The next part of your assessment will examine how you presented yourself to the admissions committees. (You can review part 1 of your assessment in our earlier post, Reapplying to Med School: Evaluating Your Medical School Profile.) Keep in mind that this part of your application is necessarily subjective – there are often no right or wrong answers – but they should be subjected to the same rigorous critique as the previous post. Unlike your MCAT scores or grades, however, applicants have a lot of control over the elements in this section. Did you take full advantage of this to show yourself in the best light? This question is especially relevant when we look at the written portion of your application.
I find the accuracy of an assessment improves when it’s distinct from the remedies. This kind of critical review is not for the faint of heart. Chances are, you poured your hopes and dreams into your application the first time around. Figuring out where you went wrong can be painful. For this reason, we’re not going to examine how to address your weaknesses just yet. That will come in future posts. For now, let’s focus on how the admissions committee saw you, based on your interactions.
There’s no doubt that personal statements are highly subjective – what works for one reader might not work for the next. Nonetheless, it’s important to ask whether, in your honest opinion, you’ve presented the strongest possible personal statement.
Take a look at your personal statement and ask yourself:
- Was it enjoyable and interesting to read? If you were reading this about another person, would they come across strong? Would this be someone you might want as your physician?
- Did your essay begin with a strong lead paragraph that inspired the reader to continue?
- Did it tell a compelling story and describe your experiences instead of just listing what you’d done? Did you support claims about your abilities with anecdotal evidence?
- Did the essay focus on you rather than your projects or mentors?
- Did your stories demonstrate the key qualities desired in medical students: commitment, compassion, leadership, curiosity, critical thinking, maturity, etc.?
- Was your writing free of typos or grammatical errors?
- Did you have anyone else review it for content and style before submission?
Whether you’re a first-rate candidate or a borderline student, your personal statement will make an impression on the med school admissions committee. If you can’t answer “yes” to all the above questions, that impression might not be the one you want.
The experiences you choose to include in this section must reflect that you are a multi-dimensional person – one with the passion, curiosity, and integrity to excel in medical school. This section is your chance to include any aspects of your background where you made an impact and showed your commitment.
Ask yourself these questions (and if you didn’t answer them with a “yes” this time, make sure you do in your reapplication):
- Did the activities you described reflect a breadth of activities and intellectual pursuits?
- Did you focus on your responsibilities rather than just describing the experience?
- Did you identify what impact you had on each organization/project?
- Did you identify why each experience affected your commitment to enter medicine?
- How did you justify the choice of your AMCAS meaningful experiences? Were your longer essays personal and authentic?
- When writing about the experiences in your primary essay, did you provide additional details rather than repeating information?
The AMCAS application allows 700 characters to describe each activity, while the AACOMAS allows 600 characters. Cramming relevant, compelling information into these shorter essays can be awfully challenging. In your review, you need to examine whether you made each character count.
Letters of recommendation
Although not technically how you represent yourself, recommendation letters are an extremely important part of the application process and your challenge is to find faculty members who can write a compelling letter.
Here are some more questions to consider (and again, you want to be able to answer “yes” to each of these):
- Did you select recommenders who know you well, preferably beyond the classroom?
- Did your chosen recommenders represent different areas of your life to reflect your diverse pursuits?
- Did you supply them with your CV or a list of activities so they have a better idea of your pursuits?
- Did you advise them of any areas that you specifically wanted them to address to balance the rest of your application?
- If you were asked to write your own recommendation, did you do so in a timely manner so they would have time for edits?
- Did you provide each recommender with clear instructions about submitting them to the appropriate letter services for AMCAS or AACOMAS?
You might be feeling a bit fragile after such a critical review. If so, you’re doing it right! This exercise demands that you be ruthless and identify every potential flaw. Your ego might not like it, but you will be grateful when you have a clear roadmap to address your weaknesses.
“Presenting Yourself to Medical Schools: Your Primary Application” is the second post in our series: Medical School Reapplicant Advice: 6 Tips for Success.
Our next post looks at the next hurdles in the admissions process, and how well you cleared them.
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• Your 5-Step Guide to Successful Medical School Personal Statements, a free webinar
• Writing for Medical School: Personal Statements, Activities, and Secondaries, a podcast episode
• What NOT to Do in the Activities Section of Your Medical School Application