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. When you specify that you are applying as disadvantaged, you will have a new section to complete in your application. AMCAS will request information about your family income levels, parent education, and other questions that help them determine how difficult it was for you to access higher education. The most important piece of information that you can provide in this area of the application is the Statement of Disadvantage. You have 1,325 characters that you can use to explain any factors that impacted your education, from the beginning of your life to your graduation from college. It’s unnecessary to cover any events after college.
The Worst Statement of Disadvantage
You want a Statement of Disadvantage that focuses on objective facts about you and your upbringing/circumstances. You’re not writing a saga, but a straightforward statement – anything bitter or defensive or that places blame on others will turn your professional document into a sob story, and that’s not what the adcom wants. Beware of the following SoD mistakes:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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 self 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.
5. 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 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.
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 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. Want Alicia to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!
• Ace Your AMCAS Essay, a free guide
• How This Inspiring Med Student Overcame the Odds – And Six Brain Surgeries, a podcast episode
• “I’m Smart, Really I Am!” Proving Character Traits in Your Essays