Charting a course to Medical School: The amsa map for Success



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2) Write an Outline
After brainstorming, it is time to start researching and outlining.

Personal Statement Format


As mentioned before, the requirements for personal statements differ, but generally a personal statement includes certain information and can follow this format:
Introduction
Many personal statements begin with a catchy opening, often a distinctive personal example, as a way of gaining the reader's attention. From there you can connect the example to the actual medical school program for which you are applying. Mention the specific name of the program, as well as the degree you are seeking, in the first paragraph. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.
Experts advise NOT to begin with a quote written by someone else. This technique is overused, and unless you honestly read the quote everyday of your life and it has changed your life dramatically, you're wasting two lines of space where you could say something about yourself, instead of writing down what someone else has said.
Detailed Supporting Paragraphs
Subsequent paragraphs should address any specific questions from the application, which might deal with the strengths of the program, your own qualifications, your compatibility with the program, your long-term goals or some combination thereof. Each paragraph should be focused and should have a topic sentence that informs the reader of the paragraph's emphasis. You need to remember, however, that the examples from your experience must be relevant and should support your argument about your qualifications.
The middle section of your essay might detail your experience in your particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the medical field. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the medical field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it. Since you will have to select what you include in your statement, the choices you make are often an indication of your judgment.
Conclusion
Tie together the various issues that you have raised in the essay, and reiterate your interest in this specific program. You might also mention how degree is a step towards a long-term goal in a closing paragraph.
3.) Writing a First Draft
The following is a list of concerns that writers should keep in mind when writing a personal statement/application letter.
Answer the Question: A major problem for all writers can be the issue of actually answering the question being asked. For example, an application might want you to discuss the reason you are applying to a particular program. If you spend your entire essay or letter detailing your qualifications with no mention of what attracted you to the field, your statement will probably not be successful. To avoid this problem, read the question or assignment carefully both as you prepare and again just prior to writing. Keep the question in front of you as you write, and refer to it often.
If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar. Don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the question being asked.
Avoid Unnecessary Duplication: Sometimes a writer has a tendency to repeat information in his or her personal statement that is already included in other parts of the application packet (resume, transcript, application form, etc.). For example, it is not necessary to mention your exact GPA or specific grades and course titles in your personal statement or application letter. It is more efficient and more effective to simply mention academic progress briefly ("I was on the Dean's List" or "I have taken numerous courses in the field of nutrition") and then move on to discuss appropriate work or volunteer experiences in more detail.
Make Your Statement Distinctive: Many writers want to make their personal statements unique or distinctive in some way as a means of distinguishing their application from the many others received by the program. One way to do this is to include at least one detailed example or anecdote that is specific to your own experience--perhaps a description of an important family member or personal moment that influenced your decision to pursue a particular career or degree. This strategy makes your statement distinctive and memorable.
Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.
Be Specific: Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a physician should be logical, the result of specific experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.
Find an Angle: If you're like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or a "hook" is vital.
Don't Include Some Subjects: There are certain things best left out of personal statements. For example, references to experiences or accomplishments in high school or earlier are generally not a good idea. Don't mention potentially controversial subjects (for example, controversial religious or political issues). Medical school selection is highly subjective and if one person on the application board dominates with an opinion, you may lose your chance with that school. Save your argument for later, after you get in.
Do Some Research, if needed: If a school wants to know why you're applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. If the school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this might be a factor to mention.
Avoid Clichés: A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements.
Consider the "I" Problem: This is a personal statement; using the first person pronoun "I" is acceptable. Writers often feel rather self-conscious about using first person excessively, either because they are modest or because they have learned to avoid first and second person ("you") in any type of formal writing. Yet in this type of writing, using first person is essential because it makes your prose lively. Using third person can result in a vague and overly wordy essay. While starting every sentence with "I" is not advisable, remember that you and your experiences are the subject of the essay.
Keep It Brief: Usually, personal statements are limited to 250-500 words or one typed page, so write concisely while still being detailed. Making sure that each paragraph is tightly focused on a single idea (one paragraph on the strengths of the program, one on your research experience, one on your extracurricular activities, etc.) helps keep the essay from becoming too long. Also, spending a little time working on word choice by utilizing a dictionary and a thesaurus and by including adjectives should result in less repetition and more precise writing.

4) Revising your Personal Statement
Because this piece of writing is designed to either get you an interview or a place in a graduate school program, it is vital that you allow yourself enough time to revise your piece of writing thoroughly. While some people work well under pressure, it is very important to leave yourself time to proofread and enlist the help of others to make sure that your essay is immaculate. Even giving time to let your mind rest one night can make a difference. What you've written the day before can look completely different the next morning, after a restful night's sleep.
Revision needs to occur on both the content level (did you address the question? is there enough detail?) and the sentence level (is the writing clear? are the mechanics and punctuation correct?). While tools such as spell-checks and grammar-checks are helpful during revision, they should not be used exclusively; you should read over your draft yourself and have others do so, again, checking for both content weaknesses and grammatical and spelling mistakes. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.
Helpful hints when revising
So your personal statement is returned to you filled with red marks and suggestions. Don't worry. You've given yourself enough time to consider the suggestions and to make necessary changes. Do not be afraid of or embarrassed by writing a second, third, fourth, or fifteenth draft. To avoid tiring your proofreaders, try a few tricks before handing over your drafts:
Use your computer spellcheck. Spelling, typographical, and grammatical errors are the written equivalent of having wrinkled clothes and bad breath on a job interview. They immediately suggest a lack of professionalism to a reader who has to make quick judgments about potentially hundreds of candidates.
Read your statement backwards, looking for misspelled words. Find homonyms and look them up, to make sure you are using the right word.
Do not use contractions.
Read through your statement with a highlighter in hand. Highlight each sentence or partial sentence that only you could say about your goals and life experiences. The more yellow, the better. Get rid of anything that is not specific to you, and work to provide enough details and personal anecdotes so that the majority of your statement can be highlighted in yellow.
Ask a completely fresh proofreader to read your final draft. Proofreaders do get tired, and can skip over mistakes if they've read your statement many times. Proofread your essay one last time, working through a checklist to make sure your completed all application questions and requirements.

Top 10 Rules to Write By DO strive for depth rather than breadth; narrow your focus to one or two themes, ideas, or experiences.


  • DO tell the reader what no other applicant could honestly be able to say.

  • DO answer the questions posed in the application.

  • DO provide the reader with insight into what drives you--what makes you "tick."

  • DO be yourself rather than pretending to be the ideal applicant.

  • DO get creative and imaginative, particularly in your opening remarks.

  • DO address the particular school's unique features that attract you.

  • DO focus on the affirmative in the personal statement itself; consider using an addendum to explain deficiencies or blemishes.

  • DO evaluate your experiences rather than merely recounting them.

  • DO enlist others to proofread your essay for grammar, syntax, punctuation, word usage, and style.


Mistakes to Avoid with Your Personal Statement DON'T fail to recognize the importance of the personal statement.


  • DON'T wait until just before your deadline to begin work on the statement(s).

  • DON'T submit a personal statement that is more generic than personal.

  • DON'T fill your statement with clichés.

  • DON'T submit an essay that does not reflect the maturity and sophistication that might be expected.

  • DON'T submit your essay with typos or grammatical errors.

  • DON'T merely repeat information that you've provided elsewhere in your application.

  • DON'T get on a soapbox and preach to the reader; while expressing your values and opinions are fine, avoid coming across as fanatical or extreme.

  • DON'T talk about money as a motivating factor in your plans for the future.

  • DON'T waste your personal statement opportunity with a hackneyed introduction or conclusion.

  • DON'T use a gimmicky style or format.

  • DON'T submit supplementary materials unless the admissions office requests them.

General Advice From the Professionals


Dr. Daniel R. Alonso

Associate Dean for Admissions

Cornell University Medical College
We look for some originality because nine out of ten essays leave you with a big yawn. "I like science, I like to help people and that's why I want to be a doctor." The common, uninteresting, and unoriginal statement is one that recounts the applicant's academic pursuits and basically repeats what is elsewhere in the application. You look for something different, something that will pique your interest and provide I some very unique insight that will make you pay some l notice to this person who is among so many other qualified applicants. If you're screening 5,500 applications over a four- or six-month period, you want to see something that's really interesting. I would simply say: Do it yourself, be careful, edit it, go through as many drafts as necessary. And more important than anything: be yourself. really show your personality. Tell us why you are unique, why we should admit you. The premise is that 9 out of 10 people who apply to medical school are very qualified. Don't under any circumstances insert handwritten work or an unfinished piece of writing. Do a professional job. I would consider it a mistake to attempt to cram in too much information, too many words. Use the space as judiciously as possible. Don't submit additional pages or use only 1/20th of the space provided.
John Herweg

Chairman, Committee on Admissions



Washington University School of Medicine
We are looking for a clear statement that indicates that the applicant can use the English language in a meaningful and effective fashion. We frankly look at spelling as well as typing (for errors both in grammar and composition). Most applicants use the statement to indicate their motivation for medicine, the duration of that motivation, extracurricular activities, and work experience. So those are some of the general things we are looking for in the Personal Comments section.
We also want applicants to personalize the statement, to tell us something about themselves that they think is worthy of sharing with us, something that makes them unique, different, and the type of medical student and future physician that we're all looking for. What they have done in working with individuals--whether it's serving as a checker or bagger at a grocery store or working with handicapped individuals or tutoring inner city kids--that shows they can relate to people and have they done it in an effective fashion? What the applicant should do in all respects is to depict why he or she is a unique individual and should be sought after. Of course, if they start every sentence on a whole page with "I," it gets to be a little bit too much.
Letters of Recommendation
How do you go about getting a letter of recommendation from a professor when you are only one student out of a class of a few hundred? That is one of the questions most commonly asked by pre-medical students coming from large undergraduate institutions. There are many ways to circumvent this situation and as you read on, please keep in mind that these are generalizations. your particular situation and methods of obtaining letters of recommendation may be different.
In larger classes, approach the professor near the beginning of the term and explain to him or her your situation. That way they know who you are and may pay special attention to your performance in class. Also, make an effort to attend your professor's office hours to ask questions about material that you do not understand. After the term is completed and your grade is determined, approach the professor again about writing a letter of recommendation on your behalf. Do not feel nervous or intimidated. You probably are not the first one who has asked him or her for a letter of recommendation. They will most likely ask for a copy of your CV (curriculum vitae) or resume, and maybe even a copy of your personal essay. Some professors like to sit down with you and ask you about your interests, activities, and, of course, your desire to become a physician. With all of this information, they will write a letter of recommendation for you and send it either to the medical school or the preprofessional committee. Needless to say, you must let them know where you want it sent.
In smaller classes, it is much easier for you to get to know a professor. In addition, the professor of a small class is much more likely to remember who you are and how you performed in class, i.e., participation, essays, questions, etc. They also may ask for a copy of your CV and personal essay because they may not know about your life outside of that particular class. In most cases, schools will also accept letters of recommendation from teaching assistants if they know you better than a professor of a certain class, that is, if a professor of the same class would not be able to give a comparable evaluation.
In addition, letters of recommendation can come from a large number of fields and are not restricted to academia. Although a few letters from the basic sciences are generally preferred, your other letters of recommendation can come from other departments, i.e., environmental sciences to English literature. Letters of recommendation can also be written by former (or present) employers and volunteer supervisors. You should try to get letters of recommendation which highlight your strengths in several areas. Letters from friends, family members, and politicians are usually not a good idea.
When to ask for a letter of recommendation is up to you. Most students do not begin asking for letters until their junior year, when, traditionally, they begin the application process and may be in smaller, upper-level classes. Generally, it is better to ask a professor just after you have finished a course with him or her, especially in a large class, because they will most likely still remember who you are. Common sense will also tell you that it is important to ask for a letter of recommendation at a convenient time. When a professor has a grant proposal due the following week, or an employer has a major deadline to meet, they may not be very receptive to your requests.
Also, here are a couple of tips to help you with your recommendations:
When asking for a recommendation, ask "Can you write me a strong letter of recommendation for medical school?" Most recommenders will be straightforward with you, and you should obviously not ask for a recommendation for someone who can't answer "Yes" to this question.
Approximately 2 weeks after you ask for your recommendation, send your recommender a Thank-You letter. This should be done for 2 reasons: 1) It's the polite thing to do and 2) It may serve as a reminder to any recommender who may have been too busy lately to complete your recommendation.
***Check with your pre-professional committee and with the medical schools to ensure that your letters are being sent where they need to be sent when they need to be sent. It is YOUR responsibility to see that everything in your application is accurate and complete, not your premedical advisors' responsibility.***
Finally, letters of recommendation are just one of several facets that the admissions committee examines. Remember, if you choose to go through the service of the preprofessional committee, the letter of recommendation sent to the medical school will be a result of all of the letters that you have obtained. People who are most knowledgeable about your strengths, character, and commitment to medicine will most likely give you excellent letters of recommendation.
Pre-Professional Committees
Many undergraduate schools have a pre-professional committee in order to make the application process to medical school a little less cumbersome. Each school's procedures are a little different, but they all operate on the same general principles. The committee members, comprised of faculty in different departments and, perhaps, the pre-professional advisor, will review several items compiled in a pre-professional committee application. These include your overall grade point average, science grade point average, major grade point average, trends in grade patterns, honors courses (if any), personal essay, letters of recommendation, previous employment records, volunteer experience, and extracurricular activities. Some committees will also have a personal interview.
The committee members will then produce a single letter of recommendation, based on the application information and interview. Many schools will also rank you with ratings such as "outstanding, strong, competitive, above average, and average."
The pre-professional committee facilitates the application process by enabling you to send the composite recommendation to each medical school to which you are applying. This would be much easier than requesting an individual letter of recommendation from several people for every medical school to which you intend to apply.
Whether or not your school has a pre-professional committee, you are not required to use its services. It is designed to help make the application process to medical school smoother for you, but if you think that it would be more of a detriment than an assistance, no one can force you to use it. The decision is entirely yours. Do realize, however, that most medical schools prefer that you use your school's pre-professional committee if one in fact exists.
Contact your pre-professional advisor or undergraduate advisor if you are interested in learning more about the pre-professional committee.

Tips for Applying


APPLY EARLY!
And when we say early, we mean turning your AMCAS or AACOMAS in by the end of June (the earlier the better, but no need to FedEx it or anything and do NOT submit it before June 1st) and returning your secondaries within 2 weeks of receiving them. We know that you have heard this a million times before, but it is one of the most important elements of the application process.
Make sure to apply to a range of schools so that you can keep your options open and give yourself the best chance to get admitted to medical school.
Be prepared to spend a lot of money as the AMCAS and AACOMAS fees, individual school application fees, and interview costs (flights, hotels, meals, etc...) add up quickly. Some schools have hosting programs, but make sure to contact them early because they usually can't place you at the last minute.
Distinguish Yourself! Each school receives about 7000 applications for 100 spots. Try to make your application distinctive in order to separate yourself from the masses. Before they accept you, they have to remember you.
APPLY EARLY!
Some schools are non-AMCAS schools (see your MCAT registration booklet for a list). If you are interested in applying to these schools, write them for applications in the spring of your junior year, and, again, send them in as soon as possible.
At interviews, you will be grouped with people from all different schools, from Ivy League schools to schools you have never heard of. On your interview day, all of you are on equal playing field for the day, so don't be intimidated or condescending.
Show interest in the schools during your interviews, as schools want students who want them. If the school is your number one choice, be sure to tell them.

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