The Personal Statement
Because virtually all health professional schools require a personal statement, the information on the AMCAS personal statement is generally relevant, the only differences being in the stipulated length and the focus.
This is probably the single most important page you will ever write so it deserves your best effort. Because both the health professional schools and applicants from all over understand this, the expectation is that your statement will be error free and well written. Not only should you run it through a spell checker, but you should have committee members or others you respect criticize it to catch errors in grammar, spelling (not caught by a spell checker), ambiguities, etc., as well as overall impact.
AMCAS only provides space for approximately 5,300 characters or one full page. You do not have to use up all of the space, but you will almost certainly want to use most of it.
1. To present (and sell) yourself.
2. To demonstrate your communication skills.
3. To serve as a basis for your interview.
4. To show motivation.
5. To demonstrate your understanding of what a career in medicine entails.
6. To explain any irregularities in your academic record.
D. Basic Types
Personal statements tend to fall into three basic types but can incorporate elements of more than one. Whichever approach you take, develop a “game” plan.
- Introspective – This is the best and also most difficult to write. In it, you demonstrate your understanding of the qualities required to be a good medical student and a good physician and evaluate how you think you measure up.
- Biographical – This explains how you became interested in medicine and what you have been doing to prepare yourself for such a career, both curricularly and cocurricularly. Inevitably, personal statements have some biographical elements, but these are more powerful if combined with an introspective approach. Biographical material can be presented chronologically, which is the easiest approach, or topically, which may be more effective.
- Inspirational – This is the “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to become a doctor and save the world” approach. It is fundamentally naïve and, therefore, may actually do you more harm than good.
- Write a draft as soon as possible so that, if necessary, we can steer you in the right direction. Do not worry if it is much longer than one page since the extra material might be useful to the committee, can easily be deleted during editing, and might be of use later in preparing your secondaries. Write an outline and then, and only then, attempt to organize your thoughts better.
- If you have writer’s block, free write; that is, scribble as rapidly as you can in pencil all the thoughts that come into your head that might be relevant. If you can’t find exactly the right word to use, leave a space. Do not worry about spelling, punctuation, repetitiveness, or anything that will slow you down, but make it legible enough so that you can read it. Go through it again and pick out the parts that seem worth saving and then write an outline (as in E1 above). Rewrite.
- Be concise. Do not keep repeating the same thing over and over again in different words thinking that it will emphasize the point. It just makes your statement boring, and you lose your readers, most of whom have just a few minutes to spend on your entire application. If you don’t get their interest and sustain it, you lose. You must resist the temptation to pad; one way to find out whether you are successful is to delete parts and ask yourself whether you have lost any meaning.
- Be truthful and do not exaggerate. Leave out anything that is intrinsically not believable. What you say must ring true as well as be true. If you get caught in a lie or are seen to be exaggerating, you destroy yourself, and, just remember, you are not there during initial screening to explain yourself. Don’t overplay your contributions to any research project you have been working on. You do not need to know everything about the research, just the part in which you are involved.
- Make it interesting, especially the beginning and the conclusion, but avoid making it look contrived.
- Establish your identity and write in the first person. You might be surprised at some of the things about you that the medical schools might find impressive or at least interesting.
- Elaborate on activities, medically related or otherwise, that provide insight into your character and personality. Try to include interests or activities that will steer your interview into areas where you can shine.
- Be self-confident but not arrogant.
- Don’t get too cutesy. Your reader is unknown to you, and you may offend.
- Don’t use jargon. It will just make the reader uncomfortable or feel inadequate. Remember the reader may be a clinician, a basic scientist, an administrator, or a medical student, and what may be common knowledge to one may be obscure to others.
- Don’t bring up topics that might prove embarrassing to you, such as anything to do with your plans to raise a family, your health, sex life, emotional or other health problems within your family (unless these are very relevant to your motivation for medicine), casual experimentation with alcohol or other drugs, any minor troubles that you’ve gotten into as a teenager, etc.
- Don’t demonstrate prejudices, whether they be religious, ethnic, etc.
- Don’t spend a lot of time telling the reader how much you know about medicine from your experiences as an EMT, lifeguard, hospital volunteer, etc. It’s enough to just let them know that you have had these, and the place to do this is in your list of activities.
- Don’t write an essay on what it takes to be a good doctor (your audience already knows this) and don’t preach.
- Don’t resort to a thesaurus except in the very last stages of your writing, since the attempt to avoid repetition often leads to incorrect usage. Make sure you know what the words mean, including their connotations.
You must meet deadlines, and many schools view your level of interest in their institution by how rapidly you respond.
Requests for these come in the fall (often several within a week) when you have many other demands on your time so getting prepared early is smart.
- Read up on the particular institution on their website and/or their printed literature.
- Check with us since we can provide you with specific information based on our visits to the school or feedback from Clark students.
- Check with us to see what significance to attach to your having received a request for a secondary.
- Generally follow the same guidelines as for the personal statement itself but do not just repeat what is in it.
- Feel free to use material that you could not fit into the personal statement or that covers things that have happened since you wrote the AMCAS application. However, the material must be responsive to the question.
- Show interest in the school.
- Make sure that your answers make sense in the context of the particular institution.
- Don’t feel compelled to fill in the space allotted.
- Don’t exaggerate your interest in the school. They know which other schools you are applying to.
- Don’t try to use the material you have written for one secondary in others that are requesting something different. In other words, don’t be lazy!