essay without the red strikeouts.
  • Step away from your essay and revisit it a day later. You’ll be surprised at how different it reads.
  • Simplify your writing. Say the same thing with fewer words.
  • Vary sentence length and structure.

Do’s

  • Start your PS in March so you can submit in June.
  • Keep it simple, brief, and organized.
  • Transition between ideas and paragraphs.
  • Quantify achievements (“I raised $50,000 for my nonprofit organization”).
  • Engage the reader’s emotion through sharing experiences that were emotional to you.
  • Perfect is the enemy of done. Submit your primary in June. The marginal benefit from polishing your essay is not worth the cost of applying late.

Dont’s

  • Don’t embellish your essay with complex sentences and fancy vocabulary.
  • Don’t start every sentence with “I…”. Add variety.
  • Don’t follow every suggestion from your essay reviewers. This is YOUR essay. Their feedback eventually conflicts.
  • Don’t lie or exaggerate.
  • Don’t re-phrase everything on your AMCAS or CV. This is your chance to tell a story, not list awards.
  • Don’t write the same cliché that every other premed writes, i.e. “My parents were doctors, I volunteered in Africa, ran a few gels in a lab, and now want to go to medical school.”