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.

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.

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.

Your MBA Application is About Your Future, Not Your Past

An MBA applicant in business attire standing at the start of a winding road leading to a bright horizon, with signposts labeled 'Leadership', 'Innovation', 'Global Impact', and 'Success' along the path, symbolizing the journey towards future achievements in business education and career.
Your Personal Statement is About the Road Ahead

Every year, Gurufi’s consultants help applicants build compelling personal statements that get them into their dream schools. There are many ways to write a great essay, but I’ve found that the best ones are always about the future.

         Unfortunately, when most people begin writing their personal statements, their first thought is what from their past they hope to highlight. After all, since you’re trying to prove that you’re qualified and prepared for an MBA, wouldn’t the natural inclination be to delve into the past, highlighting accomplishments and experiences that define your current professional identity? However, this approach, while important, only tells half the story. The key to a compelling MBA application lies not in the recollection of the past but in the clear vision of the future.

         In short, if you can provide a compelling, personal, and plausible vision for your future, your application will likely succeed.

 

  1. The Future as Your Guiding Star

This is why when I run workshops to help people write personal statements, our first activity is called “Envisioning Who You Want to Become.” That’s because the starting point of your MBA application should be a forward-looking vision. It’s essential to have a concrete understanding of what and who you aim to become. This future-oriented perspective isn’t just about setting goals; it’s about envisaging a version of yourself that is more skilled, more knowledgeable, and more impactful. The clarity of this vision will not only guide your application but also your career trajectory.

         Once you lay out your future in all of its specificity and ambitious glory, you need to reflect on how an MBA can bridge the gap between where you are now and where you hope to be. Understanding how an MBA will serve as a bridge from your current position to your future aspirations is crucial. It’s about recognizing the specific skills, networks, and knowledge that an MBA program can provide and how these elements are integral to achieving your long-term goals. This understanding demonstrates to the admissions committee that you have a clear purpose for pursuing an MBA, making your application more compelling.

 

  1. Contextualizing Your Past

At this point, you may be saying, “yeah, okay… but my personal statement is my past, though, right?” Yes… and no. Your future goals are central to your application, and your past experiences and achievements play a significant role in laying the groundwork. The key is to contextualize these experiences in terms of your future aspirations. Each accomplishment, challenge, and learning experience from your past should be a building block that supports your journey toward your future goals. If your past, present, and future don’t align in a way that makes sense, your essay will be incoherent. A simple question that I often ask is “does this feel like the same person?” If the events from your past that you choose to highlight don’t serve to show that you’re likely to achieve the dreams you present, that won’t make sense to the reader.

         A disjointed narrative that swings between past achievements and future aspirations without a connecting thread will weaken your application and undermine the sense of theme that any good essay has. The art lies in weaving your past experiences into a narrative that flows seamlessly into your future vision. This coherence in your story not only makes your application more compelling but also demonstrates your ability to strategize and plan for long-term objectives.

 

  1. Selecting and Emphasizing Stories

         When you take a future-directed mindset, the decision of which stories and accomplishments to include in your application will naturally be guided by their relevance to your future goals. Select experiences that showcase skills and qualities that are not only impressive in their own right but also pertinent to the future you envision. This selective approach ensures that every part of your application is working towards the same end goal – to showcase your potential as a future leader. Each story you include should be told with an emphasis on how it contributes to your future vision. It’s not just about what you achieved, but how those achievements have prepared you for future challenges and opportunities. A well-told story that connects your past success to your future potential can be a powerful tool in your application.

 

  1. Inspiring Confidence in Your Future

         Of course, the ultimate aim of your MBA application is to convince the admissions committee that you are not only a product of your past but a promise of the future. If your application can make the reader excited about what you are set to achieve and confident in your ability to do so, your chances of admission increase significantly. In fact, a future-focused application that effectively incorporates your past experiences positions you as a candidate with immense potential. When the admissions committee sees a candidate who not only has a clear vision for their future but also a solid foundation from their past to build upon, they tend to get excited about these applicants. In my experience, these are the ones who have success.

 

Starting with a clear vision of what you aspire to become, understanding how an MBA will help you get there, and then using your past experiences to reinforce this narrative, creates a compelling and coherent application. By focusing on the future, you not only align your application with your long-term goals but also present yourself as a candidate who is ready to embark on the transformative journey of an MBA program. The past is your foundation, but the future is your horizon – aim for it.

         If you are struggling to bring together your past and future, have the editors / consultants at Gurufi give you a hand. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top MBA programs. 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.