Considering how much time and energy is focused on the personal statement for medical school, it can be difficult to know how to support your pre-med in the writing stages of the application. Since I’ve been speaking with lots of parents recently about personal statements, I would like to share what I’ve learned.
If you want to be a supportive pre-med parent, here are five things to make sure that you don’t do:
1. Be overly critical of early ideas or drafts
It takes time to brainstorm and outline this type of essay. If you encourage your son or daughter to be overly critical of their own work at this early stage, you will basically arrest progress by making it very difficult for your child to trust the writing process. Essentially you will be obstructing the self-reflection and iterative drafting process that creates a good personal statement.
Writing is a process. There are stages that, if used, allow for the writing to develop and improve with time.
2. Rush the process
By making your premed frantic about an upcoming deadline, she may skip steps and end up with a sloppy draft that she feels the need to submit because of the pressure you are placing on her – and despite her own dissatisfaction with the result. By identifying and managing your own anxiety for your child, you will be helping her to make better decisions. You will also be setting a good example of controlling your own emotions without taking them out on other people.
Writing is really just one little decision after another. If you are feeling rushed, you are less likely to use good judgment.
3. Second guess your child’s motivations or explanations
By making your son feel like you know him better than he knows himself, you will place him in the uncomfortable position of having to defend his views. That position will distract him from what he should be doing: expending energy on self-exploration and self-reflection or effectively presenting his views via his personal statement and experiences.
The writing required in the AMCAS application can provide a wonderful opportunity to learn more about oneself as a person. Give your son the space to explore and reflect his identity. He will not be able to show a confident face to the world if you destabilize his sense of identity.
4. Encourage your child to experiment
It can be disadvantageous to take a creative approach to writing personal statements. I recently read a personal statement in which the student described a photo, but never revealed who the people in the picture were; needless to say, it was confusing and frustrating to read the essay. It may become a great short story one day, but it took too much of the focus away from her as an applicant. With writing personal statements, it is essential that your pre-med be the focus—not an experimental writing style.
5. Compare your child’s essays to award-winning examples
Lately, I have spoken to many parents about why their premed’s personal statement doesn’t look like all the examples they’ve been reading online and in books. The reason for the difference is simple: Everyone has a unique story to tell, and your child’s is (and should be) different from the samples. It can be discouraging to read award-winning essays to your premed, especially when he is in the early stages of writing his own. Give him the space to explore what he wants to say and how he wants to say it.
With true support, your premeds can create a compelling personal statement that provides insight into who they are and what kind of doctor they want to become. Working with a consultant, like my colleagues and me at Accepted.com, can help your son or daughter find the right writing strategy.
With all my clients my goal is to help them create a statement that they will be proud to submit because it will be an authentic reflection of their character and personality.
And that’s exactly what the medical schools are looking for.
Alicia McNease Nimonkar is an Accepted advisor and editor specializing in healthcare admissions. Prior to joining Accepted, Alicia worked for five years as Student Advisor at UC Davis’ postbac program where she both evaluated applications and advised students applying successfully to med school and related programs.