Postgraduate Personal Statement Length For Medical School

Writing the Personal Statement

Summary:

This handout provides information about writing personal statements for academic and other positions.

Contributors:Jo Doran, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2018-03-07 02:18:40

The personal statement, your opportunity to sell yourself in the application process, generally falls into one of two categories:

1. The general, comprehensive personal statement:

This allows you maximum freedom in terms of what you write and is the type of statement often prepared for standard medical or law school application forms.

2. The response to very specific questions:

Often, business and graduate school applications ask specific questions, and your statement should respond specifically to the question being asked. Some business school applications favor multiple essays, typically asking for responses to three or more questions.

Questions to ask yourself before you write:

  • What's special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life story?
  • What details of your life (personal or family problems, history, people or events that have shaped you or influenced your goals) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
  • When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction that you are well suited to this field? What insights have you gained?
  • How have you learned about this field—through classes, readings, seminars, work or other experiences, or conversations with people already in the field?
  • If you have worked a lot during your college years, what have you learned (leadership or managerial skills, for example), and how has that work contributed to your growth?
  • What are your career goals?
  • Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre LSAT or GRE scores, for example, or a distinct upward pattern to your GPA if it was only average in the beginning)?
  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life?
  • What personal characteristics (for example, integrity, compassion, and/or persistence) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field or profession? Is there a way to demonstrate or document that you have these characteristics?
  • What skills (for example, leadership, communicative, analytical) do you possess?
  • Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school—and more successful and effective in the profession or field than other applicants?
  • What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the admissions committee to be interested in you?

General advice

Answer the questions that are asked

  • If you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar.
  • Don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It is important to answer each question being asked, and if slightly different answers are needed, you should write separate statements. In every case, be sure your answer fits the question being asked.

Tell a story

  • Think in terms of showing or demonstrating through concrete experience. One of the worst things you can do is to bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.

Be specific

  • Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, engineer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as the logical conclusion to your story.

Find an angle

  • If you're like most people, your life story lacks drama, so figuring out a way to make it interesting becomes the big challenge. Finding an angle or a "hook" is vital.

Concentrate on your opening paragraph

  • The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It is here that you grab the reader's attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement.

Tell what you know

  • The middle section of your essay might detail your interest and experience in your particular field, as well as some of your knowledge of the field. Too many people graduate with little or no knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the profession or field they hope to enter. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of specific information about the career you want and why you're suited to it. Since you will have to select what you include in your statement, the choices you make are often an indication of your judgment.

Don't include some subjects

  • There are certain things best left out of personal statements. For example, references to experiences or accomplishments in high school or earlier are generally not a good idea. Don't mention potentially controversial subjects (for example, controversial religious or political issues).

Do some research, if needed

  • If a school wants to know why you're applying to it rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. If the school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this might be a factor to mention.

Write well and correctly

  • Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.

Avoid clichés

  • A medical school applicant who writes that he is good at science and wants to help other people is not exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements.

For more information on writing a personal statement, see the personal statement vidcast.

The residency application process is all business. Those who read your essay are not looking for novel styling, mysterious openings, or poetic phrasing; instead, they are looking for a clear statement of why you want to pursue a career in that particular specialty.

Like the AMCAS personal statement, residency personal statements are open ended in that there's no specific prompt. However, your residency matching application essay will need to be even more focused than the one that you submitted to medical school. Keep in mind that you are ultimately applying for a job, and your residency essay should reflect a strong level of professionalism.

One of the biggest mistakes that we see in residency essays is organizing them like med school application essays. Some applicants even try to use their med school essay as the basis for their residency essay. On the surface, this makes sense. Obviously, your medical school application essay was successful, so you want to repeat that success in the residency matching process.

However, we definitely recommend starting your residency essay from scratch. The selectors really only want to know about your life after you began medical school, so you'll need to draw upon those experiences to create an effective essay. Also, there is a strong trend within residency matching for shorter and shorter essays. No specialty is looking for an essay of longer than one page and one paragraph, but limiting the essay to fewer than 700 words is a good guideline.  

Additionally, we've learned that creative essays don't perform particularly well in the matching process. Residency selectors are looking for very specific things within the essay, and they want to know how you'll fit in to their program. It's called 'matching' for a reason, and you'll need to show the selectors that you have a place with them as a resident.

Here are the main content areas that we suggest covering in your residency essay:

Why have you chosen this specialty?

In the first part of your residency statement, you should discuss what in particular has interested you about the specialty you've chosen, and how you've built experience in that field. If you're planning on devoting your life to internal medicine, radiology, or any other focused branch of medicine, you must have a clear reason for doing so. Thus, make sure that the reader comes away from this section understanding what has led you to this profession.

Why do you think you will excel in this specialty?

Not every med school student will have equal interest in, let alone talent for, every specialty. What about you makes this specialty the right match for your personality and goals? Help the selectors see that you have what it takes to thrive in the specialty. A meticulous person can feel right at home doing gross and checks in pathology. Excellent manual dexterity can ensure success as a surgeon. Persistence in solving complex puzzles can serve you well as an internist. In this part of the essay, make connections between general talents and your chosen specialty.

What are you seeking in a residency?

Next, write about how you intend to further that experience during your residency and what specifically you're seeking in a residency. Don't talk about specific locations, though, as you'll likely send this essay to a large number of facilities. You've got a solid base of experience already, but during your residency you're going to become an expert. What will you contribute? You may want to write about things like teamwork, continuous learning, and passion for patient care.

How do you see your career in this field progressing?

Finally, look past your residency to give the reader an idea of what you plan to do with your accrued knowledge once you have completed your residency. Show the residency selectors how you will use the knowledge and skills that you gained in the residency for the benefit of patients. Do you envision yourself pursuing research? Working in a university? Being a provider in underserved regions? Tell them your vision for your career as a physician.

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