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 essay. 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.
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 medical school and have the determination needed in order to become a doctor.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most of all, let your unique personality and passion for medicine shine through in your AMCAS essay.