If you have experienced any form of social, economic or educational disadvantage—at any time in your life—you can apply to medical school as a disadvantaged applicant. To receive this designation means that you will need to complete an additional essay on the AMCAS application. The character limit for this short essay is 1,325. Examples of each of the three forms of disadvantage are listed below:
- Social: Being treated differently due to ethnicity, language, religion or sexual orientation.
- Economic: Receiving any form of government aid or growing up in a single parent household on one income that is below the poverty threshold.
- Educational: Overcoming a learning disability or attending low performing public schools.
It can be difficult to know what to include in the Statement of Disadvantage. I recommend approaching it by using the following strategies:
- Create a timeline that includes any forms of social, economic or educational barriers that you experienced, from the beginning of your life through college.
- State the facts, no need to express any emotions or to emphasize any details.
- End on a high note.
Be sure to include the details of the most significant obstacles that you have overcome to reach higher education. One benefit of applying to medical school as a disadvantaged applicant is that most medical schools will not reject your application until it has been reviewed by at least one admissions officer — no automatic rejections based on GPA or test scores.
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!
When writing and editing your draft, there are some common errors people make that you can easily avoid. In the next section of this blog, I will cover what NOT to do in a statement of disadvantage.
Beware of making the following mistakes:
- DO NOT focus on unsubstantiated opinions, but rather on facts
Sharing your opinions here will not help to support or explain your status as a disadvantaged applicant. This paragraph allows you to state the facts of your experience. Did your family rely on food stamps? Did you live in Section 8 housing? Simply stating the facts will be the most helpful way to approach this area of the application. You may need to talk with family if you were too little to remember. Many families try to shield their children from this information. These details will simply provide the selection committee with the information that they need to understand just how hard you had to work to meet your educational goals.
- DO NOT focus on only one part of your life
You can include any details about your childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood that are relevant. Focusing only on college or not sharing information that may explain why you were not prepared to enter college, like attending low performing public schools that did not have enough materials for students, could hurt your application. You may need to start with your parents, especially if they immigrated to the U.S. 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 birth to graduation from college.
- DO NOT tell the story of parents or siblings
If the paragraph focuses only on the background and struggles of your parents or siblings, you may need to revise it to include more information about yourself. Many applicants prefer to write about other people. Did you work throughout high school to be able to afford applying to college? Stating what you did to advocate for yourself and how you found ways to be successful despite the obstacles will reveal your resilience. It’s heroic that you have made it this far in your application.
- DO NOT demonstrate bitterness
This short paragraph is not the space to begin to work through any family issues that you have not yet resolved. I don’t recommend complaining, accusing, or writing anything negative about other family members or people here. Those are valid emotions that you are experiencing, but journal about them elsewhere, go for a walk, or find other healthy ways to address them rather than sabotaging yourself by expressing them in your statement of disadvantage. Celebrate what has gone right or what you have been able to do despite the difficulties that have presented themselves.
- DO NOT elicit pity
The tone you establish in your essay will say a lot about your character. If the tone is one of gratitude, the selection committee may be impressed that you have found ways to thrive despite severe disadvantages. If you attempt to manipulate or elicit pity by exaggerating or telling the reader 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.
Having read hundreds of these essays in over a decade of experience in admissions, these have been the most unsuccessful approaches that I’ve witnessed. Avoiding the common pitfalls listed above will help you provide the selection committee with the information that they need to give your application a fair evaluation.
It can be helpful to have another person review this essay to make sure that you have included all relevant information and avoided the pitfalls mentioned above.
Do you need help writing your Statement of Disadvantage or any other element of your medical school application? Explore our Med School Admissions Services and work one-on-one with an Accepted advisor who will help you create a strong, successful, admission-worthy application.
Alicia McNease Nimonkar worked for 5 years as the Student Advisor & Director at the UC Davis School of Medicine's postbac program where she both evaluated applications and advised students applying successfully to med school and other health professional programs. She has served Accepted's clients since 2012 with roughly a 90% success rate. She has a Master of Arts in Composition and Rhetoric as well as Literature. Want Alicia to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!
• Ace the AMCAS Essay, free guide
• How This Inspiring Med Student Overcame the Odds – And Six Brain Surgeries, a podcast episode
• Approaching the Diversity Essay Question