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, especially since admissions committees are sifting through record-high numbers of applications each cycle. One of the best ways to distinguish yourself from other applicants is through compelling, well-written essays that capture your journey to a career in medicine.
No matter which platform you apply through—AMCAS, AACOMAS, and/or TMDSAS—one of the most significant essays you will be required to write and submit along with your primary application is the Personal Statement. But each of the application platforms has different requirements for the Personal Statement, from the maximum length to the material you’re expected to cover. Below, we walk through each platform’s expectations for this essay.
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The AMCAS Personal Statement has a maximum of 5300 characters (including spaces). The objectives of this Statement are to make a compelling case for why you want to attend medical school, why you want to become a physician, and the type of physician you aspire to be.
Your mission in the Personal Statement is to connect your unique personal qualities, experiences, and accomplishments to your goals via specific examples. This does not mean restating what’s on your resume, but selecting a few formative experiences and weaving them into a cohesive narrative with a unified theme. There are many themes that could make for a successful personal statement—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 in an engaging, unique, and genuine way.
For example, suppose you’ve done clinical research in other countries and studied public health, or love foreign language and did a home stay in Spain one summer. A strong essay would connect these experiences under the theme of your interest in global affairs, then explain how that interest plays into your goals as a future physician.
The AACOMAS Personal Statement also has a maximum of 5300 characters (including spaces). This essay has similar goals to the AMCAS Personal Statement, plus you’re asked to demonstrate your fit with the osteopathic approach to medicine. Make sure to discuss how the osteopathic philosophy aligns with your goals.
The DO philosophy focuses on a holistic approach to practicing medicine, aiming to treat each patient as a whole person rather than a compilation of symptoms or injuries. This approach acknowledges that all the body systems are interconnected, that the body has the capacity to heal itself, and that the musculoskeletal system is especially important in reflecting and affecting the condition of all other systems.
One final note: make sure to mention your experience shadowing an osteopathic physician, if applicable.
The TMDSAS Personal Statement has a maximum length of 5000 characters (including spaces)—so, slightly shorter than the AMCAS and AACOMAS essays. While this essay has the same overall goal as the other two, the TMDSAS primary application involves two additional essays with which you won’t want the Personal Statement to overlap: the required Personal Characteristics essay and the optional Unique Circumstances essay.
The Personal Characteristics essay (2500 characters maximum) asks you to discuss your background, talents, skills, and/or prior experiences that would enrich your classmates’ educational experience. The Unique Experiences essay (250 characters maximum) asks you to discuss any unique circumstances or life experiences that are relevant to your application which have not previously been presented.
Take care to (a) delegate content to the most appropriate of the three essays and (b) avoid overlapping. If you’ve written a Personal Statement for another platform, this may mean moving some of that content to one of the other two essays and developing your TMDSAS Personal Statement in a different direction. Think of the three TMDSAS essays as a package of information about you and try not to replicate content.
Personal Statement Tips
Many premeds find crafting effective Personal Statements particularly difficult. You may have taken mostly science courses in college and thus lack significant writing experience, or you might not realize how different medical school Personal Statements are from college essays.
Writing an impressive and polished Personal Statement for med school requires a high degree of reflection and introspection. Here are some tips to help you 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. Try various techniques to help you review your experiences, consider your motivations, and elucidate your personal qualities: journal; meditate; talk to a friend; go on a walk and record a voice message into your phone. Though you probably won’t end up including all of your related experiences, excavating and then organizing your thoughts will give you a better picture of your potential essay topics.
Tell a story. As with any piece of writing, a great rule of thumb here is “show, don’t tell.” The Personal Statement presents an opportunity to introduce some narrative or anecdotal content that brings your experiences, accomplishments and ambitions to life. When you reference experiences that have motivated and reinforced your desire to practice medicine, use detailed, representative stories. Similarly, you might convey, via stories, your relationships with people who have shaped your life and career choice. Doing so is not only more convincing, it’s also unique—no one else has had exactly the same experiences.
Avoid unsuccessful approaches. Avoid the following over-used, ineffective or risky approaches:
- 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 be successful in medical school 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 your activities and achievements. Show a side of yourself 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.
Applying to medical school is a complicated process, and writing the required essays is no exception! Please contact Collegiate Gateway if you would like guidance on any aspect of the application and admissions process. As always, we’re happy to help!