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.

Ten Insider Tips for Your Medical School Personal Statement

A young adult appears stressed while sitting at a cluttered desk with medical textbooks, university application letters, and a laptop displaying an application page, symbolizing the challenging journey of medical school applications.
Embrace the journey, conquer the challenge. Your path to becoming a medical hero starts here. #MedSchoolDreams #FutureDoctor”


         How do you summarize your life and aspirations in just 5300 characters? With spring around the corner, this is the challenge facing thousands of medical school applicants. The AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) personal statement is the central pillar of your application, where you explain your achievements and contextualize your life, so you don’t want to get it wrong. To this end, we at Gurufi are producing a free video series that we’ll start rolling out next week detailing how you should approach your AMCAS personal statement. In the meantime, here are some tips you can use to craft a more powerful personal statement. In the meantime, if you’re feeling stuck, feel free to contact us atservice@gurufi.com for help, or visit our website at Gurufi.com!

         Here are ten tips for making your personal statement pop!

  1. Clearly state your motivation for pursuing medicine: The first thing that a good AMCAS personal statement does well is clearly state the applicant’s motivation for pursuing medicine. This is an opportunity to express why you are interested in becoming a physician and what drives your passion for the field. Be specific and concise, and make sure that your motivation is evident throughout the essay.

You don’t, though, have to state this in the opening paragraph. Use good storytelling to make your essay stand out, and part of this means that you should avoid overly rote openings like “I want to become a doctor because…:” I made these three videos for MBA applicants, but most of the core ideas are relevant to med school personal statements. Check them out here, here, and here!

  1. Understand you can’t say everything. The horror of medical school applications is that there is just so much to do! The flip side, though, is that in addition to your primary personal statement, you also have the AMCAS Work & Activities Section, secondaries, and even letters of recommendation to highlight additional parts of your application. Because you have so many opportunities to talk about what you’ve done, do NOT try to overstuff your Personal Statement. Most good personal statements will have three beats: “origin story,” “relevant accomplishment,” and “why medicine?” This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but a useful rule of thumb. In other words, in your PS, look to cover a few things really well, and then use the Work & Activities and individual school secondaries to address additional themes and tell additional stories.

  1. Highlight your unique experiences and skills: A good AMCAS personal statement should also highlight the applicant’s unique experiences and skills. This could include experiences in healthcare, volunteering, research, or leadership positions. Be specific about the experiences and explain how they have shaped your understanding of medicine and your goals for the future.

  1. Show your personality: The AMCAS personal statement is a chance for you to show your personality and make a connection with the admissions committee. Use a clear and conversational tone to describe your experiences and motivations. Avoid using medical jargon and technical language, and instead, write in a way that is easily accessible by an intelligent reader who might not be familiar with your particular area that you’re talking about.

  1. Emphasize your commitment to medicine: Good AMCAS personal statements also emphasize the applicant’s commitment to medicine. This could include a commitment to helping underserved communities, a desire to improve patient care, or a passion for medical research. Be specific about what drives your commitment and how you hope to contribute to the field of medicine.

  1. Discuss any challenges or obstacles you have overcome: A good AMCAS personal statement should also discuss any challenges or obstacles the applicant has faced and overcome. This could include personal or academic challenges, and how you were able to overcome them. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your resilience and determination, and to show that you have the qualities necessary to succeed in the challenging field of medicine.

  1. Highlight your long-term goals: A good AMCAS personal statement should also highlight the applicant’s long-term goals. This could include goals for their medical career, as well as personal goals that are relevant to medicine. Be specific and explain how these goals align with your motivations and experiences in medicine.

  1. Showcase your knowledge of the medical profession: A good AMCAS personal statement should also showcase the applicant’s knowledge of the medical profession. This could include an understanding of the responsibilities of a physician, current healthcare issues, and a passion for ongoing medical education. Be specific and explain how you plan to continue learning and growing as a physician.

  1. Provide a well-structured and organized essay: A good AMCAS personal statement should also be well-structured and organized. This includes having a clear introduction, body, and conclusion and using appropriate headings and subheadings to help the admissions committee easily follow your story. It should also be free of grammar and spelling errors and carefully proofread before submitting.

  1. Keep it concise: This is an obvious one. The system simply won’t let you upload more than 5300 characters (including spaces) so be sure to plan, outline, and write with this hard cap in mind. Remember Point #2: you can’t say everything, so don’t try. Remember, two well-told stories (or even one!) is much better than five stories that are rushed and thin. As such, be selective about what you include and focus on the most important experiences, skills, and motivations that you want to showcase.

No pressure, but this could be the most important essay of your life, so plan, leave time for revision, and seek outside help if necessary. At Gurufi, we have 17+ years of experience helping people get into top medical schools. Last year, we placed candidates at top programs like Harvard Medical School, UCSF, Northwestern, Duke, UCLA, USC, OHSU, and Johns Hopkins. We also have an excellent track record with Canadian and UK medical schools. If you need help crafting a powerful personal statement, check us out!

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 atservice@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.