A narrative-based approach to your medical school application will entice admissions committees and make them want to learn more about who you are beyond your grades. We’re not only talking about your personal statement here—your entire application should tell a cohesive story about who you are and why you want to become a doctor.
Each piece of your medical school application cannot stand on its own; all elements of your application should complement one another, and they should all come together to tell your unique story.
This is no small feat, especially for those of you who have much more experience studying and passing tests than writing essays about yourself. In this post, we’ll cover 10 steps that will help you establish a clear and enticing narrative across your entire medical school application.
1 | Illustrate Your Journey Toward Becoming a Doctor
What steps and moments in your life led you to where you are today? What is YOUR story? It doesn’t matter if it’s filled with heartbreak and difficult times, hard work, or some other drive—it’s your story.
Admissions committees want to know what got you to where you are today. Providing a clear narrative is easier to digest than dry facts, and it does a much better job of illustrating your journey in a memorable way.
Take time to think about your past. What elements of your childhood, adolescence, and college life made you want to apply to medical school? What specific moments in your life made you want to pursue medicine and become a doctor?
View our database of personal statement examples, including personalized feedback.
2 | Don’t Tell, Demonstrate
Listing accomplishments means nothing. Admissions committees can already see your list of accomplishments and grades, so breaking that down again for them is a waste of their time. In your essays, they want to get to know you on a deeper level.
Don’t say, “I will make a good doctor because I’m dedicated, committed, and hardworking.” You may be all of those things, but you need to demonstrate those characteristics with examples and intriguing storytelling. Instead, share a story about how you were never any good at playing the piano, but when your mom got sick, you dedicated time every day to learning how to play so that you could play her favorite songs.
You need to illustrate your traits and positive characteristics by providing clear examples that tell your story. Don’t simply list what you’ve done or name a few positive adjectives you relate to; provide examples of how you’ve demonstrated those traits.
3 | Consider the Application as a Whole
It’s important to think of your application as a complete whole. Though there are many different individual pieces, they all need to join together to illustrate the same journey. What picture are you painting when all of the pieces come together?
Think beyond your primary application to your secondaries and interviews. What common threads do you want to weave? How can you develop a cohesive narrative that isn’t redundant or repetitive?
Your entire application is telling a story—your story. You need to think about the overall narrative you want to share. Each aspect of the application should compliment another, not repeat what you’ve already said before.
4 | Expand, Don’t Repeat Yourself
Admissions committees are viewing your entire application as a whole. They already know about your marks and MCAT score. They’ve seen your letters of recommendation. Don’t repeat yourself. Every essay is an opportunity to reveal a new layer of who you are and why you will make a good doctor—and it is essential to your success that you think of each application box this way.
Don’t think about how you can get each part done the fastest. Every aspect of the application is one more opportunity to convince the admissions committee that you are someone they should accept.
Don’t repeat a story that you shared in your personal statement in your work and activities section. Each part of your application should provide fresh, new insights into who you are. It’s okay to touch on some of the same points to create a common thread, but you need to add new insights and details, not repeat yourself.
5 | Stand Out With a Unique Story
Remember how many applications admissions committees read every year? Generic stories won’t make the cut, and simply stating the obvious, like the fact that you are a diligent student or get good grades, won’t be enough to win them over. Most of the thousands of students you’re applying with are also capable students with good grades.
When we say unique, we don’t mean you need to cite a life-changing epiphany that suddenly made you realize you had to become a doctor. That doesn’t happen to everyone—and that’s perfectly okay. Unique stories can still be simple. You want to stand out, but you can’t make something up.
Your unique narrative doesn’t have to be a straightforward path to why you chose medicine or became a doctor. Your story and what drove you to where you are today might be unrelated to medicine.
We’ve worked with students on many successful personal statements that draw from life experiences. For example, years of practicing violin might teach you important lessons about focus and dedication, which are desired skills for a future doctor. See how experience playing the violin was able to shape a Residency Personal Statement in sample #1: Personal Statement Examples.
Coming up with your unique narrative takes time. You need to sit down and truly contemplate your past and think about all of the moments in your life that got you to where you are today. It can take a while to come up with the right direction, so make sure you leave plenty of time, especially for your personal statement.
Here’s where to begin: How to Start the Medical School Personal Statement.
6 | It’s Okay to Not Be Perfect
Sharing a narrative doesn’t mean you need to paint yourself as the perfect person or some sort of hero. It’s okay if you didn’t save your family from a burning building or rescue a child from drowning. If that’s your journey—great! Share that, but if you had a different journey, that’s okay too.
Admissions committees are not looking for perfection. They want to get to know the real you. They know people aren’t perfect, and it’s the difficulties, struggles, and mistakes that sometimes make for the best stories.
If you made a mistake in your life, talk about that. What did you learn from that mistake? What changes have you made? If you applied to medical school before but didn’t get in, talk about that. What did you learn from that experience, and how have you grown since? Being vulnerable and showing growth goes a long way.
Human beings don’t learn without mistakes. Ensure your application demonstrates humility and a willingness to learn and grow.
7 | Never Make Up a Story
Never embellish or make up a story from your past. You may be able to present an exciting and enticing story in your personal statement, but admissions committees will be able to sniff out fishy stories.
Lies are difficult to keep track of. Even if a lie isn’t noticed during your initial application, it could be spotted in secondaries when your stories don’t line up. It will be especially noticeable once you get to interviews and you start being asked questions about a made-up story.
You don’t want to make it all the way to your interview only to fumble on questions about your made-up personal statement or extracurricular experiences. You have enough to keep track of already without adding made-up stories; plus, being accepted to medical school because of a lie is not a good way to begin your career as a doctor.
8 | Address Gaps or Problem Areas
Don’t try to hide behind gaps in your application or issues from your past. You are putting yourself out in the open in your application. There’s no point in hiding things—if it doesn’t come up in the primary application, it will surely show up later in secondaries or during interviews.
Admissions committees would rather you address mistakes or gaps in your application head-on. If you made a mistake in your past that will come up in the application, address it—but don’t give excuses. Instead, explain where you are today because of that mistake. What did you learn? How did you grow? How did your life change? How are you a better person today because of that experience?
For example, if you have a criminal record from participating in a protest or a similar experience, address that. Medical schools don’t live in a vacuum. They know about the social and political issues facing the country, and they will want to hear about these experiences.
9 | Be Authentic
Authenticity is a key trait in sharing your personal narrative. Admissions committees will know if you are being inauthentic.
So how do you be authentic? By telling the truth and by being honest about where you come from and what got you to where you are today.
If your decision to pursue medicine was made relatively late in your life, that’s fine—tell that story. What changed your mind? What made you decide to go into medicine after pursuing another career? If you knew you wanted to become a doctor since you were younger, that’s fine too. What key moments in your life led you to that unwavering decision?
The key is demonstrating who you are beneath the surface. Admissions committees want to get to know who you are beyond a simple list of your experiences and surface-level learnings.
10 | Make Time for Feedback
You might think you have the most enticing personal statement and the perfect secondary application tie-ins, but you can’t limit yourself to your own editing. You need feedback from others, and you need to leave time to consider and implement that feedback to improve your application.
What you thought was great could be an overdone story that admissions committees have heard time and time again. It is essential to your success that you seek feedback on your personal statement and all other written essays within your medical school application.
This means you need to start your application planning early so that you have enough time to ask for feedback and course correct if you need to. We can’t stress this enough: starting your application early is your best chance of acceptance.
Seek help from other students, professors, mentors, and people who have been through the process of applying to medical school successfully, as well as those who have worked on admissions committees. If you don’t have these types of connections, it’s best to seek professional help. Don’t leave your essay editing up to chance.
Is Medical School Admissions Consulting Worth It? There are many factors to consider. In some cases, you may already have the help you need from people and mentors in your life who have served on admissions committees. If, however, you don’t have reliable sources in your life to ensure you are on the right path, admissions consulting can provide you with the tough feedback you need.
Get the Help You Need
Applying to medical school is a complicated and draining process. Coming up with your own personal narrative, and knowing if it will stand out in a crowd of other similar applications, is a tough feat for anyone. Don’t leave your medical school application up to chance when you could be gathering feedback from professionals who have been through the process before.
Med School Insiders offers Comprehensive Medical School Admissions Packages as well as a premium Personal Statement Editing Service where real doctors with admissions committee experience provide feedback and edits on your essay. Each physician editor has passed a rigorous screening process to ensure you receive the experienced feedback you need to get into your top schools.
We also recommend heading over to our blog, which has a wealth of resources for applying to medical school, including comprehensive guides on personal statements, letters of recommendation, secondary applications, how to decide which medical schools to apply to, and much more.