Medical School Personal Statement Characters

Given that the average applicant in 2009-2010 applied to 13 programs, the AMCAS can save you a ton of time by allowing you to submit just one application rather than a dozen or more. Learn more about the AMCAs personal statement in this article.

AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) is a centralized application service for medical schools, allowing you to save time by submitting just one application. With over 140 MD granting institutions participating, you’ll likely use AMCAS if you’re applying to medical school in the US. While this service does enhance convenience, it also makes it even more difficult to stand out. Most applicants will have similar backgrounds to yours, and the AMCAS personal statement is your biggest opportunity to show who you are as an individual and persuade the admissions officers to choose you.

As part of your AMCAS application package, you’ll be asked to write a personal statement of not more than 5,300 characters. Although it varies from essay to essay, this will give you enough room for an essay of about one page and one paragraph. This is a hard limit, and the system won’t accept more characters than that, so it is important to keep this limit in mind as you plan and write your essay. Most word processors will give you two character counts, one that includes spaces and one that does not. For the AMCAS personal statement, spaces count as characters.

However, the bigger issue for applicants is that AMCAS doesn’t provide a traditional prompt. You will simply be asked to write an essay about why you want to go to med school. Therefore, what exactly should you include in your AMCAS essay?

Ultimately, that decision is yours, but the admissions officers will be looking for you to show passion for patients and potential to excel both in medical school and in your future career as a doctor. To help, consider these four questions.

Why are you pursuing a career in medicine?

Of course, you are free to answer this question any way you like. However, unless the answer is that you want to make patient’s lives better, medicine might not be for you. From beginning to end, make sure that your essay is patient-focused.

Also, it is common for applicants to begin their essay with an anecdote from their childhood. In our experience, med schools are really only interested in your life after you began college and won’t particularly be impressed with anything before that regardless of how important it was in your path to choosing this career. Instead, choose stories that show the adult you taking concrete steps in the field of medicine.

What makes you an excellent candidate to become a physician? Why do you have what it takes to succeed?

Not only do you need a strong academic track record in the sciences, med schools are looking for applicants who have developed the personality characteristics that will serve them well as a doctor. In your essay, you might want to write about compassion, team work, and respect for patient autonomy. You don’t need to write about all three, but the anecdotes that you choose should reflect an applicant who has not only technical knowhow but ethics and interpersonal skills.

What do you feel that an admissions officer should know about you that is not included elsewhere in your application?

The other parts of the AMCAS application are highly standardized, so the essay gives you a chance to elaborate on who you are outside of your transcripts, test scores, and activities. What activities do you enjoy outside of the classroom? How will you contribute not only to study groups but to the student body as a whole?

Are there any elements of your application that need further explanation or elaboration?

Life is college is not always smooth, and you might have some areas in your transcript or test scores that warrant further explanation. Applicants can be very apprehensive about addressing these issues within the essay out of fear that what they write will harm their application. Therefore, when writing about these situations, always be factual about what occurred and then move quickly to how you resolved the issue and have become a more mature and resilient applicant as a result.

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The Personal Statement is your opportunity to introduce yourself to admission committees.  It can explain your motivation and why you have made the decision to apply.  It can bring out your personal attributes and competencies and weave together all of your experiences.  A sincere, thoughtful, and introspective personal statement may make the difference to committee members as they decide whether to interview or admit an academically qualified applicant. This is the time to strengthen the narrative part of your application and demonstrate how you view the meaning of your experiences rather than just present them as an annotated resume. 

Composition

A 5300-character essay (the character limit for AMCAS) requires focus in your essay. You might have a particular interest that spans both your academic achievements and your extracurricular experiences and you can use that interest as a thread to tie your essay together. You may have a unique background that you'd like to begin with.  Or you may want to describe a meaningful clinical experience.

Here are some key points to keep in mind when writing the personal essay:

Do

  • Use perfect English.  Check for typos and remember that spell checkers don’t catch all errors (e.g., “there” vs. “their”)
  • Use action verbs and active voice rather than passive.  Don't say “I was given the opportunity to volunteer (or work) in”, but rather "I volunteered in ... "
  • Circle all the times you used the word “I” and if there are too many, rewrite your sentences
  • Be personal when you write, as though you were talking with someone in person
  • Be sure to explain the lessons learned, skills, and attributes you’ve cultivated through experiences
  • You might use an engaging story and anecdote to personalize your essay; if you do, be careful not to spend half of your essay describing someone else - the essay is about you
  • Write an essay that describes you, one that only you could have written
  • Multiple rewrites over a period of time are to be expected
  • Ask others to read your essay for content, especially those individuals who know you well to ensure that your authentic voice is coming through

Don’t

  • Don’t be wildly creative.  This is not a creative writing essay
  • Don’t be gratuitous
  • Don’t use trite and vague phrases such as “gained valuable experience” and “became intrigued with the human body”
  • Don’t list
  • Don’t over inflate or under-inflate your accomplishments/activities
  • Don’t include inaccuracies or unsubstantiated claims
  • Don't begin your essay with how you wanted to be a doctor at age 4 when you received your first Fisher Price doctor kit
  • Don’t place blame on others

There are a wide variety of sample essays online (google sample essay questions medical school) that might give you ideas, but remember that this is your personal statement and it needs to be written from the heart. 

 If you are applying to an MD-PhD program, you will write and include two other essays, one on why you are applying to these programs and one on your research experience. 

Essay Revision

Our office will be glad to read a draft of your personal statement and offer comments. You can submit a statement with your RMA or at a later date.  We'll provide details on how to do this during the spring.

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