Will your undergraduate degree in Music, English, or Economics put you at a disadvantage when the time comes to apply to medical school? Not at all! Medical schools want well-rounded students with the potential to become passionate, dedicated physicians, and following your heart into art or another non-science discipline can demonstrate that you have varied interests and passions. And assuming you did well in your science prerequisites, your non-science major can be one of your greatest strengths when battling those competitive medical school acceptance rates.
There are many ways to tell your story. Here are some of the elements that can make up a winning personal statement for a medical school applicant with a liberal arts background. Ask yourself:
What do you care about?
You probably chose your undergraduate major for several reasons – career opportunities, high grades, inspiring professors – but hopefully the main reason was your genuine interest in the subject. In your medical school application, you will have many opportunities to convey this interest: in your personal statement, your secondaries, and your extracurricular activities.
To write compelling application essays, however, you’ll need to do more than state your love for the Louvre or for Einstein. Dig deeply into your passion and explain – with specific examples – how you expressed it. Even mundane experiences can become extraordinary when infused with your personality – both the big events and the nuances that make you who you are. Together, these details will show the admissions committee that you’re a multidimensional human being with the breadth and depth to learn on different levels and relate to your patients while contributing to the medical school classroom.
What skills have you picked up?
As a non-traditional student, you bring a very different set of skills and experiences to the medical school community. Your job now is to translate these into ones that are relevant to the medical profession. For example:
• You know patient interactions are important, so explain how reporting for the college newspaper honed your empathetic and listening skills.
• You know that it’s essential to work closely with your classmates and colleagues, so write about the mentorship you provided while directing a one-act play (or tutoring mathematics or giving tours at an art museum).
• You’ve heard about the importance of memorizing and assimilating facts in medical school, so describe your facility for memorizing Keats and Shelley (or the periodic table or the guitar chords to the songs you wrote for your band).
In each case, select specific examples that demonstrate your strengths and make your essay come alive. Regardless of your major, your personal statement should emphasize the qualities that will make you a good medical student and physician.
Why do you want to be a doctor?
Even after pursuing your other passions, you still want to be a doctor. It’s particularly important for applicants who strayed from the normal premed track to explain this decision in honest, heartfelt terms that go beyond a basic desire to “help people.”
Instead, think about the people or events that were the catalyst for your decision to pursue medicine. Did you or a loved one experience a medical event? Were you exposed to health-related issues in any courses? Did you have a significant experience while volunteering?
Don’t discount any experiences as too big or too small. Mundane essays about helping people in the abstract or facing a medical condition can become extraordinary when infused with your personality – both the big events and the nuances that make you who you are.
Just as important, you need to share your understanding of what practicing medicine will be like, based on your interactions with physicians. What do you love about the profession? Knowing the challenges and difficulties, why is this still your career goal? Again, provide specific supporting examples. Your realistic expectations and first-hand observations will reflect your maturity and commitment to succeed as a physician.
Do you need more help?
As you’re writing about these things, make sure you do the following:
• Write a focused essay that goes beyond your GPA and MCAT scores.
• Select specific examples that demonstrate your strengths and make your essay come alive.
• Draw the reader into the story using anecdotes to illustrate your story and to bring out your unique experiences and perspectives.
Do you need assistance examining your premed profile, highlighting your strengths, and then writing about them in an impressive, compelling personal statement? Check out our Medical School Admission Consulting Services and work one-on-one with a consultant who will help you bring your competitive advantage to light. Click here to get started.
By Cydney Foote, former administrator at the University of Washington School of Medicine and author of three ebooks about medical education. Cyd has successfully advised medical school and residency applicants since 2001. Want Cyd to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!
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