Sometimes, advice with the very best of intentions can mislead you. Such is the case when it comes to AMCAS essays. Almost all candidates for medical school have received this advice:
Your AMCAS statement should not be a text version of your resume.
Well, of course not. But this advice is widely misunderstood, apart from the fact that the order of presentation that appears on your resume may actually be the ideal order of presentation for your essay. But we will get to that in a moment.
Here is the problem with the advice: Many candidates take it very seriously, understanding that it is well-intentioned, and they follow it much too zealously. Following the advice, they avoid consulting their resume (which has all of the best material about them), thinking mistakenly that they are supposed to present a personal biography that explains why they want to become a doctor and that avoids repeating anything on the resume.
No, no, no.
Of course you do not want to present a written text in which you have transcribed, with the use of a few verbs and prepositions, the bullet items on your resume. That is not what I am talking about. The point is that for many candidates, possibly for you, your resume is your answer!
What three achievements on your resume best depict you as an aspiring doctor? Could you write a paragraph about each one? There’s the core of your essay (less the intro and conclusion).
Apart from this misunderstanding – that one must avoid one’s resume when writing the essay – there is another misunderstanding which your resume can help you sidestep as well. Many candidates believe that they are obliged to identify a point in time when they decided to become a doctor.
No, no, no.
Even if in your case there was, in fact, such a moment, don’t go there. Please. Such a reference can lose your reader because it will come across as a cliché. That said, it is true that identifying a specific moment in time can “ground” an essay and help you build rhetorical momentum. A better approach is to identify a moment in time that has “reaffirmed” your commitment to this path. And the perfect place to find such a reference is in your resume. It’s often at the top of the resume, but because some candidates think they’re not supposed to refer to the resume, they will avoid this (optimal) material. Do not make this mistake!
If nothing else, your resume can provide an order of presentation that is almost sure to be more favorable to you than a chronological order of presentation – another big problem with AMCAS essays. The biggest problem with most of the AMCAS essays I see is that the first page is devoted entirely to ancient history (“I knew I wanted to be a doctor when I saw the great care that my grandmother received in her struggle with cancer twelve years ago” etc.). Again, even if this is true, you have to avoid this kind of framework for your essay, because this has become a cliché. This is why you are walking such a tightrope. In an earnest effort to be honest with your reader, you can get into terrible trouble.
Take another look at your resume, especially if you have not glanced at it lately and are about to start your AMCAS essay. It will give you some great ideas.
YOUR EDITOR’S ROLE
Your editor’s role, apart from providing perfect English, is to help you identify and develop the material that can sell you to the reader. It is probably right in front of you, and you may not even be able to see it. Your editor can help you find it. Your editor is actually your marketing consultant.
Even more importantly, your editor can help you know when to provide details and when not to. The AMCAS essay is especially tricky because some programs use individual readers and some use reader teams, and the resume is not always available to readers. So providing just the right amount of detail in the essay can go a long way toward making it work.
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