Writing your personal statement for the AMCAS or AACOMAS application can be daunting. Although most students focus mainly on GPA and MCAT scores, the personal statement is a very important component of your application and should be carefully written. This is your opportunity to highlight things about you that are not mentioned in other sections of your application and to distinguish yourself from other applicants.
The AMCAS essay is limited to 5300 characters (~1 page). If you are applying for a dual-degree program (e.g., MD/PHD), you will be required to submit additional essays: the MD/PhD essay (3000 characters) and the Significant Research Experience essay (10000 characters). The AACOMAS essay is limited to 4500 characters. If you are applying to both M.D. and D.O. programs, you will need to be mindful of the character difference between the two essays.
You should have several different people objectively read your personal statement and provide constructive feedback. Your letter writers are often a great option. There are also resources on campus that can assist you, such as the Career Center, the UGA Writing Center, and Elizabeth Hughes (Honors Pre-Health Advisor). Consider the feedback you get carefully, but be sure that the personal statement is still written in your voice.
When should I start writing?
You need to begin working on your personal statement early in the spring semester prior to application. Remember that the people who are helping you with your statement will need time to review it and you will need time to work through multiple drafts. In addition, some of your letter writers will want to see a copy of your personal statement before they write your letter, so you should strive to have a competent draft on hand by March or April.
What should be included?
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?
- How have you demonstrated your interest and commitment to your decision?
- What experiences have allowed you to develop the skills necessary to be successful in medical school and to become an effective physician?
- Did you have any exposure to role models who influenced your decision? Which of their attributes inspired you?
- Are your perceptions of the medical profession realistic?
- What are your professional goals?
- Is there anything you wish for 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:
- Unique 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.
What should NOT be included?
- Avoid cliches: How many times do you think admissions committees have read the phrase, “I want to become a physician because I like science and I want to help people”?
- Avoid being vague: "[Insert experience] was challenging and rewarding." What does that mean? Be specific about what was impactful and how it affected you.
- Avoid brash decision-making: Your decision to become a doctor should be the result of a series of thoughtful, conscious, and reflective decisions. NOT an instantaneous realization. Similarly, you have not “always known” that you want to be a physician. No one is "born to be a doctor." Nothing is innate, you have to work for it.
- Avoid excuses: In general, there are better uses for your personal statement than explaining away and justifying poor grades, incidents of misconduct, etc. However, if you choose to address these subjects, be sure to focus on what you have learned from those incidents and how your experiences have made you a stronger person. Never, ever blame anyone else for your mistakes.
- Avoid restating resume: Choose ONE or TWO significant and distinguishing experiences to elaborate upon.
- Avoid grandiosity: Claiming that you plan to cure cancer (or HIV, or healthcare disparities, or anything else) shows a grave lack of understanding of whatever problem you are planning to solve. Similarly, avoid “I know what it is like to be a physician from [shadowing/clinical volunteer experience].” No, you do not. That is precisely why you are hoping to go to medical school.
- Avoid inflammatory or controversial topics: You do not know the values, beliefs, and background of the person who is reading your essay. For these reasons, you are advised to avoid making any strong statements regarding politics, religion, and other polarizing topics. Be extremely cautious to avoid expressing any views that could be construed as derogatory to any group. Additionally, your beliefs are not the only “correct” beliefs.
- Do not lie: Honesty and ethical behavior are the hallmarks of being a physician. Do not include details that you are not prepared to talk about or that are simply untrue.