Bad personal statements—we’ve certainly seen many of those, and so have admissions committees. But what makes a bad personal statement, and how do you fix yours to ensure you don’t bore, undermine, or confuse the admissions committee members reviewing your medical school application? In this post, we’ll share bad personal statement examples to help you avoid the mistakes so many premeds make.
There are so many nuances to personal statement writing, and it only takes one wrong turn to derail an otherwise good essay. Below, we’ll outline common mistakes that lead to a bad personal statement, as well as what you should be doing instead. Look for specific examples in bold, including improved examples that show changes bolded as well.
After reading this article, we encourage you to read our complete Personal Statement Guide, which outlines 11 steps to writing a personal statement.
Bad Personal Statement Examples
Starting Too Many Sentences With ‘I’
Yes, your personal statement is about you from your perspective, but starting too many sentences with ‘I’ shows poor form. Your writing will suffer, and you’ll be more likely to list your accomplishments from your CV rather than establish a cohesive narrative. Watch for this poor form in your writing and double check for too many ‘I’s when you edit.
“I continued to pursue my dream of practicing medicine when I volunteered in the Intensive Care Unit at the UC San Diego Thornton Medical Center, where I gained first-hand experience interacting with patients. I talked to a patient who only spoke Spanish while I was collecting laboratory samples from nurses. I was the only Spanish speaker in the unit, and I only had a basic grasp of the language. I asked the patient about her day and family, and I was able to lift her spirits. I learned the importance of making personal connections with patients through this experience.”
The word ‘I’ will certainly be used throughout your personal statement, but leading with it every time is redundant and shows simplicity in your writing. Instead, add context to the beginning of your sentences, shape each like a story, and add diversity to your sentence structure.
“I continued to pursue my dream of practicing medicine by volunteering in the Intensive Care Unit at the UC San Diego Thornton Medical Center, where I gained first-hand experience interacting with patients. While collecting laboratory samples from nurses, I talked to a patient who only spoke Spanish. As the interpreter had not arrived yet, I was the only Spanish speaker in the unit, and my Spanish was basic at best. I asked the patient about her day and family, which really lifted her spirits. This interaction taught me the importance of personal connections with patients.”
Overusing Flowery Language
You want a personal statement that’s dynamic and well-written, but that doesn’t mean taking a deep dive into a thesaurus. Use words that convey your message clearly and concisely; don’t search for flowery or complex language to impress admissions committees.
In the end, you won’t be impressing anyone, as your personal statement will be a jumble of difficult to read sentences filled with words many people don’t understand or use. More attention will be put on your strange word choices rather than the story you’re trying to tell.
“The foremost leading reason why I want to run after a career in medicine is because of a covenant vow I made to my sister when I was but a tender youth of eight. My sister, who was only an innocuous infant, was aware I had been shepherding her health while our parents were working late. Shielding her from harm gave me a feeling of responsibility I had never experienced before. When my sister arose from her slumber with a fever, I felt impotent. Her medical practitioner was able to take care of the most quintessential person in my entire existence by systematically ruling out possible causes for the fever while still helping my sister feel safe, allowing me to see the luminescent beauty of medicine.”
When editing your personal statement, think of how you can convey your point clearly and concisely. After all, 5000-5300 characters is not very much space to convince admissions committees of your passion and dedication to medicine. Simplicity in your language will allow the reader to focus on your story and the messages you are trying to get across.
“The main reason why I want to pursue medicine is because of a promise I made to my sister when I was eight years old. My sister, who was only a baby, was aware I had been taking care of her while our parents were working late. Caring for her gave me a feeling of responsibility I had never experienced before. When my sister woke up with a fever, I felt helpless. Her doctor was able to take care of the most important person in my life by systematically ruling out possible causes for the fever while still helping my sister feel safe, allowing me to see the beauty of medicine.”
Explaining Medicine to Doctors
Doctors understand how medicine works—you don’t need to explain it to them. Don’t try to impress admissions committees with your breadth of medical knowledge in your personal statement. This is not the time to show how much you know about medicine. Let your medical knowledge and skills shine through in your MCAT score, your clinical experiences, and your letters of recommendation.
The personal statement is about your journey. Show your passion for medicine but remain humble. Even if you are top of your class, you are still a premed and have a long way to go before you become a doctor.
“Walking into the office, I heard a most unsettling sound—a distinctive, screeching, painful yelp audible throughout the clinic. I instantly knew what case I would be seeing next: Whooping cough. When I saw Brody, a toddler, I knew exactly what was happening to him. Due to my vast and extensive research on the bacteria that caused the disease, I knew it was Bordetella pertussis, a Gram-negative, aerobic, pathogenic, encapsulated coccobacillus of the genus Bordetella. Describing all that I knew about the microbe’s pathogenesis and explaining how my research could improve vaccine efficacy was comforting to the family. My research experiences have ignited a passion to continue being at the cutting edge of medicine, always seeking to improve patient care.”
There’s no need to explain what a specific disease is to the admissions committee. This only uses up your valuable space, and it could sound like you are trying to prove how much you already know. Be careful about how you word your success. Remember, you are only at the very beginning of your medical journey. You still have much to learn, so be humble. Is it “my” research or “our” research?
“Walking into the office, I heard a most unsettling sound—a distinctive, screeching, painful yelp audible throughout the clinic. I instantly knew what case I would be seeing next: Whooping cough. When I saw Brody, a toddler, I knew exactly what was happening to him. I had spent the last two years performing research on the bacteria that caused the disease, Bordetella pertussis. Describing elements of the microbe’s pathogenesis and explaining how our research could improve vaccine efficacy was comforting to the family. My research experiences have ignited a passion to be at the cutting edge of medicine, always seeking to improve patient care so that in the future, I can come to a family like Brody’s with a better prognosis.”
Negatively Calling Out a Previous Rejection
Use light language when talking about a previous rejection to medical school. You definitely need to address your reapplication and how you are an improved candidate, but you don’t need to say “since I failed last time” or “when I messed up my application and was rejected.”
“Although I failed to gain admittance to medical school, I’ve remained steadfast in pursuit of
achieving my dream to be a physician. Instead of accepting failure, I continued to foster these kinds of meaningful experiences with my patients and develop the traits necessary to forge the desired relationships I hope to foster as a physician, like those my father had with his patients.”
Instead, acknowledge the past while focusing on the future. What have you learned? What are you doing differently now? Why are you continuing your pursuit?
For example, here’s a better way to loop in a previous rejection.
“Directly witnessing the eternal illumination my father left on the world has shown me the incredible impact physicians can achieve in patients’ lives and their communities. My struggles with his passing forced me to further develop the resiliency necessary to not give up on this path when faced with setbacks, and instead to redouble my efforts to be a pillar of luminosity as a future doctor.”
Not Understanding Nuance and Context
Avoid mentioning anything that could be seen as drug-seeking behavior or anything that may remind doctors of drug-seeking behavior.
You don’t want to spark negative feelings in admissions committee members. Even if what you’re saying is perfectly innocent, it’s much better to leave them with a lasting positive impression. The negative association may have nothing to do with the point of your story, but it will be there nonetheless.
“A short stint in the emergency room when I was a teenager showed me how exciting and fast paced a career in medicine can be. It was at this time that I experienced morphine for the first time due to the significant injury incurred during a biking accident. I saw the care everyone in the emergency room gave to me, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that care for other people.”
While the intention here is good, this story may set off alarm bells for admissions committee members. Even if it’s not the writer’s intent, the excerpt will remind doctors of drug-seeking behavior. It doesn’t matter if the morphine was administered correctly; the connection and reminder will be there.
In this case, you’re better off finding another story or turning that story upside down to focus on other elements. It’s best not to mention the drugs you received at all. When crafting your personal statement, put yourself in the admissions committee’s shoes. How are they going to feel after they read your personal statement? What other unwanted associations might they connect to your story?
Making General Spelling or Grammar Errors
Spelling and grammar errors are not a good look. They show carelessness and lack of dedication to your medical school application. You cannot rely on simple document spellcheck alone. This is a good start, and you will be able to find typos this way, but bots can miss the context of a sentence, and they won’t catch all comma errors.
Whether you’re a fan of commas or not, they are important. There’s a big difference between saying “Eat grandma” and “Eat, grandma.” The comma completely changes the context of the sentence. Making comma mistakes in your essay can make it difficult for people to read it the way you intend.
“Running has had a positive affect on my discipline to maintain a balanced life provided me the focus to succeed in med school, and given me the drive to work toward fulfilling my dreams. Most importantly I made a promise to my sister, creating an unshakey foundation of endless motivation that will encourage myself even throughout the most distressed moments of my journey to a physician. I won’t never give up nor surrender, because I always keep my promises.”
Utilize more sophisticated editing tools like Grammarly to edit your essay. Ensure you have real people editing your work, too. Real people will be able to catch contextual mistakes that bots will miss.
For example, here’s how the previous paragraph looks once edited:
“Running has had a positive effect on my discipline to maintain a balanced life, provided me the focus to succeed in medical school, and given me the drive to work toward fulfilling my dreams. Most importantly, I made a promise to my sister, creating an unshakeable foundation of endless motivation that will encourage me even through the most distressing moments of my journey to become a physician. I will never give up nor surrender because I always keep my promises.”
Additional Personal Statement Mistakes to Avoid
The bad personal statement examples shared in this article shed light on what not to do, but this is not an exhaustive list by any means. Here are some additional mistakes to avoid when crafting and editing your personal statement.
- Not starting your personal statement early enough so that you have plenty of time for editing and revising.
- Listing your accomplishments or rehashing your CV and extracurriculars. You need to show, not tell.
- Choosing a bland topic that admissions committees see over and over again.
- Overstating the obvious and using clichés. It’s very likely that the applicants you are competing with also like science and want to help people.
- Lying or making up a personal story for your essay. You will be asked to elaborate on aspects of your application during interviews, so you need to have your stories straight. Plus, lying isn’t a great way to begin your medical career.
- Making excuses for poor grades or a low MCAT score.
- Negatively speaking about other premeds or physicians you’ve worked with.
Reviewing and Editing
After finishing your first draft, take some time away from your personal statement. After a few days, come back to it with a fresh perspective. Read your essay out loud. Doing so will reaffirm the parts of your essay you enjoy most and bring to light the weaker aspects.
Anticipate multiple edits. Avoid getting attached to a particular sentence or paragraph. Especially in the early stages, do not be afraid to restart. Just remember to save all of your rough work; you never know if it might come in handy later.
Seek out advice and editing help from friends, colleagues, and mentors—people that know your body of work and accomplishments well. These insights can be helpful in determining what items to emphasize and what to drop. Even better, ask experts to review your essay, ideally, doctors who have actually served on medical school admissions committees in the past.
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