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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“You have to toot your own horn, no one else is going to do it for you.”
A fantastic - and honest - talk by a Mount Sinai Admissions Officer at the UC Davis Pre-Health Conference in October aimed squarely at the personal statement and how to write it. Using an in-depth approach of looking at a successful applicant over all of the phases of the application process, the Mount Sinai admissions officer analyzed what applicants must do to get in.
The applicant profiled had one of those incredible stories that many applicants just can’t match: grew up with a single mother in the Dominican Republic, put herself through college as the first in her family to attend, and took on leadership roles in mentoring under-privileged students. It’s an amazing story, and you can see why she got in.
But there were generalizable take-aways that you can use in your own personal statement, which I have boiled down to the following two quotes, jotted down as faithfully as I could. Picture each of the quotes in a thick New York accent.
1. “Be an authentic representation of yourself, because the right school will appreciate that and invite you for an interview.”
Your personal statement is your chance to explain to the admissions committee what perspective you can add to the incoming class. The admissions officer gave several examples of possible perspectives, including:
students who lived in countries all over the world
students who were homeless
musicians, athletes, performers
students who have had completely different careers
And if none of those things - all of which are outside of the field of medicine, for what it’s worth - apply to you, try to think about how your experience with medicine has been different from other pre-meds. What stories do you have to tell where you are at the center of the action? Where you are the one who makes an impact on the life of a patient? What stories can you tell where we get to know the real you, whoever that may be? Those are the qualities to focus on in your personal statement.
2. “No fluff. Don’t make me work, don’t make me interpret, don’t make me do any of that. Your application should be jam-packed with information.”
This advice applies to other parts of the application (work/activities, in particular) as much as it does to the personal statement. Admissions people are human, and they get tired of reading fluff. The fluff that I often see in a personal statement is:
Useless description that bogs down a good story. If you’re telling an anecdote in your personal statement (and we encourage you to), leave out the adjectives, adverbs, and unnecessary descriptions. Stories are made from actions and characters, so don’t include needless descriptive fluff.
Conclusion fluff is when you say what you’ve just said without adding much additional to the essay. This isn’t high school English class. Your essay should have a conclusion, but it should also bring something new to the statement. A lot of them end up in fluff territory, and it’s often a waste of words.
Poor writing habits often result in fluff. Fluffy writing could include using two words where one would do, creating a list of three when one item could suffice, or even using two verbs with a slash between them, as if the writer can’t make up her mind. Direct writing, on the other hand, is using the fewest words possible to express each sentence. It’s a demanding way to write, but it’s precisely what the admissions committee wants.