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Medical School Primary Application Essay

The AMCAS application to medical school asks for a lot of information about yourself. It includes biographical information, courses taken, and work experiences just to name a few.  The application also requires you to include a Personal Comments Essay, which is entered in section eight of the application. This essay provides an opportunity to distinguish yourself from other applicants and provide admissions officers with more insight into why you have chosen to pursue a career in medicine.

Many admissions committees place significant weight on this section, so we have compiled a list of seven tips to help you craft a well-organized and compelling essay.

1. Take the time to think about the content of your essay before writing a first draft. As you’re thinking about the structure of your essay, remember to keep the content general because it will go to all medical schools you apply to. Also try not to duplicate information provided elsewhere in the application as you only have about a page to write. Some questions you may want to consider before you begin writing include:

  • Why do you want a career in medicine?
  • What motivates you to learn more about medicine?
  • What should medical schools know about you that isn’t described in other sections of the application?

For more information, see Section 8 of the AMCAS Instruction Manual for suggestions of things to think about when writing this essay.

2. Include details that might better explain your path to medical school. For example, you might consider:

  • Addressing hardships, challenges, or obstacles that have influenced your educational pursuits.
  • Explaining significant fluctuations in your academic record not explained elsewhere in your application.

3. Show don’t tell. For example, if challenges in your childhood or a defining experience led you to consider medicine, use details to describe those experiences and bring life to your essay. 

4. Stay on topic. There is a 5,300 character limit (including spaces) in this section. This equals about one page of writing, single-spaced.  Make sure your essay is interesting, follows a logical and orderly flow, relates to your reasons for choosing medicine, and why you believe you will be successful as a physician.

5. Don’t be afraid of the editing process. Be sure to write more than one draft. Ask additional people to review and make edits to your essay. Having others read your essay will help you gain new perspectives on your writing and refine the story you want to tell admissions committees.

6. Remember to proofread and keep these formatting tips in mind. The AMCAS application does not include spell check, so be sure to proofread your essay for any typos or grammatical errors. You will not be able to go back into this section to make any edits after you submit your application. To avoid formatting issues, we recommend that you draft your essay in text-only word processing software, such as Microsoft Notepad or Mac TextEdit, then copy and paste your essay into the application. You can also type your essay directly into the AMCAS application.

7. If you are applying to MD-PhD programs, there are two additional essays you will need to complete. The first essay asks your reasons for pursuing the combined degree and is relatively short. The second essay asks you to describe your research activities and is about three pages long. You can read more about these additional essays in the AMCAS Instruction Manual or get further guidance from your pre-health advisor or career counselor.

For more AMCAS-related tips, please check out the AMCAS Tools and Tutorials page. There, you’ll find video tutorials, presentations, guides, and recordings of past webinars, including the Ask Admissions series. 

Given that the average applicant in 2009-2010 applied to 13 programs, the AMCAS can save you a ton of time by allowing you to submit just one application rather than a dozen or more. Learn more about the AMCAs personal statement in this article.

AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) is a centralized application service for medical schools, allowing you to save time by submitting just one application. With over 140 MD granting institutions participating, you’ll likely use AMCAS if you’re applying to medical school in the US. While this service does enhance convenience, it also makes it even more difficult to stand out. Most applicants will have similar backgrounds to yours, and the AMCAS personal statement is your biggest opportunity to show who you are as an individual and persuade the admissions officers to choose you.

As part of your AMCAS application package, you’ll be asked to write a personal statement of not more than 5,300 characters. Although it varies from essay to essay, this will give you enough room for an essay of about one page and one paragraph. This is a hard limit, and the system won’t accept more characters than that, so it is important to keep this limit in mind as you plan and write your essay. Most word processors will give you two character counts, one that includes spaces and one that does not. For the AMCAS personal statement, spaces count as characters.

However, the bigger issue for applicants is that AMCAS doesn’t provide a traditional prompt. You will simply be asked to write an essay about why you want to go to med school. Therefore, what exactly should you include in your AMCAS essay?

Ultimately, that decision is yours, but the admissions officers will be looking for you to show passion for patients and potential to excel both in medical school and in your future career as a doctor. To help, consider these four questions.

Why are you pursuing a career in medicine?

Of course, you are free to answer this question any way you like. However, unless the answer is that you want to make patient’s lives better, medicine might not be for you. From beginning to end, make sure that your essay is patient-focused.

Also, it is common for applicants to begin their essay with an anecdote from their childhood. In our experience, med schools are really only interested in your life after you began college and won’t particularly be impressed with anything before that regardless of how important it was in your path to choosing this career. Instead, choose stories that show the adult you taking concrete steps in the field of medicine.

What makes you an excellent candidate to become a physician? Why do you have what it takes to succeed?

Not only do you need a strong academic track record in the sciences, med schools are looking for applicants who have developed the personality characteristics that will serve them well as a doctor. In your essay, you might want to write about compassion, team work, and respect for patient autonomy. You don’t need to write about all three, but the anecdotes that you choose should reflect an applicant who has not only technical knowhow but ethics and interpersonal skills.

What do you feel that an admissions officer should know about you that is not included elsewhere in your application?

The other parts of the AMCAS application are highly standardized, so the essay gives you a chance to elaborate on who you are outside of your transcripts, test scores, and activities. What activities do you enjoy outside of the classroom? How will you contribute not only to study groups but to the student body as a whole?

Are there any elements of your application that need further explanation or elaboration?

Life is college is not always smooth, and you might have some areas in your transcript or test scores that warrant further explanation. Applicants can be very apprehensive about addressing these issues within the essay out of fear that what they write will harm their application. Therefore, when writing about these situations, always be factual about what occurred and then move quickly to how you resolved the issue and have become a more mature and resilient applicant as a result.

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