Applying to Medical School

Don’t Forget to Personalize Your Personal Statement

Telling a story is better than having a cliche, forgetful statement

As I have begun reviewing personal statements (yes, some applicants are already working on them), I have noticed a similar problem among many of them: they are not that personal. After going back through them to figure out why, I identified a few contributing factors.

  • Too many experiences – Many applicants believe that there is a correlation between the number of experiences they include in their personal statements and the degree to which an admissions committee will be impressed. Therefore, they squeeze in as many experiences as possible – to the point where their personal statements end up reading like glorified laundry lists and ironically, end up providing little insight into who they are. One personal statement I read included over eight experiences! (Keep in mind that the character limit including spaces is 5300.) Therefore, pick just a few (about two to three) meaningful ones and bring each one to life by including details such as why you participated, your responsibilities, results you achieved and how it contributed to your wanting to become a doctor.
  • Too few details about the applicant – Sometimes the number of experiences is sufficient, but the details aren’t. For instance, another personal statement I read had a well-developed paragraph about shadowing a physician – a perfectly acceptable experience to write about. However, the problem was that while there were great details about the physician, the patient and the technology utilized, there was almost nothing about the applicant. There is nothing wrong with including details that set the stage for the experience. But they need to take a backseat to the most important detail of all: you.
  • Sufficient but irrelevant details about the applicant– And finally, sometimes there are sufficient details about the applicant, but much of it is irrelevant. For instance, if you struggled academically throughout most of college before finally seeing the light, you do not need to dedicate one-third of your personal statement to this. In this particular example, that is like waving a big red flag in front of the admissions committee. In general, for every detail you include, you need to ask yourself: “Is this detail contributing to the overall purpose of my personal statement?”

Remember: just writing about yourself doesn’t make the personal statement personal. By the time an admissions committee finishes reading your personal statement, it should have an in-depth understanding of why you are passionate about medicine and why you would make an excellent candidate to be a physician.

Ziggy Yoediono MD

Dr. Yoediono was a Duke University pre-major advisor, and an adcom member for Duke University School of Medicine, the University of Rochester School of Medicine and the Harvard Longwood Psychiatry Residency Program. Today, he is an Associate Director of Advising at MedSchoolCoach.

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