If you have experienced any form of severe hardship – at any time in your life – medical schools want to know. Prior to the 2023-2024 cycle, AMCAS allowed candidates to self-identify as a disadvantaged applicant because of social, economic, or educational circumstances. Aiming to leave behind the negative connotations of the term “disadvantaged,” this year’s question has been replaced with “Other Impactful Experiences” and asks,
Have you overcome challenges or obstacles in your life that you would like to describe in more detail? This could include lived experiences related to your family background, financial background, community setting, educational experiences, and/or other life circumstances.
This essay allows applicants to contextualize the challenges they have faced. With additional prompts and examples of what to include, applicants will have more guidance and greater scope for what kinds of information to share here.
The purpose of the question remains basically the same, however: to promote a more holistic review of the candidate’s application. The benefit of applying as a disadvantaged applicant in the past was that most medical schools would not reject the candidate’s application until it had been reviewed by at least one admissions officer. In other words, the applicant wasn’t screened out automatically because of their GPA or test scores. The AAMC is providing additional guidance to medical schools on the appropriate use of this year’s question, as well as training to reduce unconscious bias and improve holistic review.
Should you answer the Other Impactful Experiences question?
Many applicants will not need to answer this question. If your answer is flippant or shallow, it could do you more harm than good. On the other hand, the obstacles in your life might not be something you want to share. If this is the case, don’t feel obligated to write anything.
If you do answer this question, you are asked to write a short, 1,325-character essay describing your experiences. This isn’t the place to repeat what you’ve written about in your personal statement and activities. Instead, think of this as a separate but related piece of the puzzle, one that will provide a fuller understanding of who you are.
What should you include in your Other Impactful Experiences essay?
To answer this question well, you will need to reflect on your experiences to determine how life circumstances beyond your control have affected and/or limited you and your opportunities. These can relate to your family situation or financial background, the community in which you were raised, the educational opportunities you had (or didn’t have), the impact of your religion on your life, or other life experiences.
Unlike your personal statement, which should focus primarily on your mature experiences, this essay is an opportunity to discuss experiences from any point in your lifetime, including your very early life. Here are some examples:
- Growing up in a restrictive community that limited certain activities or potential careers
- Struggling with an undiagnosed learning disability
- Taking on a demanding caregiving role for an ailing family member
- Growing up with a single parent or in an impoverished and/or high crime community
- Being stigmatized because of factors beyond your control (e.g., language, sexual orientation, religion)
- Holding multiple jobs through high school (or college), which had an impact on academic performance
Some applicants will have experienced multiple challenges that could be included in this essay. Creating a timeline of the barriers that you encountered from the beginning of your life to the present can help you identify which ones are most relevant here and which might be better placed in other parts of your application.
How do you write the Other Impactful Experiences essay?
Having read hundreds of these kinds of essays in my over two decades of admissions experience, our admissions consultants have seen what makes a successful statement. The following approaches will help you tackle this new question.
1. State the facts.
Did your family rely on food stamps? Did you live in Section 8 housing? Simply stating the objective facts can help you quickly and effectively approach this portion of the application. These details will provide the selection committee members with the information they need to understand just how hard you had to work to meet your educational goals.
2. Show how the different parts of your life connect.
You can include any details about your childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood that are relevant. Focusing only on college or not sharing information that could explain why you were not prepared to enter college – such as attending a low-performing public school that had inadequate materials for its students – could hurt your application. You might need to start with your parents, especially if they immigrated to the United States before you were born or when you were a child. Any events that had a direct impact on the resources available to you should be included, from before your birth to the present day.
3. Keep the focus on you.
Most people prefer to write about someone other than themself, but this essay isn’t about the struggles of your parents, your siblings, or even your community. Their experiences set the stage for who you are today.
4. Avoid blame or bitterness.
Reflecting on the challenges you’ve faced can be difficult and could bring up some unresolved feelings. These feelings might be valid, but this essay is not the proper space to work through them. Try journaling about them, going for a walk, or otherwise clearing your head before continuing to work on this essay.
5. Keep your tone positive.
The tone you establish in your essays – both here and elsewhere in your application – says a lot about your character. If the tone is one of gratitude, the selection committee might be impressed that you have found ways to thrive despite severe disadvantages. If you attempt to manipulate your reader or elicit pity by exaggerating or telling them how to feel about the events of your life, the response will not be positive. Make conscious decisions about how you approach the tone of this essay.
6. End on a high note.
The best essays celebrate what has gone right or what the applicant has been able to accomplish despite the difficulties they have faced. Did you work throughout high school to be able to pay for college? Did your patriarchal family want you to marry young, but you followed your dream of studying instead? Sharing how you’ve advocated for yourself and found ways to be successful despite obstacles reveals your resilience.
It’s important to remember that your application will be treated with the utmost respect and that you are heroic for overcoming obstacles that would have prevented most people from applying to medical school. Congratulate yourself for making it to this point in your education!
Do you need help writing your Other Impactful Experiences essay or any other element of your medical school application? Explore our and work one-on-one with an Accepted advisor who will help you create a strong, successful, admission-worthy application.
Since 2001, Cydney Foote has advised hundreds of successful applicants for medical and dental education, residency and fellowship training, and other health-related degrees. Admissions consulting combines her many years of creating marketing content with five years on fellowship and research selection committees at the University of Washington School of Medicine. She’s also shared her strategy for impressing interviewers in a popular webinar and written three books and numerous articles on the admissions process. Want Cydney to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!