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About This Book
- Features over 40 real personal statements and drafts from successful students.
- Each essay includes why it was (or wasn't) good and how it could have been improved.
- Showcases stories of students who had to fight their way into medical school—and told a great story to do it
- Includes more than just Dr. Gray's advice. This is advice compiled from years of discussion with Admission Committee members and Deans of Admission from medical schools.
- From the host of the three-time award nominated podcast, The Premed Years.
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Application Process Overview
The personal statement is part of the medical school application. I think it’s important to provide a general overview of the application process before we dive into the specifics of the personal statement.
The medical school application process is very confusing for most students. The process includes primary applications, secondary applications, essays upon essays, interviews, and so much more. This is by no means an exhaustive account of what is required. I highly recommend you listen to The Premed Years1 for more detailed information.
Traditional applicants apply to medical school the summer before, or at the start of, their senior year to start medical school almost immediately after they graduate from college. That means that if you are graduating from college in May of 2024, hoping to start medical school in August of 2024, you will be applying to medical school starting in May and June of 2023. Yes, the application process is that long! The primary application is usually open from May/June to October.
The first thing to keep in mind is that while medical schools give you deadlines by which to submit your primary application, you should consider forcing yourself to apply within the first couple months of the application cycle opening. The majority of US medical schools interview, and admit, students on a rolling basis. This factor means that the sooner your primary and secondary applications are turned in and complete, the sooner your file is reviewed. Then, the sooner your file is reviewed, the sooner you’ll, hopefully, be invited for an interview. And, of course, the sooner you are invited for an interview, the sooner your application will be discussed to determine if the Admissions Committee wants to accept you, put you on a waitlist, or reject you. Don’t make the mistake of applying late. It is the most common, preventable mistake that students make in the application process.
You should plan to take the MCAT no later than March or April of the year you are planning on applying. Doing so will allow you to get your score back before you submit your application. If you need to delay your test to make sure you are prepared, that is okay; just understand that the longer it takes for your MCAT score to be received by the medical school, the longer it will take for your application to be complete. You should still plan on submitting your application early, even if you’re taking the MCAT later. Don’t sacrifice your MCAT score just to take the MCAT earlier. A poor score on the MCAT will do you a lot more harm than a last-minute application. Read The Premed Playbook: Guide to the MCAT 2 for more information on the MCAT.
Different Application Services
There are three different US application services available, depending on which medical schools to which you will want to apply. Canada also has a very fragmented application service depending on the schools you want to apply to there.
In the US, if you are applying to an allopathic (MD) medical school, you will use the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) for almost all of the MD granting schools.
If you are applying to osteopathic (DO) medical schools, you will use the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS) for almost all of the DO schools.
The exception to these application services is Texas medical schools.
Texas has the Texas Medical and Dental School Application Service (TMDSAS). The TMDSAS serves all public medical school in the state of Texas. Baylor is private and therefore uses AMCAS.
You will need to submit a general application to each school through these services. You cannot tailor the application for each school. This means that there is one personal statement which goes out to every school. You can adjust the personal statement to each application service, but not to each school. There will be more on this later.
Applications open in May every year and can be submitted either in May or June, depending on the service.
You’ll need transcripts for every post-secondary school you attended, demographic information for yourself and your parents, letters of recommendations (LOR) from many different people (look at each school for their LOR requirements), a list of your extracurricular activities with descriptions for each and, of course, your personal statement. The TMDSAS has other essays as part of their primary application as well.
Check the Medical School Application Requirements (MSAR)3 and College Information Book (CIB)4 for more information on requirements.
Most medical schools in Canada have their own application process. Ontario has the Ontario Medical School Application Service (OMSAS), an application service similar to those in the US, which allows you to apply to all of the Ontario medical schools.
Most (if not all) Canadian medical schools don’t use rolling admissions.
As of this writing, the primary application costs vary between $150 and $195. TMDSAS is a flat fee of $150 for all schools. AMCAS is $160 and includes one school. Each additional school adds $38 to the total expense. AACOMAS is $195 and also includes one school; each additional school adds another $45.
AACOMAS and AMCAS report the average number of schools being applied to as around 9 and 14, respectively. If students are applying to both MD and DO medical schools, that would mean the average number of schools is 23. That is the high end of the number of schools to which you should plan on applying.
Once you submit your primary application and it is verified, you’ll receive secondary applications from most schools. Some schools will be selective about who gets a secondary, but most schools send them to every student, regardless of your ability to get into that school. There is usually a delay before medical schools receive the first batch of applications, so don’t expect secondaries immediately if you are applying when the application service first allows you to submit.
Most secondary applications are just extra essays the medical schools want you to include in your application. Most secondary fees are below $100, but I like to tell students to budget $100 per secondary that you need to turn in.
The application process is expensive, which is why you only want to do it once. Be prepared to budget about $5,000 for all of your applications, travel, meals, and wardrobe if you don’t already have a suit (for both men and women) in which to interview.
The interview season typically opens in August and goes through the beginning of the next year, even as late as April for a few schools. For more information on the medical school interview, check out my other book, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview.5
When to Start Your Personal Statement
Because writing a great personal statement takes time, I highly recommend starting your first drafts in January of the year you are applying. I don’t, however, recommend starting any sooner than that. I’ve had students reach out to me a couple of years before they were applying, hoping that I could edit their personal statement. You will change a lot as a person and as an applicant as you go through your premed years. Journal your experiences and write your personal statement later. Don’t use your personal statement as your journal.
Why should you take so much time to journal your thoughts and then even more time to go through draft after draft of your personal statement? After reading the next chapter, you’ll get a much clearer picture as to why the personal statement and good preparation for it are so important.
Remember, this was just a brief overview of the application process. Be sure to check out each of the individual application service websites for more detailed information about the application process. Check out The Premed Years6 podcast to hear more detailed information about applications.
Why Your Personal Statement is Important
The application process is a very structured exercise in who can follow directions. You register and open up your primary application. You fill out your demographic information. You fill out information about your family. You enter in all of your grades. You select all the schools that you want to attend and select your letters of recommendations to send to each.
It’s not until you get to the extracurricular section that you actually get to start telling your story. The extracurricular section is your first opportunity to show something unique about you—to show what experiences you’ve had in your life that make you who you are. Even still, with only 700 characters for the AMCAS application, 600 for AACOMAS and 300 for TMDSAS, the extracurricular descriptions don’t give you much space to show who you are.
Many students think that the extracurricular descriptions and personal statement have the same function in an application, or even that the extracurriculars could be more important since the total character count is higher if you add them all up. This perception couldn’t be further from the truth.
While the extracurriculars are a valuable part of the application, they only tell the reader what you have done on your premed journey. The personal statement tells them why you are on your journey in the first place.
According to the 2016-2017 AAMC data1, medical schools reviewed 830,016 applications from 53,042 applicants. Medical schools use your application to figure out if you are a strong enough applicant to be admitted to their school and if you are a unique enough applicant to be part of their class.
Every medical school reviews applications a little bit differently. Some schools will tell you that they read all of their applications. Some schools will filter out applications based on MCAT score or GPA. If your application makes it through the digital shredders, and a member of the Admissions Committee is reading your personal statement, that means your numbers—your GPA and your MCAT score—are probably good enough to be a student at that medical school. Your essay is the next part of the application the reviewer is likely to read.
I think that the personal statement is the most important part of your primary application; it is one of only a few pieces of the application that can help you stand out from the crowd. An Admissions Committee member doesn’t form a connection with an MCAT score or a GPA. Those are just numbers on paper. The school may filter out your application based on those two factors, so if the Admissions Committee member is considering your application, they likely won’t even care what your scores are at that point. There are even some schools that don’t give the reviewer your stats.
If everything else was equal—GPA, MCAT, etc.—your personal statement is likely what will get you an interview over the next student.
I put this quote from Dr. Rivera in the introduction, but thought it would be worth repeating here to highlight to you how crucial the personal statement is:
To be impactful, th...
Table of contents
Citation styles for The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement
APA 6 Citation
Gray, R. (2018). The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement ([edition unavailable]). Morgan James Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/740237/the-premed-playbook-guide-to-the-medical-school-personal-statement-write-your-best-story-secure-your-interview-pdf (Original work published 2018)
Gray, Ryan. (2018) 2018. The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement. [Edition unavailable]. Morgan James Publishing. https://www.perlego.com/book/740237/the-premed-playbook-guide-to-the-medical-school-personal-statement-write-your-best-story-secure-your-interview-pdf.
Gray, R. (2018) The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement. [edition unavailable]. Morgan James Publishing. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/740237/the-premed-playbook-guide-to-the-medical-school-personal-statement-write-your-best-story-secure-your-interview-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Gray, Ryan. The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement. [edition unavailable]. Morgan James Publishing, 2018. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.