Because medical schools receive thousands of applications from applicants with strong GPAs and MCAT scores, these qualifications are not, on their own, enough to set you apart. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 10.5 percent of applicants with combined GPAs of 3.8-4.0 and MCAT scores of 36-38, (where 4.0 is the highest possible GPA and 38 represents the 99th percentile), were not accepted to a single medical school. And given that admissions committees are sifting through record-high numbers of applications each cycle, it’s doubly important for applicants to do everything they can to stand out through their personal characteristics.

One of the best ways to set yourself apart is with a well-written and interesting personal essay. This is, of course, easier said than done. Many students, especially premeds, find crafting effective personal statements particularly difficult. Many may lack significant writing experience as a result of science-heavy undergraduate curricula. They may not realize how different medical school personal statements are from college essays.  Or they simply may not be aware of how much reflection and introspection it requires to prepare, edit, and polish a strong personal statement.

To help you out, here are some tips to get started:

Set aside time to reflect. Strong writing requires strong thinking!

Often, the most difficult and time-consuming part of writing an essay (or anything else) has little to do with the actual writing. An effective personal essay is the product of many hours of self-reflection; it takes time and patience to find creative and meaningful themes, before you even craft your first sentence.

Remember, this is your moment to be creative! Think outside the box, review your experiences, consider your motivations and personal qualities. Though you probably won’t end up including all of your related experiences, organizing your thoughts will give you a better picture of your potential essay topics.

Choose interesting, unique themes and supporting experiences.

There are many themes that could make for a successful personal essay – the trick is finding one that will allow you to showcase both your reasons for wanting to pursue medicine, and your appeal as a candidate. As such, choose topics that genuinely reflect and connect your unique personal qualities and accomplishments.

For example, suppose you’ve done clinical research in other countries, studied public health, love foreign language and did a home stay in Spain one summer.  All of these experiences share a global perspective; your essay will be stronger by connecting these activities with a common thread, rather than treating them as separate components.

Tell a story.

As with any personal statement, a great rule of thumb is “show, don’t tell.” The personal essay is a great opportunity to introduce some narrative, or anecdotal content, that brings your experiences, accomplishments and ambitions to life. When you talk about experiences that have motivated and reinforced your desire to practice medicine, use detailed representative stories. Similarly, you might think about the individuals who have shaped your life and influenced your career choice, and tell a story about that person and your relationship to him or her. Doing so is not only more convincing, but more unique – no one else has had exactly the same experiences.

Avoid approaches that are over-used, ineffective or risky.

The cliché. “I want to become a physician because I like science and I want to help people.” “I want to make a difference.” Medical schools assume that you possess the desire to enhance patients’ quality of life.  They are seeking confirmation that you are familiar with what’s necessary to acquire medical education and to serve as a physician.

 The epiphany into medicine. “I knew right then that I was meant to be a doctor.” Choosing a medical career should be the result of many thoughtful, conscious, and reflective decisions, not an instantaneous realization.

 The narrative resume.  Choose several significant and distinguishing experiences to elaborate on; do not rehash all of your activities and achievements. Show another side of you not reflected in transcripts or recommendation letters.

The arrogant or grandiose. Describe your accomplishments with humility.  It’s expected that your greatest contributions to the field of medicine are yet to come.  When setting future goals, it’s good to be ambitious, but temper your dreams with a sense of realism.

Get a second opinion.

Every writer needs an editor. So make sure to get a professor, premed advisor, or other individual whose opinion you trust to read your essay, and give you feedback.

And, of course, don’t hesitate to contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.