Guide to Creating Effective Personal Statements
Imagine you had the chance to address the Admissions Committee directly and had the opportunity to tell them about yourself and why they should select you. Through your personal statement, this is exactly what you get to do. Take advantage of this opportunity!
Schools view your personal statement as…
Specifics of the AMCAS Essay (aka “Personal Comments”)
The AMCAS essay question is very broad and provides you with the chance to shape your essay in order to reflect who you are and why you want to pursue a career in medicine.
The Prompt: Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school.
5300 characters (including spaces)
MD/PhD candidates must submit two additional essays (“MD/PhD Essay” and “Significant Research Experience Essay”)
How to Get Started
Finding the right theme for your personal statement takes time and effort. Here are some ways to start your writing process:
1.) Look back through any journals or notes you have on your experiences – what stands out?
2.) Brainstorm and list all significant experiences that you feel had an impact on your decision to pursue your career – what themes or similar topics emerge?
3.) Think about the people who have had a positive influence on your decision to pursue medicine. Who are they and how have they shaped your life?
Elements of a Strong Personal Statement
1.) Introduction – This section should immediately grab your reader’s attention and encourage them to want to keep reading. You should also introduce elements of the theme you will explore throughout your essay.
2.) Body – You expand on your theme throughout this section. Be selective about which experiences you include here…always ask yourself whether they connect with your overall theme.
3.) Conclusion – This is a great place to articulate your future goals and to sum up your theme.
Selecting a Theme
Choose a central idea that ties together several of your experiences. For example, if you volunteered at Ronald McDonald House and did research on pediatric cancer, an overall theme might be your interest in the scientific and humanistic sides of working with child patients. Within their theme, candidates often choose to discuss their motivation for becoming a physician, specific examples/experiences that were significant, and their long-term goals. Your reader should finish your essay and be able to identify your theme clearly and want to get to know you better by inviting you to interview.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when selecting a theme:
What do I care about the most as it relates to my future?
What experiences have shaped me the most and how?
Why is it important for me to tell admissions committees about this topic as it relates to me?
What does this topic choice tell admissions committees about me? How does my choice of this topic reflect on me?
How is this topic relevant to my pursuit of the health professions and to my application to health professions school?
Qualities to Portray
Maturity Compassion and empathy Insightfulness
Self Reflection Genuineness and sincerity A realistic perspective
Honesty and integrity Leadership Humanity
Clarity of thought Enthusiasm Logic
Passion Individuality Positivity
Distinctiveness “Distance traveled”/lessons learned Commitment
Persistence Ability to relate to diverse people Strong writing skills
Themes to Avoid
Clichés Medical epiphany/manifest destiny
Laundry lists of experiences Grandiosity (“I am special and will cure cancer”)
Negativity and excuse making Controversial Topics
Examining the medical profession Quoting famous people
Use active voice and strong action verbs
Be concise…put the thesaurus away!
Vary your sentence structure (do not always begin with “I”)
Use proper grammar, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, etc.
After reviewing your AMCAS application, medical schools will send you secondary applications to complete. These are very important…do not just recycle your previous personal statement!
Know your audience – research the school (s) in question
Introduce a theme that connects with an element of their school/program
Take these seriously!
Additional Hints & Tips
BE YOURSELF! Your personal statement’s content and style should reflect you.
Plan to go through several drafts. Do not procrastinate!
“Show” your readers rather than “telling” them – provide specific examples
PROOFREAD! One of the top pet peeves of Admissions Deans is seeing typos and other glaring errors. Have someone take a look at your essay to catch any errors you might have missed.
The Pre-Professional Programs & Advising website - http://web.jhu.edu/prepro
The Johns Hopkins Writing Center - http://web.jhu.edu/writingcenter
The AMCAS Instruction Manual - http://www.aamc.org/students/amcas/start.htm
The American Medical Student Association’s “Personal Statements: Completing Your Medical School Application” - http://www.amsa.org/premed/premedguide/pstatement.cfm