Let’s get straight to the point. You want to create an AMCAS essay that makes you look good…really good. But you’re not a writer – you’re a premed, science-y person. So how are you going to compose a masterpiece of an essay without spending hours and days trying to figure out WHAT to write about and HOW to write it well?
Simple! You’re going to follow the straightforward advice that we provide in this blog post. Are you ready to rock your AMCAS essay? Read on!
Who should write your essays?
The obvious answer here is that YOU should (and if anyone else does for you, then you can expect to be found out and rejected). But there’s a bigger question here – Which YOU will be writing your essay?
I’d like to present two important principles here:
Principle #1: To thine own self be true
One of the purposes of the AMCAS essay is to provide a snapshot – a quick and accurate introduction – of yourself to the med school admissions board. If the application were to ask you to attach a photo, you wouldn’t include a picture of someone else, and I hope that you wouldn’t Photoshop or alter your photo to create an image of who you WISH you were, rather than of who you actually ARE.
Your essays should serve that same purpose. The stories that you tell in your AMCAS essay should be authentic and honest so that the YOU in your essay would be recognizable to anyone who actually knows you.
Principle #2: Put your best foot forward
While you want to be as authentic as possible, you also want to be sure that you’re not:
a) offering too much personal or private information
b) dwelling on your weaknesses.
Yes, you want to portray your true self (Principle #1), but you don’t want to needlessly air your dirty laundry. Nobody wants to read about your most recent breakup or how devastated you were when you woke up with a huge zit on the day of your high school prom. Furthermore, if you have difficulty juggling tasks or following directions, don’t be “too honest” and rant and complain about how you have so much trouble getting things done. Of course you should never ever EVER lie, but you also don’t need to volunteer irrelevant or inappropriate information or details that will make you look unqualified.
What should you include in your essay?
As we discussed, your AMCAS essay serves as your introduction to the med school admissions board. In this way, your essay much more resembles a human interest story than it resembles a report. As a “science person,” you may be more familiar with factual, data-driven, analytical writing, with reports that are based on facts, figures, and statistics. In your application, all of this data will be included in your score reports and your resume… not in your essay.
Your AMCAS essay, your own personal human interest story, needs to be anecdotal and emotional. This is your opportunity to reveal your passion, your humor, your drive, and, in short, your unique personality. Remember, the admissions members reading your essays are human beings. Their job is to wade through a mountain of boring, trite, monotonous essays in search of that compelling gem of a story – the one that you’re going to write.
For that gem to gel, you will need to choose meaningful experiences that show your strength of character, integrity, individuality, and most importantly, your non-academic qualifications and motivation for pursuing medical school and a career as a physician.
Which would be a more interesting essay – one in which you speak generally about how you volunteered in a volunteer setting, or one in which you talk specifically about your experience working in Uganda with Doctors without Borders? Obviously the latter – an experience shared only by a handful, if any, of your competitors, will stand out more than an essay in which you talk about a vague experience that every other applicant shares.
But what if you haven’t worked in Uganda or climbed Mt. Everest or discovered a cure for cancer while a freshman? What if your most notable achievements are a little more pedestrian? Specifics and stories will still make them stand out. Furthermore, if you include in your essays your distinctive motivations, take-aways, and insights from those critical events that are important enough to you to include in your AMCAS essay, you will have a killer essay.
When you choose your essay topic, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Will this topic authentically introduce me to the reader?
2. Is this topic distinctive, or is it just going to come across as one more essay about how a grandparent’s illness directed the author at the age of 10 to medicine?
3. Does this essay reflect positively on my fitness for a career as a physician?
5 effective techniques to improve your writing
So far we’ve talked about the WHO, WHY, WHAT, and HOW of creating an exemplary AMCAS essay. Now we’re going to offer some bonus tips that will help elevate your essay so it’s not just covering the right material in the correct order, but it’s actually written WELL.
1. Use active, lively, vivid verbs. You can “go” somewhere, or you can “meander,” “wander,” “race,” “rush,” etc. Variety enhances your verbiage!
2. Use metaphors and images to enliven your writing. This will help your reader jump into your experience.
3. Avoid clichés. Saying that you “think out of the box” isn’t really the most creative way of stating that you are creative. It’s just too overused.
4. Use suspense and irony. These elements show depth to your writing and to your personality.
5. Be succinct.
How should you structure your essay?
In this post we’re not going to talk about the actual writing and editing (we’ll save those technical elements for another time), but we are going to suggest HOW to structure your essay. After you choose your topic, you will need to sit down and make an outline that highlights the structure that your essay will take.
A successful essay structure usually looks like this:
1. Lead or hook
As a personal interest piece, you want your reader to read your essay out of interest, not obligation. The best way to do this is to draw your reader in with some captivating, spellbinding opening. “Hi, my name is…” or “I was born in…” or “I want to be a doctor because…” certainly won’t cut it! Stay away from the common and ordinary. Start with a catchy anecdote, question, bit of dialogue, or description that you think will capture your reader’s attention. Put your reader in the middle of whatever story you plan to tell.
Your thesis acts as the core idea of the essay. While a successful essay doesn’t necessarily need to spell out a main topic (for example, you don’t need to say “the purpose of this essay is…”), it should somehow be present in your essay – both as a guiding light to make sure that you don’t get lost in your writing and ramble on about a million different topics, and so that your reader remains focused and attentive to the point that you’re trying to convey.
The body of your essay is the longest section. In the body you’ll present evidence (specifics that add interest and credibility to your essay and distinguish you from your competition) to support your thesis. In this section of your AMCAS essay, you’ll want to order your points (and sub-points if you have them) either chronologically, logically, or thematically. You should always put your most interesting points earlier in the essay.
Your essay’s conclusion should restate your main idea or theme. You shouldn’t parrot what you introduced earlier in the essay, but you should find a way to include it and also relate an implication or two, for example, why this theme or story is important or revealing. Also, if you asked a question at the beginning of your essay, make sure you’ve answered it by the end.
Why do we have personal statements?
Do the essays in your med school applications serve as mere padding for the rest of your application? Or do they have some higher purpose?
I’d like to propose three important reasons WHY the med schools request essays in addition to all the stats and data that you provide in other sections of your application.
The purpose of the AMCAS essay is to…
1. Provide a window into who you are.
Not just into your grades and scores and impressive awards and experiences, but into the real you. Your AMCAS essay gives you an opportunity for the admissions community to meet you beyond the hard facts. This is your chance to introduce yourself.
2. Add insight and value to your application.
Your AMCAS essay will allow you to delve deeper into specific experiences and to discuss your motivation and the lessons you learned. Be careful not to merely repeat info found on other parts of your application; instead, build and add to it with an insightful essay.
3. Demonstrate writing ability.
Strong writing skills are indicative of strong communication skills, which are critical in the medical world. Let the adcom readers see that you know how to get your point across.
To sum up, your essays shouldn’t pad your application with meaningless filler material, but should serve as a different kind of PAD – Provide a window, Add value, and Demonstrate writing skills. Include these elements in your AMCAS essay, and you’ll be one step closer to creating a captivating piece of writing and capturing a spot in your dream med school!
For individualized assistance, check out Accepted’s AMCAS Application Advising and Editing Packages get matched with an expert med school advisor who will help you highlight your competitive advantage and get ACCEPTED!
By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted. Linda earned her bachelors and MBA at UCLA, and has been advising applicants since 1994 when she founded Accepted. Linda is the co-founder and first president of AIGAC. She has written or co-authored 13 e-books on the admissions process, and has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News, Poets & Quants, Bloomberg Businessweek, CBS News, and others. Linda is the host of Admissions Straight Talk, a podcast for graduate school applicants. Want an admissions expert to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!