A medical school student with a clipboard taking notes.

Create an Artful Essay for a Standout Medical School Application

Medical school hopefuls should be specific about past experiences and future career goals in their AMCAS materials. 

A medical school student with a clipboard taking notes.

Taking time to outline your career goals and reflect on why you want to become a physician will help you submit a compelling, specific AMCAS application.

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Completing the American Medical College Application Service application is a crucial step in the medical school admissions process. The centralized online service, provided by the American Association of Medical Colleges, allows first-year students to submit a single application and send it to the participating schools in the U.S. where they want to apply. 

With admissions committees sifting through thousands of applications each cycle, it’s important for applicants to do everything they can to stand out from the crowd in a positive way. Below are some strategies to help medical school hopefuls ​accomplish just that.

1. Take time for self-reflection: Having recently gone through the residency application process, I can tell you firsthand that the value of self-reflection cannot be overstated. Take some time to think about what you want out of your career as a physician. 

Explicitly identify and write out your career goals, as well as how you intend to get there. Some examples may include becoming a leader in academic medicine, focusing on medical education, building a career in global health or biomedical research or practicing in a rural community and helping the underserved. 

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Also, use online sources, professors, mentors and peers to research what steps you need to take to achieve your goals. You should hopefully have at least an idea of the type of medical career you want.

2. Tell a story: Now that you have identified your goals, craft your AMCAS application​, personal statement and secondary essays such that they tie together and exemplify your passions. Every activity you list and describe in your AMCAS should demonstrate how it has helped you in your pursuit of your goals.

Though schools will have different secondary essay questions, make an effort to integrate your story into each essay. Use your personal statement to tie together any seemingly disparate involvements described in your AMCAS and secondary essays.

3. Describe​ specific roles and actions:​ This ties back to developing and conveying your personal story. Make a conscious effort to describe your specific roles and the qualities you have that led​ you to success in these roles in the activities you list on your AMCAS profile.

For example, rather than describing your role as recruitment chair for an organization as "oversaw the yearly recruitment process and budget,"​ try something like "worked to expand membership by 50 percent by increasing recruitment programming, developing a new marketing campaign and devising ways to expand the budget through novel fundraising efforts." 

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The second description is much more specific and will give the admissions committee a better idea of the leadership and motivation it took for you to succeed in your position. Remember, admissions committees read thousands of applications touting multiple leadership positions. Keep things specific and interesting in order to stand out.

4. Use the 80-20​ rule for your personal statement: Your​ personal statement should focus 80 percent on where you’re going in your education and ​20 percent on where you’ve been and how it relates to your​ academic and life journey.

Keep the focus of your personal statement on the future, as the remainder of your application will detail your past accomplishments. Give admissions committees an idea of what you hope to contribute to society through a career in medicine.

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5. Have your materials proofread by multiple people from various backgrounds: Admissions committees are often made up of more than just medical school professors. They may include administrators, students, residents and others.

To ensure that your overall message is being portrayed clearly, have your entire application proofread by both medical and nonmedical professors, your English major friends, family and other peers. The more perspectives​ you can get, the better.

As you begin to fill out your application for medical school, you will have to deeply think about and understand why exactly you are pursuing a career as a physician. From there, everything in your application should be centered on conveying this message clearly to admissions committees, while highlighting which experiences you’ve had that have led​ you down this road.

If you can do just this, you will likely stand out from the thousands of other applicants who simply regurgitate their resume in their application, without giving any real substance to their goals and reasons for applying to medical school.