Applying to Medical School & Writing Your Personal Statement

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PMY 381: Applying to Medical School & Writing Your Personal Statement

Session 381

The med school application cycle is right around the corner! Here are 10 things you need to know before applying and 8 tips for writing your personal statement.

Follow me on YouTube at Episode 2 of Application Renovation Season 2 just came out yesterday. It has been the most popular show on the channel that comes out on Tuesdays. Season 2 has about 14 episodes recorded. Ask Dr. Gray is released on Thursdays.

Please take advantage of all the resources available on Meded Media along with my books The Premed Playbook series.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[04:35] 10 Tips Before Applying to a Medical School

#1: Understand the rolling admissions and apply early.

The majority of medical schools here in the United States utilize rolling admissions. As soon as the application cycle opens up, they are reviewing applications to interview and reviewing those interviewed students for acceptance.

For schools that don’t use rolling admissions, it’s not as important to make sure everything is in earlier than other students. However, for schools that use rolling admissions, you need to understand the importance of applying earlier. Hence, it’s always stressed to apply as soon as possible.

That being said, don’t apply with a crappy application or a terrible personal statement because you rushed it. 

By applying early, it means starting earlier so you have a great personal statement and you have all your extracurriculars lined up along with your MCAT and all.

'Don't rush anything to make sure you're in early because of rolling admissions. Just be aware of it.'Click To Tweet

The problem with many medical schools is the lack of transparency around the importance of rolling admissions and whether or not they utilize it at their school.

My team did some research looking at over 130 medical schools and their websites. We looked for rolling admissions notes and information. Only about 30% of medical schools that use rolling admissions actually taught about rolling admissions and talked about the importance of applying early. 

[07:10] #2: Medical school application costs a lot!

It costs a lot of money to apply to medical school. The more you know right now, the more that you can be prepared for it. Check out our Application Cost Estimator.

It will give you a rough estimate on cost including MCAT prep as well and deposit for medical school acceptances, etc. Check out the Fee Assistance Program that both AAMC and AACOMAS have for their application.

'Do that math now. Start saving money now for the application.'Click To Tweet

[08:50] #3: Understand what the application looks like.

Understand what the application looks like and what you need to apply to medical school. You need your MCAT score. You don’t need all your prereqs done before you apply either. You just need your prereqs done before matriculating or starting medical school.

Other things you need include letters of recommendation, clinical experience, shadowing, research (if necessary), etc.

You need all these things ready to go so once the application opens up, you can submit on time.

Very important too are your personal statements, which can take a while for you to do this. You also need to complete secondary applications and secondary essays are a big part of the application.

Check out the Application Renovation Series as I break down applications so you can see what one looks like.

[10:15] #4: Picking Medical Schools to Apply To

Most students choose the medical schools they apply to based on their MCAT and GPA. But there are a thousand other factors that are much more important than MCAT and GPA. Do not pick schools based on MCAT and GPA!

'The majority of premed students pick medical schools based on MCAT and GPA. That is the absolute wrong way to pick medical schools.'Click To Tweet

Don’t put your considerations into not applying to that medical school. Understand where you want to be. Consider weather, geographic location, proximity to family, etc. Start thinking about those things.

You only need to have one school selected to apply to medical school. Then you can add more schools as you go.

[11:50] #5: Be realistic with your MCAT and GPA.

If you’re nowhere near ready and prepared and really showing that you’re academically qualified to be a successful medical student, then you probably shouldn’t apply to medical school.

Looking at the data for acceptance rates to medical school, it doesn’t look that very good. A lot of those students not getting accepted probably should not apply to medical school because their stats just don’t show that they’re going to be successful medical students.

If you’re not above a 3.0 at least science and cumulative GPA with a super-strong upward trend to show you’re academically qualified, you probably need to look into a postbac or a special master’s program or another master’s program. You have to rehabilitate your image when it comes to your academic qualifications. 

'Applying with a terrible MCAT and a strong GPA is not going to help you.'Click To Tweet

If you have a strong GPA (ex. 3.8-3.9) and have always been successful in the classroom, but for some reason you can’t do well on the MCAT, applying with a terrible MCAT and a strong GPA is not going to help you.

That GPA is not going to prove to medical schools that you’re academically qualified if your MCAT is nowhere near where they need it and want it to be. So just be careful with that as well.

 [14:00] #6: It’s okay to wait.

One extra year waiting to apply seems like a long time. But as you get older, a year is nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Be more conservative when it comes to applying to medical school because it costs a lot of money. And if you apply and you’re not accepted, you have to rework a lot of your application.

That means writing a new personal statement, improving your extracurriculars, and potentially getting new letters of recommendation.

'It's a lot of work to reapply to medical school so do it right the first time.'Click To Tweet

Be okay with waiting a year or two depending on how much rehab you application needs before you submit it. Don’t just throw in an application because you rushed and you feel like you need to apply now.

Now, if you choose to ignore this point or you’ve already applied and didn’t get in the first time, this leads us to the next point.

[15:30] #7: It’s okay to reapply.

It’s not like a Scarlet letter that you’re a reapplicant. Only 40% to 45% of students actually get accepted every year. So a lot of students are reapplying. Unfortunately, many students don’t reapply and just go on a different route.

'The best thing about being a reapplicant is you can show growth.'Click To Tweet

Show that self-awareness and that reflection to say why you think you didn’t get in and what you’ve done to work on your application to make yourself a better applicant. Talk about those things. A lot of medical schools will ask you if you’ve applied before, what have you done in your application to improve your application.

Moreover, there’s this myth going around that it’s better to be a reapplicant. And so a lot of students are applying just for the heck of it with terrible applications. This is crap! Don’t believe that hype.

It’s not better to be a reapplicant. It’s just not bad to be a reapplicant.

[17:09] #8: Be self-aware of your activities.

Too many students with super-strong stats are not self-aware of their activities. They don’t have shadowing or clinical experience. They don’t have volunteer experience. They’ve focused so much on MCAT and GPA that everything else was pushed off to the side.

They just don’t have anything that proves to them that they want to be a physician. They’re not proving with their actions and time that this is something they want to do.

'Really be self-aware and think whether you need to take a gap year before you apply to medical school.'Click To Tweet

Do you need to take a gap year to do more shadowing? Do you need to bolster your application so when it comes to proving to the admissions committees that this is what you want, you have it on paper that you’ve done it?

[18:10] #9: Be aware of the time commitment necessary to write all of your secondary essays.

There’s a lot of time commitment and a lot of students are caught off-guard because of this. This is necessary not only with the whole application but also the secondary applications. A lot of students apply to a crazy number of schools because money was not an issue. But they don’t think on the backend, which are all secondary essays that you have to do.

'Be prepared for the time commitment necessary to write all of those secondary essays.'Click To Tweet

Check out that we have updated every year where you will find a database of all the prompts that medical schools ask. Typically, they don’t change their prompts every year. But if they do, please send them to us so we can update them.

You can start prewriting your secondaries whenever you want. But ideally, when you’re done with your applications in late April to early May, you can start working on your secondary applications at that point.

[20:00] #10: Talk to your pre-health office and find out about their recommendations.

Go to your pre-health office and find out how they can help you through this application process. Some pre-health offices will write committee letters. Follow the rules for them to see what’s required for them to write you a committee letter.

Unfortunately, there are committees out there that will not write students committee letters if their MCAT or GPA score is not “high” enough. Then you have to play by the rules wherever you are at. That being said, you can still get into medical school without their committee letter.

'If you're at a school that does write committee letters but they will not be writing you one, it's not the end of the world.'Click To Tweet

But if they do offer you one because your stats are high enough, follow their rules and jump through the hoops they have for you. They are there to help you really be a successful medical school applicant.

[22:40] 8 Tips for Writing Your Personal Statement

It’s hard to write about yourself and your journey to medical school in 5300 characters, which is what the majority of application services give you.

'The personal statement is very important and it's something you should take very seriously when you're applying to medical school.'Click To Tweet

A great personal statement won’t probably help you overcome terrible stats and terrible MCAT score and terrible activities. But a really bad personal statement can probably keep you out of medical school even with some good stats.

[23:25] #1: Understand how long it takes to write a personal statement.

Too many students go through the application cycle in May, which is when the cycle opens. But a lot of students will wait until the application service opens up to write their personal statement. They will just write it in the box of the application.

'A good personal statement takes a couple of months to write.'Click To Tweet

Expect your first draft to be terrible. Put it aside and sit on it. Have a couple of drinks. Think about it and send it to someone for feedback. Come back to it and look at it with fresh eyes. Redo it all and send it all again for feedback. Put it in the drawer again and come back to it again with fresh eyes.

You’re going to go through this process over and over again until you come to your final draft. It takes many drafts to get to a really, really good personal statement.

For more help with your personal statement, grab a copy of my book The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement.

[25:10] #2: Understand who you are and what your motivations are behind becoming a physician.

The personal statement is an essay about your journey to medical school. What experiences have you had that have led you to this knowing that you want to be a physician?

'What planted the seed and what watered the seed? These are the experiences you're going to talk about.'Click To Tweet

Start now and start thinking about the most memorable experiences that you’ve had and what really drove you to want to be a physician.

Start writing down things you’ve done in the past, influences that you’ve had, and mentors you’ve had to find out what you should be writing about in your personal statement.

[27:05] #3: There are three different application services to medical school.

The AMCAS is for most MD medical schools. AACOMAS is for most DO medical schools. TMDSAS covers the public MD and DO schools in Texas.

There are three different application services with three different personal statements. 

'AACOMAS recently changed the length of their personal statement essay from 4500 characters to 5300 characters, the same length as AMCAS.'Click To Tweet

The Texas application service has a character count of 5000, this is 300 characters less. You’re going to have to tweak your personal statement if you’re applying to both AMCAS or AACOMAS and TMDSAS.

[28:35]  Should you write a DO-specific personal statement?

No. Especially with the AACOMAS changing the character count for 2019, they’re probably not expecting big changes between your MD personal statement and your DO personal statement.

For the DO personal statement, you’re still writing why you want to be a doctor, not why you want to be an osteopathic physician? You can explain this in your secondary applications later on. You can talk about what motivates you to be an osteopathic physician.

'Your personal statement is still all about why you want to be a physician – plain and simple.'Click To Tweet

**If you are only applying to DO schools, then you can tweak it to be a more DO-specific personal statement. 

But the caveat to this is don’t just write “osteopathic physician” everywhere you would just write “physician.” You need to really show the differences and your experiences with osteopathic medicine to make it a DO-specific personal statement.

[30:06] #5: It’s not a creative writing piece.

I’ve seen “creative writing” personal statements and 99% of them miss the mark of what their goal is. The goal is to show the reader why you want to be a physician. 

Sometimes, you can still get into medical school in spite of a bad personal statement. But it’s not a creative writing piece.

'It's an essay exploring your journey to wanting to be a physician. Focus on that.'Click To Tweet

[30:50] #6: It’s not a sales letter.

It’s not an argumentative paper on why you think you’re going to be an amazing physician. Your job is not to show all of the things you’ve done and how they correlate so well with being a physician. 

'You are a premedical student. You have no idea what it's like to be a physician.'Click To Tweet

You may have shadowed. You may have clinical experience and know what a hospital smells like. But until you have patients under your watch, you have no idea what it’s like to be a physician. So don’t try to claim that you do.

Don’t try to compare what you’ve done in the past and what you’re doing now to what you’re going to do in the future. Don’t try to show them that you’re going to be an amazing physician.

[31:55] #7: There’s nothing unique about you.

There’s a common piece of advice going around to find what’s unique about you and write about that. And I personally think this is crap. It’s not true. There’s nothing unique about you.

'There's nothing you're going to write about in your personal statement that an admissions committee has never seen before.'Click To Tweet

What is unique about you is your viewpoint and your story behind your experiences. You’re not going to find unique experiences. Otherwise, when you tell them about what’s unique about you, you end up selling yourself which brings us back to the point before this.

[33:15] #8: Don’t worry about being cliché.

Write about your journey to being a physician. An admissions committee member wants to understand why you want to be a physician. So write about that.

'Write about it through the lens of your journey. That's where your uniqueness comes out.'Click To Tweet

It’s very common to have a very similar story to many other students who are on this journey with you. That doesn’t mean you go out and try to be completely different and write an essay that is completely off the wall.

The personal statement is a very powerful essay on your journey to wanting to be a physician. Don’t screw it up by trying to get too creative because you think your journey is either too common, too cliché, or too boring.

Talk about your journey. Show everything you’ve been through and really let that leader understand your motivations for wanting to be a physician.


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AAMC Fee Assistance Program

AACOMAS Fee Assistance Program

Application Renovation Series

Ask Dr. Gray

The Premed Playbook series