3 reasons your personal statement is making you look foolish and what to do about it
“Nothing gets our back up more than an unrealistic attitude to what a career in medicine is all about. We want to recruit competent future doctors, not disillusioned, depressed dropouts”
(Former admissions tutor at a UK medical school)
I’ve seen a great number of personal statements and one thing is clear. It is very easy to separate the clear winners from the clear losers. Apart from these there are those ‘in between’ statements who may get just about qualify for an interview but are highly likely to get shot down and rejected on the basis of one or two misjudged sentences.
The plan is to get shortlisted of course, but be aware that a large percentage of your interview will be based on your personal statement. Interviews will be stressful and that ridiculous line in your application will come up at some point of the interview. Don’t shoot yourself before you begin.
Mistake number 1: Unviable reasons for choosing medicine.
I’ve seen alot of statements recently that hinge around one pivotal life event such as a family bereavement (or worse still 9/11!) leading to a sudden desperation to become a doctor. This may make your statement easier to write, particularly if you’re finding it difficult to define your real reasons, but they rarely stand up to scrutiny.
So if you had surgery at a young age or your mother is on dialysis, mention it very briefly as a reason that sparked your interest but not as a sole cause. Better to mention how various aspects of a medical career appeal to you such as an interest in science, working with people, being able to provide effective interventions to solve problems etc. True or not, these are realistic and easy to justify at interview. Remember, your success in getting into medical school does not depend on having the most unique and awe-inspiring reason for wanting to be a doctor. If you are still struggling here, check out our article on how to explain why you want to go to medical school.
Mistake number 2: Poor English
Obviously poor grammar and spelling are a disaster and if you send off your application form with either of these problems you deserve to fail.
More commonly, applications are technically fine but are worded badly or use convoluted sentence structures. This often happens following multiple revisions of a statement by numerous well meaning people who know little about eloquence or sentence structure.
Keep your sentences short and sharp. Avoid cliches. Each clearly seperate paragraph should deal with a specific area of your application. Remember George Orwell’s rules
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Mistake number 3: Lies
Lies are more common than you might believe. They are also quite easy to spot, particularly under the glare of an interview. If you get found out you will lose out on the whole application for the current year and possible future years too, as word travels upstream quite fast.
More importantly, people who lie have usually misunderstood the whole point of the application process. Quite apart from any ethical considerations, there should be no need to lie. It is quite easy to make a half achievement from year 7, sound good enough to your reader by careful wording and some thought to what the admissions tutors are looking for. See the personal statement guide for examples of how to do this.
There are plenty of other mistakes people make, but the above are very common and really make you impossible to differentiate from the many many fools in this game.
PS. Like what you read?Join our private mailing list for free exclusive content and and more insider info.
Or tweet Leo for an instant answer to your query!
It is a rare applicant who does not feel anxiety about writing the essay that occupy the "Personal Comments" section of the medical school primary application. In 5300 characters, you are expected to craft a composition that will impress admissions committees and intrigue them enough to offer you an interview. Nearly every applicant tells us they wish there were a pat formula they could use to produce the "perfect" primary essay. Alas, we all know there's no such thing.
"Some approaches to the personal statement are so inherently flawed that it would not be advisable to use them," states Don Osborne, president of PreMed Success. "Oddly enough, though, these problematic strategies have traditionally been some of the most popular among applicants!" A description of the worst offenders follows, along with some useful techniques for turning them around.
The "Annotated Resume" Essay. In this kind of essay, applicants essentially rewrite their resumes, beginning with birth or some other early stage of life, and proceeding to high school and finally college accomplishments. It resembles a chronological list of events more than an essay. However, the purpose of a personal statement is to have applicants articulate as clearly as possible their most compelling reasons for applying to medical school-and highlight relevant facts of their lives to support this motivation. Resume items are certainly not irrelevant, but it is up to you to bring it to life with details explaining how your past experience illustrates your values and reasons for wanting to practice medicine.
The "High School Hero" Essay. This kind of writing focuses primarily on one particular point in the past at which applicants feel they were at their best. Though this experience may seem to applicants to reveal their great potential, focusing on it in your AMCAS application might prompt your reader to wonder whether the great accomplishment described in the essay represents your only such success (i.e. a fluke). Though there is certainly nothing wrong with relating the most shining examples of success in your personal history, it is up to you to prove that these represent mere glimpses of your innate potential.
Furthermore, by focusing on only one event, the "high school hero" essay potentially ignores other important factors that need to be addressed in the application. For example, if your GPA is below average for admissions to most medical schools, a glowing story about a shining moment in your life does little to mitigate the grave concerns that med school admissions committees may have about your ability to handle the academic rigor of med school.
The "Sick Relative" Essay. Almost everyone has had at least one relative who has endured some sort of serious illness. Therefore, this experience is not unique. Applicants who feature a description of such an experience as the focal point of their primary essays miss an important opportunity to distinguish themselves from their fellow applicants. For many, however, the experience of wishing they had the power to help a loved one suffering from illness honestly sparked their interest in medicine as a career. For applicants like these, since intention counts less than action, tell what actions you took in response to a family member's illness that might demonstrate an interest in medicine, such as researching the illness or possible treatments on the Internet or at the library, or going on to study the workings of this same illness in the laboratory as a student later on. Remember that the purpose of your personal statement is to present evidence that you possess the skills, qualities, and interests relevant to a career in medicine.
The "I Want to Be A Doctor Because I Want to Help People" Essay. Some applicants to medical school make their desire to help others the thesis of their primary essay. Unfortunately, however, while it may seem a good enough reason to the applicant, this statement will not seem as compelling to the admissions officer, who has read thousands of essays expressing similarly altruistic sentiments. Again, taking this approach robs applicants of an important chance to stand out from the crowd. Everyone who wants to be a doctor wants to help people; helping people is what being a doctor is all about.
"The key is to remember that stating the desire to help others doesn't necessarily mean a person has what it takes to do so," explains Monica Osborne, INQUARTA editor. "The challenge for every applicant is to find a way to show how this desire to help others has motivated action in the past and will continue to do so in the future." Osborne offered the following questions as a template for building a different essay:
- How do my science background, my research background, my academic work, my community involvement, my clinical experiences, and my ambitions for the future all relate to medicine?
- What stories can I tell to persuade readers that I already have a head start on developing the skills of a competent and caring physician?