Applying to medical school is hard; to help you out, we wrote a detailed guide which goes through the process step by step. Part of this process, just as when you applied to college, is writing essays. While these are similar in some ways to the essays you had to write while applying to undergrad, there are a number of key differences.
In this article we’ll go through what the different kinds of medical school essays are, and what medical schools are looking for in them. Just as with your college essays, you’ll need to spend significant time brainstorming, writing, and editing these essays. Let’s get started!
The Personal Statement
Just like the Common App, the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) requires applicants to compose a personal statement. Not all medical schools require this, but the vast majority do, and just as with college applications, it is a key component of your application. Here is their prompt:
- Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school. (5,300 characters)
This is a very vague prompt, and of a long-ish length (approximately 500 words). We recommend writing the essay in a program that easily lets you track character count, to make sure you end up within the limits.
The prompt is vague on purpose. Admissions officers want to give you leeway to answer with the most relevant information to you and to your story. This openness can feel overwhelming, but it’s also a great opportunity.
What you end up writing about is up to you, but should reflect your own personal journey to medicine. The main challenge students face is writing an essay which covers all the needed ground without being cliche. This is because there are only so many reasons people have for applying to medical school, and admissions officers have heard many of these stories thousands of times before.
In order to prevent your essay from being lost in an undifferentiated mass, you need to be as specific and authentic as possible. Avoid using generic terms and motivations, and examine deeply why your experiences lead you to apply to medical school. Why do you want to help people? Why do you want to use medicine to do so?
Your personal statement should demonstrate the traits admissions officers want to see in applicants: a desire to help, the ability to communicate, compassion and curiosity, and a level of resilience in the face of pressure and adversity. Do not merely tell admissions officers you have these traits: demonstrate them through the details you include in the essay.
When writing your own statement therefore, you need to consider which of these traits you best embody, and which of your experiences have best demonstrated them. If these experiences relate to the field of medicine as well, all the better. There is no such thing as a perfect topic or essay, but you can write a strong one, and that is often the difference between acceptance and rejection if your numbers are good.
Just as with undergraduate applications, different medical schools ask for different supplemental essays. The number of essays each school asks for, the specific prompts, and the length of each varies greatly. There are, however, a limited number of topics, so it is quite easy to reuse an essay you have written for one school to answer another school’s prompt with only some editing in between.
Here are the most common essay topics:
- Why us
We’ll go through each in turn, and explore what colleges are looking for with each, and how you should approach them.
This essay question is not always directly related to diversity in your own background, but instead to gauge your level of empathy, cultural competency, and ability to work with populations who are significantly different from yourself.
This does not mean you need to be a member of a minority group, or that you need to claim to understand every particular experience of one of these groups. Instead, talking about an extracurricular experience, personal identity, or other experience which demonstrates these traits is the best way to proceed.
It can be easy to fall into cliche, especially if talking about working with the underprivileged. We recommend using authentic details of your experiences. The more concrete the details you provide, the better admissions officers will understand you, and the more your essay will stand out from the rest they have to read.
Just like colleges, medical schools love asking this question. The goal is to understand why you want to attend their institution in particular, and why their institution will best serve your goals within medicine.
This means that you should not simply write about how great the medical school is. Admissions officers work there; presumably, they already know how great the school is and don’t need you to tell them. Instead, you should focus on the slightly different question of why the school is great for you.
This means researching the various programs and special services the school offers, the professors and research labs you want to work with, and how you will make use of these in your academic career.
There are resources like these at most schools; while these essays will require more legwork to research and to write, they are just as cross-applicable as any other med school supplemental.
This essay covers a challenging problem or situation you faced, and how you overcame it. Medical school is not easy, and the challenges you will face in a career of medicine are often literally matters of life and death. The purpose of this question, therefore, is to see how you respond to adverse circumstances, and measure your maturity and responsibility for the rigors of medicine.
The important part is less the specific challenge you responded to, but instead what it says about you. They want to see how you react under pressure, how you deal with stress, that you attempt to resolve issues, and what you learned from the experience as a whole.
Students often worry that they have not faced any significant challenges, and thus will be unable to respond to this essay. You must remember that you are not being evaluated on the scope of the challenge you are overcome, but instead on how you mentally dealt with the stresses of the challenge. While you should not write about something trivial, any experience which caused you genuine stress can make for a good essay here. As always, authenticity is key.
These essays are generally straightforward in their prompts, asking how you have shown leadership before, or to talk about one of your experiences with leadership. The goal here is not just to show that you can take charge, but to demonstrate responsibility.
Doctors are responsible for many things, and those who enter medical school need to demonstrate a history of assuming responsibility. The best way to do this is often leadership positions in extracurriculars, but taking responsibility in less official capacities is also acceptable for this essay.
These essays are also a good way to discuss your extracurricular experiences. If you had to step up as a TA, or were assigned responsibilities in a research setting, these can make for good essays. While your essay does not have to relate directly to the field, it is a good chance to do so, to demonstrate multiple facets of your experience.
As with undergraduate essays, medical school essays are what set apart great candidates in a field. Academic achievement is the baseline expected by medical schools, while essays and interviews are how admissions officers differentiate candidates who are a good fit for their programs from the ones who aren’t. We hope that this article has provided a solid introduction to these essays, and given you guidance on writing your own.
Medical school admissions is quite competitive, even compared to undergraduate admissions. There are no guarantees, and no way to ensure you will be accepted. We hope that this article helps you on your way, and invite you to check out our guide to med school admissions, and guide for pre-meds, for more information. If you would like to work with us on your med school essays, schedule a free consultation to learn how we can help you.