With the vague prompt of ‘…explain why you want to go to medical school’ and a limit of 5300 characters, it can be difficult to know how to approach the AMCAS personal statement. Also, you’ve probably spent the last couple of years focused on technical writing skills, so it can be difficult to shift gears back to writing in a more personal way. Therefore, let’s turn our microscopes on the AMCAS essay to get a better understanding of what med school admissions officers are looking for in your application package.
What is an AMCAS personal statement?
Do you really want to pursue a career in medicine and willing to dedicate many years of your life to it? The AMCAS personal statement, also known as Personal Comments Essay, needs to answer this question and show an admission committee that you have the passion and dedication needed for the challenges of the medical field. The name comes from the American Medical College Application Service, or AMCAS, a system of digital tools that simplify the process of applying to a medical college for both the committees and applicants. AMCAS is where you’ll need to submit your essay.
You will use the essay to explain what sets you apart from other potential candidates. It’s a critical essay that heavily influences the selection process in many admission committees.
What information should it include?
Approaching the AMCAS Personal Statement Prompt
The AMCAS personal statement prompt shows you the direction, but not the road itself. The good news is AAMC provides more details in its 2020 guide. The association advises applicants to elaborate on the following things in your essay:
– Why you’ve chosen to pursue a medical career in a specific field;
– What drives you to study more about it;
– What else do you want the committees to know about you beyond all other documents you are submitting;
– The challenges and situations that pushed you into learning medicine
– Additional comments about your academic record that are not displayed anywhere else in your application.
These guidelines better explain what medical colleges are interested in learning about you, but how to approach them in a concise, descriptive, and unique essay?
Here’s a handful of useful recommendations to consider.
1. The essay should be about you
While this may seem obvious, the med school admissions officers are looking for a meaningful essay that will help them get to know you better. While it is fine to write about others who have had a significant influence in your life, the focus of the essay needs to be you – the applicant. If you are going to write about others, do so briefly and make strong connections back to your personal reasons for applying to medical school. Give the reader confidence that you are making your own decision in choosing a medical school and have the determination needed in order to become a doctor.
2. Highlight the ‘why’ and the ‘how’
By applying to medical school, the admissions officers already know the ‘what’ of the essay. Even so, it can seem intuitive to write about all that you have done to qualify yourself for medical school. These accomplishments are important, but they’ll be covered in other parts of your application package. For the AMCAS essay, help the admissions officers understand your motivations in choosing to become a physician. What aspects of your experiences and your personality led you in this direction? What choices have you made in life to support this decision? Your particular ‘why’ and ‘how’ will be different from those of anyone else, and this is what will give the admissions officers insight into your character and potential.
3. Be descriptive and go into detail
The journey to becoming a doctor is one of a thousand steps, and it can be tempting to try to include all of them in the essay. However, trying to do that in only 5300 characters can result in a superficial essay that blends in with the crowd. In choosing what to write about in your AMCAS essay, select anecdotes where you can bring the reader into your world and experience the event alongside you. Provide the reader with descriptive detail to help the admissions officers understand the significance of these events in your journey.
4. Stay positive, even about difficult situations
Writing about challenging situations can make for great essay writing. However, it is important to keep a positive tone throughout. You may have seen injustices in access to medical care either at home or abroad. It may have happened to a near relative or even to you. Even so, the AMCAS essay is not the place to write about larger issues of reforming the medical system or criticizing the actions of a particular individual. Instead, write about how the negative experiences inspired you to improve the lives of your future patients and their loved ones.
5. Submit a professional essay
Medical school is a graduate professional program, and your essay should reflect that you have a level of professionalism sufficient to begin this process. Therefore, have at least one, and preferably two or more people take a look at your essay. If there’s a gap between how the readers perceive your essay and what you meant, you may want to do some rewriting. Finally, the essay should be proofread for grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
Submission & AAMC/AMCAS personal statement length
One of the questions that medical college applicants often ask is about the AMCAS personal statement word count and how to go about it. There’s more to the matter than meets the eye: every candidate needs to know a number of details to submit their application successfully.
- Your AMCAS essay should not go over 5,300 characters (spaces are also counted as characters). This equals around one single-spaced page. Don’t worry, if you mistakenly exceed this number, you’ll get a notification from the system.
- Type in your essay right in the AMCAS application to avert formatting issues. These issues are small but rather frequent when copying and pasting between any apps, but many applicants often overlook them. Don’t forget about this step.
- There’s a way around it recommended by AMCAS. You may use text-only word processors like Notepad on Windows and TextEdit on Mac to prepare your drafts while avoiding formatting.
- Remember, if you upload formatted text to the app, you may not be able to edit it after uploading your application.
- There is no proofreading tool in the AMCAS app: you need to check your essay thoroughly for grammar, punctuation, and style issues. You will not have the option to correct them afterward.
The limit of 5300 characters doesn’t mean you should strictly eye that number when writing the essay. It’s just the ceiling you shouldn’t break. If you feel you’ve written a solid personal statement while following all the tips and it ended up having 5000 characters, that’s fine. If you continue exceeding the AMCAS personal statement character limit, ask a couple of friends to read it, or better, hire a professional editor. The latter will significantly improve the final result.
Most of all, let your unique personality and passion for medicine shine through in your AMCAS essay.