Like many premed students, you are diligently working hard on applications, getting transcripts, asking for letters of recommendation, and choosing how to approach your personal statement. Writing your personal statement is a daunting and, in some cases, painful experience, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be motivating to recall the events and influences that have led you to this point in your life—applying to medical school.
Learn from the many, many premeds who have been down this road before. Our list of personal statement Dos and Don’ts will help you make the most of the experience and ensure you don’t make any of the usual mistakes.
Read our free Step-by-Step Guide: How to Write a Medical School Personal Statement for tips on getting started, what to include, and common mistakes to avoid.
The Purpose of a Personal Statement
Medical school admissions committees want to see what inspired you and prepared you to go to medical school. They want to know if you truly have a passion for medicine and are ready for the rigor of medical education.
Medical school is challenging, stressful, expensive, and only the beginning of a much longer journey. Medical schools want to ensure they are accepting students that are equipped for the journey and have a genuine desire to practice medicine. This saves both the school and the student time and money.
The Personal Statement is an Opportunity
Instead of looking at the personal statement as yet another hurdle to jump through when applying to medical school, view it as an opportunity. All of the other aspects of your application are pretty standard. They see your MCAT score, your college GPA and course performance, your volunteer hours, and your listed clinical experiences. What they don’t see is who you are underneath your accomplishments.
This is what the personal statement allows you to demonstrate. Admissions committees already have your CV and transcripts, so the personal statement should show a more multifaceted view of who you are.
This is your chance to convey your personality, character traits, and personal narrative. Your personal statement is what helps you to stand out among thousands of similar applicants. Be sure to share meaningful information and help the readers feel a personal connection with you. Tell your story.
Many students find getting started is the hardest part of writing a personal statement. Writing your personal statement requires ample time for reflection. To get started, brainstorm some of your best qualities and character traits and list them on paper. Ask yourself: “What character traits do I want admissions committees to focus on?”
Then, brainstorm some of the events and experiences in your past that best portray these qualities. For example, avoid telling the admissions committee that you are “motivated, empathetic, and compassionate.” Instead, SHOW them that you’re motivated, empathetic, and compassionate by telling a story that exemplifies these characteristics. It is important that your personal statement is a narrative rather than a list of your accolades and qualifications.
For more on how to begin your process, read: How to Start the Medical School Personal Statement.
Writing your Personal Statement
Once you’ve identified the personal traits and experiences you want to convey to the admissions committee, writing your personal statement will come much more easily. Remember to share moments of your life that mattered. The experiences you choose to share must have played an active role in shaping who you are as a person and influenced your desire to pursue medicine.
When writing about your experiences, ensure they showcase your passion for medicine and be sure to include your own reflections and lessons learned. These experiences are not required to be medical in nature but should portray why your journey through medical school will be successful.
With so many career paths relating to science and the medical field, it is imperative that you portray why being a physician is the only path for you and why it’s a good fit for who you are as a person. Show them why you would be a good physician and what unique gifts you will bring to the field to help your patients. Remember to share information that makes you memorable and unique so that you stand out among many similar applicants.
Don’t forget that during your interviews, the admissions committee will certainly ask you about the experiences or traits expressed in your personal statement, so share information you want to be asked about and can elaborate on in person.
Learn more in The Anatomy of a Medical School Personal Statement.
How to Approach Your Personal Statement: Dos and Don’ts
- DO organize your personal statement. It should have a clear introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion that flow into each other.
- DO start writing as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the perfect idea magically pops into your head. Do some brainstorming and get writing as soon as possible. Your first draft won’t be anywhere near perfect so the sooner you begin, the more time you will have to edit, refine, or start over again with a better idea.
- DO have a theme. Ensure that the theme is present throughout the entire personal statement.
- DO use transition sentences. Transition sentences highlight the logical relationship between paragraphs and sections of a text. They provide greater cohesion and make explicitly clear how ideas are related to one another. Think of a transition sentence as a bridge between one idea and the next.
- DO follow the requirements: 5300 character limit for MD applications. Remember that if you are applying to DO schools your personal statement must address why you want to become an osteopath specifically, and if you are applying through TMDSAS, there’s a 5000 character limit. (AMCAS vs. AACOMAS vs. TMDSAS Application Differences)
- DO put significant effort into editing your essay. Read your essay over and over again for proper grammar and sneaky typos. Use editing apps such as Grammarly and Hemingway Editor, but don’t rely on bots alone.
- DO consult experts: You don’t have to go it alone. Seek out help and personal statement editing from professionals who have years of experience reviewing personal statements and serving on admissions committees. Ask mentors, or anyone else you know, with intimate experience in the medical school admissions process. If you don’t have anyone in your own network, Med School Insiders has top advisors who have admissions committee experience as well as extensive experience editing thousands of successful Personal Statements.
- DON’T use clichés. It’s great that you like science, but I can assure you that all applicants like science. It is important that you want to help people, but so do all of the other applicants. Avoid stating the obvious. Instead, try to be unique.
- DON’T make careless grammatical errors. This can be the difference between an interview offer and a rejection. Grammatical errors suggest that you are either careless or don’t really care about entering medical school. Attention to detail is important in medicine, so exhibit that skill while writing your personal statement.
- DON’T lie or fabricate stories or information. Just don’t do it. You do not want to get caught in a lie in the middle of an interview, and it is simply unprofessional. Remember that your personal statement is your only chance to demonstrate who you are, so tell your story truthfully.
- DON’T make excuses for poor grades or MCAT scores. This is definitely not the place for that. Focus on sharing your story and expressing the personal qualities you’re most proud of. If there was an event that played a large role in your journey, feel free to write about it, but do not simply make excuses for weak parts of your application.
- DON’T speak negatively about a physician or healthcare professional. You may have had negative interactions with a physician and feel compelled to discuss how those negative encounters shaped your desire to become a physician, but leave this out of your statement. These experiences may have strongly impacted you, but admissions committees may be deterred by your cynicism towards the healthcare profession.
- DON’T overuse the word I. Doing so makes you more likely to state your accomplishments instead of telling a story.
- DON’T use flowery language or words you found in a thesaurus. Be respectful and thoughtful with your language, but focus on using words that come naturally to you.
- DON’T list your accomplishments or rehash your CV and extracurriculars. They already have access to those aspects of your application. Use the personal statement as an opportunity to provide a deeper insight into who you are as a person and prospective physician.
- DON’T beg for an interview or acceptance. This is unprofessional and not at all the purpose of your personal statement.
- DON’T explain to a physician what medicine is all about. Talk about yourself and your experiences; the admissions committee already understands medicine.
- DON’T procrastinate. Get started on your personal statement as soon as you can. Set time aside every day to reflect on the moments in your life that have shaped your desire to become a physician.
- DON’T edit your personal statement by yourself. You should get outside opinions and have others edit your essay to ensure there’s nothing you missed. Having strong writers edit your essay is helpful, but it’s best to have physicians and those who have served on admissions committees as editors. They can edit beyond spelling or grammar to provide an insider’s perspective on what will impress medical schools. Med School Insiders offers a range of personal statement editing packages, from general editing to unlimited, in-depth editing with a physician.
Learn more about our Comprehensive Medical School Admissions Packages and follow our blog for the latest premed advice, study strategies, and more.