Personal Essay

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.

Composition

Your 5300-character essay (the character limit for AMCAS) requires focus. Your essay should be an invitation to know you, tell the story of who you are, and present an argument of why you will make an excellent physician.

  • You may want to start with a "hook" - an anecdote or statement that engages the reader and draws them into your essay.  This should be short, snappy, clear and grab the attention of the reader.  And it will introduce your overall theme or focus.
  • Your essay should be a story.   For example, you might explain (a) a particular interest that spans both your academic achievements and your extracurricular experiences, (b) a unique background, or challenges that have shaped who you are, (c) particular health care issues that have been of interest to you and why or (d) how you have developed your interest in medicine over time.   You could end your essay with your long-term professional goals, what you will be doing in the coming year, or tie your ending to your beginning.
  • Write with depth and evaluation, feeling and reflection, not broadly and vaguely.
  • Your essay should show your value, your qualities, experiences and competencies that will make you an excellent physician.
  • Write with personal details.
  • You can include short examples and anecdotes (but no more than 2 or 3 of these).
  • Remember that the meaning you found in an experience is as important as that experience.
  • Writer's block and don't know where to start?  Start somewhere, start in the middle and not the beginning, write on paper, close the computer screen and type, verbally compose your story and record it, and/or consult with the Writing Studio for help.

Don't

  • Don’t write an English essay, academic paper, or summary of your resume.
  • Don't be wildly creative, gratuitous, cute, theatrical or dramatic.
  • Don’t use cliches and vague phrases.
  • Don’t list items and don't quote others.
  • Don’t list an experience without context or reflection.
  • Don’t over inflate your accomplishments/activities or include inaccuracies.
  • 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, the moment when you decided to be a doctor, or how heroes wear white coats.
  • Don't spend all of your space talking about someone else (this essay is about you).
  • Don't repeat what you've said in your 15 experiences, although you may choose to elaborate more fully on one experience, begin with a meaningful experience, or discuss how your experiences interact in a manner that the 15-experience format doesn’t allow for.

Do

  • Use simple and clear English.
  • Use action verbs and active voice rather than passive.  Not “I was given the opportunity to volunteer in”, but rather "I volunteered in ... " 
  • Write as though you were talking with someone in person.
  • Include personal details on people, places, what you saw and did... so the reader can form a picture and distinguish you from other applicants.
  • For every anecdote or experience, explain why it was meaningful and relevant to you.  Don't make a reader guess at your intent.
  • Consider that if someone else could have written your essay, it's not personal enough. 
  • Expect to do multiple rewrites.
  • Expect it will take longer than you think.
  • For first draft(s), disregard character limits; it’s more important to get your thoughts down.  Later you can trim words and phrases to meet the limit.
  • It often helps to step away from your essay for a few days, then go back to it.
  • Ask others to read your essay for content, especially those individuals who know you well to ensure that your authentic voice is coming through.
  • If you aren’t totally pleased, write 2 or 3 different statements from different angles and then wait a few days and evaluate them.
  • Circle all the times you use the word "I" and if there are too many, rewrite some sentences.
  • Check for typos and remember that spell checkers don’t catch all errors (“there” vs. “their”).
  • Save all drafts in case you want to go back to them.  Some of your reflections might be useful for secondary applications or for reviewing before interviews.

NOTES:  See the 2020 AMCAS Application Guide for application instructions (the essay information is on page 54).

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

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 Help

You can make an appointment with the TWP Writing Studio if you need help beginning or crafting your personal statement.  If you have a good rough draft and have questions or concerns, the HPA Office has two Personal Statement Readers who can read a draft and give you feedback.  Check with the HPA Office for details (919-684-6221,