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.

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.

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.

Five Topics to Avoid in Your Medical School Personal Statement

 

Two cartoon medical school applicants in white coats cross a rickety wooden bridge over a river of lava, where playful monsters representing topics like alcohol use, religion, and politics emerge. The applicants hold their application papers and look anxiously towards a stylized medical school building in the distance. The scene is light-hearted and colorful, set in a fantastical landscape.
Steering Clear of Pitfalls: These Medical School Applicants Navigate the Perilous Path to Admission, Humorously Avoiding Topics Like Politics and Alcohol Use

We’re deep into April, and as medical school applicants begin thinking about their personal statements in earnest, we at Gurufi are putting the final touches on our medical school application video series. Every year, we help scores of applicants earn admission into top medical schools and residency programs.

In a recent post, I talked about the worst topic to use as your medical school personal statement introduction. Though I think that some topics are more complicated and fraught than others, I don’t usually give clients hard “no-go” topics. Rather, it’s about thinking about framing, context, and delivery. Another way to think about it is that these aren’t “banned” topics, per se; they’re just topics that have higher degrees of difficulty. Here are some topics to think twice about as you approach your personal statement.

  • Religion and politics. Don’t ever proselytize or make assumptions about what the reader’s politics are. Faith can be a vital part of many applicants’ lives, but to the extent that you bring it up, do it in a way that isn’t gratuitous, and make sure that you embrace a spirit of inclusivity. Similarly, it’s becoming increasingly common for people with backgrounds in politics, policy, or advocacy to transition into medical careers. As you talk about your political engagements, focus on what you hope to accomplish and avoid denigrating other political positions.

 

I have noticed that applicants with policy and politics backgrounds are becoming increasingly common in medical school applications, and they’re having a lot of success in their applications! Indeed, having helped many people write personal statements that emphasize the intersection of policy and medicine, I would note that the best essays focus on issues and policy, and don’t make sweeping statements about partisanship. What’s the difference? Well, advocating for, for example, better public health initiatives, protection of abortion rights, or better recognition of LGBTQ issues within healthcare spaces are all instances of health policy advocacy, whereas saying something like, “the Trump administration…” is a focus on partisanship.

  • Personal tragedy. Again, this is a topic that can be an important and effective part of a personal statement, if done properly. If done poorly, it can weigh the essay down in negativity. As a general rule, I urge clients to eventually bring their stories around to a forward-looking and optimistic vision. Tragedies either inspire you to become better, urged you to fight for a solution, or somehow teach you vital insights that will make you a better doctor. What you do NOT want is to include a sad story because you’re seeking emotionality for its own sake. Remember your purpose: to convince the reader that you’re a prepared, interesting, qualified, and mature candidate. Overcoming hardship can show that; a sad-sack story about life grinding you down that doesn’t end on an optimistic note will not.

  1. Your personal setbacks. Everybody makes mistakes, and if the AdCom will know about your setback, you HAVE to talk about it. I’ve made several videos about how to do this. Heck, I even did a full-length detailed course for MBA applicants on how to do this (the same basic rules apply). So what are the basic rules?

 Be clear about what your setback was. Don’t be vague or use euphemism.

 Own it. Accept responsibility and state directly that you fell short of your standards.

 Explain what you learned AND how you’ve improved since.

 If you can point to subsequent examples of success, do so.

 Move on. Take an optimistic tone about the future and embrace the fact that you’ve learned and grown since.

  1. Talking about your use of drugs or alcohol in a personal statement for medical school is typically not a smart idea. Discussions about past substance misuse may not be consistent with the admissions committee’s expectation of candidates who are responsible and dedicated to upholding a professional image. If, though, you have a conviction for some alcohol-related crime, you MUST address it at some point, so use the guidelines laid out above for how to address missteps thoughtfully.
  2. In general, it’s not a good idea to mention that you want to become a doctor only for the money or the status. Admissions committees are searching for applicants who are passionate about medicine and truly want to assist others.

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.

 

Here are some additional resources for this topic:

  1. “Medical School Personal Statement Dos and Don’ts.” Kaplan Test Prep, Kaplan, Inc., www.kaptest.com/medical/medical-school/medical-school-personal-statement-dos-and-donts.
  2. “5 Things to Avoid in Your Personal Statement.” Association of American Medical Colleges, www.aamc.org/students/applying/amcas/personalstatement/5things.
  3. “5 Things to Avoid in Your Personal Statement.” Association of American Medical Colleges, www.aamc.org/students/applying/amcas/personalstatement/5things.
  4. “Medical School Personal Statement Dos and Don’ts.” Kaplan Test Prep, Kaplan, Inc., www.kaptest.com/medical/medical-school/medical-school-personal-statement-dos-and-donts.
  5. “5 Things to Avoid in Your Personal Statement.” Association of American Medical Colleges, www.aamc.org/students/applying/amcas/personalstatement/5things.

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