February 26, 2015

Powerful Personal Statements: Part 1 - Frame of Mind

Lyn Jutronich

The medical school personal statement “prompt:”
Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school.*
You have 5300 characters (including spaces, mind you) to summarize every major activity that you’ve done in college and after, explain why you want to be a doctor, explain why you’d be a GOOD doctor, and differentiate yourself from the thousands of other pre-meds who also have ridiculously outstanding grades and decent MCAT scores.  Oh, don’t forget to explain that one C in the class you took as a freshman because you thought you were hot stuff and could handle an Upper Division hard science course because you got a 5 on the AP Bio test (oh wait, that was me.)

Easy, right?

Actually, it can be.  Writing your medical school personal statement can not only be easier than you thought it would be, but also terrifically rewarding and dare I say it, sometimes even fun.  At the very least, it will most likely be one of the more soul-searching activities you’ll have done thus far.

So how do you get into the proper frame of mind to write your essay?  It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you think writing your personal statement is going to suck, it will.  On the other hand, if you think it’s going to be awesome, it may or may not be – you do have to do a bit of work to create awesome.  The goal is to have a healthy level of anxiety, as well as some excitement and confidence.  Writing a personal statement is not like being able to curl your tongue – you WILL be able to do it.  And as important as it is, your application consists of lots of other stuff that is just as important (GPA, MCAT, letters of recommendation, to name a few).

You also don’t have to do it all in one sitting; breaking the process up into smaller pieces of work can make it seem less daunting.  I tell my students that even if you only work on your med school essays for 15 minutes a day, that’s still something.   If you can schedule a few hours or a whole day at a time, great!  Airplane and train rides are excellent ways to get this done.  
Most importantly, don’t think of your personal statement as this huge, heavy, ugly chore you have to do.  Even if you hate writing (or hate writing about yourself), it is an excellent way for you to not only prove yourself to an admissions committee, but also to truly understand why you want to be a doctor in the first place.  You’re going to have to tell this story over and over: in your personal statement, at your interview, and even throughout your career as a doctor.  You may as well like the way you tell such an important story about yourself!

*Further “instructions” from AMCAS (which are so broad that you can write about almost anything and have it still work for your essay):
“Use this section to compose a personal essay explaining why you selected the field of medicine, what motivates you to learn more about medicine, any pertinent information about you not included elsewhere in the application, special hardships or experiences that have influenced your educational pursuits, and commentary on significant fluctuations in your academic record not explained in the application.

Use the Personal Comments essay as an opportunity to distinguish yourself from other applicants. Some questions you may want to consider while writing this essay are:
Why have you selected the field of medicine?
What motivates you to learn more about medicine?
What do you want medical schools to know about you that hasn't been disclosed in other sections of the application?

In addition, you may wish to include information such as:
Special hardships, challenges, or obstacles that may have influenced your educational pursuits.
Commentary on significant fluctuations in your academic record that are not explained elsewhere in your application.”

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