Follow these ten simple guidelines to help you keep focused and write a great AMCAS essay without all the long nights downing energy drinks that taste vaguely like cough syrup and tearing your hair out. Give it a try, it is easier than you probably think.
1. Do not obsess over the protocol.
Your protocol is 5300 characters with spaces. It is not necessary for your essay to be within five or 10 characters of this length. It should be over 5000 characters, but that is the only general rule to worry about.
Trying to get the essay to exactly 5300 characters gets a lot of applicants into trouble. If you realize at the last minute that your 5299-character essay includes a sentence that is not technically true, you need simply remove it (assuming that the corresponding transitions work). You need not obsess about replacing it. Generating a sentence simply to accommodate a character protocol can ruin your essay.
2. Know your thesis.
Your thesis is the sentence in your essay that explains why you will be a great doctor. The best place for it is in your introduction, but it can appear elsewhere as well. The best time to write it out formally is after you have written your essay, but having a thesis in mind (e.g. “I am great on research teams”) will help tremendously in developing your essay. Your thesis should refer to your salient strength and interest.
3. Do not try to sound like a doctor.
This is the most serious error you can make in your AMCAS essay. Many candidates think they can get ahead using medical jargon.
This is not true! Staying humble is the easiest way to your reader’s heart. Keep the medical references clear and concise. Your reader wants to hear what sets you apart as an aspiring doctor – not medical jargon!
4. Include the facts with program names and locations.
This is important because your reader does not always have your resume, especially for programs that use multiple readers. Referring to volunteer experiences and projects without offering specifics can lose your reader. Always provide place names, program names, and timelines when applicable.
5. Do not go back too far into your childhood.
If sharing a story about childhood or adolescence, do not go back too far (“I have wanted to be a doctor since I was four”). Even if this is followed by text that explains what you did when you were six, when you were eight, and when you were 10, this kind of content can lose your reader. It is ancient history.
6. Be concise and specific if discussing personal or family medical issues.
While it is true that you do not want to try to sound like a doctor, if referring to family or personal medical issues, be specific if possible. Demonstrating an understanding of a family medical situation (especially if it has been critical in your motivation) can help to win over your reader.
7. You do not have to touch every base.
Your AMCAS essay can share your academic successes, extracurricular achievements, research achievements, volunteer experiences, and life experiences. But it is not necessary to touch all of these bases! If you want to submit an essay about what a great researcher you are and what you have achieved in research, you don’t need to provide paragraphs about your leadership, grades, club activities, and so on.
8. You do not have to provide one critical anecdote.
If you have one, and it provides insight into your motivation, by all means share it. But if you do not, do not worry about this! Too much is made of personal anecdotes. Talking about your goals in medicine is a better approach than the literary development of an anecdote.
9. Avoid the drama.
Some of the best material for your essay may be about how you overcame a challenge. But avoid overemotional writing (“Although XYZ was devastating, I overcame it”). You must think of your essay almost as a marketing document. Too much negative emotion can ruin the effect.
10. Humility, humility, humility.
Your reader is your friend! This is something else that candidates do not understand. Treat your reader as your friend. Respect your reader’s time and make things as clear as possible for your reader. This can lead to the greatest rewards.
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