Personal statements have typically been underrated by premed students because they do not understand the importance of personal statements. Most premed students believe that a good MCAT and GPA are all you need to get into medical school but the personal statement is actually a very integral part of your application.
Since I helped out with the admissions process during my first year of medical school, I was able to experience first hand how applications are sifted through. Your personal statement is actually sometimes what it comes down to. Many students will have similar grades and MCAT scores but the personal statement is used many times to differentiate between students.
Write something your passionate about.
This is overlooked many times because students believe that medical schools cannot really tell by a personal statement if the student is actually passionate about what he/she writes about. But this is completely not true. How passionate you are translates into not only a well worded essay but also a multi-dimensional essay. When you care about something or it is important to you, those feelings have been brewing in you for a while and it helps to set you up for a great essay topic.
Also remember that your personal statement will be brought up by the interviewer most of the time. When you talk about what you wrote about, your level of passion will be evident not only on your face but also in the way that you describe your experience. Keep this in the back of your mind that your topic for your personal statement is more than fair game for an interview question so make sure that you write about something you feel confident talking about.
Your story and journey towards medicine is very unique to you and no one can take that from you. If you can find a way to explain your story in a personal statement and how that brought you closer to medicine, that will help you significantly. The people that read your applications sift through thousands of applications each year and it is refreshing to read a personal statement that is raw and unique. What I mean by this is that it does not matter which experience you write about, if it made an impact in your life and helped you decide or confirm your desire to pursue medicine, your essay will reflect that.
I remember trying to brainstorm for personal statements during my own experience and what I actually ended up doing was talking about a very small interaction I had with a homeless man in the city and how that translated into my personal desire to pursue medicine. The actual interaction may be considered very minuscule to an outsider but for me, the internal epiphany I had through my interaction was monumental. And the way I described my interaction, internal feelings, and path to medicine appeared to be a success. Every single interview that I participated in, I was asked to explain my personal statement further.
The experience does not have to be about medicine.
Many students get stuck on this idea that their personal statement has to be related to medicine in some way for schools to be interested in you. This is actually not true at all. I personally enjoyed reading the personal statements about people from different paths in life who found their way to medicine. This is more interesting to read than a day in the hospital because we know what a day in the hospital is like. But this does not mean that you cannot write about a day in the hospital, it just means that what you are writing about should be interesting in order to catch and maintain the attention of your reader.
Talk to other students (not just premeds).
It is always a great idea to start early and talk to students that may not be premed students because the ideas they come up with will not be ideas that you come up with. And something they mention may trigger another idea in your mind.
This article was published in the May/June 2015 issue of PreMedLife.