The Personal Statement
“If we wish to know a man, we must ask, ‘What is
his story, his real, inmost story?’ for each of us is a
The Medical School biography, a story. Each of us is a singular
Personal Statement narrative, which is constructed continually and
unconsciously by, through, and in us—through
p p , g , g ,
our perceptions, our feelings, our thoughts, our
actions; and , not least, through our discourse, our
Jeff Glenn spoken narrations. Biologically, physiologically, we
are not so different from each other; historically, as
Office of Career Services narratives, we are each of us unique.”
-Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
Topics to Cover Types of essays
1. Primary & secondary essays Primary (AMCAS) application:
• 5300 characters – 1.5 single-spaced pgs
2. Purpose of the personal statement
• MD/PhD have two additional essays
3. What to discuss and highlight ◦ Reasons for wishing to p
g pursue combined
4. How to approach/craft your essay MD/PhD degree (3000 characters)
◦ Describe significant research experiences
5. Do’s & don’ts including supervisor, nature of problem
6. Feedback & resources studied, contribution to project (10,000
Types of essays Types of essays
Secondary applications: Examples of secondary questions:
• Some med schools ask for more essays in • What do you think will be your greatest personal
secondary applications; some don’t challenge as a physician, and how will you address
• Many will ask you why you are interested in this?
their school (among other questions) How will you contribute t th di
• H ill it f
t ib t to the diversity of your
• May arrive at different times: upon AMCAS medical school class?
submission, AMCAS verification, all materials • Are there any special circumstances that we
received, or not at all should be aware of?
• Describe your interest in our med school.
• Tell us about a difficult or challenging situation that
you have encountered and how you dealt with it.
• more on the handout…
Purpose of the personal statement What do you need to do?
1. To discover the person behind the • Construct a narrative or story
numbers and in the context of the rest • Make sure your unique voice and
of your application personality come across
2. To hear what has motivated you to • Make sure it is clear why you are going
pursue a career in medicine, how you into medicine
3. To see a sample of your writing
Admissions Dean: “We must rely on their own
words to determine if he/she is someone we
would like to meet.”
Example: unique voice? Why medicine exactly?
“I’ve been asked many times why I wish to become a • How do you know—not simply why do you
physician. Upon considerable reflection, the thought know—that you want to be a doctor? How
of possessing the ability to help others provides me
you have demonstrated this interest
with tremendous internal gratification and offers the
feeling that my life s efforts have been focused in a
life’s • How has your interest in medicine changed
positive direction. Becoming a physician is the and developed over time?
culmination of a lifelong dream; and I am prepared to
• How did you overcome your doubts?
dedicate myself, as I have in the past, to achieving
this goal. “ • Why medicine and not other career fields,
e.g. teaching, science, public health,
Too many generalities and not a unique perspective; nursing, etc.?
could be written by many other applicants.
Example: reflections on transitions Other questions you might consider
“But I also appreciated organic chemistry in a second way:
• Have you faced any obstacles in your life (for
It is truly beautiful…”
example, economic, familial, or physical)? How did
you handle these?
“My feelings for organic chemistry grew stronger when I
discovered how it relates to the human body…” • How have you been influenced by certain events
“I soon learned, however, that medicine has a reality • Recall a time when you had a positive impact on
beyond this intellectual epiphany. another person. How did you and the person
change as a result?
“Perhaps my view of medicine is idealistic. I have talked • What were major turning points in your life?
with physicians who tell me that it is not a pretty • What do you want the committee to know that is
profession…although I do not want to enter medicine with not apparent elsewhere?
my eyes closed, I also do not want to lose sight of what I
• What will capture their imagination?
believe to be its greater purpose…
Several common approaches Example: grabbing opening
• Use a concrete anecdote/experience to “I do not want to help this man. I do not
draw the reader in; perhaps circle back to it want to be near his gurney. I do not want to
touch his bloody legs. Why should I? He is a
at the end to create bookends
• Approach the essay as a chance to share
the arc of your journey to this point Broader discussion of journey towards medicine
• Think of the one or two things you really
want to say; highlight without cataloguing “I realized, both on the giving and receiving
• Don’t need to utilize time progression but ends, that in the medical world especially,
you cannot let assumptions and biases
often good way to avoid generalization and cloud your focus on the patient. Once the
abstract language curtain is pulled back, everyone deserves
respect. “ (Circle back at closing)
Drawing from your experiences Stuck?
• Dramatic circumstances are fine; not so • Pretend you are writing to a friend, not an
dramatic circumstances are fine too! admissions committee; free write
• Share lessons & reflections rather than • Ask a friend/family member which qualities
detailed descriptions of experiences. It’s they think distinguish you from others
about you, i.e. what/how you think about • Start off with a formative moment or
the experience realization and go from there
• Reflections can be unique even if • Think of a theme to build your essay around
opportunities/experiences are not • Two or three personality characteristics that
you feel are your strengths
• Don’t need to have a conclusion/point in
Do’s Do’s (cont’d)
☺ Tell a story ☺ Be concise. Make sure every sentence needs
☺ Keep it interesting by using specific to be there
examples and anecdotes ☺ Describe what you learned in your research,
☺ Provide information, insight, or a not the details of the specific research project
perspective that cannot be found (unless writing the MD/PhD essay)
elsewhere in your application ☺ Allow plenty of time to write, revise, reflect,
☺ Describe experiences in terms of what revise. etc. Step away often so you can revisit
they mean to you, what you learned your essay with fresh eyes
☺ Make sure the reader learns about you, ☺ Proofread. Spell checking will will (☺) not
not just what you did catch everything! Then, proofread again and
☺ Use strong action verbs and vivid images; get someone else to do the same
paint a picture
Don’ts Don’ts (cont’d)
Just list or summarize your activities. This is
not a resume and can be found elsewhere Make excuses for poor grades
Try to impress the reader with the use of Begin every sentence or paragraph with “I”
formal or “fancy” language Overwork the essay to the point where you
Directly tell the reader that you are lose your own voice
compassionate, motivated, intelligent, Make it your premier creative writing piece
curious, dedicated, unique, different than Use generalizations and clichés
most candidates, etc Follow the advice of too many people
Focus only on childhood experiences Try to share everything there is to know
Use slang or forced analogies about you
Lecture the reader, e.g. what’s wrong with
medicine, what doctors should be like, etc
Special circumstances Special Situations
Questions on the AMCAS: • Ad Board
• Institutional Action: If you answer “yes” to • Judgment call (eliminate big question
this question, you must include an marks or gaps in readers’ minds):
explanation. (Limited to 1325 characters
or approximately 1/4 page)
i t l ) ◦ Fluctuations in performance
• Felony: If you answer “yes” to this ◦ Major changes in direction
question, you must include an ◦ Hardship affecting academic record
explanation. (Limited to 1325 characters ◦ Personal medical situation
or approximately 1/4 page)
• Be prepared to talk about your stories in
your interview; if you can’t/don’t want to
talk about it, don’t write about it.
Getting feedback Resources
• People who know you (family, friends) can • Pre-med tutor
give feedback, not only people in medicine
• Writing center
• Ask them: http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~wricntr/undergrad.html
◦ Do you want to meet this person? • OCS Advisors (depends on demand)
◦ Does this sound like me? • www.aamc.org
◦ Could someone else write this essay?
• www.studentdoctor.net *
*read at your own risk or
perhaps not at all
• The personal statement is about
telling a story, not arguing that they
should accept you.
Start l i it ft d t
• St t early, revisit often, and get
• Use concrete examples from your
personal experiences and avoid
abstract language (prone to cliché).