5 Quick Personal Statement Tips for College

College Personal Statement Tips

Don’t let the college application personal statement stress you out!

Every year, students across the country begin on the difficult journey of drafting and writing a college application personal statement. It’s not an easy feat, but one that is almost a right of passage. These quick tips should help you stay on track.

1

Ask Your Friends

There are lots of great books on the college application personal statement, but a great starting point may be as simple as your friends and family who have gone through the process. Seeing what they’ve written about can help you get ideas, good and bad. After you read a friend’s personal statement, think about what it meant to you. Did you think “WOW, I would accept this person!” or did you think “Meh, that was just okay.” These gut feelings will help you understand what will work for you.

2

Brainstorm!

It’s easy to get lost very quickly within a personal statement. That is why it’s important to think about what you are going to write ahead of time. You don’t have to come up with the entire story, or even what each paragraph is going to talk about about, however it would be nice to have some thoughts written out prior to actually commencing writing.

3

Just Write!

Okay, so this may feel like it contradicts the last tip. In some ways it does, but in other ways we find that this really helps. We see a lot of students get stuck in the brainstorming phase without moving past it. Sometimes the best way to get out of a writer’s block is to actually start putting pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard)! Once ideas start flowing, go with them without worrying about grammar or word choice. Those changes can come later. Just type!

4

Get other opinions, but don’t jump with them

Getting other people’s opinion on your personal statement is incredibly important. However, personal statements are PERSONAL! That means that one person’s opinion can be completely different than the next persons, and that doesn’t mean that either of them are wrong. Synthesize each person’s feedback and keep what you want, discard what you don’t.

5

Keep your voice

Keeping your voice throughout the personal statement is important. Don’t let your parents write this essay for you because you will get caught in a trap. You want to make sure the admissions committees knows who you are as a person and the personal statement is one way to do that.

What’s the Latest I Should Take the MCAT for an Application Cycle?

Latest date to take the MCAT

Students often ask: What’s the latest I should take the MCAT if I want to apply this year? Great question! There are several factors to consider when you talk about MCAT timing. We’ve laid out a few different scenarios below to help you determine what the latest date you should take the MCAT is.

UPDATE: In 2020-21 application cycle, with COVID-19 Pandemic affecting so many things, AAMC has released a new timeline for the cycle. More information can be found here.

Scenario 1: Taking the MCAT just once and applying early

If you are only taking the MCAT once, the most ideal scenario is that you have your MCAT score by the time the application opens up in early June. That usually means taking the MCAT in the winter/early spring (Jan – April test dates) because MCAT scores take about a month to be released (see score release dates below). For some people, that is during their Spring semester, which may become busy (classes, MCAT, application, extracurriculars, etc!). For others, this is during a gap year so it’s not as cumbersome to carve out MCAT study time.

Scenario 2: Taking the MCAT just one and applying without an MCAT score

This scenario is fairly common for test takers in the later Spring. If you take your MCAT in mid-May, you won’t have your score back until mid-June. Remember, the application opens up in early June, so that means you don’t have your score by the time you apply. That’s not the end of the world as you CAN STILL SUBMIT OUR AMCAS WITHOUT AN MCAT SCORE (little known fact, but super important one!). You can choose a list of schools and add to it as well post submission, depending on your MCAT score. You can do this and have your score come out as late as mid-August (which means a mid-July test date) and still be relatively early in the cycle because you’ll be “complete” by the time secondaries come out and you submit them. That typically means that mid-July is the absolute latest we’d recommend taking the test, if you are only taking it once, and you want a relatively early application. Even with that, you should be getting the rest of your application done before your MCAT (which can get difficult with timing, but hopefully you get the idea!

Scenario 3: Taking the MCAT multiple times

It’s of course possible to take the MCAT more than once. That means you can have a score, apply, and still have a pending score. The same situation as scenario 2 applies in that you may not have a final school list yet. You may also start getting your AMCAS application actually evaluated by schools because you already have 1 score, so that means you can take the second MCAT a tiny bit later (mid-August MCAT date would be the last advisable date in this scenario).

MCAT Test Dates and Score Release Dates

Test Date Release Date
January 17, 2020 February 18, 2020
January 18, 2020 February 18, 2020
January 23, 2020 February 25, 2020
March 14, 2020 April 14, 2020
March 27, 2020 May 1, 2020
April 4, 2020 May 5, 2020
April 24, 2020 May 27, 2020
April 25, 2020 May 27, 2020
May 9, 2020 June 9, 2020
May 15, 2020 June 16, 2020
May 16, 2020 June 16, 2020
May 21, 2020 June 23, 2020
May 29, 2020 June 30, 2020
June 5, 2020 July 7, 2020
June 19, 2020 July 21, 2020
June 20, 2020 July 21, 2020
June 27, 2020 July 28, 2020
July 7, 2020 August 6, 2020
July 18, 2020 August 18, 2020
July 23, 2020 August 25, 2020
July 31, 2020 September 1, 2020
August 1, 2020 September 1, 2020
August 7, 2020 September 9, 2020
August 8, 2020 September 9, 2020
August 14, 2020 September 15, 2020
August 29, 2020 September 29, 2020
September 3, 2020 October 6, 2020
September 4, 2020 October 6, 2020
September 11, 2020 October 13, 2020
September 12, 2020 October 13, 2020

The Interview Day – How to Maximize the Day and Optimize Your Chances

man getting an interview

Author: Sean Childs MD

Finally, after all of the required forms, applications and costs, you have been awarded with the long desired “interview.” Now is a time to celebrate, but also to begin preparing for what is the most crucial, high stakes portion of the entire application process.

Whether it is your first interview or you last, they all will feel the same…one lone day to show faculty, physicians and even students that you are a MUST for their acceptance lists.

Additionally, many will be told that this is not only a day for medical schools to interview applicants, but also a day for applicants to interview the medical school. As cliché as this may sound, it is 100% true and very important to remember. So, whether you are asking yourself “What can I possibly do to make this school want me out of the other 700 applicants” or “How will I know if this medical school is for me?,” … read on and hopefully your questions will be answered.

Always Have You Game Face On Your Interview Day

From the minute you hit “submit” on your application to the day you begin your first day as a medical student, you must treat all communication with medical school staff/students/admissions as a official interview. At any stage in the process, treating anyone with disrespect or making candid/inappropriate comments can be the single strike that will land you with a rejection letter. Everyone involved in the admissions process knows that there is a very limited window available to get to know potential applicants. With this in mind, any slip up, distasteful comment or interaction may be enough of a flag on an applicant to prevent them from obtaining the much-desired acceptance letter. In this day and age, with the extreme abundance of qualified medical school applicants, everyone must remember that in addition to showing medical schools why they should be chosen for acceptance, it is equally important to NOT give them any reasons for rejection. Thus, from the time you respond to invitation emails to the day you get your acceptance letter, treat every interaction with medical school, regardless of the individual, as an official interview. Be kind, be courteous, and stay true to who you are at all time, for you never know who can be your ally or your enemy.

Interviewing the School..

Whether you believe it or not, the common teaching that an interview is a two way street is fully correct and important to remember. While applicants are often only focused on obtaining acceptances at as many institutions as possible, they can often overlook the subtleties that make each institution uniquely different…and which make them ideal for different applicants. One of the most important concepts that can drawn from the interview process itself is that medical schools, while responsible for teaching the same content, are all rather different in their delivery and style. In addition, each medical school attracts and is comprised of a unique type of student body. Thus, any time spent at an institution during the interview process should be viewed as a precious opportunity to gauge your fit among the community behind each medical school.

During the interview day, applicants have free range to observe, talk with, interact with and question any student or faculty they meet.

They must realize the importance of these interactions as they can first hand “feel out” their fit within the community they may end up calling home for 4 or more crucial years of their life. Common questions may include what they do for fun, their favorite/least favorite aspects of the school, what they were looking for in a medical school and whether or not they would repeat their decision if they had the chance to do it all over again.

From Interviewer to Interviewee

Whether it is your first or your last, whether it is at a “reach” school or safety net interviews can be a source of anxiety and fear…but they don’t always have to be. Interviewers are not out to get applicants, as often believed to be. They have what can be thought of as 2 main jobs: 1.) To get to know you as a person, something that a piece of paper or electronic file cannot fully do, 2.) To determine whether you would be a good fit and addition to their medical school and community. With those two things in mind, the interview can be transformed into a more relaxing, even enjoyable process. Applicants should try to relax and be themselves, in a professional setting, to reveal to interviewers why they belong at that institution. Taking time to peruse a medical school’s website prior to the interview can assist in finding the basic tenets upon which the schools educational foundation is based upon. Taking time to ponder what personal characteristics one possess to make them an ideal applicant can help to guide the interview and make them seem like a perfect fit. Be sure to answer all questions truthfully and to always ask yourself “why do I belong here” and “what is it about my application that makes me uniquely posed to succeed at this institution.”

The Dreaded Medical School Personal Statement

books as a stand for a laptop with stethoscope

One area of the medical school application process that may seem especially daunting to applicants is the dreaded personal statement. There are other parts of the application that you may be able to complete on autopilot. You researched things? Awesome! Put your dates here, mentors there, publication right here. You volunteered at a homeless shelter? Bless your soul, now just put the details in this box over here.

You’re listening to that beautiful engine purr as you deftly handle the array of application obstacles like some sort of ninja, when all of a sudden you hit that personal statement speed bump, your gearbox falls out, and now you’re pounding the console. It was all going so smoothly!

Well fear not, brave compadre, you are not alone. The rigors of pre-medical coursework have tuned up your “left-brained” traits that have steered you to success thus far, but now is the time to ditch the formal writing structure of your O-Chem lab reports in favor of a more “right-brained” approach.

If you can break yourself from the logical, algorithmic patterns you’ve already started to develop (and will continue to strengthen in medical school), you will discover that the free-flowing, associative nature of the personal statement is, in fact, quite fun!

The most important aspect of the personal statement is to be AUTHENTIC.

You want to grab the reader’s attention, but you want to do this in a manner that is authentic to you and your personality. You want to show the reader that you are a caring human being, but do this in a way that demonstrates how YOU are a caring human being, not how Mother Theresa is a caring human being. You need to illustrate specifically why being a doctor is important to you, not why it is important for the generic med student, or society for that matter.

When you go to interviews, your interviewers are going to consciously and subconsciously compare you to the “you” that they read about in your personal statement. The most important element here is congruence–if there is incongruence between the impression given in the personal statement and the one “in the flesh”, this is going to give the interviewer (and yourself!) a less than great impression of the encounter. If you really have no interest in research, but you make yourself out to sound like a lab rat because the school you are applying to is well-known for research, then you’re going to wear yourself out in the interviews trying to pull the wool over the eyes of your interviewers.

This doesn’t even have to be in terms of content. If you spent hours on your personal statement carefully crafting witty lines like you’re some kind of cocktail party wizard when that’s just not your personality, then you might fall a bit flat in the interview. If you “spice up” a former illness or death in the family just to pull at some heart strings, you’re going to appear less than authentic when interviewers ask you about this experience, as they have been living through these experiences professionally now for quite some time.

If you are that cocktail party wizard, or have truly been strengthened by a harrowing medical tragedy, by all means, display that in your personal statements! But if that’s not you, don’t cheapen your authenticity just because other people do have these personalities or experiences. Just be you, and like Sinatra, soon enough you’ll be singing “I did it my way”!

About the Author: Dr. Stephen Brandt is a graduate of Southern Illinois University School of Medicine

Differences Between MD (AMCAS) and DO (AACOMAS) Applications

If you are applying to medical school, you may be applying to both DO and MD schools. While the applications are relatively similar, there are a few differences in character counts/limits for the DO application to keep in mind while you are drafting your essays and activities sections! Here’s a real quick guide for your review that highlights the differences!

Application Personal Statement Character Limit Activities Section Most Meaningful Activities
MD (AMCAS) 5300 characters (including spaces) 700 characters (including spaces) 3 can be selected as a “most meaningful activity.” You’ll have an additional 1325 characters for these
DO (AACOMAS) 5300 characters (including spaces) 600 characters (including spaces) Not applicable

As always, if you need help through your MD or DO application, MedSchoolCoach is here!

What Is the Best Pre-Med Major?

What is the best pre-med major

Choosing a major can be one of the most stressful things for a college student to do! I talked to hundreds of early students who wonder what the “best major” for a premed is. That’s a loaded questions with all kinds of different possible answers. There is no single best “premed major”. It really depends on each individual scenario, but I wanted to outline a few key concepts that everyone should consider when choosing a major as a premedical student.

  • Non-science majors can be attractive to medical school

    Biology major. Biology major. Biochemistry major. Biology major. That’s your typical stack of medical school applicants. Imagine if you could insert something really interesting in there like “Beatles, Popular Music and Society”. Okay, that maybe extreme, but the idea would be that you would be a great science student who get’s A’s in all your premed classes, does science research and volunteers at hospitals but also brings a completely unique major to the table.

  • The premed curriculum is stacked, so plan ahead

    There are a lot of great majors out there that have nothing to do with science or medicine. They may make you a really attractive candidate to medical schools because you bring a whole new perspective to the incoming class. I always encourage people to major in non-science fields, however you have to keep the premed curriculum in mind when you decide to do so. And with the new MCAT coming out in 2015, there are even more courses added to the mix. Remember, every premedical student has to take the classes below. That’s a lot of classes! In fact, it’s over 18 courses. With each semester in college allowing you to take 4-5 classes, the premed curriculum could take up as much as 50% of your coursework. That becomes difficult with certain majors that have no overlap with the premedical curriculum, so you should make sure to plan ahead if you are going to choose a non-science major.

    1. Biology 1 and 2 plus lab
    2. Inorganic chemistry 1 and 2 plus lab
    3. Organic Chemistry 1 and 2 plus lab
    4. Physics 1 and 2 plus lab
    5. Two semesters of Math
    6. Two semesters of English
    7. Physcology
    8. Sociology
    9. Biochemistry (some schools)
  • Remember that your GPA is incredibly important

    One factor that premeds overlook too often when choosing a major is how they will be able to maintain a great GPA. Remember, your GPA is incredibly important in your premed process! If you are a biomedical engineering major with a 3.2 GPA versus an english major with a 4.0 GPA, the 4.0 wins out every day of the week, despite the potentially more difficult curriculum of a biomedical engineer! You should keep in mind your ability to succeed and maintain a great GPA in the major you choose.

  • Major in something that interests you!

    You should major in something that you are interested in. You will spend 4 years dedicating yourself to classes in your major. You better enjoy it! If you don’t, your grades will suffer. And even if you are planning to go to medical school, college is a time where you can really learn about something different from medicine. It’s amazing how little what you learn in college will be a part of your everyday life as a physician, no matter what major you are, so it’s great if you can diversify yourself!  If you are passionate about film as well as medicine, be a non-traditional premed who majors in film. If you really are mainly interested in the sciences, don’t be afraid to go for the traditional life science majors.

Finding the perfect major also involves understanding your undergraduate institutions curriculum, requirements and pathways. So you need to take into account many of these factors when you decide what you want to major in!

Can You Negotiate a Medical School Scholarship?

You can negotiate a medical school scholarship

When you receive a medical school acceptance, you are elated, and rightfully so! You’ve worked a tremendous amount to get to the point of being accepted and are now on your way to becoming a physician!

Except, there’s one potentially crippling hurdle in the way: tuition. You’ve probably seen the numbers: many medical students graduate with over $200,000 in debt. It’s certainly not easy to finance medical school nor to leave medical school with so much debt.

Luckily, most students qualify for some sort of financial aid. Whether those are grants from the government or scholarships, your initial tuition sticker shock may be lowered just a little bit. For a select few, there are honors scholarships that can almost pay your entire tuition.

A question that often comes up is if a student can use one scholarship offer to “negotiate” with another school. The short answer is YES, absolutely! Now, I’ve had a student who was actually been on the waitlist at a top 5 medical school, but got into another school (“lesser” ranked) with a full scholarship. Not only did he get off the waitlist at the top 5 school, he got a full tuition ride! How, a well timed and strategically placed letter or phone call to the powers that be can certainly get a school to rethink their offer to an individual applicant.

Bottom line, you absolutely can use one schools offer to talk with another school. You can send an email outlining something along the lines of:

“Dear Dr. _____,

Thank you so much again for the chance to matriculate at University of _______. I couldn’t be happier or more excited to have this opportunity!

As I make my final decisions for medical school, obviously cost is one of the factors I am considering. While I absolutely love your school, the X College of Medicine has actually offered me a full tuition scholarship (see attached).  While tuition costs is certainly not the only factor determining my decision, I wanted to understand where I stood for potential financial aid/scholarships at University of ______. I’d love to discuss more with you over the phone or even in person soon!

I hope to hear from you. Thank you again!

Student”

A simple letter like this can go a long way in a potential acceptance and a scholarship offer!

How to Show Diversity As an Applicant

diverse doctors clipart

During our recent MedSchoolCoach webinar, “Establishing Your Brand: How to be Unique When Applying to Medical School”, Dr. Mehta, CEO of MedSchoolCoach, answered some admissions related questions from the attendees. Read more about Dr. Mehta’s take on diversity and how to stand out as an applicant below!

Dr. Mehta:  Here is a question that I can take from Michael out there. He says, “What is the best way for a middle-class white male to show diversity when applying to medical school?”. I think you can pretty much replace middle-class white male with middle-class Asian, middle-class Indian, and unfortunately a lot of overrepresented minorities within the medical field and people who don’t necessarily think of themselves as diverse.

And you’re right, racially and socioeconomically, you may not be very diverse comparatively to the entire pool of applicants. But that doesn’t mean you’re actually not diverse, right? This again I think goes back to the establishing of brand. If you can bring something else to the table, if you can bring something unique to the table, your socioeconomic status is going to go out the window, right? So, if you’re a middle-class white male who is a ballerina, well, that would be great. If you’re a middle-class white male who has, as Dr. Marinelli mentioned some examples, gone abroad and started some programs or started a nonprofit and really focused on international work then that is awesome. I mean that is diversity. You are bringing diversity to the class.

Even if you’re a middle-class white male or a middle-class Asian who maybe didn’t study Biology and studied something different in college, you can show medical schools that you’re bringing something different to the table. So, keep in mind, you know, diversity does not always come by the color of your skin.

How to Stand out as an Applicant Without Any Awards or Recognitions

medical equipments

During our recent MedSchoolCoach webinar, “Establishing Your Brand: How to be Unique When Applying to Medical School”, Dr. Mehta, CEO of MedSchoolCoach, spoke with Dr. Katzen, MedSchoolCoach Master Advisor, about his take on not having awards or recognitions on your medical school application and if this can hurt your chances of being accepted. Read more about this topic from a previous admissions committee member below!

Dr. Mehta:  Dr. Katzen, here’s a quick question for you. Do medical schools look down upon an applicant who doesn’t have any awards or recognitions on his or her application?

Dr. Katzen:  Again, I think that this gets to how do you look at the application as a total entity. As we mentioned before, there are a couple of components that I think are very key that go beyond, as Dr. Mehta mentioned, the GPA and the MCAT. What is it that you put forth about yourself in the personal statement? And how creative, or I’ll use the word strategically again, do you utilize the MCAT’s activities? Are there other things that you have done, or other awards that you have done, that you can bring to show different aspects of what you have done? These don’t necessarily have to be scientific or academic. Can you show that you were a leader? Can you show that you’re artistic? Those types of things can help you put together a stronger application.

And, you know, when I work with the applicants, I like to take a while to interview them because sometimes we find things that we think may be of value just by talking to them; we learn things about the applicant that strengthens their application, even if there is not a specific academic or other honor.

Dr. Mehta:  Great. Thank you.