After reading hundreds of personal statements and extracurriculars this application cycle, I’m seeing the same mistakes over and over again. Don’t do it too!
The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT is finally available in Paperback ($9.99) and in Kindle ($4.99) formats. Also, stay tuned for The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement, coming out soon! I’m actually giving away 100 books.
And if you preorder it on Barnes and Noble, I’m giving away a bonus, a personal statement course which I did with 30 students, where we broke down personal statements. You get access to this for free.
[04:10] The Goal of Your Personal Statement
It’s important that you have someone look at your personal statement and ECs and give you feedback. This is crucial in the process. Your only goal when writing your personal statement is just to show who you are, in terms of why you want to be a physician. What has been your path to get to this point?
Listen to last week’s podcast, Session 288, where I interviewed Leila Amiri, the Director of Admissions at the University of Illinois College of Medicine. She talks about how their review personal statements. Your goal is to talk about why you want to be a physician. What has been your path to get to this point?
If your reason is a cliche reason like a family member getting sick, just because it’s common, you really need to talk about this because this is your story. In other words, talk about that seed and when was it first planted that made you want to become a physician.
While your story may be common, it’s not cliche. Talk about why that experience made you want to be a physician or exposed you to medicine for the first time. You have to be true to your story.
[08:05] The Goal of the Extracurriculars
The goal of the ECs is to show the impact that you’ve had on each of your experiences. Tell why this meant something to you. It could be that the experience impacted you in some way.
Please take note that extracurriculars are not job descriptions. The admissions committee knows what a scribe does so don’t write what a scribe does. If you really have to say what you do, explain it in just one sentence. And then go to impact.
Make sure you’re showing through that and what does that look like in your life. How does that experience affect you? And how did you impact that experience?
[10:00] Personal Statement Mistake #1: Selling Yourself
Stop trying to sell yourself. You don’t need to sell yourself in your personal statements or your extracurriculars or your interviews. The goal of this process is to show who you are, not why you think you’re amazing or what amazing skills you have.
Here are some examples of students I’ve worked with where I saw some mistakes. The first is a student who was working at a suicide hotline. But he was trying to sell to me that he really cares for people. You don’t need to write that. Tell the story that shows you connected with the person on the phone, and hopefully, prevented a suicide. Show how you actually cared by telling it through a story.
Another example would be trying to sell that you have to address the person’s social support system. This is not telling the admissions committee anything.
One student says, they had to prove to themselves that they could solve problems in a medical setting. Saying you’re a problem-solver is the same thing as selling yourself.
Remember, you’re wasting space in your personal statement if you’re talking about these things. I don’t care what you learned from the experience. What I care at this point, is you’re showing why that experience made you want to be a physician.
[17:40] Personal Statement Mistake #2: Wasting Space
Don’t put double spaces in your personal statement after punctuation. Set it at single space after punctuation. So if you have 50 periods and you have double spaces after each of those, those are 50 extra characters you could get back that you need.
Don’t waste space in your personal statement, talking about names of places where you’re volunteering. Just say you volunteered at an emergency department. The names are going to be in your ECs anyway.
You don’t have to name drop, either. This is also a wasted space. Personally, too, research is a waste of space to talk about in your personal statement.
Research is exciting. It helps you tie together science with the clinical side of things or patient care. It may help you understand things and see those connections. But it’s not driving you to be a physician. You may want to do research as a physician in the future, but it’s not driving you to be a physician. For the majority, if not all, the driving force of people wanting to become a physician is because they want to take care of people. Focus on the people, not the research.
[21:37] EC Mistake #1: Don’t Sell
One student I worked with previously sold herself on her ECs. She wrote about her experience as a college athlete and its demands. Another example is working in a research lab. Again, don’t sell all the skills you’ve learned. Don’t sell the skills. Instead, focus on the impact you had. Focus on a story or interaction with a patient. Don’t try to sell to the reader what’s going to happen.
Another student talks about how this taught her to thrive under pressure. This is still selling. This just doesn’t work.
[25:33] EC Mistake 2: Wasting Space
You are wasting space if you compared what you’re doing to what a physician is like. You can’t really say this until after medical school. You can say this all afterwards, but not before.
So don’t assume they’re looking for anything. Don’t sell yourself. Each EC is wasting space if you’re putting a takeaway at the end of each of your ECs. This shows the readers what you’ve taken away from that extracurricular.
[28:55] Other Common Mistakes
Try to switch things around and putting your focus on the future, of what you hope to do, with all the knowledge you gained from this experience.
Repeating details is another common mistake to avoid. Don’t repeat information in the descriptions that are already in detail section.
Instead of saying numbers, talk about the impact the physician had on you and vice versa. Don’t waste space by selling, repeating information, or the number of hours per week.
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