Mistakes to Avoid When Planning Your Personal Statement, Secondaries, and Work & Activities

applicant preparing his medical school application
Have a plan for your entire medical school application before you begin

Of all the graduate and professional schools, medical school has the most onerous admissions process. Between MCATs, science prerequisites, personal statements, and secondaries, it can certainly feel overwhelming.

In the 15 years we’ve been helping applicants earn admission to their dream schools, we have become quite familiar with how difficult it can be to juggle all of the different pieces of written application materials. Crafting these components effectively requires a clear understanding of their distinct purposes and how they interrelate. This article will guide you through strategizing each part of the AMCAS application to present a compelling and cohesive narrative to admissions committees.

Planning Your Application

The best approach to tackling the AMCAS application is to begin with comprehensive planning. Start by reviewing the secondary essay prompts for all the schools you are applying to. While many of these prompts for the current application cycle may not yet be released, you can look at last year’s prompts, as they often remain largely unchanged. By gathering all the prompts, you can map out a plan to cover all your main points without redundancy.

The Personal Statement

The AMCAS personal statement serves two primary purposes: explaining the source of your interest in medicine and making the strongest case for your admission. Think of the personal statement as your opportunity to make a powerful impression on the committee in just 90 seconds. This requires focusing on depth, storytelling, and personal authenticity.

1. Depth and Storytelling: Your personal statement should delve deeply into your motivations for pursuing medicine. Use storytelling to illustrate your journey, highlighting pivotal moments that shaped your decision. Avoid generic statements; instead, provide specific examples that demonstrate your passion and commitment.

2. Personal Authenticity: Authenticity is crucial. Admissions committees want to see the real you, not an idealized version. Reflect on your unique experiences and perspectives, and convey them honestly. Authenticity resonates more than trying to fit a perceived mold of what a medical school applicant should be.

The Work & Activities Section

If the personal statement is about depth, the Work & Activities section is about breadth. This section allows you to demonstrate that you are a well-rounded candidate by showcasing a range of experiences. The main categories to cover are academic readiness, scientific bona fides, service, leadership, and character.

1. Verbs and Actions: Focus on what you did in each activity. Use strong, action-oriented verbs to describe your roles and contributions. This not only highlights your accomplishments but also demonstrates growth, initiative, and leadership.

2. “Most Significant” Entries: In the Work & Activities section, you have the opportunity to designate three experiences as “most significant.” Use these longer entries to provide depth to your application, complementing the breadth demonstrated in the other entries. If your personal statement focuses heavily on one or two areas, use these significant entries to balance your application by highlighting other aspects.

3. Avoid Redundancy: While it is fine to reference an experience mentioned in your personal statement, avoid repeating the same information. Instead, provide additional insights or details that were not covered in the personal statement.

The Secondary Essays

Secondary essays are school-specific and allow you to demonstrate why you are a good fit for each particular institution. These essays should be tailored carefully to address each prompt and align with the values and mission of the school.

1. School-Specific Fit: Research each school’s mission, values, and programs to understand what they are looking for in applicants. Use this information to craft essays that not only respond to the prompts but also highlight how your experiences and goals align with the school’s ethos.

2. Repurposing Text: While it is efficient to repurpose sections of text for multiple secondaries, do so with caution. Ensure that each essay remains responsive to the specific prompt and tailored to the school’s unique characteristics.

Integrating Key Concepts

As you compile these components, it is essential to integrate key concepts that medical schools value: leadership, service, advocacy, outreach, cultural competency, and diversity. Find ways to infuse your experiences with these themes, demonstrating your commitment through actions you have taken.

1. Leadership: Highlight instances where you have taken initiative, led teams, or influenced positive changes. This can be in academic, professional, or community settings.

2. Service: Showcase your dedication to serving others, whether through volunteer work, community service, or patient care experiences. Emphasize the impact you have made and the lessons you have learned.

3. Advocacy and Outreach: Demonstrate your involvement in advocacy or outreach efforts, especially those aimed at addressing healthcare disparities or improving community health. This shows your commitment to making a broader impact in medicine.

4. Cultural Competency and Diversity: Reflect on experiences that have enhanced your cultural competency and ability to work with diverse populations. Medical schools seek applicants who can navigate and contribute to diverse environments effectively.

Final Thoughts

Strategizing your AMCAS personal statement, Work & Activities, and secondary essays involves a careful balance of depth and breadth, authenticity, and strategic alignment with each school’s values. By planning ahead, focusing on what each section is supposed to accomplish, and integrating key concepts valued by medical schools, you can present a compelling and cohesive narrative that maximizes your chances of admission.

Remember, the goal is to provide a comprehensive picture of who you are as an applicant, highlighting both your qualifications and your personal journey toward a career in medicine. With thoughtful planning and execution, you can create an application that stands out and resonates with admissions committees.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top medical schools. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Mistakes to Avoid on Your AMCAS Work & Activities Section

Applicant preparing their Work &Activities section for their AMCAS medical school application
Be thoughtful about your Work & Activities section!

Every year, our editors at Gurufi help scores of candidates earn admission to their dream medical school. In the fifteen years I have been helping applicants, I have noticed that far too many applicants don’t put enough time or thought into their Work & Activities sections.

Crafting the Work & Activities (W&A) section of your AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) application is a crucial task that requires careful thought and precision. Unfortunately, while many people spend weeks or ever months fine-tuning their personal statement, they treat this vital section almost as an afterthought. The W&A section allows you to showcase your experiences, learning, and growth in a succinct yet comprehensive manner and provides the reader with a clear overview of your overall strengths as a candidate. Here are some essential tips to help you make the most of this opportunity.

Focus on Your Actions, Learning, and Growth

When describing your experiences, it’s important to clearly articulate what you did, what you learned, and how you grew from each activity. Admissions committees are looking for evidence of your dedication, skills, and personal development. Applicants will sometimes get this wrong by spending too much time describing what the organization does or talking too much about things that don’t relate directly to their roles or tasks.

What You Did: Describe your specific responsibilities and actions. For instance, if you volunteered at a clinic, detail the tasks you handled, such as assisting with patient intake or organizing health education workshops.

What You Learned: Reflect on the skills and knowledge you gained. Did you develop better communication skills, learn about healthcare disparities, or gain insight into patient care?

How You Grew: Explain how these experiences influenced your personal and professional growth. Did they strengthen your commitment to medicine, enhance your empathy, or inspire you to pursue a particular medical specialty? If you struggle to nail this down, think about who you were before you started and who you were afterward. How are these different people?

Highlight Promotions and Expanded Responsibilities
If you received promotions or were given additional responsibilities, make sure to mention these. They demonstrate your competence, reliability, and the trust others have placed in you. For example, if you started as a volunteer and later became a team leader, highlight this progression to show your leadership and ability to take on more significant roles.

Avoid Jargon
Medical and scientific jargon can be confusing and may not convey your experiences effectively. Moreover, individual organizations often use idiosyncratic title names or other descriptors that don’t mean anything to people outside the organization. Use clear and straightforward language to ensure your descriptions are easily understood by all readers. Instead of using technical terms, explain your activities in a way that highlights your contributions and impact and think about how you might describe what you did to a loved one who isn’t in the medical world.

Choose Strong Verbs
The verbs you use can significantly influence how your actions are perceived. Strong, active verbs convey confidence and decisiveness. For example, instead of saying you “helped with patient care,” say you “provided patient care” or “coordinated patient services.” This subtle change makes your role sound more impactful and direct.

Be Succinct but Complete
You have only 700 characters for each entry, so brevity is essential. However, being succinct doesn’t mean using incomplete sentences or resorting to “CV speak.” Write in complete sentences to ensure clarity and coherence. Focus on the most critical aspects of each experience and eliminate any unnecessary details.

Plan Your “Most Significant” Experiences Thoughtfully
Deciding which experiences to designate as “most significant” should be done in conjunction with planning your personal statement. Because you get an extra 1325 characters, you can obviously cover a lot more ground, which is a huge benefit. Taking a strategic approach ensures you provide comprehensive coverage of your strengths and avoid redundancy. Your personal statement will delve deeply into your motivations and key experiences, while the Work & Activities section can highlight a broader range of accomplishments.

Review Last Year’s Secondary Essays

Looking at the secondary essay prompts from the schools you’re applying to can provide valuable insights. Most schools reuse essay topics for multiple years before changing, so understanding what they’ve asked in the past can help you align your “most significant” selections with potential secondary essay themes. This foresight can save you time and ensure your application remains focused and relevant.

Emphasize Breadth in Your Work & Activities
While your personal statement focuses on the depth of your decision to pursue medicine, the Work & Activities section should emphasize breadth. This is your chance to demonstrate the variety of your experiences and how they collectively prepare you for a career in medicine. Highlight diverse activities such as clinical work, research, volunteering, leadership roles, and extracurricular pursuits to present a well-rounded picture of your qualifications.

Apply the Same Care as Your Personal Statement
The Work & Activities section is just as important as your personal statement, so it deserves the same level of care and attention. Meticulously proofread your entries, ensuring they are free of errors and clearly communicate your achievements. A well-crafted Work & Activities section can significantly enhance your application and leave a lasting impression on admissions committees.

Example Entry
Here is an example of how to succinctly and effectively describe an experience:

Volunteer at Community Health Clinic (June 2020 – Present): Coordinated patient intake, assisted with health screenings, and organized educational workshops on nutrition and wellness. Developed strong communication skills and a deep understanding of healthcare disparities. Promoted to team leader, overseeing a group of 10 volunteers and managing clinic operations during weekend shifts.

This entry clearly outlines the responsibilities, learning outcomes, and growth experienced, all within the character limit. Note that the above provides a 388-character breakdown of the job. From there, you could add another 312 characters where you could briefly mention something like the most important task you accomplished, how this informs your thoughts on medical school, where this fits within your journey to medicine, or where you hope to go from here.

Conclusion

 

Writing the Work & Activities section of your AMCAS application requires careful planning and thoughtful execution. By focusing on your actions, learning, and growth, using clear language and strong verbs, and strategically selecting your most significant experiences, you can create a compelling and comprehensive account of your qualifications. Remember, this section is a vital component of your application, so give it the attention it deserves to ensure you stand out in the competitive field of medical school admissions.

Our editors at Gurufi have years of experience helping people put together their W&A sections. You can check us out here if you need help revising them, including making them fit within the tight character caps!

The Role of Authenticity In Personal Statements

Colorful cartoon of a young Caucasian male and an Asian female MBA applicants seated at a cafe table, surrounded by open laptops and scattered papers. They are deep in conversation, brainstorming about their personal statements, with other cafe patrons visible in the background. The setting is lively and focused, ideal for depicting the strategic planning of MBA applications.
MBA AdComs consider a host of factors, but authenticity always rings true

Striking a Balance Between Authenticity and Cynicism

         In my eighteen years of helping people earn admission into their dream schools, two kinds of applicants are quite common. The first type sees their application as merely a means to an end. They want to know what the admissions committee wants, and they’ll then try to shoehorn their life into that mold. The second type treasures pure authenticity, and insists on featuring the most important moments of their lives in their personal statements, even if they’re not quite relevant.

         Neither of these approaches are quite right; the first is too cynical and the second focuses so much on “authenticity” that it forgets its purpose. The correct path is one that splits the difference, and this is what makes crafting a perfect personal statement so perplexing and difficult. On one hand, there’s a compelling need to present oneself in a way that resonates with the Admissions Committees (AdComs). On the other, there’s the inherent desire to remain authentic to one’s true self. With that in mind, how can you blend sincerity with strategic insight to unlock the gates to top-tier business schools?

 

Every Kind of Writing Has a Purpose

Let’s start with a fundamental truth: every kind of writing serves a specific purpose. The personal statement is one of the strangest kinds of writing in that it’s a blend of memoir, CV, and interview. For MBA application essays, the purpose is unequivocally to earn admission—not to bare your soul as you might on a dating app. Understanding this is pivotal. Your personal statement must be meticulously tailored to reflect the qualities, accomplishments, and experiences that AdComs value in prospective students… but not do so in a way that feels obviously manufactured. It’s about highlighting aspects of your life that align with the school’s ethos and expectations.

However, this does not mean fabricating stories or presenting an exaggerated version of yourself. The art lies in selecting genuine experiences from your life that best demonstrate these values. This approach ensures that your essay remains grounded in reality while strategically showcasing your compatibility with the school’s culture and objectives.

Okay… so HOW?

 

The Utility of Authenticity

Let’s begin by talking about authenticity within the context of a personal statement. Why is it crucial, especially when you’re consciously tailoring your essay? In short, authentic essays are better essays. Authenticity brings a certain richness to your writing. It makes your stories believable and relatable. An authentic essay does not feel forced; it flows naturally and engages the reader by weaving narratives that are both compelling and true to who you are.

This might sound like a contradiction—being authentic while also being strategic. However, think of authenticity in this context as being purpose-driven. You’re not just recounting your experiences; you’re strategically selecting stories that authentically illustrate your values and attributes that align with the school’s profile.

 

Two Keys to Balancing Authenticity and Strategy

 

  1. Align Your Stories with Core Values

Begin by identifying 3-5 core values or attributes that your target school holds in high esteem. These can be gleaned from the school’s website, promotional materials, and by engaging with alumni and current students. Note the words and ideas that they repeat often or that they lead with. Once you have this list of values, brainstorm real-life stories from your own experiences that reflect these qualities.

For instance, if leadership is a recurrent theme in the school’s ethos, reflect on instances where you demonstrated leadership. Perhaps you led a project at work that turned around an underperforming department, or maybe you spearheaded a volunteer initiative that made a significant impact. These stories are effective not just because they show you possess desirable traits, but because they are rooted in your real experiences, lending credibility and authenticity to your narrative.

 

  1. Don’t Overestimate the AdComs

A common mistake applicants make is overestimating the AdComs. It’s easy to imagine them as omniscient judges capable of seeing through any embellishment or strategic positioning in your essay. While it’s true that AdComs are adept at evaluating applications, they are not infallible. They are looking for well-crafted essays that are honest, forward-looking (that connect your intended past in a realistic way with what you’ve done and hope to learn in their school), and reflective of the candidate’s true potential and fit with the school.

As long as your essay is grounded in real stories that illustrate your claims, you shouldn’t worry too much about AdComs seeing through your strategy. The key is to be honest and thoughtful in your writing, ensuring that it is both reflective of your genuine self and strategically aligned with the school’s values.

 

Embrace Your Multifaceted Self

Remember: truthfulness is non-negotiable. When I tell you to be strategic, I AM NOT encouraging you to be in any way dishonest. An excellent essay is an ethical essay, and even if you don’t believe in ethics (which… wow, shame on you!) understand that there are many negative consequences to dishonesty, not least that your essay will often feel phony.

However, recognizing that every person embodies multiple facets of themselves is crucial. In your MBA application essay, you are simply choosing to highlight those aspects of your personality and experience that resonate most powerfully with the AdComs. This doesn’t mean you are being insincere; rather, you are showcasing the parts of your identity that best align with the academic and cultural milieu of the school you aspire to join.

Crafting an MBA application essay is a balancing act of authenticity, cynicism, and strategy. By aunderstanding the purpose of your writing, staying true to your stories, and strategically aligning them with the values of your target program, you can create a compelling narrative that is both sincere and persuasive. Remember, the goal is not just to tell a story, but to tell your story in a way that aligns with the expectations and values of the AdComs, opening the door to the next big step in your career and personal development.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Crafting a Compelling Work & Activities Section for Your AMCAS Application

A cartoon of a young medical student at a desk, surrounded by tools like a laptop, notepad, and pen. The room is bright and colorful, with symbols of the medical field such as a stethoscope, a heart symbol, and a medical cross. The student is smiling and focused on their work.
Have a plan when writing your Work & Activities Section!

              In my decade+ helping applicants get into their dream medical schools, I have revised probably 500+ Work & Activities sections. I’ve discovered that even applicants who spend weeks, or even months, building and fine-tuning their personal statements will treat the Work & Activities section almost as an afterthought. The drafts they send are rife with grammar errors, and often they assume they don’t even need to write in complete sentences.

              This is a big mistake.

              When you’re filling out your AMCAS Work & Activities section, it’s crucial to put as much thought into it as you would a cover letter or a personal statement. This section is your opportunity to illustrate your experiences, demonstrate your growth, and reflect on how these activities have prepared you for a career in medicine. If the personal statement is a single, deep introduction to who you are and what you value, then the W&A is your opportunity to complement that depth with well-considered breadth. It is a crucial part of your application, and you need to give it serious thought. Yesterday, I wrote about how you can go about selecting your three “Most Significant” activities for mini-essays, but today I want to focus on the other items that you include.

              Here are some strategies to make your Work & Activities section stand out.

Write in Full Sentences

Resist the temptation to use “resume shorthand.” While bullet points and concise phrases might be suitable for a resume, the AMCAS application is not the place for them. People often write in shorthand incomplete sentences because they want to say more, but you’re always better off saying a bit less but saying it much better. Write complete sentences that clearly describe your role, responsibilities, and contributions. This approach helps the reader understand the context of your experiences and the impact you made.

Care About Verb Choice

Choosing the right verbs can transform a simple activity description into a vivid account of your involvement. Powerful verbs like “led,” “developed,” “initiated,” and “collaborated” paint a picture of active engagement and responsibility. Whenever you see a “to be” (am, was, were, is, etc.) think about whether you can replace it with something more vivid and active. By focusing on action-oriented language, you highlight what you did, not just your title.

Focus on Learning and Improvement

Medical schools are interested in candidates who learn from their experiences and show personal growth. When describing your activities, consider what you gained from each experience. Did you develop new skills, overcome challenges, or gain insights into the medical field? Share these learnings to give admissions committees a sense of your journey and evolution.

Connect Activities to Medical School Preparation

While you don’t need to explicitly state how an activity prepared you for medical school, it’s helpful to think about this connection when writing your descriptions. If a particular experience had a significant impact on your decision to pursue medicine or taught you valuable skills for your future career, consider weaving that into your narrative.

This approach adds depth to your application and shows a clear link between your experiences and your medical aspirations.

Use Adjectives to Guide Your Writing… but keep most of them out of your entries

Before you write each entry, think about 3-5 adjectives you want to convey about yourself.

These could be qualities like “compassionate,” “dedicated,” “innovative,” or “team-oriented.” Let these adjectives guide your word choice and the aspects of your experience that you emphasize. This strategy helps maintain consistency and ensures that your descriptions align with your overall message. That said, your writing needs to be lean, so the words themselves likely won’t make the cut as you trim to meet the 700-character caps. But if you start out thinking about these descriptors as your North Star, they will come across in the text.

Write Like You Talk

Avoid stilted language or industry jargon that might sound insincere. Medical school admissions committees appreciate clarity and authenticity. Write in a conversational tone that reflects your personality and avoids excessive technical terms or jargon. This approach helps create a more engaging narrative and ensures your descriptions are accessible to all readers. If you wouldn’t use a word in your everyday life, don’t use it in your essay. A good way to identify stilted language is to read your text aloud to a friend and have them note places that don’t sound like you. You can also do the same by recording yourself reading it, then listening back. Moments that give you the “icks” might be indicative of them not being authentic to your voice.

Additional Tips

Be Specific: Provide concrete examples to illustrate your points. Instead of saying “I participated in research,” describe the project, your role, and any outcomes.

Keep It Concise: While you want to use full sentences, avoid unnecessary verbosity. Aim for clear, succinct descriptions that get to the point.

Review and Revise: Proofread your entries for grammar, punctuation, and clarity. Consider asking a mentor or advisor to review your Work & Activities section for feedback. Of course, we at Gurufi are experts at revising these texts, including trimming down overly long entries to fit the caps!

With these tips in mind, you can create a compelling Work & Activities section that effectively communicates your experiences, growth, and readiness for a career in medicine. Good luck!

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top medical schools. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

The Myth of the “Non-Traditional” Medical School Applicant

A 30-year-old mother studying at a desk while holding her infant in one arm. She types on her laptop with a stack of medical textbooks beside her.
Medical students come form all walks of life and have a diverse array of stories

         When Gurufi first started, in 2008, the medical school application process was pretty straightforward: ace the MCAT, have killer grades as a STEM grad, and make sure that you’ve done some clinical stuff and maybe worked in a lab. It wasn’t easy, by any means, but it was far simpler. Many applicants went straight from college to medical school and there was a sense that there was a “traditional path” to medicine.

         This is no longer true. Today, fewer than 10% of admitted students go straight from college to medical school, and this number is dropping rapidly. As medical schools realize just how important maturity, experience, and a more sophisticated understanding of our healthcare system is, it naturally favors candidates that, in the past, would’ve been seen as “untraditional applicants.” Now, every year, Gurufi consultants help applicants who dropped out of school (or were even kicked out!), took work in unrelated industries, left the workforce to have kids, or otherwise came to medicine later in life.

         Whenever I have a candidate who worries that their circuitous path to medicine makes them an unappealing candidate, I stress two important things:

  • You can’t change your past, so embrace it. As the old saying goes, “what you can’t fix, feature.” Don’t be like the balding man holding onto a few threads of hair trying to fool people into thinking he actually has a luxurious Oscar Isaac-style mane of hair… shave it off, and confidently embrace that this is who you are!
  • Besides, what you view as flaws are often features that provide context and believability for your “why medicine?” argument. It’s easier to sell the “why?” and demonstrate that you are approaching this journey with open eyes and a mature mind.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that just anybody can earn admission so long as they tell a good story. The medical school admissions process has long been known for its rigorous academic standards and high expectations for applicants. However, medical schools increasingly welcome applicants with non-traditional backgrounds—those who didn’t follow the typical pre-med track.

These applicants bring unique skills, perspectives, and experiences that can enrich the medical school community and ultimately benefit patient care.

Redefining Non-Traditional Backgrounds

A non-traditional background can encompass various scenarios.

It might refer to individuals who pursued careers in different fields before considering medicine, those who earned degrees in non-scientific disciplines, or applicants who took time off for personal reasons such as travel, family, or military service. Non-traditional applicants also include those who chose to complete a post-baccalaureate program to meet medical school prerequisites or those with significant life experience outside the academic realm.

Why Medical Schools Value Non-Traditional Applicants

Medical schools are increasingly recognizing the value that non-traditional applicants bring to the table. Here’s why they are sought after:

  1. Diverse Perspectives: Non-traditional applicants often have unique life experiences that inform their perspective on healthcare. They might have worked in business, education, the arts, or technology, bringing different approaches to problem-solving and patient care. This diversity enriches the medical school environment and prepares future physicians to serve a broader population.

  1. Mature and Resilient: Non-traditional applicants tend to have more life experience, making them more resilient and adaptable. Many have faced challenges or obstacles that required determination and perseverance, traits that are valuable in the medical field.

  1. Strong Interpersonal Skills: Those who have worked in other industries or pursued non-traditional paths often have well-developed interpersonal skills. This translates into better communication with patients, colleagues, and other healthcare professionals, which is crucial in medicine.

  1. Broader Skill Sets: Non-traditional applicants bring diverse skills, such as leadership, project management, or technology proficiency, which can be beneficial in medical school and beyond. They often demonstrate creativity and innovation, which can drive progress in healthcare.

Addressing Application Challenges

While non-traditional applicants offer many strengths, they may face unique challenges when applying to medical school. Here’s how medical schools are addressing these challenges:

  1. Flexibility in Prerequisites: Medical schools are becoming more flexible with prerequisite coursework. While core science classes are still required, some schools are willing to accept alternative coursework or provide guidance on completing prerequisites through post-baccalaureate programs.

  1. Holistic Admissions Process: Many medical schools have adopted a holistic admissions process, which considers the whole applicant, not just academic metrics. This approach allows non-traditional applicants to showcase their unique experiences, skills, and perspectives in their personal statements, interviews, and letters of recommendation.

  1. Post-Baccalaureate Programs: Post-baccalaureate programs are designed specifically for non-traditional applicants who need to complete or improve their prerequisite coursework. These programs offer academic support, clinical exposure, and guidance through the medical school application process.

  1. Supportive Learning Environments: Medical schools recognize that non-traditional applicants may require additional support as they transition into the demanding environment of medical school. Schools often provide mentorship, peer support, and academic resources to help these students succeed.

Making a Strong Case as a Non-Traditional Applicant

To succeed as a non-traditional applicant, individuals should focus on the following:

  1. Highlight Unique Experiences: Use personal statements and interviews to showcase unique experiences and skills that set you apart. Emphasize how these experiences have shaped your desire to pursue medicine and how they will benefit the medical school community.

  1. Demonstrate Academic Competence: While medical schools are more flexible with prerequisites, academic competence is still crucial. Ensure you meet the required coursework and aim for competitive GPA and MCAT scores. If you have a very poor grade in a relevant course, consider retaking that class. I often work with candidates who failed, for instance, BioChem, and took that class again years later and earned an ‘A.’ This helps to support their narrative that, back then, they were immature and unprepared, but now they are capable of handling demanding work. If you do have academic (or other) missteps that you feel you need to explain, check out this video. It was made for MBA students, but the basic ideas hold true for medical school applicants as well!

  1. Gain Relevant Experience: Non-traditional applicants should seek out clinical or research experience to demonstrate their commitment to medicine. This can include volunteering at hospitals, shadowing physicians, or participating in medical research projects.

  1. Leverage Networking and Mentorship: Building relationships with mentors, medical professionals, and alumni can provide valuable guidance and support during the application process. Networking can also lead to letters of recommendation and other resources.

Medical schools are increasingly open to applicants with non-traditional backgrounds, recognizing the value they bring to the medical field. These applicants offer diverse perspectives, mature and resilient mindsets, strong interpersonal skills, and broader skill sets. While non-traditional applicants may face unique challenges, medical schools are adapting to create more inclusive and supportive pathways.

With the right preparation and approach, non-traditional applicants can make a compelling case for their place in medical school and ultimately become valuable contributors to the healthcare industry.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top medical schools. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

How to Select Your Three “Most Significant” Activities on Your AMCAS Work & Activities Section

A cartoon of a young, attractive medical school applicant wearing a white coat, levitating five bubbles. Each bubble contains an object representing a different aspect of their medical journey: a microscope for research, a beaker for science, a trophy for leadership, a stethoscope for clinical care, and a heart symbolizing their desire to become a doctor. The scene is colorful and whimsical.
Selecting your most compelling activities to highlight in your AMCAS takes thought

Medical school applicants often worry about which activities to select as their “most significant” on their AMCAS Work & Activities section. Over the last 17 years, Gurufi editors have helped hundreds of successful applicants craft this vital part of their medical school applications, including providing insights into which activities they should highlight. Since you can only select three, you should invest careful consideration into which accomplishments you elect to emphasize and showcase. When done thoughtfully, the right three activities can round out your application nicely and showcase the breadth and depth of your background.

 

Since every application is different, there is no simple and easy formula for selecting the ideal three, but there are some basic principles you should follow. Here’s how to choose your “Most Significant” activities thoughtfully.

 

Integrate with Your Personal Statement

Your personal statement and Work & Activities section should complement each other, creating a cohesive narrative about who you are and why you want to pursue medicine. If the personal statement provides depth, character, and nuance into one or two pivotal moments in your life, then the W&A should complement through breadth of experience. Thus, when selecting your “Most Significant” activities, ensure they add depth to your story without duplicating content from your personal statement. If your personal statement focuses on a specific event or life experience, use your “Most Significant” activities to shed light on other dimensions of your journey.

 

Highlight Leadership, Service, and Commitment to Social Justice

Medical schools value applicants who demonstrate leadership, a strong sense of service, and a commitment to social justice. Indeed, the revised formatting of the W&A section makes clear that this is a priority. When choosing your “Most Significant” activities, consider those that showcase these qualities. Did you lead a project, organize an event, or serve as a mentor? Did you volunteer extensively or work with underserved communities? These experiences not only highlight your skills but also reflect your commitment to making a difference, an essential trait for future physicians.

 

Focus on Long-Term Involvement and Growth

Activities that demonstrate sustained commitment and personal growth are highly valued. Prioritize those that span a significant period, where you gained new skills, earned promotions, or took on increased responsibilities. These experiences show your ability to commit and evolve, which is crucial for a successful medical career. Consider including activities where you played a long-term role in research, led a team, or made a lasting impact through community service.

 

Link Activities to Your Aspiring Medical Career

If possible, choose activities that connect with your aspirations as a future doctor. For example, if you aim to specialize in pediatrics, highlight your work with children. If you’re interested in medical research, discuss your research projects and their outcomes. By linking your “Most Significant” activities to your future career goals, you demonstrate a clear vision and purpose, qualities that medical schools seek in applicants.

 

Fill in the Gaps

Think of your application as a series of buckets to fill: science/research, service, your “origin story” explaining “why medicine?”, leadership, and clinical experiences. Your personal statement should not cover all five; it should focus on one key aspect. Use your “Most Significant” activities to fill in the gaps. If your personal statement primarily discusses your origin story, use this section to highlight your leadership or research experiences. This approach ensures a well-rounded application that captures various facets of your journey.

 

Tell a Compelling Story

With an additional 1,325 characters, you have the opportunity to share a compelling story about each “Most Significant” activity. Think about moments that had a profound impact on you or others, challenges you overcame, or lessons you learned. Craft a narrative that captures the essence of the experience and its relevance to your medical journey. By telling a captivating story, you engage the admissions committee and leave a lasting impression.

 

Selecting your “Most Significant” activities for the Work & Activities section of your AMCAS application is a strategic process. Focus on experiences that complement your personal statement, demonstrate leadership, service, and social justice, and showcase long-term involvement and growth. By linking these activities to your future aspirations in medicine and filling in the gaps, you’ll create a compelling narrative that reflects your readiness for medical school and beyond.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top medical schools. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Important Changes to This Year’s AMCAS Application

Two medical school applicants, one male and one female, navigate an obstacle course wearing white coats, stethoscopes, sneakers, shorts, and gym socks. They carry piles of applications while sweating, facing various hurdles, climbing walls, and balancing beams
Know the new obstacles AMCAS has erected!

With the AMCAS portal opening May 1, many medical school applicants have already begun this process in earnest. Of all the graduate and professional schools, medical school has the most intense, time-consuming, and onerous application, and changes to it can send shivers of panic up the collective spines of aspiring physicians. Not to worry, at Gurufi, we have nearly 15 years of experience helping applicants earn admission to their top choice medical schools. We’re here to help!

         Here are some of the changes to this year’s AMCAS that you need to be aware of. These changes reflect a broader shift toward a more holistic review process. As such, in addition to noting specific things you should be aware of, also note how these changes are strong indicators of how much admissions committees care more and more about whether applicants have demonstrated leadership, care about public health, and have a service-oriented mindset when it comes to medicine as a career. Thus, these changes aim to capture a wider array of applicant experiences, providing admissions committees with a deeper understanding of candidates’ backgrounds, experiences, and motivations.

  1. 1. Social Justice/Advocacy Experience Type

One of the most notable additions to the AMCAS application is the new Social Justice/Advocacy experience type in the Work & Activities section. This category allows applicants to highlight their involvement in social justice or advocacy efforts, demonstrating their commitment to advancing the rights, privileges, or opportunities of a person, group, or cause. Examples of activities that fall under this category include registering people to vote, advocating for civil rights, reducing health inequities, addressing food deserts, or advocating for vulnerable populations such as children or the homeless.

         Note that this doesn’t necessarily have to be healthcare-related social justice work, as the above list indicates. Medical schools recognize that doctors must be prepared to work with diverse populations and advocate for health equity. By including this experience type, the AMCAS application aligns with the values of medical schools that seek to produce physicians who are not only clinically competent but also socially conscious and dedicated to addressing systemic issues.

Practical Advice: considering using one of your “Most Significant” entries so that you can have an additional 1325 characters to explain, at length, what you did, why it was important to you, what you learned, and perhaps how you think this work has given you an important perspective on the kind of doctor you aspire to become.

  1. Replacement of the “Disadvantaged Status” Question with “Other Impactful Experiences”

The second major change to the AMCAS application is the replacement of the Disadvantaged Status question with the Other Impactful Experiences question. This new question aims to promote a holistic review by allowing applicants to provide additional context about the challenges they may have experienced in their lives. The Other Impactful Experiences question is designed for applicants who have faced or overcome challenges in various areas, such as family background, financial circumstances, community setting, education, religion, or other life experiences.

This change provides a broader scope for applicants to share their unique stories and backgrounds, allowing admissions committees to better understand the hurdles they may have overcome. It also reduces the stigma associated with the term “disadvantaged” and offers a more inclusive platform for applicants to express their personal journeys and resilience.

Practical Advice: Any time you are discussing status, you want to make sure that you go beyond describing the status. Ultimately, the idea that you hope to convey is that a particular status is connected to experiences, worldviews, certain kinds of empathies, and connections to causes or problems that are personal to you. This is partly a function of wanting to make sure you convey yourself as a compelling candidate and partly a function of schools wanting to make sure that they remain on the right side of the law vis-à-vis new affirmative action rulings by the US Supreme Court.

  1. Addition of Drop-Down Categories for the Institutional Action Question

The third change involves the Institutional Action question, where applicants must report any disciplinary or academic issues they faced during their undergraduate education. Previously, this question was open-ended, but the new format includes a drop-down menu allowing applicants to select “Conduct,” “Academic,” or “Both.” This change aims to provide a more comprehensive view of any institutional action and allows applicants to categorize the nature of the issues they encountered.

The addition of drop-down categories provides more clarity and context for admissions committees. It helps them better understand the type of institutional action, reducing ambiguity and promoting a fairer assessment of applicants with disciplinary or academic histories.

Practical advice: We have written extensively about how to address missteps in your medical school applications. Check out these shorts, here, here, and here (this was done for MBA applicants, but the ideas are the same!):

  1. Optional Field for AAMC PREview® Exam Registration Date

The final change to the AMCAS application is the inclusion of an optional field to indicate an upcoming AAMC PREview® exam registration date. This addition allows applicants to indicate their intention to take the PREview exam, providing medical schools with information on when they can expect the score .

The AAMC PREview® exam assesses applicants’ pre-professional competencies and is designed to help admissions committees evaluate candidates’ readiness for medical school. By including this optional field, the AMCAS application aligns with the growing importance of the PREview exam in the admissions process, allowing schools to plan accordingly for the evaluation of these scores.

Remember, though these changes are important, the underlying components of a strong application remain the same. Take these changes into account as you craft your personal statement, Work & Activities, and secondaries. And, if you need help with these vital documents, Gurufi’s editors collectively have more than 50 years of experience helping students earn admission into the top medical schools in the country! Check us out today.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top medical schools. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Medical Scribing Experience

A young medical scribe with an eager expression follows a doctor, dreaming of medical school as they assist in a hospital.
Discover how scribing can pave your path to medical school with our ten key tips for aspiring doctors.

With each passing year, more and more doctors enter medical school after first scribing. Working as a scribe is a great way to gain clinical experience, sometimes while candidates are also taking classes to fill out their prerequisites. Medical scribing is a valuable experience for aspiring healthcare professionals, as it provides insight into the daily workings of a medical practice.

As more and more of our clients come to us from scribing backgrounds, we at Gurufi / FourthWrite created our ScribeToMD program, which seeks to provide scribes with free resources to help them with this process. To that end, here are ten tips for getting the most out of your medical scribing experience:

  1. Take detailed notes: As a scribe, you will have the opportunity to observe medical procedures, diagnoses, and treatments. Take detailed notes on what you see and hear, as this will help you gain a deeper understanding of the healthcare process. To help you do this, we created our downloadable Scribe Journal. Use it as a journal. Our clients who used the Beta version raved at how it helped them organize their thoughts, recall specific events, and note their growth when it came time to apply for medical school.
  2. Ask questions: Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the healthcare provider you are scribing for. This will help you gain a better understanding of the patient’s condition, the reasoning behind specific treatments, and the overall healthcare process. Doctors are typically quite receptive to explaining things and replying to questions. Use their insights -and perhaps even mentorship- to help guide you.
  3. Be attentive: Pay close attention to the interactions between the healthcare provider and the patient, as well as between the healthcare provider and other members of the healthcare team. This will help you understand the importance of good communication and teamwork in healthcare.
  4. Observe medical procedures: Take advantage of the opportunity to observe medical procedures, such as surgeries or physical exams. This will give you a hands-on understanding of what it is like to be a healthcare provider.
  5. Reflect on your experiences: After each scribing session, take some time to reflect on what you have learned. Think about how your experiences can help inform your future career goals and how you can apply what you have learned to your future studies.
  6. Network: Take advantage of the opportunity to network with healthcare providers and other members of the healthcare team. Ask for their advice and perspectives on the healthcare field, and discuss your own career goals with them.
  7. Shadow different healthcare providers: If possible, try to shadow different types of healthcare providers, such as physicians, nurses, and physician assistants. This will give you a well-rounded understanding of the different roles and responsibilities in healthcare.
  8. Seek feedback: Ask for feedback from the healthcare provider you are scribing for. This will help you understand what you are doing well and what you can improve upon.
  9. Volunteer: If possible, volunteer at a clinic or hospital to gain additional exposure to the healthcare field. This will help you build your network, gain hands-on experience, and better understand the challenges faced by healthcare providers. Moreover, having a broad and diverse perspective will both help you chart your course forward and be a credit to you in the application process.
  10. Pursue additional education: Take advantage of any opportunities to pursue additional education, such as courses or workshops, that will help you build your knowledge and skills. This will help you be a more informed and effective healthcare provider in the future.

Medical scribing is a valuable experience for aspiring healthcare professionals. By following these ten tips, you can get the most out of your medical scribing experience and gain a deeper understanding of the healthcare field. In the meantime, check out our Scribe to MD Facebook page.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Dos and Don’ts of Graduate School Applications

Colorful cartoon of a hopeful graduate school applicant at a desk, surrounded by thought bubbles depicting their journey, meeting with professors, library research, future career aspirations, considerations of finances, and overall happiness
Embark on your graduate school journey with clarity and purpose. This vibrant cartoon captures the essential steps and considerations every prospective student should think about.

         After nearly 20 years of helping people get into the graduate schools of their dreams, I have a clear sense of what works and doesn’t. Since most graduate programs open their admissions portals in the fall, if you’re reading this now (end of April), that means you’re likely at the very start of your journey to graduate school, so here are some tips.

         For many people, graduate school is the final step before embarking on a lifelong career. As a result, choosing the correct graduate school should be something you take very seriously. Keep these dos and don’ts in mind as you begin your search to help you make the right choice:

DO start your search early. Finding the right graduate school takes time and consideration. You’ll want to know the program you’ll be pursuing, the curriculum track that interests you the most, and the type of options each school has available.

DON’T choose a school based on name or ranking alone. The further along you get in your career, the more you’ll realize that if you’re not getting the education and guidance you actually need for success in your career, the name won’t make a difference. And five years after you graduate, nobody will care where you went. They’ll only care what you know how to do.

DO visit the schools in which you’re interested. Walk the campus, talk to professors, talk to the career placement office, and talk to current graduate students. Often LinkedIn can be an excellent way to connect with current and former students to ask them a few questions. Find out the types of jobs students are taking after graduating, see how invested the professors seem in their students’ futures, and test the responsiveness of the career services office to see if they’ll be an asset or a hindrance.

DON’T limit your choices too much. It’s important to cast a wide net when applying to schools. Especially at the start of the process. In addition to the schools that seem like perfect fits, pick a safety school or two just in case, as well as one or two schools that may seem completely out of reach given your scores and accomplishments.

DO research your desired industry. Find out what factors they consider when they hire out of school. What makes someone a good candidate for employment? What do they value, and what do they scoff at? Figuring it out from the perspective of your ultimate career will help you home in on a school that is right for you.

DON’T blitz apply to every program out there. While this seems like it might be a good solution, not only is it financially irresponsible, it’s also likely to hurt your chances. Instead of having the time to focus on perfecting the application and personalizing the essays for 4-6 schools, you’ll be pressed for time and likely to submit sub-par applications across the board. Remember, your personal statement for each respective school will need a fair amount of customization, which entails research, outlining, writing, and revising, so don’t overburden yourself to the point that you cannot complete all your applications in a way that makes your candidacy shine.

While the rank and reputation of a graduate school seem like the only reason to choose it, experts in every field will tell you that you’ll experience more success in life and your career if you choose a program that actually fits your needs. Make the effort to do your research and you’ll be rewarded in the long term.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

A Partner’s Guide to Surviging Medical School & Residency

Cartoon of a supportive husband comforting his exhausted wife, a medical school student, at her desk filled with textbooks and an open laptop. He stands behind her, placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder and offering a cup of coffee, symbolizing encouragement and care in her journey to becoming a doctor.
Be a good partner through the hard times.

Next week, we’ll be releasing our course on putting together your medical school personal statement. Before we began, though, I wanted to provide the additional perspective of somebody married to a doctor. When we first met, my wife was a medical student, so I’ve been with her through the process of medical school, residency, fellowship, and the first stages of her career. I’ve helped her mentees and classmates with their essays and admission / matching processes, and I understand what a partner of a physician and aspiring physician faces.

I won’t offend doctors by claiming it’s as hard as medical school, but being the partner of a doctor is a difficult road, so I wanted to write two brief little snippets on what you should be prepared for, how you can help, and how you can position yourself personal and as a couple for long-term success.

Next week, I’ll go back to providing insights and advice for medical school applications and personal statements, but first: how should a spouse think about medical school?

As the spouse or partner of a future medical student, you are about to embark on a unique and challenging journey. Medical school can be a demanding and stressful time, but with the right support, it can also be an incredibly rewarding experience. Here are some tips to help you survive and thrive during this exciting time.

  1. Understand the demands of medical school: Medical school is a rigorous and demanding program that requires a significant amount of time and effort. It is important to understand the demands of the program and be prepared to support your partner as they navigate the challenges ahead. Be aware of the long hours, intensive studying, and clinical rotations that will be a part of their daily routine.

During medical school, there were long stretches where my wife wasn’t around much, because she was studying or doing rotations. That obviously became much more protracted and intense when her residency began. I was finishing my Ph.D., so I had things to do, but I also knew that the physical, mental, and emotional intensity of medical school was on a whole other level, so I did what I could to empathize and make her life a little easier.

  1. Communicate openly and honestly: Good communication is key to a healthy and supportive relationship, especially during the challenges of medical school. Make sure to have regular, open, and honest conversations with your partner about their experiences and how you can support them. Be an active listener and offer encouragement and support when needed. Understand that many conversations will occur when your partner is exhausted, so don’t choose those times to start arguments. In fact, one of the best things you can do to support your partner through this process is to improve their sleep situation. Blackout windows, a cooling mattress, white noise machine, and keeping a silent house will be immensely appreciated!
  2. Be flexible and understanding: Medical school can be demanding and stressful, and it may require significant changes to your normal routine. Be flexible and understanding of your partner’s needs and try to make changes that will help both of you balance your priorities. This may include adjusting your work schedule, rearranging household responsibilities, or making other modifications to your daily routine.
  3. Get involved in the medical school community: Joining the medical school community can help you stay informed about what’s happening and provide opportunities to meet other partners and spouses. This can include attending events, participating in clubs and organizations, or volunteering for events and initiatives. And, understand that when medical school students, residents, or doctors get together, they basically only talk about medicine. So having some non-doctors around in those social settings will help keep you sane.
  4. Maintain your own interests and hobbies: It is important to maintain your own interests and hobbies. Most weeks, my wife had one (maybe two) day off, and when she was ‘on’ she was basically gone from before sunrise until late into the night. As such, I had to find ways to entertain myself. I went to a ton of Red Sox games, worked out, binged documentaries, and got a dog.

Make time for the activities that bring you joy and fulfillment, and consider taking on new challenges and experiences that will help you grow and develop.

  1. Encourage self-care and stress management: Medical school can be a stressful time for both you and your partner. Encourage your partner to prioritize self-care and stress management, including exercise, healthy eating habits, and time for relaxation and rejuvenation. It can be hard to hit the gym hard after the fifth day of 19-hour shifts, but when you have a chance, find opportunities to do things together that will make you both happy.
  2. Offer support during high-stakes times: Medical school is full of high-stakes moments, such as exams, clinical rotations, and residency interviews. Offer your support and encouragement during these times, and be there to celebrate your partner’s successes and provide comfort during setbacks. These don’t have to be grand gestures. I always made a point of having coffee brewed, keeping leftovers in the fridge for when she came home, and keeping stocked with her favorite snacks: Whole Foods mango slices.

Also, doctors likely deal with heavy matters of life and death, and when they break down or want to talk about them, accept that you probably won’t have any answers, and maybe can’t provide any comfort, but they will appreciate your willingness to listen and provide sympathy.

  1. Be a sounding board: Medical school can be a time of intense self-reflection and growth, and it is important for you to be a sounding board for your partner. Listen to their ideas and provide a supportive environment in which they can explore their thoughts and goals.
  2. Build a network of your own: Building a network of friends and colleagues inside and outside of medicine can help you stay connected and informed during medical school. Seek out opportunities to connect with other partners and spouses, and consider joining clubs and organizations that align with your interests.
  3. Plan for the future: Medical school is an investment in your partner’s future, and it is important to plan for the changes and opportunities that may come with a new degree. Consider your long-term goals and aspirations, and have open and honest conversations about how the MD degree will impact your shared future.

If you can make it through medical school and residency, the rest of your life is gravy. Embrace the idea that you’re both undertaking something really hard, but intensely meaningful. I used to joke that being married to a medical resident was like having a flight attendant as a roommate: they’re not around much, but when they come back they have interesting stories.

In a relationship that lasts a lifetime, different partners will need support at different times, and frankly during this phase your med school partner will probably need more from you than they can give back. Share their burden and appreciate the role you can play in the life you’re building together!

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.