Your medical school personal statement is your first chance to let the adcoms see who you are beyond your stats. An engaging, well-written essay will make them want to meet you for an interview to learn even more about you. There are 5 application essay killers that you need to avoid. This blog post will show you what NOT TO DO in order to submit a successful, acceptance-worthy personal statement for medical school.
- Fatal Flaw #1: Lack of substance
- Fatal Flaw #2: Failure to answer the question
- Fatal Flaw #3: Clichéd writing
- Fatal Flaw #4: Superficiality
- Fatal Flaw #5: Muddled thinking
Med school application essay Fatal Flaw #1: Lack of substance
Pique your readers’ attention and then maintain their interest with an essay that contains:
- Substantive self-reflection
- Use of specifics, examples, and anecdotes
- Revelations of your thought processes and feelings
You need to start your writing process with self-knowledge. You don’t have to search the internet or a large library to fulfill this introspective step. Start by thinking about your experiences and your dreams. Search your head and your heart. That is where the substance of a good personal statement is stored.
Use of specifics, examples, and anecdotes
Once you’ve collected your thoughts, use anecdotes, specifics, and examples to show that your dreams are grounded in experience. Good examples can bring your essays to life and engage the reader.
Which is more vivid and engaging: stating that you worked in a soup kitchen over the summer, or describing how you felt standing behind the buffet table ladling out soup to mothers and children at your local women’s shelter in 90+ degree weather?
Revelations of your thought processes and feelings
At the same time, recognize that essays containing only examples and anecdotes won’t necessarily reveal your thought processes and motivations. Limiting yourself like that may also come off as superficial. Make sure you balance your stories with insight and analysis. To return to our women’s shelter example above, which would be better – saying that you built relationships by talking to some of the women, or describing a particular conversation you had, and then elaborating on how it affected you? Motivated you? Changed you?
How to avoid Fatal Flaw #1
Engage your readers by constructing your essays (personal statements and secondaries) on a foundation of self-reflection and with a structure consisting of an astute use of examples balanced by analysis. Working one-on-one with an expert advisor will help you put your self-reflection, thoughts, anecdotes, and insights into a cohesive, interesting essay that will get you ACCEPTED!
Med school application essay Fatal Flaw #2: Failure to answer the question
Med school applicants often ask, “What does the admissions reader want?” They want you to answer their question. It sounds simple enough, but too frequently, applicants don’t fulfill this simple request.
If the question asks you to discuss a failure, somewhere in that essay you must discuss a time when you really blew it. Follow the moment you would prefer to forget with lessons learned, and if appropriate, add in a nice dose of how you successfully handled a similar subsequent situation. But the starting point must be an answer to the question posed.
If the question asks why you want to attend a specific med school, you need to provide specifics about how that program relates to your interests and goals. Don’t respond with an answer that could apply to all medical schools. That is a non-answer, non-starter, and probable ding. Don’t tell them why you are more qualified than anyone else to attend their program. Just answer the question.
What if it’s an open-ended question with general instructions? Simple – just follow the general instructions and enjoy the luxury of writing about what interests you and best presents your qualifications.
How to avoid Fatal Flaw #2
Keep your application alive and answer the question. Don’t assume that the application “really” wants to know something that you want to write about. The Medical School application is designed to get specific information about the applicants. Answering the question being asked will give them the information they are looking for. Not answering it can put your application in the rejected pile. Working together with one of our consultants will ensure that you are answering the questions being asked in the most compelling way possible. Explore our Medical School Admissions Services for more information.
Med school application essay Fatal Flaw #3: Clichéd writing
Don’t hide your lucid answers to essay questions behind meaningless verbiage and abused clichés.
Take a look at this:
“When I was shadowing a physician, I wanted to exceed patient expectations and let them know that I was taking their health to the next level, so first and foremost by thinking outside the box, I helped draw conclusions across multiple disciplines and immersed myself in the healthcare administrative vertical as well. When I was focused on the administrative element in the hospital office space, I would spend a ton of time building and updating scalable systems, from knowledge management to invoicing and payroll.”
What? Yikes! It looks like this guy used his grand thesaurus of buzzwords and crammed as much jargon into his short paragraph as possible. Write directly and clearly so people can understand you. Can the buzz!
Perhaps a translation would be:
“When I was shadowing a physician, I wanted to impress our patients with outstanding performance. I personally and creatively drew from my experience on the hospital floor and as an administrative assistant to improve some administrative tasks, ensuring that all systems from personnel to invoicing supported the hospital staff.”
For more on what real writers (and readers) think of the latest in vapid jargon, please see: ‘Twas the Night Before Deadlines: A Cautionary Tale of Cliches.
How to avoid Fatal Flaw #3
Write pointed and direct answers to the questions. Can the buzz! Adcom readers are trained to read essays and read between the lines. Filling your essay with meaningless verbiage will cause a big red flag to be raised. Work one-on-one with a pro who will help you remove the fluff and make your ideas shine to create an essay that will get you ACCEPTED.
Med school application essay Fatal Flaw #4: Superficiality
When you write superficially you tend to blend into the great mass of applicants who, on a superficial level, are very much like you. They may have the same goal (or similar, since you’re all applying to med school). They have similar education and industry backgrounds. They have done about the same type of prep you’ve done to gain acceptance.
How can you distinguish yourself?
Use specifics to tell your unique story and portray yourself distinctively. Avoid umbrella words that have broad definitions and that cover any number of desirable qualities in the admissions process. For example, take the term “leadership”: Yes, you want to demonstrate leadership, but you don’t want to do so by blabbing on and on about your “leadership abilities.” Instead, you want to provide an example that shows you in a leadership role and breaks down your role into more specific subcategories of leadership that were key to your success.
Some specific, more unique components of leadership that you can focus on include:
- Establishing a goal or vision
- Obtaining buy-in
And this is just a sample. Not all leaders can claim these qualities, and only a handful can write about the specific example you will provide.
How to avoid Fatal Flaw #4
Be real. Avoid umbrella words, use specific examples, and banish superficiality from your primary and secondary application essays. Working with an expert Accepted advisor will help you write an essay that only YOU could write, and will make you stand out from the crowd.
Med school application essay Fatal Flaw #5: Muddled thinking
You’ve done your self-reflection, made sure you answered the question, avoided clichés, and used details and specifics, but somehow your essay isn’t working. It seems all over the place. Unfocused and hard to follow.
Even if you have a clear goal or sense of direction, you have to structure your essay so that your reader can easily follow your thought process.
Here are a few tips to ensure that logical structure and coherent presentation.
A core idea or theme
Every essay should have a single message you are trying to convey and you should be able to boil that theme down to one, or at most two, sentences. Everything in your essay should support that theme.
A logical structure
You may have multiple examples in your personal statement or simply different subtopics to prove your main point. That’s fine. But you need to organize them either chronologically or thematically. Either one will work, but there needs to be a structure, and you need to stick to it.
Use transition to help your reader move from one subtopic to the next and see the connections or contrast between these subtopics. Transitions are like signposts guiding your reader along the path of your essay.
Before you start writing your personal statement or secondaries, think about what you want to say clearly and critically. As I said when discussing “Lack of Substance” (Fatal Flaw #1), you need to examine your head and your heart. Just make sure your head is in good working order when it listens to your heart and that your essay is structured so the reader sees that both these organs are working just fine.
How to avoid Fatal Flaw #5
Write so that the reader can follow your thought-process. Be sure that your essay is a coherent whole. Clarify what you want to say and how best to say it when you work with an experienced med school admissions pro.
Why avoiding these Fatal Flaws matters so much
This first impression can be the difference between getting a coveted interview and a rejection letter. You’ve seen what the common mistakes are when writing your medical school essay, and ideas on how to avoid them. Working one-on-one with an expert on your application will ensure that you don’t make mistakes that destroy your chances, and will help you write a really amazing app that will impress the adcom and get you ACCEPTED!
For 25 years, Accepted has helped applicants gain acceptance to their dream healthcare programs. Our outstanding team of admissions consultants features former admissions directors, admissions committee members, pre-health advisors, postbac program directors, and doctors. Our staff has guided applicants to acceptance at allopathic (MD) and osteopathic (DO) medical schools, residencies and fellowships, dental school, veterinarian school, and physician assistant programs at top schools such as Harvard, Stanford, Penn, UCSF, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, and many more. Want an admissions expert to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!