October 19, 2015

Great Advice for your Personal Statement from College Admission Counselors

Rob Humbracht

At the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, I attended a workshop put on by a company in Michigan that helps students with their college essays.  They gave out a handout with quotes that - while they are from college admissions officers - absolutely apply to personal statements for medical school as well.  If you’re looking for the source, here you go:

“Just give us one place, one time, one moment. The key is to show genuine passion, commitment and that they have what it takes to survive at the school.” Lorenzo Gamboa, Senior Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Santa Clara University

Many students think that their personal statement needs to include every significant moment in their pre-med journey, but it doesn’t.  How you do anything is how you do everything.  The reader will assume that how you connected with one patient is how you have approached every patient during each of your volunteer experiences.  How you have approached any of your activities is how you have approached all of your activities.  Rather than try to focus on everything you’ve done; go into depth about the most interesting and most important activity or activities.  It will better show the reader who you are.

“Don’t try to make this the essay that I remember at the end of the year. Just make it the best story you can tell.” Amy Jarich, Assistant Vice Chancellor and Director of Undergraduate Admissions, UC-Berkeley

I love this advice because it should take the pressure off, a bit, for your personal statement.  You don’t have to be amazing, just effective.  The personal statement won’t make or break your chances of admission.  If you don’t have a chance based on your numbers, your essay won’t matter.  The admissions essay is one piece, and its only job is to answer the questions:

  1. Why medicine (why you want to be a doctor), and
  2. Why me (why a med school should accept you)

That’s it.  Just make it the best story you can tell about yourself.

“I think sometimes students feel that because they haven’t found the cure for cancer they have nothing to share. Life is truly lived in the smaller moments.” Jan Deike, Assistant Director for Undergraduate Admissions, Vanderbilt University

‘Nuff said, right?  Writing your pre-med personal statement, you become acutely aware of just how little that you’ve done compared to your peers.  But it’s not about the amazing stuff you haven’t done; it’s about what you’ve learned from the things you have.  You can absolutely get into med school without curing cancer, so focus on something meaningful in a smaller moment along your journey to become a physician.

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