Many admissions committees place significant weight on this section, so we have compiled a list of seven tips to help you craft a well-organized and compelling essay.
1. Take the time to think about the content of your essay before writing a first draft. As you’re thinking about the structure of your essay, remember to keep the content general because it will go to all medical schools you apply to. Also try not to duplicate information provided elsewhere in the application as you only have about a page to write. Some questions you may want to consider before you begin writing include:
- Why do you want a career in medicine?
- What motivates you to learn more about medicine?
- What should medical schools know about you that isn’t described in other sections of the application?
For more information, see Section 8 of the AMCAS Instruction Manual for suggestions of things to think about when writing this essay.
2. Include details that might better explain your path to medical school. For example, you might consider:
- Addressing hardships, challenges, or obstacles that have influenced your educational pursuits.
- Explaining significant fluctuations in your academic record not explained elsewhere in your application.
3. Show don’t tell. For example, if challenges in your childhood or a defining experience led you to consider medicine, use details to describe those experiences and bring life to your essay.
4. Stay on topic. There is a 5,300 character limit (including spaces) in this section. This equals about one page of writing, single-spaced. Make sure your essay is interesting, follows a logical and orderly flow, relates to your reasons for choosing medicine, and why you believe you will be successful as a physician.
5. Don’t be afraid of the editing process. Be sure to write more than one draft. Ask additional people to review and make edits to your essay. Having others read your essay will help you gain new perspectives on your writing and refine the story you want to tell admissions committees.
6. Remember to proofread and keep these formatting tips in mind. The AMCAS application does not include spell check, so be sure to proofread your essay for any typos or grammatical errors. You will not be able to go back into this section to make any edits after you submit your application. To avoid formatting issues, we recommend that you draft your essay in text-only word processing software, such as Microsoft Notepad or Mac TextEdit, then copy and paste your essay into the application. You can also type your essay directly into the AMCAS application.
7. If you are applying to MD-PhD programs, there are two additional essays you will need to complete. The first essay asks your reasons for pursuing the combined degree and is relatively short. The second essay asks you to describe your research activities and is about three pages long. You can read more about these additional essays in the AMCAS Instruction Manual or get further guidance from your pre-health advisor or career counselor.
For more AMCAS-related tips, please check out the AMCAS Tools and Tutorials page. There, you’ll find video tutorials, presentations, guides, and recordings of past webinars, including the Ask Admissions series.
The Personal Statement is your opportunity to introduce yourself to admission committees. It can explain your motivation and why you have made the decision to apply. It can bring out your personal attributes and competencies and weave together all of your experiences. A sincere, thoughtful, and introspective personal statement may make the difference to committee members as they decide whether to interview or admit an academically qualified applicant. This is the time to strengthen the narrative part of your application and demonstrate how you view the meaning of your experiences rather than just present them as an annotated resume.
A 5300-character essay (the character limit for AMCAS) requires focus in your essay. You might have a particular interest that spans both your academic achievements and your extracurricular experiences and you can use that interest as a thread to tie your essay together. You may have a unique background that you'd like to begin with. Or you may want to describe a meaningful clinical experience.
Here are some key points to keep in mind when writing the personal essay:
- Use perfect English. Check for typos and remember that spell checkers don’t catch all errors (e.g., “there” vs. “their”)
- Use action verbs and active voice rather than passive. Don't say “I was given the opportunity to volunteer (or work) in”, but rather "I volunteered in ... "
- Circle all the times you used the word “I” and if there are too many, rewrite your sentences
- Be personal when you write, as though you were talking with someone in person
- Be sure to explain the lessons learned, skills, and attributes you’ve cultivated through experiences
- You might use an engaging story and anecdote to personalize your essay; if you do, be careful not to spend half of your essay describing someone else - the essay is about you
- Write an essay that describes you, one that only you could have written
- Multiple rewrites over a period of time are to be expected
- Ask others to read your essay for content, especially those individuals who know you well to ensure that your authentic voice is coming through
- Don’t be wildly creative. This is not a creative writing essay
- Don’t be gratuitous
- Don’t use trite and vague phrases such as “gained valuable experience” and “became intrigued with the human body”
- Don’t list
- Don’t over inflate or under-inflate your accomplishments/activities
- Don’t include inaccuracies or unsubstantiated claims
- Don't begin your essay with how you wanted to be a doctor at age 4 when you received your first Fisher Price doctor kit
- Don’t place blame on others
There are a wide variety of sample essays online (google sample essay questions medical school) that might give you ideas, but remember that this is your personal statement and it needs to be written from the heart.
If you are applying to an MD-PhD program, you will write and include two other essays, one on why you are applying to these programs and one on your research experience.
Our office will be glad to read a draft of your personal statement and offer comments. You can submit a statement with your RMA or at a later date. We'll provide details on how to do this during the spring.