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.

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.

Ten Tips for Your “Why Medicine?” AMCAS Personal Statement

Cartoon of a young Asian female medical school applicant seated at a desk, pondering her AMCAS personal statement. Above her, thought bubbles depict her various experiences: conducting research in a lab, assisting in a clinical environment, and experiencing personal growth while reading under a tree. The scene conveys her contemplation on how these experiences answer the 'why medicine?' question for her application
How do you write the most important essay of your life?

As spring is upon us, a new crop of aspiring doctors begins their medical school application process! At the heart of your application is your AMCAS Personal Statement, which asks you a simple question: why medicine? During our 15 years of helping hundreds of medical school applicants earn admission to their dream schools, we have worked with clients to help them craft unique responses to this question that resonate with their experiences and come across as genuine, compelling, and personal. Here are some tips for you on how you should think about -and respond to- this question.

 

  1. Start with your personal story: The best way to make your response original is to use moments, challenges, successes, and failures from your life. Your personal story is a unique and powerful tool for communicating why you are drawn to medicine. This can include experiences you’ve had with healthcare providers, exposure to medical challenges faced by loved ones or your community, or a moment when you first realized your passion for medicine.
  2. Highlight your experiences: Discuss any relevant experiences you’ve had in the medical field, such as volunteering at a hospital, shadowing a healthcare provider, or participating in a healthcare-related research project. Discuss what you learned from these experiences and how they have shaped your perspective on medicine.
    To avoid your essay being a cliché, strive from depth in your personal statement, not breadth. What this means is getting very specific about a particular experience -an EXACT moment or conversation- and how it shaped you. An exercise that I like to do with clients is to say, “if you have to take me to a precise moment in a time machine, where would you set the dial?” This forces you to have a specific entry point to a story that would help me understand it so that you might say, “on my third day at the clinic, I met Fred, whose leg infection had gone septic…” instead of saying, “my time volunteering at Detroit Mercy opened my eyes.” Specificity is the difference between a well-told story and a boring one.

 

  1. Emphasize your understanding of the field: Show that you have a deep understanding of the field of medicine and the challenges that healthcare providers face. This can include discussing current issues in the healthcare system, such as access to care, the opioid epidemic, or the impact of social determinants of health. BUT, only do this if you in fact have the insight and experience to do so. Faking it will be easily detected, if not by the reader then certainly by a future interviewer who asks you about it!

 

  1. Express your passion: Share your passion for medicine and what motivates you to pursue a career in this field. Explain why you believe that medicine is more than just a job, but a calling to help others and make a difference in the world. If there is a single idea that you want to convey, it is positive excitement. People are attracted to optimism and energy, so find a way to convey that.

 

  1. Demonstrate your commitment: Show that you are committed to the field of medicine and that you understand the sacrifices and dedication required to succeed. Discuss your long-term goals and how they align with your passion for medicine. For every goal you seek to identify, first ask yourself, “what experiences have I had that prepared for pursuing this goal?” and “what about my past explains this goal?” and “what about my past justifies my belief that I can attain this goal?” Answering these three questions will help your aspirations come across as more believable and, importantly, allow you to SHOW your commitment to medicine by reference to things you’ve done.

 

  1. Be specific: Instead of simply stating that you want to become a doctor, be specific about why you are interested in a particular specialty or aspect of medicine. Discuss what attracts you to this area of medicine and what you hope to achieve in this field.

 

  1. Be honest: Be honest about your motivations for pursuing a career in medicine. Don’t try to sound like someone you’re not or exaggerate your experiences or achievements. Admissions committees can usually tell when someone is being insincere. This goes beyond lying, of course. Essays that are built purely around the idea of “tell the reader what they want to hear” usually feel hollow and insincere and, perhaps worst of all, come across as cliché.

 

  1. Edit and revise: Make sure your response is well-written, free of typos and grammatical errors, and that it clearly communicates your passion for medicine. Ask someone you trust to review your response and provide feedback.

 

  1. Address any weaknesses: If there are any red flags in your application, such as a low GPA or MCAT score, take the opportunity in your response to the “why medicine?” question to address these weaknesses and explain how you have overcome them. Remember, you can’t just avoid talking about bad moments and hope that the AdCom somehow misses it. They won’t. Thus, if it comes up in the meeting about your application, you’ll want to be sure that you frame it.
    Here is a video that I did to help MBA applicants, and though the examples I use are business-related, the core ideas are the same. Or, if you want the “TLDR” version without the specifics, check this out!

 

  1. Be yourself: Finally, be yourself in your response. Admissions committees are looking for applicants who are passionate, knowledgeable, and well-suited to the field of medicine. Your unique perspective and experiences are what make you a strong candidate, so be sure to let your personality shine through in your response.

All told, the “why medicine?” question is an opportunity to demonstrate your passion for the field, your understanding of the challenges and rewards of a career in medicine, and your commitment to pursuing a career in this field. By following these tips, you can craft a compelling response that will help you stand out in the medical school application process.

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, Work & Activities sections, secondaries, and residency letters 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.

#MCAT #medicalschool #medschool #amcas #amcaspersonalstatement #medstudent #medschoolife #premed #premedical #medschoolproblems #premedproblems #studentdoctor #whitecoat #residency #gettingintomedschool #medicalresearch #workandactivities #workandactivities