Medical School Essays: 5 Big Mistakes

By Ryan Hickey + updated on September 15th, 2011

“I have always wanted to be a doctor.”


Even if this is true, saying this in your personal statement can work against you. But what if it is true?

The key stumbling block in the phrase “I have always wanted to be a doctor” is the word “always.”  What is your first memory of wanting to be a doctor? If it was playing doctor as a six-year-old, you are best advised not to go there, precisely because many candidates actually do go there. The goal of your statement is to set you apart rather than to put you in a category with other applicants.

Revisit that moment when you were first certain that you wanted to be a doctor. Where were you? What were you doing? What were those around you doing? What aspect of the circumstances convinced you?  If you address all these facts in your statement, such a passage can work for you.

“Immigrating to the United States was a great challenge.”

As an international student, almost anything that you can say about the immigration experience will come across to your reader as a cliché. That is why international students are well advised to completely avoid this topic in their medical school application essays.  Your reader knows that as an international student, you have faced unique and in some cases seemingly insurmountable challenges. Saying nothing about those challenges is what can truly set you apart.

“That’s when I knew I could make it in medical school.”

The most important tone to avoid in your essay for medical school is a tone of overconfidence.  The key is to achieve a tone which balances humility with enthusiasm.

You can achieve a tone of humility by offering a brief self-deprecating passage in your essay, and you can express your enthusiasm by showing it in action, in a situation in which you took initiative or developed a project well beyond its stated requirements.

Underestimating the Importance of your Med School Essay

Some of the best candidates for medical school have managed to achieve outstanding grades by developing term papers and research papers at the last minute in countless courses.  What could be so different about an essay for medical school?

Your personal statement for medical school is not a term paper. It is not a research paper.  It is a document that must set you apart, set the right tone, and convince your reader that you have unique qualities that will contribute to a medical program. Writing it at the last minute could ruin your chances.

Neglecting to Polish and Proofread you Work

This is another mistake often committed by some of the most qualified candidates.  A typo or grammar irregularity in a term paper can be overlooked.  A typo or grammar  irregularity in your medical school application essay can sabotage your best interests and ruin your chances of admission.

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Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey is Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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